What I did was I compared my on board sound from my mobo which is the Asus Sabertooth z77 via optical and thats why I said in least in my case the sound quality didn't even come close to my sound card..Maybe you have a better board...What I'm looking into is a better sound system with a budget around $1500
What are you looking for? Gaming, movies and music or all three? What speakers are you using now? A used stereo store should be your first stop. Plus they usually give full trade in value for the items you bought in the past from that store. For example, you bought a pre amp for 500.00 used and you want to upgrade, they let you apply that 500.00 to your next purchase.
Link for some pretty decent speakers at a clearance price(300.00USD): Martin logan Motion 12http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16882981006
Or the Martin Logan Motion 10s on clearance for 200.00. Just less bass but augmented with a sub they would work fine.
Personally, I like separated parts because they add a lot of flexibility in a system. Amps are pretty much amps but when you are talking about pre amps in terms of how tech changes, you just replace the pre amp(sell it or use the trade in value) when some new tech comes around. Kinda like swapping out a new video card when needed instead of replacing the whole computer.
I'm not really a fan of receivers for a number of reasons. Tech changes, you have buy a new receiver if you want the new DSP stuff. The amps are average in even a good AVR. It's just easier to swap out a pre amp to try out to see how well it goes with your system because you know already that your amps work well with the speakers.
PS: With modern cpus, not using a sound card has very little effect.
PSS: If having that sound card makes you happy, then good but in reality(unless there is something wrong with your onboard sound) having a sound card just to use it as pass through seems like a waste of money.
His speaker system he bought has built in DSP(digital sound processing)like having a built in sound processor pre amp or receiver, so he won't benefit from a sound card. IF the speaker system didn't have a built in DSP then he might benefit from a sound card.
PSSS: SDPIF does work well with 2 channel sound(stereo).
PSSSS: One big problem with on board sound is your have to VERY careful on what mobo you buy depending on what kind of DSP you want. There are a few optional caveats, not all offer all the DSPs. It costs them money to offer each option. You have to research before buying. At least with a sound card it tells you what it can and can't do.
Anyways, there are so many threads, forums and etc why to buy or not to buy a sound card. If you need some advice on upgrading your listening experience using regular(not pc speakers or below average HT speakers and I don't have a big problem with either but I'd rather people put their money to used home speakers instead) speakers then respond back or better yet start a new thread.
Happy listening, the Prisoner...