Before you decide whether an external card is the best sound card type or an internal one, let us tell you that you’d normally find a stock sound card already inside your PC. But if you are an audiophile, you’d definitely want an upgraded audio card for better sound. So how important is it to get one?
Especially if you are a gamer, there are two media related elements in your gameplay i.e. audio and visuals. PC owners would buy graphics cards to improve the visuals, but if you don’t add a good sound card, you’ll only be halfway there. Whether you buy an external sound card or an internal sound card, it surely is something you need to set aside a budget for.
ASUS and Creative Make the Best Sound Cards, Who Else?
Unlike most of the other hardware components, there are two companies that have lopsided chunks of the market cover. So please bear with us if you see more than one ASUS sound card or Creative Sound Blaster models in our list. Additionally, we have included external sound cards in the list as well as the top internal sound card picks. Do keep in mind, though, that an internal card is supposed to offer a greater quality and compatibility with the motherboard.
Best Internal Sound Card
ASUS Sound Card Essence STX II 7.1
Best of the Best!
This has the potential of taking your 7.1 channel surround sound system to its true best. With audiophile grade customization options and industry leading 124db SNR, there’s hardly anything better.
Best External Sound Card
Creative Sound Blaster Omni
Great for Recording and Playback
SBX Pro Studio and Crystal Voice coupled with a 100db SNR get you great value for money in this Creative Sound Blaster sound card. Not only that, it packs dual microphones for better recording too.
Creative Sound Blaster Zx – PCIe Sound Card
Wondering why do people spend so much on a sound card for PC when you can get decent audio for a lot less? Pay a visit to the fiery hot Creative Sound Blaster Zx! As sweet as it looks inside that red case, it is more than that. The casing works as a shield against EMI. It even looks and feels high end with all those red LED lights.
Not only does it impress with the overall gaming and music quality, but also with its clear vocals. There is a Crystal Voice technology that allows you to get rid of noise and calibrates the voice level on the go. Not that the voice quality will ever be bad in the normal course of events thanks to the Sound Core3D processor.
Overall, the quad-core processor allows for impeccable audio quality that is suitable for your entertainment system. However, it is for a 5.1 surround system as 7.1 isn’t supported by its audio resolution of 96KHz/24-bit.
Creative Sound Blaster Zx also comes with an in-built amp to improve the audio quality of the 3.5mm headphone jack. This is accompanied by gold plated audio jacks, and even a TOSLINK port that sits beside the microphone jack and the 5.1 channel.
Last but not least, you also get premium treatment when you are trying to control headphone levels, using the mic or the microphone. Because in the premium price you pay for it, you will also get an Audio Control Module that sits right beside your mouse.
- Mid grade performance
- Quality PCIe sound card with EMI shield
- Audio Control Module
- Crystal Voice technology
- Not the best there is
Asus Xonar DGX PCIe GX2.5 – Budget Audio Card
You don’t always need to spend a fortune on a PCIe sound card in order to get quality audio. In fact, with a model like the ASUS Zonar DGX in the mix, things are getting pretty interesting even for the budget buyers. While it is no 7.1 surround sound like the expensive Xonar DSX, the sound card does offer great a Dolby 5.1 surround sound.
Moreover, the ASUS sound card in question is often available for discounts that are applied to a list price that is already quite low! Instead of going for lesser known companies that make cheap audio cards, we suggest you rely on ASUS for their quality.
This is an internal sound card made with all the basic necessities in mind. And even for the gaming enthusiasts among us, it will deliver a satisfactory punch in every AK47 shot you take in your FPS. What is a sound card good for if it can’t make the gameplay more immersive, right? Same goes for music, by the way.
In terms of power, the ASUS sound card boasts an HD processor (C-Media CMI8786) that maxes at 96KHz/24-bit audio resolution. And also comes with some handy tricks that automatically switch between rear to front when you switch from speakers to headphones. Talking of, the ASUS Xonar DGX also has a headphone AMP with three different modes to choose from.
While there are PC sound cards that offer all that and more, they ask for prices that appear gargantuan as compared to what you will pay for our top budget sound card here.
- Quality ASUS sound card on budget
- Dolby 5.1 surround sound
- Good value for money
- Windows 10 needs additional driver download
- No safeguards against electromagnetic radiations
Isn’t it interesting how we have ASUS models competing closely for the best budget as well as the best high-end product slot here? The ASUS Essence STX II also qualifies for it because it is better than just a home use product. The internal sound card is packed with high-end features like the 7.1 Dolby surround sound as well as Dolby Home Theater.
Additionally, there are extra gain controls to further improve the ambient noise. As a result, the soundcard produces even better sound if you are using IEM headphones with high sensitivity. For a true 7.1 experience, the daughterboard will allow six more 3.5mm jacks to be plugged.
With 124dB signal-to-noise ratio, the ASUS sound card beats the Creative Sound Blaster sound card above with ease. Not only that, but their own competition from the Xonar line also fell short at 116db. Even the headphone amp support is the best in the lot allowing for as much as 600ohms.
But it isn’t necessary that you love the sound right out of the box. There could be some adjustments you want to make through the amp. The ASUS sound card tops the rest in that regard by offering three swappable op-amp sockets. With hardware tweaks assisting the sound customization software, this is true audiophile grade.
If we really had to pick up something that isn’t right with the ASUS Essence STX II, it would be that it is one of the more costly products. Surprise, surprise.
- True audiophile grade sound customization
- Great quality of Dolby 7.1
- 124db SNR
- Very expensive choice
Sewell Direct Soundbox Pro – External Sound Card
The first external sound card we decided to include in our list of the best sound cards of 2018. Sewell might not be a company that is as well known as Creative Sound Blaster or ASUS, but this piece of hardware they made is a force to reckon with.
Not everyone’s done and dusted with the RCA connectors. And since most of the PC sound cards these days do not come with RCA support, having an external sound card with front RCA connectors is great. There always is some kind of device that uses RCA.
The playback and recording support provided by the Sewell Direct Soundbox Pro is higher than most of the models in our list at 192/96/48/44.1 kHz, 24-bit. But the SNR levels of the ASUS sound card above are still the highest. Sewell can produce the signal to noise ratio of 100db.
With the higher sample rate and resolution though, you can expect more precise and powerful sound tuned to your layout with Dolby surround sound 7.1 support. That is if you expand your sound system to that extent. Sold? Make sure you get it while stocks are there since the external sound card isn’t in ample supply most of the time.
As an indirect effect of this, the prices may sometimes get hiked unwarranted. Nonetheless, this is a premium quality product and you aren’t going to pay a small amount to get it even if the stocks are available.
- Great 7.1 surround with front RCA
- High sample rate and resolution
- Great for recording as well as playback
- Volatile price
- Supply issues
Creative Sound Blaster Omni – USB Sound Card
Just like the Sewell external sound card, this model also doesn’t use the PCIe port for connecting with the motherboard. Instead, it uses a USB 2.0 interface, allowing you to perch the soundcard atop your desk. Talking of, the Sound Blaster sound card is also one looks great with the trademark reds of Creative.
We will compare it with the Sewell model above for better understanding because both of them aren’t internal sound cards. The Omni doesn’t support a 7.1 channel and goes only as far as Dolby 5.1 surround sound. But that is good enough for some of the more immersive audios.
As with most of the external audio cards, Omni also focuses on the recording. But takes it a step further than the Sewell model. It has not one but two microphones, using the same Crystal Voice technology to streamline the vocals. The level of clarity, as well as precision, was immaculate.
You also get the standard SBX control panel for software related tweaks to the sound configurations of your system. But not only that, the SBX will also let you customize settings for the microphones. On the flipside, though, noise cancellation isn’t as great as it was with the previous external sound card.
In the end, we can say that despite not being an absolutely perfect product, the Creative Sound Blaster Omni is worth every penny. Given that you aren’t going to pay a lot on it either.
- 100db SNR
- Dual microphones
- Great value for money
- Echo cancellation is missing
You can opt for multiple channels too. We have not including anything below 7.1 and 5.1 channel models here, but the choice is vast, and it gets better with the budget.
Technically, an internal PC sound card is supposed to provide better quality than an internal one. This is because internal models have better components and connectivity. External sound cards, have maintained not only their size but also connectivity solutions. Using USB 3.0 helps alleviate CPU time waste as compared to a USB 2.0 connection, but both are not as good as an integrated PCIe Sound card inside the PC.
You might want to pick an external model Additionally, an internal sound card is unable to offer any plug and play use, resulting in no portability. It is the exact opposite in the case of those external ones by Creative Sound Blaster and the likes.