A Guide To The Best Sound Cards Of 2021

Are you a gamer or a music lover? Then your sound needs to be different than the others. Plugging in your headphones or speakers in your PC won’t cut it for you. To get the most immersive and scintillating audio experience, you’ll need a sound card.

When plugged into your PC or laptop, these will improve your audio quality offering deep basses, rich tones, and a lot of depth in the sound you’re receiving.

Over the years, sound cards have become extremely popular among gamers. As these cards also help in enhancing your PC’s performance, why not get one today? To make your search a little simpler, we have listed the best sound cards in this post. Let’s get started!

In a hurry? Check out our recommendations below:

Best for those looking for a reasonably priced product to improve their PC’s sound
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Best for audiophiles who have a higher budget and work with expensive audio equipment
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Best for users looking for high-quality sound and optimizable op-amps
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Best for those searching for a budget sound card with USB plug and play functionality
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Best for non-XBOX players who want an excellent sound card which is easy to set up
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Things To Look For When You’re Buying A Sound Card

After you’ve decided to get yourself a sound card, you have to look through the numerous options available in the market. However, picking a dedicated sound card doesn’t have to be a hassle. Here are some factors you need to keep in mind while buying one.

Compatibility

The foremost important factor while choosing a card is whether it’s compatible with your system. You don’t just want to buy a card with great features but isn’t compatible with your PC. Even if it has an affordable price tag, ask the dealer whether it will support your audio devices.

Surround Sound

All modern games, movies, and music support surround sound. So, if you have a fantastic sound system at home and want to enjoy the best sound quality, choose a card that supports 7.1-channel surround sound support.

On the other hand, if you’re going to use only PC speakers or simple headphones for the audio output, such a card with virtual surround sound is not necessary. In that case, you can just go for a normal one and save some cash.

Gaming And Audiophile Cards

Separate cards are designed for gamers and audiophiles. If you want an outstanding gaming experience along with good listening options, you need a gaming sound card. The music performance is great with these cards too.

For those who have a quality speaker setup and want a high-quality audio experience, go for an audiophile sound card. These work like a charm with high-end headphones and speakers to give you an immersive experience.

USB And PCIe Cards

You have to check out the type of your card while buying. If it’s a USB card, then it will easily plug into your PC via a USB port. Some of these cards have microphones attached to their bodies allowing you to directly record sounds with them.

PCIe sound cards are installed inside your PC and use the motherboard’s PCIe port or PCIe interface to provide you excellent sound quality. As these cards use power from the PCI port and offer lower latency than the USB cards, their sound is a lot better.

Signal To Noise Ratio (SNR)

This ratio defines the quality or clarity of the sound your card is producing. It’s the difference between the noise and signal power, so the higher this ratio is, the clearer will be your sound.

For example, if an SNR is 50 dB, it means that the audio signal is 50 decibels more than the noise signal. This is a poor SNR value, as you will be able to hear the noise clearly only when the volume is turned up high.

That’s why you must always go for a sound card with a minimum of 100 dB SNR.

MP3 Encoding

A card having an mp3 encoding facility can handle mp3 files without much support from the CPU. This will be great not only for music but for gaming too. With the gaming mp3 soundtracks being handled by the sound card, your CPU can focus more on the game, making it run more smoothly.

Best Sound Cards: Product Reviews

Now that you know a lot about sound cards, it’s time to begin searching. To save you from being overwhelmed by the plethora of options, we’ve created a neat list of the best sound cards out there. Check them out!

1. Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX PCIe 5.1

Best for those looking for a reasonably priced product to improve their PC’s sound
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If you’re looking for a solid sound card as your motherboard’s card isn’t working properly, this is the one to check out. It’s popular for being a great product with exciting features at an affordable price.

This goes great with mid-range speakers and headsets. It is a perfect solution to all the cracking and strange noises you’re current card is making. Moreover, this is perfect for converting your PC into an entertainment system, thanks to its 5.1 immersive surround sound.

These cards come with SBX Pro Studio software that’ll help you enhance the sound even more. You get a control panel to handle this software with ease.

Whether you’re a gamer or a music enthusiast, this card won’t disappoint you.

Pros

  • Multi-channel surround sound compatible with 5.1 speakers
  • Good Signal To Noise Ratio of 106 dB
  • Removes any unwanted noise from your system

Cons

  • Not designed for audiophiles but to be used as a replacement for the system’s sound card

2. EVGA Nu Audio Card

Best for audiophiles who have a higher budget and work with expensive audio equipment
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This card is designed to work with high-tech sound equipment and provide a fantastic gaming experience. If you happen to use basic gaming headsets, this card is not for you. Offering features such as virtual surround sound, ambient noise suppression, and smart volume, this product will provide you the ultimate audio experience.

It has a Signal To Noise Ratio of 121 dB, and RGB lighting. So, you get crystal clear sounds in a colorful ambiance! The outstanding sound quality is enhanced with their flagship software suite NU Audio, which lets you fine-tune your audio. You can also control the RGB reactive lighting with this powerful software.

Plus, this comes with switchable OP-AMPs, input/ output options for speaker output, headphones, and a mic.

Pros

  • Outstanding sound quality with immersive sound
  • RGB support with easy to use software controls
  • Perfect for gaming and high-end audio devices

Cons

  • This is a bit expensive than the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX PCIe 5.1

3. ASUS Sound Card Essence STX II

Best for users looking for high-quality sound and optimizable op-amps
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Another one of the best sound cards out there, this is well-loved among all audiophiles and music lovers. Offering you excellent audio quality with any modern headphones or high-end speakers, this is one of the most high-end sound cards.

This comes with two interchangeable op-amps – LME49720 and MUSES8820. You can change and install them whenever you want with the op-amp swap kit which comes with the card. The kit has a clamp tool that you can use to remove and replace the op-amps. Sweet, right?

Another feature that makes this a great tool is its compatibility with In-ear monitors (IEMs). Even high-quality IEMs work well with this card. If you talk about gaming, then this is indeed amazing. You’re bound to enjoy your games even more with its top-class sound offering.

It’s costlier than the previous two products, but if you’re looking for a great listening and gaming experience, you must go for this.

Pros

  •     Offers high-quality sound making it a great card for gaming and music
  •     Optimize your sound settings with the swappable op-amps
  •     Decently priced as per its features

Cons

  • Doesn’t come with surround sound support

4. Sabrent USB External Stereo Sound Adapter For Windows And Mac

Best for those searching for a budget sound card with USB plug and play functionality
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This is one of the best-selling USB sound cards in the market, due to its price and simple connectivity options. Having a very flexible audio interface, you can easily use it with your PC or laptop. It has a USB type A with a microphone input jack and stereo output jack. This fantastic tool doesn’t require any external power and is easy to set up. Just plug this into your laptop or PC, and connect your headphone or mic to it. No driver installation is needed! Isn’t that awesome?

This wonderful external sound card runs with almost any operating system you can think of. These include Windows 2000/ XP/Vista/ 7/ 8 / along with Linux and Mac OSX. Plus, it comes with a warranty of 1 year from the date of purchase.

Although it doesn’t have the features of ASUS or EVGA Nu, you can pick this if you have a limited budget and not expecting premium components.

Pros

  • Portable and lightweight
  • Plug and play with no driver installation
  • Compatible with multiple operating systems

Cons

  • No surround sound, and not ideal for gaming

5. Creative Sound BlasterX G6

This one’s a serious product. If you’ve used PCIe gaming sound cards before and enjoyed them, this card is going to change your mind. Whether you play on PC, XBOX, Nintendo Switch, or PS4, this card will upgrade your gaming experience for sure. That’s why it’s considered one of the best external sound cards in the market.

Coming with a plethora of features such as immersive 7.1 surround sound, bass boost, accurate cues, and better communication during multiplayer games, you’ll feel lucky to have this card. It also has a cool feature called Scout Mode that lets you hear opponents before they hear you.

This card fairly easy to set up. All you have to do is connect it with a USB and an audio port, then start gaming. Within minutes, you’ll experience the difference between this and the internal sound card in your motherboard.

In terms of a premium gaming experience, this is a lot better than ASUS, EVGA Nu, or Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX.

Pros

  • Outstanding gaming performance with virtual surround sound
  • Headphone amplifier for amazing fidelity sound
  • Compatible with all gaming consoles

Cons

  • It’s a bit pricey, but makes up for it with its amazing features

6. Creative Sound Blaster 70SB181000000 X3

Best for non-XBOX players who want an excellent sound card which is easy to set up
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This is a product that’ll impress gamers and those who want to improve their current system sound. It works on all major gaming consoles except XBOX. Still, it will be great for any gamer as it comes with a 7.1 surround sound experience.

Equipped with Super X-Fi technology, this sound card is ideal for movie buffs who want an upgrade to their desktop sound quality. Having surround sound on speakers and headphones, 115 dB SNR, 32-bit / 192 kHz playback, and support for Dolby Digital Live Encoding, this card will offer you the best movie experience.

You get a Sound Blaster Command software that you can use to optimize your audio performance while gaming, watching movies, or listening to music. When it comes to connectivity options, it has a USB type C port, headphone jack, mic port, and a port for gaming consoles.

Although it’s a great buy for gaming and movies, the XBOX incompatibility is an issue. If you’re an XBOX gamer, you can go for the Creative Sound BlasterX G6 instead.

Pros

  • Excellent sound quality for games and movies
  • Compatible with most gaming consoles along with Mac and Windows systems
  • Simple set up and easy to use

Cons

  • It’s a bit costly considering the fact that it doesn’t run with XBOX

Summing Up

Buying an external sound card isn’t easy as there are so many options available. To buy the right product for your system, you have to consider the factors mentioned in the article. It all starts with your requirements. If you’re a gamer and want to enhance your overall sound quality, go for sound cards with immersive surround sound support and cool features. On the other hand, if you’re a music enthusiast, an audiophile sound card will be good for you.

You can also choose just a USB-powered card if your needs aren’t that fancy. Budget is also an important factor. We hope the buying guide given in the beginning will help you pick the right one and weigh your options.

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