Hi, sorry to jump in here but I've been looking at moving away from having a sound card all together. The reason for this is I DO play games but they are all modern (BF3, Far Cry 3 etc) and they all use software decoding.......so...
I know an external DAC is better for music but will I be missing anything in games if the games I play only use software decoding and therefor don't take advantage of the sound card hardware??
Thanks in advance.
Read the specs on my previous HD2 Advanced link. If your card or external can't match it (ex. 120db range, exchangeable OPAMPs, headphone amp) or come close then you are probably missing something sound wise. Software decoding or not, the signal still has to travel through circuitry before arriving to the final analog phase (speaker). Good DACs, capacitors, OPAMPS, shielding, etc. all add to the final sounds. Changing out OPAMPS to suit your own personal tastes is the most rewarding experience.
I tried a few cards like ASUS and SB lines, they just sound so dark and muddy to me and I wasn't going to take a chance on $200 card. Sold or sent them back. Stand alone dedicated sound still is an improvement over motherboard sound chips (except that old Sound Storm chip was pretty good until they kill it off but I digress).
Anyway, if you spend most of your time listening through headphones or speakers then you might have to take the plunge into better audio output. Helps from anything from gaming to movies to music to recording to TV station listening playbacks.