The 10 Best Sound Cards of 2021

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Best PC Sound Card
Best Budget Sound Card
Best External Sound Card
Best USB Sound Card
Best Buy Sound Card
Best External Sound Card For Laptop
Best Gaming Sound Card
Best Audiophile Sound Card
Best PCI Sound Card

For anyone who appreciates quality audio, getting a performant sound card is essential. Whether you’re building a computer or simply need an upgrade to your sound, a high-quality sound card is the way to go. Nowadays motherboards are advanced enough to offer a decent sound solution, but many people still prefer a dedicated audio component to obtain the best sound performance in games, movies, and music.

The main reason why you need to consider getting a capable sound card is that of the stress on the motherboard which causes RFI noise that affects the audio quality. When you leave the audio processing to the sound card you can benefit from a superior sound, but there are other advantages too. They allow for better connectivity and to power more demanding headphones. If you also take into account the fact that many sound cards come with their own special software, it becomes clear that sound cards are must-have components for anyone who wants a more clear and customized sound. You might also be interested in our articles about the best computer speakers and the best USB microphones.

There are both internal and external sound cards available on the market and they all come with their ups and downs. Making sense of them requires a guide that provides you with the most important features to analyze. To find your ideal sound card you need to be aware of:

1. Matching your speakers/headphones

There’s no point in getting a high-end sound card unless you have the gear to keep up. This is why most onboard sound cards have average audio performance. Most users don’t really have the right equipment to notice the difference anyway. If you own high-quality speakers or headphones then you should definitely look at a sound card that seems to match their level. You will be able to truly benefit from the superior audio quality of a premium sound card if your equipment is able to effectively reproduce the sound.

2. Internal vs External

Audiophiles who travel often with their laptops should obviously consider an external sound card over an internal model. For everyone else, internal sound cards should take priority because they’re more responsive and overall the sound performance is better thanks to the difference in connectivity speed between PCIe and USB.

3. Software/hardware compatibility

The final thing worth keeping in mind is if your desired sound card works well with your operating system and if there are any hardware compatibility issues. Some motherboards lack the needed PCIe slots and sometimes you might encounter difficulties fitting the new component in a computer case. This is the case for internal units. Those who decide to get an external sound card should only focus on having a free USB port.

With this out of the way, let’s check the individual reviews for the most cost-effective sound cards on the market. This is a selection that’s varied in terms of types of cards, features, and price. Anyone on the market for a high-quality sound card should find in here something worth the money to fit their particular needs.

Best PC Sound Card

1. Creative Sound Blaster Z PCIe Internal Sound Card

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One of the best solutions for those looking to enhance their gaming and audio listening sessions is the Creative Sound Blaster Z sound card. This is an internal model that boasts a clean 116 dB signal-to-noise ratio which is vastly superior to any motherboard audio. There are other interesting abilities and technologies packed in this one so let’s take a more in-depth look.

To completely immerse yourself in your favorite media you need a capable soundstage. Thanks to the SBX Pro Studio, this sound card allows you to experience a superior sound with crystal clear details. If you’re often chatting online you will be pleased by the Crystal Voice technology that focuses on providing extra clarity for your voice.

The audio processing in this sound card is handled by the Sound Core3D processor which is designed to improve the audio quality without having your CPU to suffer from a decreased performance. The signal-to-noise ratio of 116 dB is an impressive result that should be more than enough even for certain audiophiles.

A bundled beamforming microphone makes it easy to be heard with extra clarity. When you combine it with CrystalVoice Focus, it’s able to produce an acoustic zone and keep the noise outside it to a minimum.

The 600 Ohm headphone amp could be a great addition to anyone who has a pair of power-hungry headphones. This sound card provides multiple connections and most of them are gold-plated for superior responsiveness. EMI shielding is also provided to face any interferences.

Having a dedicated sound card in this day and age is a must if you’re serious about audio quality. The Creative Sound Blaster Z represents an excellent choice, all things considered. Expect a clean and clear sound with a higher bass ceiling. Overall, this sound card is worth the money considering what it can do for your audio quality and how easy it is to adjust everything from the Sound Blaster Control panel.

Key Features:

  • Sound Core3D Audio Processor
  • SBX Pro Studio Technology
  • 116dB SNR
  • 24-bit 192 kHz unprocessed audio quality
  • Sound Blaster Control Panel
  • Gold-plated I/O connectivity

Best Budget Sound Card

2. Creative Sound Blaster Audigy PCIe RX Internal Sound Card

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Creative has many internal sound cards to choose from but the Sound Blaster Audigy Rx is one of the most cost-effective options in their lineup. It manages a decent sound for its low cost with a respectable 106 dB signal-to-noise ratio and its 600-ohm headphone amplifier offers reliable monitoring.

Thanks to the E-MU chipset used for this sound card which has been created to process the powerful EAX reverb engine, you will be able to enjoy a set of brilliant cinematic effects. The best part about this is that it won’t affect your system’s performance which is excellent news for anyone who wants to conserve resources as much as possible.

Controlling and adjusting the sound is done through a convenient control panel where you can customize various aspects of the sound card. You can, for example, modify the settings of the Creative Multi Speaker Surround or use Stereo Mixing and Mic Monitoring to get immediate feedback as you’re able to hear yourself during recording.

With the help of the reliable EAX Studio software, you will be able to make detailed modifications to certain settings for adding effects to your music and games. It also allows for other changes such as the key of the music for matching your voice. Other nice bundled software is the Creative WaveStudio which together with the Creative Smart Recorder allows you to unleash your creativity and create your own audio content.

A dedicated headphone amplifier that reaches 600 Ohms is another powerful addition to this sound card. Even the most power-hungry headphones should work like a charm now.

Factoring in all of its abilities, it can be said that the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy RX is worth a shot if your budget is more limited. While the sound is not that great compared to more premium sound cards, it manages some decent results at this cost. It takes a bit of work to install it on Windows 10 but all in all, this is a solid pick for a sound card.

Key Features:

  • EAX reverb engine
  • 7.1 multi-channel audio
  • 106dB SNR
  • 600-ohm headphone
  • 24-bit 192 kHz stereo playback

Best External Sound Card

3. Sound BlasterX G6 Hi-Res 130dB 32bit/384kHz Gaming External USB Sound Card

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Creative is one of the leading brands when it comes to high-quality sound cards. Check out the Sound BlasterX G6 that incorporates a DAC and a powerful sound card for an uncompromising audio experience. It’s primarily designed for upgrading the realism and immersion when playing video games on PC or consoles. The secret of its performance lies in the outstanding processing technology and customization features.

Thanks to the 7.1 virtual surround sound ability, you can enjoy superior immersion when watching movies or exploring game worlds. Any kind of audio experience can be greatly enhanced. Music is played with better fidelity and crystal-clear details considering the integration of a DAC engineered for removing all distortions. The headphone amplifier is also a powerful addition because it’s equipped with lossless bi-amp technology. All kinds of gamers and multimedia users should try this powerful Creative sound card.

Best USB Sound Card

4. HyperX Amp USB Sound Card 7.1 Surround Sound

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If you’re on a budget but need a practical USB sound card that packs 7.1 surround sound, this HyperX model can be ideal. It’s designed to work as a simple yet efficient audio upgrade for headsets. The external sound card can improve the sound in games with the help of advanced custom-tuned virtual surround technology. The result is superior awareness of sound details in games. You will be able to hear audio cues more precisely and figure out their location.

Another advantage of this little sound card is the reduced noise when holding voice calls. It’s equipped with digital processing to make the communication as clear as possible. The best part about this accessory is that you simply plug it in and it works right out of the box. There’s no need to bother with inconvenient driver installations. Just make sure you pick the correct output device to hear the right gaming sound.

Best Buy Sound Card

5. Creative Sound BlasterX AE-5 Plus SABRE

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The Creative Sound BlasterX AE-5 Plus can revolutionize the sound of your computer speakers and headset. It features Dolby Digital and DTS Encoding support while the surround virtualization technology takes audio performance to a new level. The sound card incorporates the SABRE32 DAC that makes the switch to ultra high-res playback with virtually zero distortions. It’s truly a pleasure to enjoy movies, music, and games now.

As this model is built to meet the needs of gamers, you can expect some dedicated features such as RGB lighting. The colorful illumination allows customization to blend more harmoniously with your gaming setup. Creative puts special software at your disposal to make adjustments to the LED strip as well as the sound qualities. This is where you can access advanced sound processing technologies such as Scout Mode for gaming or Crystal Voice for clear communication.

Best External Sound Card For Laptop

6. ASUS Xonar U3 External Sound Card

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Laptop owners who need an inexpensive way to considerably boost the quality of their sound should look no further than the Asus Xonar U3. This compact sound card stick makes use of reliable features to allow you to better differentiate fine audio details. It comes with support for Dolby technologies and a solid headphone amplifier.

Despite the fact that it’s pocket-sized, this device packs a lot of punch in terms of audio performance. It offers support for many Dolby technologies including Dolby Digital Live, Pro Logic II, and Virtual Speaker. These will take your Hi-Fi enjoyment to a new level.

As with other units from the Xonar lineup, this one comes with the exclusive hyper-grounding technology. It helps to produce a cleaner sound as it’s able to separate audio signals from noise more efficiently. Gamers will also not be disappointed because this sound card comes with the GX 2.5 audio engine focused on making games sound more immersive.

To take care of your demanding headphones, Asus offers quality amplification with adjustable gain levels allowing you to benefit from the full potential of your equipment. You can finally say goodbye to those frustrating moments when your headphones just can’t get any louder.

Hardware-wise, this sound card comes with a removable cover that’s attached to the main unit. A handy split ring is also included to help with the overall portability. The device lights up when it’s working thanks to its blue LED.

The Xonar line from Asus once again doesn’t disappoint as evidenced by the U3 model which is an exceptionally good sound card for its cost. This neat little device fits with ease in a USB port and its control panel makes adjusting the sound a straightforward process. Recommended for anyone who wishes to get their hands on a high-quality portable sound card.

Key Features:

  • Powerful amplifier for headphones
  • Dolby technologies support
  • GX 2.5 Game Audio Engine
  • Xonar hyper-grounding technologies
  • Portable

Best Gaming Sound Card

7. ASUS Xonar DGX PCI-E Internal Sound Card

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The Asus Xonar DGX is a competitively priced internal sound card which promises a superb gaming experience in an affordable package. If you plan on building a new PC and wish to get the most out of your modest sound card budget, this seems like a very solid choice. It’s a nice combination of Dolby 5.1 surround technology with a powerful gaming audio engine.

One solid technology incorporated into this sound card is Dolby Headphone. This levels up your stereo headphones bringing them to a better surround sound. To create a realistic audio environment, Asus makes use of its GX 2.5 audio engine that’s designed with gaming in mind.

There are a total of 128 sound effects which you can use to adjust your audio experience. They can be used at the same time and another good thing to know about this engine is that it provides complete support with the latest EAX version. The audio processor used with this sound card provides a sample rate of 96KHz/24bit maximum which is much better than onboard variants.

With the help of its front panel header that’s compatible with Intel HAD, you can switch the output automatically from the front to the back of the case when speakers or headphones are connected. It’s well known that having to change connection settings by hand can be quite bothersome for many so this is a neat feature.

Another capable feature of this sound card is the built-in amplifier for your headphones. It’s especially useful for gamers for hearing even the tiniest details which can make a difference in many types of atmospheric games. There are 3 gain modes in total to fit various scenarios.

Considering the overall value, you are going to have a tough time finding a better option than the Asus DGX. The Xonar DGX Audio Center software is a pleasure to use and the sound card is not very difficult to install. All in all, it boosts the sound quality without making a large dent in your budget so it’s highly recommended.

Key Features:

  • Built-In Headphone AMP
  • Three gain modes
  • Dolby Headphone Technology
  • GX 2.5 gaming audio engine
  • 5.1 sound card
  • Automatic jack-sensing front-panel output

8. StarTech.com 7.1 USB Sound Card External

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Anyone who needs a reliable external sound card that increases the capabilities of a default computer card should try this StarTech model. It connects via USB and provides great support for 7.1 or 5.1 channels. To make a full upgrade of the integrated sound card, this model also enhances overall sound quality. It provides superior sampling rates for clear and detailed sound via an optical cable.

Installing this device is a breeze. It’s recommended for Windows systems where it works in plug-and-play style. Audio outputs can be customized with the help of dedicated software. The top panel includes a few buttons to adjust the volume. If you’re setting up your computer audio system for home theater sound performance, the StarTech sound card is recommended. It’s a cost-effective and user-friendly solution overall.

Best Audiophile Sound Card

9. Creative Sound BlasterX G1 7.1 Portable HD Gaming USB Soundcard

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Another great sound card from Creative, the Sound BlasterX G1 is a portable audio enhancement solution. As opposed to other models from the company, this one is connected via USB. It packs dedicated features for gamers such as 7.1 channel virtualization to obtain better accuracy when hearing sounds in-game. The headphone amplifier makes a great pairing with many high-quality gaming headsets out there that require more driving power.

The BlasterX Acoustic Engine allows for multiple adjustments until you experience the optimal sound for your gameplay. External speakers also benefit from sound optimizations as the sound card is recommended for music and movies as well. Whether you’re a PC gamer or console user, this sound card can make any set of speakers livelier. It can upgrade headsets that perform poorly but it’s strong enough to handle higher-rated headphones without issues.

Best PCI Sound Card

10. HT OMEGA Claro Halo Internal Sound Card

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Another competitively priced audiophile-grade solution is the HT Omega Claro Halo sound card. It produces an outstanding sound, perfect for those who wish to create a high fidelity setup. This model is capable of enabling you to hear even the tiniest of details and is geared towards those looking for a high-end PCI sound card.

If you have a set of power-hungry high-end headphones you need a sound card that’s able to meet such demanding needs. Compared to the low-impedance output of your average motherboard onboard audio, this sound card lets you set the output impedance up to 600 ohms which is really impressive.

The integrated headphone amplifier on this sound card is rated at 120 dB and can manage a superb listening quality with any pair of decent headphones. As this model offers a 192 kHz sample rate you will be able to experience the ultimate sound quality.

Another great ability of this model is the Dolby Digital Live Encoder. This generates a high-quality bit stream using any computer sound source which allows you to take advantage of the full surround sound potential of a home theater system.

Connectivity-wise, this sound card provides its user with anything they could possibly need. Besides the standard RCA connectors, you’ve got optical SPDIF output and input as well as the usual line in, aux in, and microphone in.

Taking into account its capabilities, the HT OMEGA Claro Halo is a severely underrated sound card which makes no compromises on audio performance and ease-of-use. It requires a free PCI slot so keep this in mind if it looks like a tempting option. Overall, this is strongly recommended when you also consider the complexity of the adjustable options in its included software.

Key Features:

  • 24-bit/192kHz 120dB DAC
  • TI 128dB Headphone Amplifier
  • Anti-pop Protection Circuitry
  • Professional Grade RCA Connectors
  • Dolby Digital Live