Can’t stand poor audio quality? Start looking for top-notch subwoofers or bookshelf speakers. Not enough? Then a new sound card can save the day. This small device will provide you with sheer pleasure when listening to music or playing games. The only thing you should remember is to always go for the best sound card that meets namely your needs.
Last update on 2022-01-10 // The links above are affiliate // Images from Amazon
How to Choose the Best Sound Card
One of the first dilemmas that people usually have when deciding for the best sound card is definitely: Should I go for the external or internal sound card?
Both of these cards have their advantages and disadvantages. Internal cards generally offer lower latency, and therefore, better overall experience, while external ones come with more connectivity options and of course portability, which is an important convenience. In other words, there is no universal answer, and everything depends on your preferences.
However, there are also some important characteristics that apply to both sound card types:
The most important thing for every audio device is, of course, its sound quality. Numerous features, affordable price and good connectivity are important. Nevertheless, if your device has poor audio quality, all of that is for nothing.
For that reason, pay special attention to this aspect of a sound card. Read on forums about other people’s experiences; consult users that already have the same card type that you want and of course, read our reviews and hopefully find the best sound card for you.
As already mentioned, better connectivity is reserved for external cards, simply because they offer more space. Therefore, more different connections should be found on external cards, at least in theory.
However, no matter if you have decided to go for the internal or external card, you should always go for as many different connections as possible. Pay attention to whether the card has MIDI connectors, headphone jack, RCA connection, and of course, what number of channels it supports.
Nowadays, the majority of budget-oriented cards support at least 5.1 audio. In other words, that should be your minimum. Nevertheless, don’t be satisfied with that and if your funds allow it, spend a few more bucks and get yourself at least a 7.1 or 7.2 channel sound card that will surely bring a significant improvement to your overall audio experience.
In order for you to fully enjoy every benefit of a sound card, you will need proper software. These solutions usually enhance the overall user experience and provide numerous advanced features, such as customizable frequency response, or numerous equalizer settings.
For that reason, it is highly recommended to choose the devices with enough software solutions that would help you improve your audio experience and not turn it into a nightmare.
Best Internal Sound Cards
Creative Sound Blaster Audigy PCIe RX 7.1
The Best 7.1 Sound Card
Need an internal sound card for a reasonable price? This PCI sound card can be the one you are looking for. This sound card comes with hardware-accelerated EAX effects that will make audio sound more vivid and lifelike.
Audigy PCIe RX 7.1 is designed with 106db SNR. Sure, it’s not something super powerful but it’s more than just good for such price. Note that this sound card allows full audio customization. The card has enhanced chipset with EAX reverb engine well-known for its high quality. Note that it won’t affect CPU work or impede PC performance on the whole.
This example of internal sound cards supports such operating systems as Windows XP SP2 (and higher), Windows Vista SP1 (and higher), Windows 7 and Windows 10.
- 7.1 surround sound
- powerful reverb engine EAX
- full audio customization
- dual stereo microphone inputs
- perfect option for Windows OS
- no S/P-DIF interface
- microphone may not work after the sleep mode, you may need to boot your PC
Creative Sound Blaster AE-7
A Sound Card Dedicated to True Audiophiles
If you are in search for a high-quality sound card that will deliver an excellent audio experience and fulfill your every audiophile and gaming sound demand, Creative Sound Blaster AE-7 is the device for you.
This is a card that is equipped with top-class components such as ESS SABRE-class 9018 DAC and Sound Core 3D audio/DSP processor, and plenty of customization options that allow you to find your perfect setup with ease and customize EQs, Bass, Surround, enhance sound and much more, through the Sound Blaster Command software. With this device, you will get the excellent 127 dB 32-bit/384 kHz audio reproduction and support for DSD64 playback. Also, you will get support for Dolby Digital, DTS Connect Encoding, as well as support for speakers 5.1 audio and 7.1 virtual surrounds.
Creative Sound Blaster AE-7 provides good connectivity options and comes with TOSLINK optical out, one 3.5mm headset slot, and one 3.5 mm line-in slot, as well as three 3.5mm line-out slots that are reserved for the rear, front, and center part. More importantly, this card comes in combination with an audio control module, which is a nice bonus, plus it offers a PCIe interface and a special Scout Mode dedicated to gamers.
In other words, it has a whole bunch of features that should guarantee a premium experience. Therefore, if the best sound card is what you are looking for, Creative Sound Blaster AE-7 should be among your priorities.
- High-quality components
- It comes with an audio control module
- Excellent audio quality
- Not the cheapest sound card available
ASUS XONAR SE
Best 5.1 Sound Card for the Money
In the world of “aftermarket components for PCs” Asus is king, and their old-school Xonar SE makes for an affordable and well-designed high resolution 5.1 PCIe gaming sound card with 192kHz/24-bit audio and 116dB SNR, which is not bad considering the price tag of well under $50. On top of that, you’ll get a 300ohm headphone amp to drive your cans, i.e. you’ll benefit from a clear, detailed sound and enhanced bass.
To make things even better, the Xonar SE comes loaded with ASUS Hyper Grounding Technology, which delivers minimal interference and audio distortion, while the company’s proprietary Xonar Audio Center software allows you to control sound settings with ease via an intuitive user interface. Basically, if you’re looking for a solid and affordable sound card for multimedia and gaming, the Xonar SE should rank high on your shopping list. It’s true there are better options out there, but not at this price, hence if you’re not into fancy stuff, you can’t go wrong with this Asus soundcard.
- high fidelity sound
- 116dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR)
- built-in 300ohm headphone amplifier
- immersive, cinematic sound for watching movies, gaming and listening to music
- fits SFF cases
- the installation process is finicky on Windows 10
Creative Sound Blaster Z SE
Old But Gold
To begin with, you must learn that the Z SE is an ancient sound card, as it was first introduced back in 2010. Yeah, you got that right, that’s like 10 years ago. However, it does work in Windows 10, which is great.
Basically, the SE particle stands for Special Edition, as the Z SE makes for the identical sequel of Creative’s best-selling OG, i.e. the Sound Blaster Z.
In terms of tech specs, the SE version features the same high-quality audio specifications that have made its predecessor a long-time best-selling model, and comes upgraded with gaming acoustic profiles and microphone EQ presets, all aimed at enhancing your gaming and entertainment needs.
There’s also a headphone amplifier built-in, which means that you can drive studio-grade headphones of up to 600Ω with ease.
Moreover, if you’re looking for DDL/DTS encoding, it’s unbeatable at this price, and bottom line, sound quality is much richer and more accurate than the onboard sound chip your board has installed, and if you’re considering buying this it’s probably because your motherboard’s on-board sound is garbage.
It doesn’t look like much, but the upgrade in sound quality, bass, clarity, etc. is profound.
- Good sound quality
- Amazing value
- Superior audio control
- Nothing really
Creative Sound BlasterX AE-5
Great Internal Sound Card for the Money
Creative Sound BlasterX AE-5 comes with a custom-designed discrete headphone amplifier – Xamp. It means that all audio channels are amplified individually and this results in an accurate and clear sound that comes equally to each earcup.
Those customers who like bright lights will appreciate its Aurora Reactive Lighting System. It includes up to 16.8 million colors in different patterns with the free downloadable Sound Blaster Connect software for PC. By the by, AE-5 is provided with SABRE32 Ultra Class PCIe DAC what makes it a perfect sound card for HR audio.
- top-notch sound
- high-quality built-in DAC
- Xamp discrete headphone amplification
- uncomfortable RGB Led light plug location
EVGA Nu Audio Card
The EVGA Nu Audio Card is a dedicated PCIe 2-channel sound card with a hi-fi pedigree. i.e. this is a stereo (the horror) soundcard built with audiophiles in mind, which is kind of rare in this day and age. So, if you love music, keep in mind that the EVGA Nu comes with premium components, stuff like DAC: AKM AK4493, ADC: AKM AK5572, OP-AMP (Headphone): ADI OP275, OP-AMP (Line Out): ADI AD8056, Capacitors: WIMA, Audio Note(UK), Nichicon and so on and so forth, and, on top of that, offers Native DSD Support (up to x256) and Audio DSP: XMOS xCORE-200.
If you have basic notions about audiophile grade stuff, you’re already sold. If not, all you need to know is that the EVGA Nu Audio Card is built in cooperation with a brand (Audio Note) that is specialized in Hi-Fi gear, the likes of integrated amps, power amps, loudspeakers, CD Players and DACs, hence if you’re looking for audiophile-grade hardware for your FLAC collection (and you also own above-average headphones/speakers) look no further, as you’ve just met your match.
- cool design and Audio-grade components
- great value for money if you’re a music aficionado
- stellar sound quality
- superior analog capabilities for audiophiles
- works great as a DAC for dedicated amplifier and speakers setups
- rather expensive
Best External Sound Cards
AudioQuest – DragonFly Red
The Best External Sound Card for Laptop
AudioQuest DragonFly Red has improved 32-bit ESS Sabre DAC chips with the latest ESS headphone amp and a digital volume control for authentic sounding. It provides 1.2 volts what is enough for modern headphones. Still, this sound card can also reach up to 2.1 volt and such option guarantees a wide spectrum of devices it can be compatible with, including low-efficiency and power-hungry models.
Note that it’s very easy to use as its capabilities cover 24-bit/96kHz resolution. It means complete compatibility with PCs without any additional drivers which are often required to be downloaded and installed.
What is more, you can download a free Windows or OS X desktop app to update your sound card every time there is such a chance.
- sound quality
- stylish look
- highly compatible with modern devices
- a bit poor compatibility with Android
Great USB Sound Card From Audioengine
Audioengine D1 is a premium DAC using which you can get high-quality sound. This converter is compatible not only with PCs but also TVs (including Apple TV), DVD/ BluRay players and CD players. Besides, it can be used as a portable computer headphone amplifier.
One more thing which makes Audioengine D1 popular is its easy setup. Sure, nobody likes spending more than a couple of minutes on the tiresome instructions. Besides, it guarantees digital audio processing at any bit depth (up to 24 bits) and at any sample rate (up to 192 kHz).
- sound quality
- build quality
- headphones amplifier
- USB and optical input
- mini-jack for headphones only
Great Choice For a PC
One more external DAC which is worth your attention is FiiO E10K. It attracts customers with its sleek and stylish look gained due to brushed aluminum chassis. The combination of such construction and material make it robust what is very important for a portable headphone amplifier.
FiiO E10K is provided with an optimized low-pass filter and selectable bass boost circuit what is necessary for a low noise floor. What is more, it can handle PCM files up to 24-bit/96 kHz. Note that it converts audio quality into a higher level using a linear filter. It means there won’t be any phase shifts and delay as well as internal silence will be immediately reduced.
This DAC can be proud of its connectivity variety. It supports USB connection, includes a front-panel 1/8” headphone jack, a rear-panel 1/8” line output, and a rear-panel coaxial digital output.
- affordable price
- has line-out
- stylish look
- compact size
- durable and practical
- poor bass
- only Mini-USB connection
- no optical and 1/4” jack
Creative Sound Blaster X4
A Decent Upgrade
The Creative Sound Blaster X4 is basically a tweaked version of the previously released X3, and it makes for a Hi-Res 24bit/192kHz External USB/DAC that integrates the new Smartcomms Kit that has been featured on a number of recent Creative products.
To make it simpler, this is a glorified hi-res 7.1 external USB DAC with a headphone amplifier with Super X-Fi and SmartComms Kit, and for the price asked, it’s pretty damned good.
Build quality is good, and the DAC supports up to 7.1 discrete and virtual audio channels, which means zero compromises in terms of enjoying your audio.
There are also 3 different surround sound delivery options, not to mention the 7 I/O connectors available on the X4, which makes it easy to connect multiple audio devices, ranging from external microphones and headsets to platforms like your PC, Mac, gaming consoles, and even your multi-channel speaker systems, i.e. this baby literally converts your current setup into an audio hub.
The headphone amplifier is good enough to drive studio-grade headphones of up to 600Ω with ease, and you can even control the volume levels between two audio sources via the Audio Balance feature on your PC, Mac, PS5, or PS4.
- Nice design
- Solid sound processing
- Rich connectivity
- Dolby Digital Live
- Super X-Fi
- Sound issues with low impedance headphones
Creative Sound BlasterX G1 7.1
Great Choice for Gamers
If you are looking for the best sound card for gaming then Creative Sound BlasterX G1 7.1 is the one you need. It is provided with 7.1 channel audio input signals that guarantee vivid and realistic sound gaming effects. Besides, it makes the sound clear and accurate.
Due to its BlasterX Acoustic Engine its performance is improved and optimized for gaming.
What is more, BlasterX G1 7.1 includes X-Plus mode which lets you hear footsteps and gunshots of your enemies. Combine it with a high-grade gaming motherboard and you will take your gaming up to a new level.
- low price
- compact size
- great sound
- no separate mic/line input
Sound BlasterX G6
A Great Multipurpose Device for Any Gamer Craving Quality Sound
If you are in a pursuit of a device that is a sound card, amplifier and DAC in one, Sound BlasterX G6 comes as an ultimate option. Compatible with Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and many other platforms, this device offers the widest possible field of use and altogether presents a great solution for sound amplifying of both PCs and consoles and therefore, it is the ideal option for every gaming fan.
The device itself is very small and practical and doesn’t require any calibration whatsoever. You can connect any type of headsets to it and get a huge sound quality boost, using both the cheap and the premium model headphones.
Sound BlasterX G6 supports both 5.1 and 7.1 virtual surround sound, along with Dolby Digital. Also, it offers 130dB DNR, SBX mode, comes with the custom Xamp headphone amplifier that amplifies each channel individually, 32-bit/384kHz DAC, Scout Mode that intensifies the ambient noise and a lot more.
It is powered through a micro-USB port and overall presents an exceptional, but a bit costly multipurpose device. Altogether, if you want to enhance your game sound, Sound BlasterX G6 is a great choice, but if you are trying to improve your TV or similar-type device, there are much better solutions out there.
- Exceptional sound quality
- Great compatibility
- Easy to use
- A bit pricey
- Short cables
Of course, external cards are much easier to install and they are portable, but if you need higher audio quality then an internal sound card will be a better option. Still, it’s always up to you to choose the best item which will suit your requirements and needs.