Are you frustrated by your computer’s stock sound card? Onboard sound can leave a lot to be desired, and can draw precious processing power away from your CPU. For hardcore gamers, musicians, and audiophiles, only a dedicated sound card can deliver premier audio quality. The best sound cards flawlessly reproduce sound with high resolution audio thanks to a broad dynamic range and quality assurances like high signal-to-noise ratios. By upgrading to one of the best sound cards you will hear a noticeable difference in the fine details, volume, and clarity of your music, games, and movies.
Best Sound Cards: Things to Consider
The best sound cards are complex little devices that help our computers produce sound. They process digital sound files, then manage the analog output to speakers or headphones. They can also convert analog sound to a digital file for recordings.
Here’s what to consider when choosing the best sound card for your system:
- Resolution. Audio resolution is based on the bit depth and the sample rate of audio information. Sample rate, measured in kHz, determines how many samples per second are processed. Bit rate determines the size of each sample. CDs have and audio resolution of 16-bit at 44.1kHz, which can record and reproduce almost every sound audible to the human ear. Anything above this is considered high-resolution audio.
- Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR). This spec refers to your sound card’s ability to differentiate external noise from legitimate sound signal. It’s expressed in decibels and the higher the better. High SNR values indicate that your audio will be clear, crisp, and only contain sounds intended by the creators.
- Dynamic Range. From the lightest cymbal in an orchestra to the loudest in-game explosion, the best sound cards can accurately reproduce both. This is dynamic range, describing the difference between the softest and loudest tones, expressed in decibels. Human hearing can define 120dB of dynamic range, so the closer to this number, the better for your sound card.
- Channel Support. Let’s face it, you are probably not looking for one of the best sound cards so you can use the speakers that came with your laptop. You want full surround sound. Check to see if the sound card you want supports the number of channels you use.
- Type. There are internal and external sound cards. Internal sound cards have to be manually installed, while external sound cards usually only need a USB connection. Sound quality isn’t usually compromised in either case, but you may want one or the other depending on your experience, space restrictions, and input needs.
Top 8 Best Sound Cards Comparison Guide
Top 3 Best Sound Cards Reviews
You may have noticed that Creative have found their way on our list multiple times. That’s because they are the industry leaders when it comes to highly-functional, professional-quality sound cards. Almost every card they make is top of the line, and the Sound Blaster Z is one of their best entry level models. Starting with a high, 24-bit/96kHz resolution, this card was meant for gamers and musicians alike.
Featuring SBX Pro Studio technology, you can get the most out of this sound card with the least investment. Even when using simple 2.1 speakers or headphones, SBX Pro Studio allows you to experience full surround sound. This is especially immersive in gameplay, where you get a sense of 3D realism in your audio. Of course, you can also use up to a 5.1 speaker system with this card.
Signal-to-noise ratio is very high at 116dB, ensuring you block out external background and internal electrical noises. Inputs/outputs are gold-plated for maximum audio transfer integrity. For those who do a lot of mic work, there’s also Crystal Voice technology which reduces ambient noise and instead focuses on the full sound of your voice, picking up crisp vocal audio. With so many great features, this is a great sound card for almost every application.
For music producers, serious movie buffs, and demanding gamers, ASUS has created a spectacular sound card. Developed for up to 7.1 channels, this card tests the limits of audio resolution at an incredible 24-bit/192khZ. With a 107dB SNR, you can be sure that the audio you hear is the audio that was intended.
Seeking to test the limits of your hearing, the frequency range of this card is 10Hz to 48kHz, complementing the high SNR for unparalleled reproduction. A THD+N value of .0017% means that other components inside your computer or laptop won’t interfere with that flawless sound.
Despite its impressive specs, this card’s value may be its greatest asset. It’s priced affordably for any budget and can make a major impact on the way you play and record audio.
Sometimes, an external sound card is best, and you can’t go wrong with the Creative Sound BlasterX G5. This card is compatible with both PC and Mac as well as Xbox One and Playstation 4. It can handle your 7.1 surround sound with ease. It uses 24-bit/192kHz overkill resolution. Signal-to-noise ratio is almost perfect at 120dB.
The little details make this such a great sound card. For example the lit volume wheel that gets brighter the louder it’s set. It is also light and portable, featuring a rubber bottom so it promises to stay put even if you accidentally yank on the headphone jack. There are even 17 different presets depending on the types of games you’re playing.
Even if you’re not playing games, the customization for this sound card is amazing, allowing you to equalize music settings and enhance voice input. For a little more than the price of the Blaster Z, the Blaster X G5 delivers superior sound option and enhancements.