Don't think that buying a sound card will change your sound "quality" like "night and day". Modern onboard sound is actually pretty good. No hissing at least like in the 90's. Its a much more subtle improvement. But - it IS a very definitive improvement.
Keep in mind that you need a minimum mid-fi speaker setup or some nice headphones to actually hear any difference. If you use a small, lets say Logitech 2.1 system with 2A 12V wall adapter you will not notice much change.
I bought the ASUS essence ST recently, mostly because of the headphone amp and the great reviews it get here. I was not disappointed. To sum it into very basic words: A bit clearer than my ipod headphone out (which is close to my onboard sound) or onboard to stereo. Flatter frequency curve. Better sound stage. Mostly though, I noticed the "different" sound. First I was like. Hmmm. Then I was like, "ok". Now I really enjoy it and I am listening to a lot more music again via stereo. It is now "a lot" better than my onboard sound.
Headphone amp is also quite nice. A bit bright aka exact and revealing maybe for my tastes, but I will give it more time.