Originally posted by no_Wedge
what would be the difference in sound quality between onboard sound, 16bit card, and 24-bit card? Is it a noticable difference? also whats a good one for a low price?
On board sound, can be pretty bad so you may see a difference (thought not always), this also has a lot to do with the quality of your speakers, nothing against computer speakers but even the best speaker/sub-woofer combos out there right now are not really all that good compared to high-end home playback systems. (my point being, most PC speakers are not even of enough quality to reproduce the fine details of a 24-bit recording) For a general consumer, computer speakers work just fine (even I use them and just use my Home Theater for referencing quality of recordings).
As for 16-bit vs. 24-bit, dont get too caught up in it. I am pursuing a degree in Recording Engineering, and the thought behind most of us persuing or in that field, is that even guys with the best ears for sound, can barely if at all distinguish between a 16-bit rate recording and a 24-bit rate recording. Sampling rates are easier to distinguish (ex: 192 kHz).
A nice feature about sound cards, is they take some of the load off your CPU which is always good for performance. In the end, depending on how good your onboard sound is, you may see a difference. I however, would not upgrade from 16-bits to 24-bits for better quality. A quality sound card with good digital-to-analog and analog-to-digial converts, quality connecters, and other more important features will go a longer way in the quality of your sound, over just buying a card because it's 16-bit vs. 24-bit.
If your looking to do some professional audio editing, then i'll try to suggest some better cards. It sounds to me, like your just looking for a card for Gaming, Movies, Casual Music Playback, in which case your better off going with a SoundBlaster since most games especially are designed for features found on the SoundBlaster model cards like "EAX" for example.
*edit* sorry I know this post is already long as it is, but I just wanted to say you'll probably end up buying a 24-bit card, because I think all their cards are 24-bit now. My point about 16-bit vs. 24-bit, was just that the bit rate is not were you'll see the difference in quality of sound. The quality of sound comes from other places, like I listed above.