I was skeptical to say the least, I'm quite the audio-enthusiast and was looking for a card that wouldn't break the banks after recently building a new home media/gaming computer.
I was shocked frankly. Granted I do have a nice healthy set of headphones and speakers to go with it, and am unsure on the effects of lower-priced alternatives. But, with on-board sound, high volumes had terrible hissing, the bass was flat, the sound became distorted at certain volumes.
>Plug in card >Boot up >install drivers. Turn speakers on at the old sound level, BLEW MY MIND. It was extremely loud, I now have my speaker notch so incredibly low it's insane :|. The bass actually packs a punch, it's not some pathetic fizzly thud, it has oomph. My movies are more enjoyable, my gaming is that bit more enjoyable also.
Headphones, you can certainly notice a difference. Again, silence, no electric hissing or anything. The 3 settings provided, e.g. VoIP, enthusiast, are really great in my opinion. I can turn my bass up without distortion or destroying the rest of my songs detail. The sound is much clearer, and crisper, and the highs are much better than my on-board realtek.
So, in short. This was a great buy for me and I have no regrets, for the price, it does pack a punch and certainly offers benefits over your typical on-board solutions.