Although the best sound cards are underrepresented in the PC gaming world, they’re still a foundational component of your build.

Don’t believe me? Imagine trying to triangulate enemy positions or getting lost in the ambient sounds of your favorite MMO with tinny old speakers instead of a gaming headset. It just doesn’t work, right? It’s a similar leap from onboard sound to dedicated sound card — even if you already have a quality gaming headset or speaker setup, the performance boost you’ll experience from a quality sound card can level up your play ten-fold.

In today’s article, we’ll check out the most popular internal and external sound cards to give you the audio boost you need. Whether you prefer headphones or speakers, whether you play on PC or console, we have a sound card for you. Sound like a plan? Let’s get started.

Zoom Out: A Comparison Table of the 10 Best Sound Cards

To begin, here’s an overview of the top options available. For an in-depth summary of each model, scroll down to the Zoom In section below. 

ImageSound CardTypeSupportCost
1. Sound Blaster Z SEInternalPC
2. EVGA Nu Audio CardInternalPC
3. Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FXInternalPC
4. Sound BlasterX G6ExternalPC, Consoles
5. Sabrent USB External Sound AdapterExternalPC, Mac, Linux
6. Creative Sound Blaster X AE-5InternalPC
7. Asus Xonar AE Sound BoardInternalPC
8. HyperX Amp USB Sound CardExternalPC, Consoles
9. ASUS Strix SOAR 7.1InternalPC
10. AudioQuest DragonFly BlackExternalPC, Mac, Mobile

Zoom In: A Closer Look at the 10 Best Sound Cards in 2022

Without further ado, here’s a comprehensive look at the best sound cards on the market.

1. Sound Blaster Z SE

The best sound card overall

Manufacturer: Creative | Type: Internal | SNR: 116dB | Platform Support: PC | Price: 💰💰💰

Seeking a top-tier sound card for under $100? If so, say hello to the Sound Blaster Z SE, one of Creative’s latest offerings in the audiosphere.

Since its launch in early 2021, the Sound Blaster Z SE has quickly ascended the ranks to become one of the most popular sound cards on the market. This is largely thanks to its built-in multi-core Sound Core3D audio processor and CrystalVoice technology, which combine to provide euphonious output and crystal-clear input.

In terms of specs, the Sound Blaster Z features a 116dB SNR combined with a gold-plated I/O panel for lossless audio and zero interference. It also features a bit rate up to 24-bit and 192 kHz, meaning you won’t miss a beat in games like Warzone or programs like Ableton Live.

With its low price and exceptional performance, we highly recommend the Sound Blaster Z SE to most gamers seeking an audio upgrade.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Quality specs for under $100
  • Features a 116dB SNR at a bit rate of 24-bit / 192 kHz
  • New-and-improved Sound Core3D audio processor provides an exceptional audio foundation for your gaming PC
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • No in-app volume control
  • Issues with drivers crashing
  • Reports of occasional audio delay

2. EVGA Nu Audio Card

The best gaming sound card

Manufacturer: EVGA | Type: Internal | SNR: 121dB | Platform Support: PC | Price: 💰💰💰💰

You undoubtedly know EVGA for their high-caliber GPUs. But did you know that they also produce a lineup of all-star gaming sound cards? Introducing the EVGA Nu Audio Card, the best sound card for gaming on our list.

Powered by nahimic and equipped with 3D audio, the EVGA Nu produces stunning virtual surround sound unlike anything you’ve heard before. Furthermore, the EVGA Nu makes it easier than ever to detect enemies and triangulate their positions thanks to a lowered noise floor filter that picks up the slightest pitter-patter of feet and clickity-clack of weapon swaps.

And if all that wasn’t enough, the EVGA Nu also comes with a number of other audio-enhancing features like ambient noise suppression, native DSD support, and a best-in-class 121dB signal-to-noise ratio. Yes, you’ll have to shell out the big bucks (upwards of $200) to get your hands on one. But it’s worth it for gamers looking to take their play to the next level.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Crystal clear sound quality
  • Legendary CS, should you need support with setup
  • Loaded with game-enhancing features + RGB LEDs
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Lacks Linux drivers
  • Requires external power via SATA
  • Reports of a clicking noise upon launching computer

3. Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX

The best internal sound card on a budget

Manufacturer: Creative | Type: Internal | SNR: 106dB | Platform Support: PC | Price: 💰💰

Despite having launched way back in 2013, the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX remains one of Creative’s top-selling sound cards. How is it still going strong after 8 years, you ask? 

For starters, the FX incorporates Creative’s legendary commitment to sound quality. This includes Advanced Audio Processing via Creative’s proprietary SBX Pro Studio software, which supports 24-bit 192 kHz playback and 5.1 surround sound to keep you in the loop from every angle.

The FX is also very adaptable, and novice PC users can easily install the card into their open PCIe slots. Throw in the unbeatable price point ($40, anyone?), and you’ve found one of the best budget sound cards around.

Oh, and one more thing. If the FX isn’t quite powerful enough, you only need to look to the next step-up in this series, AKA the Audigy RX. For just a few bucks more, you can upgrade to virtual 7.1 surround sound without sacrificing an ounce of performance.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Quality 5.1 surround sound
  • Works as an easy-to-install replacement card
  • Powerful Advanced Audio Processing technology
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Doesn’t quite hit the much sought-after 110dB SNR
  • Reports of some initial syncing issues w/ Windows 10
  • Creative’s Sound Blaster Audigy Fx Control Panel is dated and quite limited

4. Sound BlasterX G6

The best external sound card

Manufacturer: Creative | Type: External | SNR: N/A | Platform Support: PC, Gaming Consoles | Price: 💰💰💰

Next up, we have the SoundBlasterX G6, AKA the most powerful external sound card on our list. This bad boy is an audiophile’s dream, providing 7.1 virtual surround sound and Dolby Digital decoding for crystal clear and immersive audio.

The G6 connects via USB and syncs with your PC or console’s motherboard to deliver stunning, lossless audio — both angelic highs and thundering lows — as though it were physically connected to your PCB. Moreover, many users actually prefer this external sound card over its internal counterparts, as the G6 is known to produce next to zero static and hissing as it transforms digital to analog.

Of course, you’ll have to shell out a hefty sum for such quality audio. And you’ll also need to find a place to set the unit, something you don’t have to worry about with an internal card. But this card is worth it for PC and console gamers seeking beautiful sounds (and an upper hand) in their favorite titles.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Volume and sound controls found on unit itself
  • Dolby Digital decoding delivers crystal clear audio
  • Works with Creative’s Sound Blaster Command software
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Gets hot over hours of use
  • On the pricier side, over $150
  • Surprisingly fragile, features plastic construction

5. Sabrent USB External Sound Adapter

The best budget sound adapter

Manufacturer: Sabrent | Type: External | SNR: N/A | Platform Support: PC, Mac, Linux | Price: 💰

The Sabrent USB is the best-selling sound adapter on the market, largely due to its minuscule price tag (under $10) and solid performance. While not a true sound card in the traditional sense, this plug-and-play sound adapter functions much the same, providing an easy I/O interface for your 3.5mm speakers or headphones. It’s an excellent solution for folks whose internal sound system has unexpectedly taken a turn for the worse, as well as those with smaller budgets.

Don’t expect exceptional audio quality from this little device, but don’t expect it to be a total dud, either. The Sabrent USB is the little sound adapter that could, and it gets the job done just fine on Windows, macOS, and Linux machines.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Extremely affordable, under $10
  • Comes in USB-A and USB-C configurations
  • Plug-and-play design works on Windows, macOS, and Linux
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Adequate — not exceptional — audio quality
  • Issues w/ sound volume, either too quiet or too loud
  • May need to disable on-board sound card (if applicable) to function correctly

6. Creative Sound Blaster X AE-5

The best sound card with LEDs

Manufacturer: Creative | Type: Internal | SNR: 122dB | Platform Support: PC | Price: 💰💰💰

Not only does the Creative Sound Blaster X AE-5 deliver hi-res audio, it’s also the best-looking sound card on our list!

That’s right – this baby is loaded with RGB LEDs that sparkle and glow inside your PC case. Bask in the glory as you play your favorite RPG or adventure game, enjoying unrivaled immersion in 5.1 discrete or 7.1 virtual surround sound. This card’s Dolby Digital Live and DTS Encoding combine with a 122dB SNR to provide insane sound quality with zero distortion, only suitable for the highest-caliber players in the realm.

On the subject of players, the AE-5 also boasts unique features made specifically for PC gaming, including Scout Mode (amplifies footsteps and weapon switching noises) and CrystalVoice (provides clear comms).

Do note that we only recommend this card to folks seeking an RGB option. That’s because, while it performs well overall, you are spending some of your money on a fancy light show, not just audio performance. Great for gamers, but audiophiles may want to look elsewhere.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Neat design w/ RGB LEDs
  • Supports Dolby Digital and DTS
  • Excellent sound quality thanks to the SABRE32 ultra-class PCI-e DAC
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Issues w/ software performance
  • Only works with Windows (lacks Linux support)
  • Switching audio output device disrupts playback (may require an audio restart)

7. Asus Xonar AE Sound Board

The best budget sound board for headphones

Manufacturer: ASUS | Type: Internal | SNR: 110dB | Platform Support: PC | Price: 💰💰

Wish you could triangulate your in-game enemies like a bat with echolocation? That (and much more) is possible using the Asus Xonar Sound Card!

The Asus Xonar powers up your gaming experience with immersive 3D audio and 7.1 surround sound. It features an exceptional 110dB signal-to-noise ratio and comes with Hyper Grounding technology mixed with an EMI backplate to deliver jitter-free audio that’s crisp, clear, and free of static.

If you’re a PC gamer or music mixer, the integrated headphone amplifier is another huge win, providing immersive audio effects that echo through your ears.

The major downside is that the Xonar seems to suffer more QC issues than competing options, with reports of crashing and driver problems. We recommend purchasing from a reputable retailer, and you should be just fine.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Lovely 110dB SNR output
  • Comes with a 150ohm integrated headphone amp
  • Low static thanks to Hyper Grounding & EMI backplate
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Reports of crashing and driver problems
  • ASUS sometimes lags behind with driver updates
  • Bit more expensive than comparable Audigy RX from Creative

8. HyperX Amp USB Sound Card

The best USB sound card for gaming headsets

Manufacturer: HyperX | Type: External | SNR: N/A | Platform Support: PC, Gaming Consoles | Price: 💰

Have you ever played a competitive shooter and had trouble properly triangulating the enemy’s position? If you’re using a headset without 7.1 surround sound, it’s probably a near-daily occurrence.

Fortunately, the gaming gods over at HyperX created an audio upgrade that doesn’t require purchasing a new pair of headphones (as long as they’re stereo). Instead, the HyperX Amp USB Sound Card takes care of everything for you! Just plug the USB sound card into a port on your PC or console, plug your headset into the auxiliary jack, and you’re good to go! Hop into a match of Warzone and experience a new level of immersion alongside 7.1 surround sound, adjusting settings as necessary via the built-in audio control box.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Works on PC and console
  • Crisp 7.1 virtual surround sound
  • Powerful noise-canceling feature for built-in mics
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Only works with stereo headsets
  • Some find the audio slightly “tinny”
  • Requires audio splitter for standalone microphones

9. ASUS Strix SOAR 7.1

The best ASUS sound card

Manufacturer: ASUS | Type: Internal | SNR: 116dB | Platform Support: PC | Price: 💰💰💰

Take your gaming audio to new heights with the Strix SOAR, one of ASUS’ top sound cards in the esteemed Strix lineup.

While the SOAR 7.1 first hit the shelves back in the mid-2010s, it remains an excellent option in today’s gaming landscape. The standout specs include a 116dB signal-to-noise ratio, a pro-grade DAC, and a 600ohm headphone amp that provides detailed sound for pinpointing enemies in a pinch.

The SOAR also includes ASUS’s Sonic Studio, a custom application that gives you fine-tune control over every aspect of your audio experience in a clean, intuitive dashboard. 

That said, it is a bit pricey when compared to the Sound Blaster X SE, a top-rated card with similar performance. It’s also known to come with a few driver issues, though these can be sorted with a quick call to customer support.

The real star of the show is the 7.1 virtual surround sound, which rivals the real deal and provides an immersive gaming experience that you’re sure to love.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Powerful 600ohm headphone amp
  • Virtual 7.1 surround sound sounds like the real deal
  • Intuitive controls via Sonic Studio, ASUS’s complementary software
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Slow drivers
  • No RGB lights
  • Sensitive to interference despite 116dB SNR

10. AudioQuest DragonFly Black

The best sound adapter

Manufacturer: AudioQuest | Type: External | SNR: N/A | Platform Support: PC, Mac, iOS, Android | Price: 💰💰💰

Embark on your quest for audio dominance with the AudioQuest DragonFly Black, a small sound adapter with performance rivaling the big boys.

This little accessory is an excellent addition to your sound setup, providing exceptional sound quality that blows your onboard sound out of the water. Although the AudioQuest isn’t a sound card in the traditional sense — it bypasses the internal sound system to deliver audio through the USB port on your PC or Mac — it’s still an excellent option for folks seeking a powerful replacement or upgrade, particularly when paired alongside a quality headset.

In essence, this USB DAC + Preamp + Headphone Amp all-in-one device is a handy accessory for gamers and audio enthusiasts seeking 24-bit/96kHz sound that hums like a dream.

  • USERS LIKE
  • Up to Up to 24-bit / 96kHz resolution
  • Features a powerhouse 32-bit ESS 9010 Sabre DAC
  • Compatible with PC, Mac, and mobile devices (mobile requires an adapter)
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Inconsistent volume output
  • Good quality, but quite expensive
  • Sounds best on PC and Mac, limiting its utility as a portable device

Sound Card Guide Part I: What Is a Sound Card?

Internal Sound Card
Image: Franc Reporter via Canva

A sound card is a printed circuit board that supplies the input and output of audio waves on a computer or electronic device. Sound cards can be either internal or external to the motherboard, but they all function to provide audio to the end-user. Integrated sound cards (built into the motherboard) are usually of lesser quality than updated replacement options, such as the ones on our list. However, many of the best gaming motherboards have started utilizing higher-quality cards for enhanced performance and an immersive experience out of the box.

How Does a Sound Card Work?

Traditional sound cards function as internal expansion boards. In other words, they are integrated with your computer’s motherboard to provide the required audio signals for your computing needs. There are also newer options that allow you to plug in a USB or similar connector to receive the same benefits of a sound card directly, without the need for a direct connection. This provides extra flexibility and makes it easy for everyday users to experience enhanced audio.

The best sound cards are used in a variety of situations from everyday computing, to listening to music, to gaming in cinematic quality. As such, there are numerous benefits to picking a quality sound card for your PC.

Sound Card Guide Part II: Top Benefits of Sound Cards

Having the best sound card comes with a huge number of perks. Let’s check out a few of the top benefits.

  • Immersive Audio. The best sound cards enhance the output from your device for the highest quality transmission. Whether you’re a hardcore gamer, or if you just like the sound of excellent tunes, the right sound card paves the way for an immersive experience.
  • Separate I/O Ports. Sound cards provide separate I/O ports for all your devices and cables. With the proper configuration, you can utilize more peripherals and develop the audio system of your dreams.
  • Contained Workload. With a standalone card, the audio system is given the space it needs to perform its functions without as much strain on the CPU. This is a huge boon for gaming.
  • Enhanced Audio Chain. There are many different ways to boost your PC audio experience, but the best sound cards are at the foundation of your setup. Paired with a quality headset or speakers, it’s enough to make the most hardened audiophile swoon.
  • Affordable. An amazing audio setup doesn’t have to cost a fortune. The sound cards on our list start under $20 and provide excellent audio with rich tones and deep bass.

Depending on the type of sound card you choose, there are several other unique perks to look out for. For instance, plug-in sound cards offer lots of flexibility, and more expensive cards can turn your rig into a recording-level studio. Regardless of which type you choose, the best sound cards pave the way to an immersive audio experience.

But which option should you choose?

Sound Card Guide Part III: Choosing the Best Sound Card

External Sound Card
Image: Adrian via Canva

Choosing the best sound card sounds like a challenging task, especially with all the technical jargon thrown around. In reality, it’s pretty easy — you just gotta know which questions to ask.

1. Do you want an internal or external sound card?

If you’re an audiophile and want to take your experience to the next level, a permanent option is probably your best bet. But if you can make do with easy-to-install or plug-in sound cards, that may be the way to go.

2. What specifications and features do you want?

The best sound cards vary heavily in functionality. That’s because different options are geared toward different users. Think about what you’d like from your sound card, and choose one that features the unique benefits you require.

3. How much time and money are you willing to invest?

Sound cards start under $20 and go upwards of $100 depending on the type and features included. Consider how much you have to spend and what you’re willing to invest in terms of the installation process and time involved.

HighGroundGaming_highGroundView_br

Our Process

For this guide on the best sound cards, our writers spent 4 hours researching over 50 of the most popular options from brands big and small. After comparing this data, we then read over 200 user reviews and narrowed our list down to the top 10 sound cards on the market. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.