I was reading around a computer forum in a topic about sound cards and happened upon a (bitter) user who posted this:
For 174.99 (irrelevent) one can buy AVR, plug in SPDIF, HDMI or whatever common digital connection you can find on both boxes, and be done with it. Bonus: you can even connect bookshelf speakers to AVR. If you connect to analog output of your onboard sound, or discrete cart you may experience all kind of interference in either case.
The bottom line: commodity electronics achieved flat 20-20000 Hz, <0.1% THD long time ago, and there is no audiophile nirvana beyond those trivial digits.
Once again, sound amplification is so well understood, and so well implemented today that even commodity electronics surpasses listeners ability to find objective flaws. However, somehow the reality of $20 amplifier (http://www.amazon.com/electronics/dp/B003P534SW) reproducing sound to perfection escapes audiophile ears. They mumble some gibberish about "quality components" and take refuge into their beloved "warm" turntable and tube amplifier sound.
Whether his argument is correct or not, it made me realize I don't understand well enough how this stuff works and I have him to thank for intriguing me. So what would be your all's response to this? Is a sound card essentially an amplifier that takes a digital signal (the file) and outputs to analog (the sound waves leaving the headphones). In your opinion why is there value to be found past a simple flat $20 amplifier? I'm sorry that this topic is so broad, it's just another level of understanding that I'd like to hear more about. Feel free to weigh in on any parts you understand or ask more questions. Thanks!