Best Sound Cards of 2019 – Top 5 Picks for Gaming

Motherboards often come with onboard audio, and that is one of the reasons why a sound card is often overlooked when picking out the parts for a gaming PC.

Onboard audio is pretty decent.

But if you want the best possible audio experience when listening to music or playing games. Then you should consider picking up one of the best sound cards for gaming.

A sound card can provide additional features such as 7.1 surround sound and can also give access to ports that you might need.

Best Sound Cards

There are a wide variety of sound cards on the market, and such a range can make things overwhelming. If you are in the market for a new sound card, then you have come to the right place.

Today we are going to look into some of the most reliable sound cards on the market which include a premium, a budget, and a best overall option. So, you will be able to find the option that suits you the most.

Best Overall

  • Impressive Sound
  • 7.1 Surround Sound
  • Great Value for the Price

Premium Pick

  • For the Audiophile
  • 7.1 Surround Sound
  • Quick Installation

Budget Pick

  • Impressive Audio
  • 5.1 Audio
  • very Affordable

The Best Sound Card of 2019

1. Creative Sound Blaster Audigy

Creative is known for bringing impressive sound cards into the market that offer plenty of features and high-quality audio quality. The card has a PCIe interface and plugs right into the motherboard. The card might not be much to look at but it offers impressive value for money.

The sound card is capable of providing 7.1 surround sound which is something that you can take advantage of in competitive games like PUBG and Fortnite. 7.1 surround sound gives you 360-degree audio which will allow you to hear where your enemies are.

Best PC Sound Card

The Creative Sound Blaster Audigy sound card is one of the best sound cards on the market and offers great value for money keeping in mind the features that it has to offer. If you are interested in great value for the money that you are spending then this is an option worth looking into.

106dB SNR ensures high-quality audio and the card supports older versions of Windows as well. Not only is the sound card ideal for gaming but for music production as well because of the high-quality audio that it is able to provide. The card has impressive reviews and has got plenty of praise from the users that have tried it out.

Pros

  • Impressive sound
  • 7.1 surround sound
  • Great value for the price
  • Quick installation

Cons

  • Software compatibility issues with Windows 10

2. Asus Essence STX II

Asus is known for making great gaming peripherals and this sound card is no exception. It is a relief to be able to plug in a piece of hardware and to have it work without any kinds of issues whatsoever. That is what you get with the Asus Essence STX II. The card works fine with Windows 10 as well as previous operating systems.

Our Premium Pick

Asus is known for bringing some quality products to the market and this is one of those products. The design is unique and better than a barebones card that is available on the market. This is not uncommon keeping in mind that this is an Asus product. If you are in the market for premium sound card from a reputable company then this is an option worth looking into.

The sound card provides great sound and comes with an amp which is able to increase the sound quality. Something to keep in mind is that the EQ is pretty small and that it can be hard to tune the sound to your liking. The card uses the PCIe interface and plugs right into the motherboard and all you need to do is install the drivers and restart the system.

Pros

  • Great sound
  • AMP with chip
  • 7.1 surround sound
  • Quick installation

Cons

  • EQ is small, hard to tune

3. ASUS Xonar DGX

The Asus Xonar is another product from Asus on our list and it is a bare bones model and that is why the price is relatively lower as compared to the rest of the lot on our list. Do not let the price fool you, this is an Asus product so you will be getting your money’s worth. The Xonar provides great audio and will allow you to hear everything in-game. The card comes with a headphone amp that will increase the level of sound.

Excellent Budget Pick

Keeping everything in mind it is safe to say that the Asus Xonar is a great option to consider as it has plenty of features for the price. If you are on a tight budget and are looking for a sound card from a reputable company then this is an option worth looking into.

The sound card is able to provide 5.1 audio. The card is able to detect when headphones are plugged into the front panel and can change between the two when needed. This is an interesting feature to have in a sound card especially at this price point.

This is a PCIe sound card plugs right into the motherboard and the sound card is great value for money keeping in mind the price.

Pros

  • Impressive audio
  • 5.1 audio
  • PCIe interface
  • Easy installation

Cons

  • Known issues with Windows 10

4. Creative Sound Blaster

Here we have another sound card from Creative. The design is simple and clean and the card is covered in a Red shroud, unlike a barebones model. If you have a side panel then this will look great in your build. It comes with an audio control module.

Audio Control Module Included

The Creative Sound Blaster Zx is a great option that comes with plenty of features. The external model allows users to connect a headphone a mic without having to reach behind your PC every time you need to plug something in. The sound card is well-made and comes with a great looking shroud. The lights are a bit distracting but this is a great option if you are in the market for a new sound card for gaming.

The ACM comes with an interface which can be used to plug in headphones and a mic. There is a knob in the module that allows you to control the volume levels without having to leave the game. The module comes in Red and Black and will blend in well with the rest of your build. The sound card comes with Sound Core3D Audio Processor which accelerates audio.

The Scout Mode allows you to hear the enemy before you can be heard and this will give you a distinct advantage in competitive online games such as first-person shooters. The sound card provides 5.1 audio and you can connect it to your home theater system to cinematic audio.

Pros

  • External module
  • Knob to control volume
  • 5.1 audio
  • DTS Connect
  • Bright LED lights

Cons

  • Mic Pre-amp could be better

5. Creative Sound BlasterX

This is another sound card from Creative but this is the first one that comes with the XAMP for headphones. The card is based on the PCIe interface which provides high-quality audio gaming and movies. The sound card comes with a shroud that gives them an impressive design, unlike bare-bones sound cards.

The Creative Sound BlasterX AE-5 sound card has a lot of features and an impressive design. The RGB lighting is great if you already have RGB lighting in your build and a side-panel to show off the hardware. If you are willing to pay more for high-quality features and RGB then this is an option worth looking into.

Another interesting feature is that the card comes with RGB lighting which you can customize and sync with the rest of your PC hardware. If you have a side panel then you will be able to show off your hardware with RGB lights. The card is available in Black and white so you have the option to pick a color depending on the rest of your build and your preference. It also offers 5.1 audio. All that does come at a cost and that is why this is a pretty expensive sound card. If you are willing to spend more money on additional features and quality sound then this is a great option to consider.

Pros

  • Impressive build quality
  • Aesthetically pleasing design
  • RGB lighting
  • 5.1 audio

Cons

  • Software could be better

Conclusion

These are all the sound cards that we can recommend. These are some of the best options available on the market today.

There is a budget option, a premium one and a value option so you will find something that meets your requirements and suits your budget. Sound cards can be expensive and you will also have to get some extra gear if you want to take proper advantage of your sound card.

What is a Good Sound Card for Gaming?

PC sound card for gaming

If this is your first time getting a sound card or are just looking for more information regarding your potential purchase then you have come to the right place. Here we are going to look into why you should get a sound card and different factors that you need to consider when getting one.

Do You Need a Sound Card?

Modern motherboards come with built-in audio which can provide decent audio and plenty of features such as 5.1 audio. The built-in audio should be enough for basic needs but if you are interested in listing to high-quality digital audio and gaming then you might want to look into getting a sound card that provides better audio and features such as additional inputs.

Audio files are lines of code, like any other files that we have on a PC. Sound files can store information but a PC cannot produce waves that need to go through the air and into our ears in order for our ears to hear something. That is why you a digital to analog converter in order to convert the digital files into audio. That is where a sound card comes in.

The reverse is true as well. While the digital files are converted to analog a mic will be used for gaming as well and that is going to be connected into the sound card as well. Hence the sound card will convert analog audio into digital format as well.

All the components in your system create electrical interference and that can result in hissing sounds or distortions of other kinds. This is not ideal for an immersive gaming experience. This interference can reach you through headphones or speakers.

While modern motherboards are able to provide minimal distortion and reduce noise, they are not all that impressive when it comes to sound amplification. That is where a dedicated sound card comes into handy.

Different Kinds Of Sound Cards

There are three main kinds of sound cards that should know about. They are as follows:

USB Sound Cards

USB sound cards use the USB interface. They are easy to use because they are easy to use and install. Connecting a USB sound card to your device is like connecting your smartphone via USB or any other USB powered device.

If you are planning on using the sound card with a laptop then you should keep in mind the number of USB slots that you have available and which of them are unused. These are useful because you cannot open up a laptop and replace the internal sound card. If you are planning on getting a sound card for your laptop, then a USB card is what you want to get.

Internal Sound Cards

Unlike USB sound cards, internal sound cards need to be installed inside your PC. These are usually larger than USB options and look like graphics cards but smaller. Similar to what we talked about in our best external graphics card for laptop review. You need to open up your PC and install the card in one of the PCIe slots in order for it to work. This is a PCIe solution and that is why these cards often provide better audio quality as compared to USB options.

Onboard Sound Cards

Onboard sound cards are the integrated solutions that you get on your motherboard. This might not be the best option but it comes with your motherboard and will provide decent audio keeping in mind that it does come for free.

Surround Sound

While motherboards are great for providing decent audio, dedicated sound cards can provide surround sound. Most sound cards provide 5.1 audio which means that you can use the card to hook up 5 speakers and a sub-woofer. Newer cards come with 7.1 audio which allows you to set up 7 speakers and a sub-woofer.

Upgrading Sound Cards

While motherboard audio cannot be replaced, it can be disabled in order to use a dedicated card that will perform much better as compared to onboard audio. A dedicated sound card can be removed if it is needed to be repaired or replaced. That is one of the benefits of having a sound card instead of onboard audio that the motherboard comes with.

Signal To Noise Ratio

Signal to noise ratio (dB) will tell you about the quality of sound that the sound card will provide. 100 dB is ideal but if you want super clean sound and want the best then you should look for a sound card that offers 124 dB or more. 100 dB is more than enough for gaming and editing but if you want premium sound then you can opt to get to get a sound card that offers better sound quality.

Sampling Rate

The sampling rate is another indication of performance. To give you a benchmark a regular phone call has a sampling rate of 8 kHz. The onboard audio is able to provide 44 kHz. A dedicated sound card, on the other hand, is able to take that up to 96 kHz. That should give you an idea of what a dedicated sound card is capable of providing as compared to the onboard audio solution that your motherboard comes with. This is why it is a good option to consider getting a sound card for a better gaming experience.

Ports And Connections

A sound card has plenty of ports that you can take advantage of but you also need to keep in mind the ports that you need. The following are some of the ports and connections that you get with a dedicated sound card:

  • Output for headset
  • headphones
  • Output for active speakers
  • Input for recordings
  • Gaming microphone input
  • Input for RCA jacks or
  • jack analog
  • Outputs and digital inputs

Does Sound Cards Boost FPS?

Sound cards do take some load off the CPU and some people think that translates into higher FPS in games but that is not the case. A sound card will not get you better performance in games. The CPU and GPU will play a role in providing you with the performance you need in-game. Whether you have a sound card or not makes no noticeable difference when playing games.

Invest In High-quality Headphones

A sound card might be an expensive piece of hardware for your PC but if you decide to get a high-end sound card then you will need a pair of headphones that support the sound card and is able to deliver the level of sound that the sound card is able to produce. If you have a decent sound card but a cheap pair of headphones then you are wasting the potential that the sound card has to offer.

Design

Sound cards come in all kinds of designs. The least expensive are the ones that are bare and come with no kind of shroud whatsoever. There are others that are better looking and come with shrouds. These are available in different colors and can be matched to the rest of your build. Some sound cards come with additional features such as LEDs and RGB lighting.

If you do get a sound card with RGB lighting then you can sync it with the rest of your build and have it light up all the same. Furthermore, some cards are bigger than the others and that is something to keep in mind when you are in the market for one. If you are building a small form factor build then the size of the card is something that you need to keep in mind. While a regular sound card will fit into an ATX case, you will have a hard time fitting the same card into a smaller build.

sound card for gaming Waveform

How Much Money Should You Spend On A Sound Card?

The amount of money that you should spend on a sound card depends on a couple of factors. It depends on the budget that you have and the features that you are looking for in a sound card but we are still going to give you some pointers on what you can or should do with your money. Keep in mind that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to how much money you should spend on a sound card.

If you do not have onboard audio or need to replace it then $20-40 should be more than enough. You will get the ports that you need for the money. If you have onboard audio but are looking for a sound card that can support your headphones or sound system then you can spend anywhere between $40-80 on a sound card.

If what you are looking for is high-quality clean audio then you should be able to get what you are looking for in under $150. If gaming is not the only thing that you are interested in you also happen to be a professional music maker then you can spend up to $200. That budget will be more than enough to get you what you are looking for.

As mentioned before the money that you spend depends on your budget and what you are looking for. It is possible that you do have working onboard audio and want better audio for gaming but want the best that money has to offer. In that case, you might be interested in spending more than what we have mentioned here.

Things will be more complicated if you are on a tight budget and are looking for the best value for money. The challenge is finding the best audio quality and the most features without spending too much money. We have provided you with a couple of recommendations that should be able to make it easier for you to pick the one that is best for you.

Is Getting A Sound Card Worth It?

Sound cards provide better sound and additional ports as compared to the built-in audio solution that your motherboard comes with. Audiophiles will swear that sound cards are worth the investment but others will point you in the other direction. So, are they worth buying at the end of the day?

You need to keep in mind that if you are getting a sound card then you will most likely need to get additional equipment as well. This could include new high-end speakers or headphones or an amp that will amplify the sound that your speakers and headphones receive. This equipment comes at a cost that is not included in the price that you are paying for the sound card, so that is something that you need to factor in when buying a sound card.

An external Module Makes Life Easier

An external module is an extension of the sound card that sits outside the PC. You can set it up on your desk or anywhere else that you might seem fit. The external module provides a couple of ports and other features that make it easier to plug in headphones and your mic. The additional ports can be used for other purposes.

Some modules come with USB ports that allow you to connect a headset or other devices that you might need to power. Some modules come with volume knobs that help you control the volume without leaving the game. External modules might also come with RGB lighting and colors that blend with the rest of your build.

This is an important factor to keep in mind if you are in the market for a new sound card. Without an external module, you will find yourself looking behind your PC every time you need to remove or plugin headphones, a mic or speakers.

Playing Blu-ray Audio Without A Sound Card

You will need a sound card if you are interested in taking advantage of Blu-ray high fidelity digital audio. Using a sound card will give you proper audio and video. If you are using a sound card then you will be able to listen to high-quality audio at 96 kHz with 24-bit resolution with 7.1 surround sound support.

If you choose to go with 5.1 audio then you will be able to hear the audio at 192 kHz with 24-bit resolution. To give you an idea of what you are getting, consider that a simple CD is able to deliver 44.1 kHz at 16-bit resolution. While if you do use a sound card you will be able to take advantage of all the additional quality that the format has to offer.

If you do not use a sound card then the audio quality will be sampled down and what you will get is a 48 kHz sampling rate at 16-bit. This is another factor to keep in mind when in the market for a new sound card and if you are going to use your PC to play Blu-ray movies then you should take advantage of the sound quality that a sound card has to offer.

Is Getting A Sound Card Worth It

Final Words

Sound cards provide better sound and additional ports as compared to the built-in audio solution that your motherboard comes with. Audiophiles will swear that sound cards are worth the investment but others will point you in the other direction.

You need to keep in mind that if you are getting a sound card then you will most likely need to get additional equipment as well. This could include new high-end speakers or headphones or an amp that will amplify the sound that your speakers and headphones receive. This equipment comes at a cost that is not included in the price that you are paying for the sound card, so that is something that you need to factor in when buying a sound card.

Getting a sound card means getting better audio quality especially if you are interested in viewing Blu-ray content on PC. If you are looking for a sound card then you should consider getting one that comes with an external module so that you can control volume setting without leaving the game and can connect speakers, headphones and mics without going to the back of your PC every single time.

Sound cards are expensive and if you feel that you can make do without one then rest assured that the onboard audio on your motherboard can do a good job at providing decent audio.

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Alex West

Alex is a gaming enthusiast with over 15 years of experience, especially enjoying competitive video games. When he's not gaming or watching e-sports he likes to write about gaming and hardware.

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