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6 Best Sound Cards for an Improved Audio Experience (Reviews)

Looking to enhance your computer’s sound capabilities? Or you simply need your console to deliver immersive audio devoid of background noise and interference? Then you should invest in a sound card. Although most computers have native sound cards built into their motherboards, they are often of subpar quality.

In this article, we list six (6) top-quality sound cards that can help elevate your PC or console audio experience. They boast of impressive features and support a variety of devices and operating systems (Mac, Windows, PS4, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, etc.). Check them out and pick one that aligns with your needs and budget. You should also check out the buying guide section of this article. There, we talk about some important things to look out for while shopping for sound cards.

Best Sound Cards on the Market

If you are in a quandary and find it hard to make a decision on what are the best sound cards to choose, the guide should help you out.

1. EVGA Nu Audio Card

The EVGA NU is an internal sound card that attaches to your Windows 10 (the only supported OS) PC motherboard. The installation of this device is just as straightforward as its usage. Simply plug it to a PCIe slot and you’re good to go.

For the best experience, you’d need the sound card’s driver and software installed on your PC. The NU Audio Software offers the basic customization options for adjusting (mic and headphone) volume, frequency range, RGB lighting, and switching EQ profiles.

Banking on the XMOS xCORE-200 processor, the EVGA NU sound card is able to deliver impressive features like smart volume (this prevents volume fluctuation), ambient noise suppression, and an immersive surround sound experience. There’s no 7.1 surround sound support but the 5.1 channel delivers high-quality audio production for gaming, recording, etc.

Price and Availability

The EVGA NU sound card is a decently-priced product, considering the features it brings to the table. It is available on Amazon for $199 (see offers on Amazon).

Best sound cards

Other Key Features

  • Audio Processor: XMOS xCORE-200
  • Audio Resolution: 24-Bit/192 kHz (Optical) | 24-Bit/192 kHz (Stereo).
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 123 dB
  • Supported Platform: Windows 10 (64-bit).
  • Connectivity: Stereo Out (RCA L/R), Headphone-out (6.3mm), 3.5mm Line-In port, 3.5mm Microphone jack, TOSLINK optical out.

Pros

  • 10-mode RGB lighting improves room ambiance.
  • Intuitive and easy-to-use software.
  • Great audio quality.

Cons

  • Lacks 7.1 channel.

2. HyperX Amp USB Sound Card

Needing a portable and affordable external sound card (not more than $30) for basic PC and console gaming, you should definitely check out this one from HyperX.

Fundamentally, it is a compact audio control center built to conveniently enhance your device’s integrated audio output. Simply plug the device to your computer or PS4’s USB port and enjoy on-the-fly 7.1 surround sound with zero configurations. HyperX also threw Noise Cancellation support in the mix.

There’s a clip on the flip side of the control center. This lets you clip the sound card to your cloth or table during gaming, preventing unwanted headphone movement.

What’s more? In your computer’s sound menu, you can alternate between two modes: HyperX Amp Chat and HyperX Amp Game. The latter provides enhanced audio experience during gaming while the former is best for recording, audio/video conferencing, and other activities alike.

Another nifty ergonomic addition is the control buttons center buttons. There’s a conspicuous surround sound button (labeled “7.1”) at the center and dedicated volume control buttons for microphone and headphone control. A microphone mute button also sits neatly on the side.

The middle button is backlit; turns red when surround sound is enabled. We’d have loved if other buttons were backlit, too. Adjusting volume in the dark could be an issue if you aren’t accustomed to the button placement.

The long braided cable is durable and adds a nice touch of convenience, especially if your console is far away from your couch or gaming chair.

Price and Availability

For $29.99 (see offers on Amazon), this is one of the best sound cards you can get in the under $30 price bracket. Users have lauded the audio enhancement capabilities of this product. And considering HyperX’s reputation as a top manufacturer of gaming accessories, this is definitely a sound card worth buying.

Other Key Features

  • Supports PC, PS4, and PS4 Pro.
  • Virtual 7.1 surround sound.
  • 2M/6.5 feet cable length.
  • 1.97 ounces.

Pros

  • Long cable.
  • Dedicated mic mute button.
  • Surround sound provides an incredible level of immersive audio experience.
  • Supports noise cancellation.

Cons

  • Doesn’t support Xbox.
  • Volume & Mic controls not backlit.

3. Sound Blaster Z PCIe

Best Sound Cards

There are quite a number of boxes that a really good sound card must tick. This sound card from Sound Blaster ticks them all. There’s a slew of connectivity options, a powerful audio processor, and a noise cancellation microphone. Be it for gaming, audio recording, or voice/video conferencing, expect the Sound Blaster Z PCIe to deliver on all fronts.

Using an SBX Pro Studio Sound technology, this sound card is able to deliver outstanding 3D surround sound to connected audio devices — headphones, speakers, etc.

The dual beamforming microphone also adds to its brilliance. The mic —powered by Sound Blaster’s CrystalVoice technology— is equipped to eliminate ambient noise and eliminate echoes while picking up voice from a virtual acoustic zone. Doesn’t matter if you’re close or far away from the microphone during multiplayer game chat or audio recording, the sound card ensures voices are picked up with utmost clarity.

The core component of this sound card is the Sound Core3D processor. It comprises four individual cores that jointly consolidate the effects of other components to produce high-fidelity audio. There’s an accompanying Creative Software Suite that lets you customize audio EQ, switch audio output modes, and choose your preferred audio encoding technology (Dolby Digital Live or DTS Connect).

Price and Availability

A new unit of the Sound Blaster Z PCIe ships with the sound card, a beamforming microphone, instruction manual, and an installation disk. The CD contains the sound card’s drivers (for Windows), setup file for the Creative Software suite, and an electronic user’s guide. You get all these for $89.99 only (see offers on Amazon).

Best Sound Cards

Other Key Features

  • Audio Processor: Sound Core3D
  • Audio Resolution: 24-Bit/96 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 116 dB
  • Shielding: EMI
  • Supported Platform: Windows.
  • Connectivity: 1 x Amplified 3.5mm headphone jack, 3 x 3.5mm speaker jacks (F/R/C-Sub), 1 x 3.5mm microphone jack, 1 x TOSLINK optical out, 1 x TOSLINK optical in.

Pros

  • Impressive audiophile-grade sound.
  • Beamforming microphone.
  • Low noise interference rating.
  • Software has a ton of audio customization and EQ settings.

Cons

  • Lacks 7.1 virtual surround sound support.

4. Sound BlasterX G6

best sound cards

If you’ve got an extensive collection of gaming devices and don’t mind on splurging on a sound card that offers Dolby Digital decoding and 7.1 virtual surround sound, the Sound BlasterX G6 would be a perfect buy.

It’s not short on any feature needed to raise your PC or console’s sound quality, thanks to the built-in Dolby Digital and Sound Blaster’s native surround sound technology. Another major point goes to the discrete amplification of both (left and right) headphone channels to provide enhanced, lossless, and high-fidelity audio.

There’s a dedicated button on the side for activating ‘Scout Mode,’ a game-focused mode that enhances background sounds (e.g. opponent footsteps, cartridge switch sound, etc.) that you normally wouldn’t hear on your headphone or speakers. If you are big on FPS games, this hands you an edge over your opponents.

There’s an RGB backlit logo on the front which adds a nice touch to your ambient during gaming. The light is customizable (via software) and can be disabled. The volume knob also has a ring light around it. While this is also cool, there’s no option to disable or modify its color.

The software (dubbed ‘Sound Blaster Connect’) is great, easy to navigate, and offers a ton of nifty customizations like adjusting EQ presets, change sound modes, etc. There’s also a bunch of personalized audio presets for popular FPS games like Fortnite, Overwatch, COD, etc.

Price and Availability

The Sound BlasterX retails for about $120 – $150 (see offers on Amazon). It is compatible with PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch. One downside, however, is that voice chat during games isn’t supported on Xbox and Nintendo Switch.

Other Key Features

  • Audio Resolution: 32-bit/384kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 130dB
  • Supported Platform: PC (Windows & Mac), PS4, Xbox, Nintendo Switch.
  • Connectivity: 1 x 3.5mm headphone jack, 1 x 3.5mm microphone jack, 1 x optical out, 1 x optical in.

Pros

  • Brilliant design and metal-like finish.
  • 7.1 Virtual Surround Sound support.
  • Impressive headphones sound quality and audio balancing.

Cons

  • Virtual sound 7.1 not supported on Nintendo Switch.

5. StarTech 7.1 USB Sound Card

There’s a lot of great sound cards out there, no doubts. Compatibility-wise, however, sound cards with Linux support are usually in short supply. If you are in the market for a sound card (below $50) with great audio decoding for your Linux computer, this one from StarTech is worth the money. You can check out other equally-affordable alternatives in this Linux Sound Card buying guide. Now let’s talk about what the StarTech USB sound card brings to the table.

First off, 7.1 virtual surround sound support will add more depth to your sound. Then there’s a plethora of connectivity options at your disposal: two microphone input sits on the side while a bunch of other 3.5mm ports are positioned on the front for easy access. You don’t get the fancy stuff (like RGB backlight) but this sound card is really functional and gets the job done. There are four buttons at the top for both microphone and volume control. These buttons are cool and really clicky but, personally, I’d prefer a knob or wheel as it’s more effortless.

The device can also be used on Windows and PS4 consoles; it lacks support for Xbox and Nintendo Switch.

Price and Availability

The StarTech 7.1 USB Sound Card wins the prize for the most affordable sound card on this list. It is available for $29 (see offers on Amazon) and ships with a USB cable, USB adapter, and a manual.

Other Key Features

  • Audio Processor: C-Media CM6206 chipset
  • Sample rates: 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 92dB
  • Supported Platform: PC (Windows & Linux) and PS4
  • Connectivity: 1 x USB-B, 1 x 3.5mm headphone jack, 1 x Line-In, 2 x 3.5mm microphone jack, 1 x S/PDIF Out, 1 x S/PDIF optical in, 4 x  Front/Back/Surround 3.5mm ports.

Pros

  • Supports Linux.
  • Dual microphone input; great for conference audio recording.
  • Flexible connectivity options.
  • Incredibly affordable.
  • 7.1 surround sound supported.

Cons

  • Lacks Xbox and Nintendo support.

6. AudioEngine D1

Best sound cards

The AudioEngine D1 boasts of an interesting combination of visually-appealing ergonomic design and a powerful (AKM AK4396 DAC) chipset that filters noise and distortion from digital audio signals received from your computer and console. This chipset joins forces with the TI OPA2134 headphone amplifier that raises low-voltage audio from the source device to high-fidelity sound waves in your headphones.

The 3.5mm headphone jack is located on the front and flanked to the left by the LED power indicator (not RGB lightning) and smooth silver volume knob.

Usage of this device follows a simple plug-and-play model; requires no driver or software installation. Hook the sound card to your PC or console via the USB-B port on the rear, plug in your headphones/speakers to the 3.5mm jack, and you are good to go.

There’s no microphone input on the Audioengine D1, which makes it a no-no for people looking to record songs, podcasts, etc. For gamers, however, this is a solid device that’ll improve your gaming audio quality.

Price and Availability

For $169 (see offers on Amazon), you get the Audioengine D1 sound-amplifying device, a 2-feet long USB cable, an instruction manual, and a microfiber storage bag. The reviews from users are great, with some buyers commending it being a better option alternative to the Sound Blaster Z PCIe soundcard.

Other Key Features

  • Audio Processor: C-Media CM6206 chipset
  • Sample rates: 32 kHz and 96 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 110 dB
  • Supported Platform: PC (Windows, Mac, & Linux) and Console (PS4, Xbox)
  • Connectivity options: 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-B input, 2 x Stereo RCA outputs, SPDIF Optical/TOSLINK Input.

Pros

  • Compact design and solid construction.
  • Requires no driver or software installation.
  • Chipset offers impressive low-noise and low-distortion audio output.
  • The microfiber storage bag is a plus.

Cons

  • No dedicated mute button.
  • Lacks surround sound support.

Choosing Your Sound Card: Buying Guide

Now that we’ve helped you narrowed down your options, let’s also talk about some vital features to look out for when choosing a sound card for your computer or console.

1. Type: Internal or External

Sound cards usually come in two types, based on installation structure. Internal sound cards have to be attached to a computer’s motherboard via the PCIe slot. External sound cards, on the other hand, can be attached to a PC, consoles, and supported devices via USB or connection interface recommended by the manufacturer. External sound cards are more convenient and easier to set up. And unlike internal sound cards, you don’t have to tear your computer apart to install them. Just plug… and use.

One other downside of internal sound cards is that they sometimes have fewer connectivity options. Likewise, they tend to pick up sound interferences from components located within your computer.

2. Platform/Device Support

What device are you buying the sound card for? Or more specifically, what device(s) do you intend to use the sound card on? Your computer? Gaming console? What OS is installed on your PC? We recommend you carefully peruse the technical specifications of a product before purchasing it. If you need a sound card for your Macbook and Xbox One, make sure the product is compatible with both devices. The more devices a sound card supports, the better.

3. Surround Sound

Sound cards with support for Surround Sound technology will deliver better audio output than those without. In the same light, a 7.1 surround sound channel will produce a more dynamic and immerse sound experience than the 5.1 surround sound channel. If you’d be using the sound card majorly for music production, podcast recording, or mixing, you could pass on surround sound-compatible sound cards. It’s nice to have it, though. For gaming, movie streaming, or other entertainment-related activities, get a sound card with surround sound support. You’d thank us for it.

4. Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR)

This describes the quantitative relationship between the sound signal emitted by the sound card versus background noise that passes through. Signal to Noise ratio is measured in decibels (dB) and it is recommended that you purchase sound cards with SNR of 100 dB or higher. For context, if a sound card’s SNR is rated 120 dB, it simply means the product’s audio/sound is 120 times higher than the level of background noise or interference from your hardware.

5. Connectivity Options

Fancy design and portability are great. However, having multiple and flexible connectivity options is of greater importance. For multi-person recording, find a sound card with at least two (2) microphone ports — see the StarTech 7.1 USB Sound Card. Likewise, multiple audio outputs let you simultaneously connect multiple speakers or headphones to the sound card. TOSLINK jacks and RCA ports are also important if you’d be connecting external speakers or other audio equipment.

6. Software Support

Sound cards with companion software have comparative advantages over those without one. Sound cards’ complementary software allows for easy control, efficient customization, and personalization. You can easily choose and switch between preset modes, changed RGB lights, adjust equalizer settings, etc.

Conclusion

Sound cards are generally a nice thing to have. If your device’s sound production quality is good, a sound card can make it better. Be it for gaming, audio recording, or entertainment, the sound cards in this guide will heighten your listening experience to a whole new dimension. They are relatively affordable (price ranging from $30 — $150) and you don’t have to break the bank to get one. Drop a comment below if you’ve got any questions or suggestions. We’d be more than happy to take them.

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