Are you an audiophile searching for the best sound card to amp up the audio quality of your computer? Then you have landed at the right place. Amping up the audio can be done via speakers and amplifiers, but sound cards are the right remedy to the problem. Sound cards not only help you amplify your audio but can also add clarity to it.
As a gamer, I always found that my computer lacked the audio levels required to play my favorite games, Call of Duty is one of them. Hearing gunshots and other commands was a hassle when I used my computer. However, when I connected the computer to an audio card, not only did my audio quality improve but the frame rate of my game improved as well.
Choosing a sound card can be tough. Some of you might want to blast out heart-thumping music while others would want booming sound effects when gaming. There are different cards with different specifications available in the market to suit your set of needs.
After digging deep into varieties of audio cards we have come up with some of the best performers in the audio card arena.
|Product||Audio Interface||Sound to Noise Ratio||Frequency response|
|Asus Essence STX II||PCI e||120 dB||10 Hz to 90 kHz|
|Cirrus Logic 8416CN||119dB||10 Hz to 45 kHz|
|PCI e||116dB||10Hz to 45 kHz|
|C-Media Oxygen HD CMI 8788||120 dB||10 Hz to 192 kHz|
|PCI e||121 dB||Upto 384 kHz|
|PCI e||106 dB||Upto 192 kHz|
|PCI e||110 dB||10 Hz- 48 kHz|
The Asus Essence STX II is a powerful audio unit that can provide high-quality audio and is one of the most preferred products in the market and quite popular among all the headphone lovers. However, make sure you save up enough before choosing to buy this as it belongs to the list of expensive sound cards.
Bring out your high fidelity cans and bump up the sound of your computer as Asus has leveled up the performance of the sound card with the help of Texas Instruments PCM1792A 132dB DAC. With high fidelity audio comes noise cancellation which offers a distortion-free listening experience.
The sound quality is further amplified by the Essence STX sound card software. The software provides plenty of options for gaming, music, and movies. You can plug in your sound card and listen to almost anything with HiFi audio. Also, the sound card has a surround sound capability if you add the optional expansion card. Known as a daughter card, the expansion card gives 7.1 surround sound functionality.
To make the sound warmer and smoother, the sound card is fitted with three swappable MUSES opamps. The Asus Essence STX II accompanies an opamp swap kit which lets you switch your opamps easily.
The Asus sound card utilizes PCI Express as the audio interface and has a sound to noise ratio of 120 dB. The audio performance seems to have found the balance between fidelity, tonality, and clarity. Therefore, we have chosen it as the number one product on our list of best sound cards.
One amongst the biggest players of the industry, the Creative Sound Blaster’s sound cards are specifically designed for the audiophile crowd and are quite popular among gamers. Creative Sound Blaster’s flagship sound card, the Creative Sound Blaster ZxR is one of the best sound cards for gaming audio. There exist very few products on the market that can reach the sound to noise ratio of 124 dB. Hailing from the in the Sound Blaster Z series, the sound card is equipped with the finest audio hardware including Opamps, ADCs, and DACs.
To add to the sound quality Creative Sound Blaster has implemented Sound Core 3D audio processing chip which ensures music reverberates your walls. The music quality is further polished by the presence of an EMI shield whose primary purpose is to block noise interference from all the other computer components. It also helps to prevent damage to the components on the sound card. If you examine the rest of the specs you will find that Creative Sound Blaster promotes studio grade playback and recording.
The sound card is fitted with Burr-Brown ADC/DACs, Nichicon “Fine Gold” capacitors, and a 600ohm headphone amp for clean audio. Like the Asus Essence STX II, this sound card also provides a dual card solution to bring about quality audio to the listeners.
On the other hand, the daughter card has left and right RCA jacks for recording. Besides the main card and the daughter card, the third important component is the Audio Control Module [ACM]. The ACM is a volume controller, integrated microphone, and analog headset jack combined into one piece. The sound emitted by the sound card passes through ACM before being played which can capture the finest details of your audio.
Moreover, the sound quality is amplified by installing the Creative software, SBX Pro Studio. The software allows you to tweak bass, equalizer and adjust the frequency. You can also add virtual surround sound while listening. The card also lets you increase the quality of files and clarify spoken dialog while recording.
The Creative is a versatile sound card because it is preferred by audiophiles, gamers and audio recorders alike. Even though it only has basic recording capabilities, it is borderline studio quality. And though it belongs to the expensive category, this soundcard is money well spent for all audiophiles and gamers.
|Sound Core 3D audio processing chip to enhance sound.|
Possible to adjust bass and treble.
Main card doesn’t have surround sound.
The Sound Blaster Z PCie is the earlier version of the Creative Sound Blaster ZxR. A modestly priced sound card, it has no external control modules, daughterboards or replaceable op-amps. But, the card is known for its quality components including a SoundCore3D audio processor which boosts the sound quality.
The audio processor is the most important feature of the sound card. According to Creative Blaster, the Z card is engineered for low power consumption and high-performance audio. It can handle tasks such as audio effects processing, environmental sound within games and virtual surround sound through stereo headphones. This means that your CPU wouldn’t be pressurized with the load of audio processing.
The audio processor also has a quad-core processor which is used for processing all of the SBX Pro Studio effects. The SBX Pro Studio options aids in controlling the surround sound effect, applying a crystallizer for dynamic range compression and bass enhancement. However, we found that the combination of crystallizer and bass enhancement made music aggressive and harsh but provided good sound effects for movies and games.
Also, the Z card features improved audio fidelity and is characterized by tight responses across all frequencies. The sound card possesses an SNR of 116dB, a 600-ohm headphone amp which can produce clear audio. The Z can also connect to your home theater by way of a single digital optical cable. It also includes a beamforming microphone.
To control mic and voice chat, the Z is equipped with Crystal Voice. If you want to sound like a person from another gender, a munchkin, a lion or a robot, Crystal Voice has plenty of options for you to choose from. Another new feature is the scout mode which presents the user with supersonic hearing in games. So you can hear the footsteps of your enemies in a combat mode.
The Sound Blaster Z is the best sound card for people with budget restrictions. Even though the ZxR is equipped with better features the Z is well worth the money.
|Crystal Voice for varying sounds.|
|Headphone output gain is a bit high.|
The HT Omega Claro II 7.1 channel PCI is one of the most expensive sound cards due to its high-quality components. If you open it up, you will see multiple solid-state capacitors and CMI8788 Oxygen audio processors, some of the best components in the industry. It also comes with a wide range of features that make it a go-to product for the bucks you spend.
The most important feature of this sound card is its 7.1 surround sound which supports multiple speakers. The audio playback is improved by the integration of the AD8620BR op-amp for the front output and 24 bit/192 kHz audio support. All these features contribute to the clarity of the audio playback.
To enhance the audio further the sound card is fitted with Dolby Pro Logic IIx which converts a 5.1 signal to a 7.1 channel output. It also converts a digital 192KHz output into 8 independently controlled channels.
Additionally, you have the option of fiddling with the audio controls to customize the music as per your liking. The Oxygen HD Configuration software utilized by the sound card helps you to add various effects to the sound. You can raise and lower the gain, volume and also customize and save 10-band equalizer settings to countless profiles.
The software also features an environment tool that can disguise sounds or change their presence and location. Besides, there is an environment size tool that allows you to increase the reverberation of your music based on your taste.
|24-bit audio processing.|
Excellent sound quality.
This sound card from EVGA has gained much popularity because of the sterling components used in it. Capable of producing high-quality audio with pitch-perfect clarity, the card accompanies a fully-featured suite of equalizer software that can help you tailor the audio according to your taste.
EVGA NU card’s design contributes to improved noise cancellation. The sound is amplified by employing Sennheiser HD-800 and the OPPO PM-3, which in turn provides rich and clear sound. But, this sound card was found to lack a neutral sound signature.
Listening to music with mid-heavy genres like orchestral music is dull, but it can really rock out your electronic music playlist. Though it doesn’t respond well to all sorts of music, the sound quality definitely captivates gamers. The soundstage is incredible. You can hear the footsteps of your enemies to gunshots ricocheting off the walls. However, the audio card lacks treble. This has to be adjusted using the EQ software.
The EVGA software is simple and has limited controls. Apart from the bass boost, treble modifier, and voice clarity EQ presets, you can also control headphone volume, speaker volume, a surround simulator, volume stabilizer, noise reduction, reverb, left and right panning and frequency adjustments. The software also lets you create and save six custom presets.
|Quality components including a powerful amplifier.|
Great audio quality.
No 7.1 surround sound support.
Creative Blaster made its Audigy series sound cards to cater to all audio tastes. Audigy’s sound skills can satisfy hardcore gamers to metalheads. Add on the Audigy sound card to your computer and you can instantly recognize better audio quality. It is one of the best budget sound cards available in the market that boasts distortion-free music.
Creative’s core audience has always been gamers and to snub their thirst even further it has utilized the EAX Advanced HD technology in the Audigy cards. This technology brings on a whole new set of reverbs and effects for the games. It is capable of rendering up to four different audio environments all at the same time.
Multiple simulated environments add more realism to the gaming environment. Although this is possible only with the new games, it can create a more realistic sound environment. For example, if you are the captain of a mission communicating an order to a subordinate, the reverb of the conversation will differ according to the space that your virtual identity is standing in.
Besides simulating multiple environments, EAX Advanced HD lets game developers include effects such as environmental planning, environmental reflections, environmental filtering, and environmental morphing. These features help in the seamless transition of audio, simulating echoes and filtering the sound. The card also includes an SB1394 FireWire port which lets you connect to another PC for LAN games.
|Support 5.1 surround sound.|
Can power high impedance headphones.
|Lacks deep bass.|
The Asus Strix RAID Pro hails from Asus’s Strix family sound cards which were launched as game-oriented sound cards. This premium sound card is built for gamers who desire the ultimate gaming experience. The RAID Pro features flawless audio and has sound features that cater exclusively to gamers including excellent treble to hear audio cues. Besides, the card accompanies a separate control box that lets you change the sound signature.
The sound card boasts a good sound signature when listened using premium headphones like the Sennheiser HD800s. The audio is crystal clear and with the added effect of surround sound capability, the sound becomes boomier. However, the soundstage lacks reach and the bass is disappointing making the lows sound flat. Hearing at lower frequencies is difficult even though it offers a frequency response of 10-48,000 Hz. These problems can be resolved by activating the virtual surround sound.
This card is not recommended for music lovers or theater geeks. It caters to the gamers of the generation who prefer crystal clear audio and virtual surround sound over deep bass. A movie might lackluster with this audio card but, the clear trebles and mids will let you capture all the details of your games.
The Asus RAID Pro might not give you the best sound quality or quality components, but it is definitely a good choice for gamers because all its features prioritize gamers. Besides, there is efficient software that accompanies the sound card which helps tweak every feature to cater to your needs.
7.1 surround sound support.
|Sound quality could be better.|
1. Do sound cards really make a difference?
Sound cards are important to increase the audio quality of your system. If you are buying a sound card make sure you also buy the right speakers. Because without a good quality speaker or a headset the purpose of the sound card is lost and you will never notice the difference.
The use of sound cards is prevalent among gamers because they use it to shift load off their CPU. This results in better frame rates for the game. The improved sound with surround sound capability will let you capture all the detailed information of the game.
2. What is a good sound card for gaming?
The Creative Sound Blaster ZxR is the best sound card for gaming. The sound card boasts excellent sound quality with 5.1 surround sound capability and studio-grade recording. The internal sound card accompanies a beamforming microphone as well.
The ZxR can produce immersive sound effects while gaming. The sound seems to emanate from everywhere during certain game scenes. It can produce remarkable reverb effects which let you listen to doors creaking, the sound of waterfall, weapons sounding off and much more sans distortion.
3. What is the benefit of a sound card?
Sound card improves the sound quality of your computer. The audio gets clearer and louder which makes a significant impact on the listening experience. Sound card is mainly for audiophiles who would hate it if the audio quality is poor. Therefore, a movie buff or a gamer or a musician might end up buying a sound card for the best listening experience.
4. Which capability does a sound card need to provide the best sound?
The capability of the sound card depends on the hardware components fitted inside the card. Top-notch hardware components add on to the sound quality and also provide noise cancellation by blocking interferences.
Surround sound support can immensely enhance the audio quality of the sound card as well and make up for disappointing bass and low treble. Sound cards also come with software that will help you control the audio further.
8. Is a sound card necessary for gaming?
Pro gamers always prefer using sound cards for an immersive experience. All the PCs might not have the required sound quality to play a game on a professional level. Gamers always insist on having crystal clear audio with loud booming effects. While a laptop cannot do this alone, sound cards and speakers will help bring in the effect.
Besides the gaming experience, it is also necessary to capture the details of the game once you launch the computer, and so audio clarity becomes the need of the hour. Interactive games like PUBG require you to shout out commands and interact with your teammates. So, you need flawless audio to understand the message and act accordingly.
Choosing a sound card rests on your audio needs. While bass and treble might not be important to everybody, audio clarity is a requisite. Everybody desires distortion-free audio experience. The best audio card is the Asus Essence STX II. Even though the product is on the expensive side, it is definitely worth the money as it provides high fidelity sound.
High fidelity sound and surround sound are becoming major factors of competition in the audio card industry. These features can exponentially enhance your computer’s audio performance and therefore come at a higher price. Also, keep in mind that mid-range or cheap audio cards won’t make any significant difference to the audio quality of your computer. Therefore save a little and go for a high-end card with excellent performance rating.
Last update on 2020-04-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API