What do gamers and audiophiles have in common? They both enjoy high-quality audio for an immersive experience. Fortunately, achieving that sweet sound is easy with the best sound cards of 2019!

Sound cards are underrepresented in the PC gaming world, but they’re incredibly important to the overall experience. That’s because the best sound card can enhance your audio quality, providing rich tones, deep basses, and unrivaled depth. And that’s not to mention the boost in PC performance that a standalone sound card can offer. Sound enticing? Let’s get started.

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

We’ll start with an overview of the best sound cards on the market. They’ve been listed in price-ascending order and categorized by specs. For more info on each option, you can find in-depth summaries in the Zoom In section below.

ImageSound CardTypeSNRCost
Sabrent USBExternalN/A
Phoinikas USBExternalN/A
HyperX Amp USBExternalN/A
Creative Audigy FXInternal106dB
Asus Xonar AEInternal110dB
Creative Audigy RXInternal106dB
Sound Blaster ZInternal116dB
Creative AE-5Internal122dB
ASUS Essence STX IIInternal124dB
Creative Sound ZxRInternal124dB

Zoom In: A Closer Look at the 10 Best Sound Cards of 2019

We’ve put together this top 10 list to provide you with a variety of options for all your audio needs. Take a look at the ratings and features to find the perfect sound card for you.

1. Sabrent USB External Sound Card

Our pick for the best budget sound card

Sabrent USB External Stereo Sound Adapter for Windows and Mac

One of the best selling external sound cards on the market, the Sabrent USB External Sound Card comes in under $10! It quickly transforms a USB port into a headset and mic jack for simple connectivity. Perfect for Windows, Mac, and Linux machines.

High Ground Overview:

  • Type: External sound card
  • Compatibility: PC, Mac, Linux
  • Ports: 1x stereo output, 1x microphone input
  • Signal-to-Noise: N/A
  • Features: Plug & play design

2. HyperX Amp USB Sound Card

Our pick for the best USB sound card for gaming headsets

HyperX Amp USB Sound Card - Virtual 7.1 Surround Sound

Looking for a simple plug-and-play USB sound card that amplifies your gaming headset experience? The HyperX Amp is the answer! It boasts 7.1 virtual surround sound, an extended audio control box, and powerful noise-canceling tech to give your headset the boost it needs to keep you competitive.

High Ground Overview:

  • Type: External sound card
  • Compatibility: PC & PS4
  • Ports: 1x audio jack
  • Signal-to-Noise: N/A
  • Features: Virtual 7.1 surround sound and audio control box

3. PHOINIKAS USB External Stereo Sound Card

Our pick for best external sound card

PHOINIKAS USB Hubs Audio Adapter External Stereo Sound Card with 3.5mm Headphone and Microphone Jack for Windows, Mac, Linux, PC, Laptops, Desktops, PS4 Computer External USB ...

The PHOINIKAS USB External Sound Card us the perfect accessory for any audiophile’s arsenal. That’s because this bad boy features several ports, mixing functionality, and easy operation. Best of all? It’s compatible with all major systems, including PC, Mac, Linux, and PS4!

High Ground Overview:

  • Type: External sound card
  • Compatibility: PC, Mac, Linux, PS4
  • Ports: 3x USB, 3x audio jack
  • Signal-to-Noise: N/A
  • Features: Surround sound, volume control, and LEDs

4. Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX

Our pick for best PC sound card on a budget

Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX PCIe 5.1 Sound Card with High Performance Headphone Amp

The Creative Sound Blaster Audigy allows you to convert your PC into an entertainment system with 5.1 surround sound, advanced audio processing, and powerful software. It’s one of the best PC sound cards on our list and the perfect addition to your gaming or cinematic rig.

High Ground Overview:

  • Type: Internal sound card
  • Compatibility: PC (Windows 8+)
  • Ports: 1x output, 1x input, 3x 5.1 channel analog speakers
  • Signal-to-Noise: 106dB SNR
  • Features: 5.1 surround sound, studio-grade monitoring, and SBX Pro Studio software integration

5. Asus Xonar AE Sound Board

Our pick for one of the best internal sound cards

Asus Xonar AE Sound Board

If you’re looking to install a powerful internal sound card on a budget, look no further. The Asus Xonar powers up your gaming experience with immersive 3D audio effects and 7.1 surround sound. Plus, it comes with an automatic jack-sensing panel, audio adjustments, and a powerful HD sound processor. A fantastic option for gamers and audio enthusiasts.

High Ground Overview:

  • Type: Internal sound card
  • Compatibility: PC (Windows 7+)
  • Connectivity: 1x input, 5x output, 1x S/PDIF
  • Signal-to-Noise: 110dB SNR
  • Features: Hypergrounding technology, EMI backplate, and Sonic Studio Software Suite

6. Creative Sound Blaster Audigy PCIe RX 7.1 Sound Card

Our pick for best 7.1 sound card

Creative Sound Blaster Audigy PCIe RX 7.1 Sound Card with High Performance Headphone Amp

Creative Labs is known for their powerful sound processors, and the Audigy RX is no exception. It offers native 7.1 surround sound, advanced EAX reverb, and easy PCIe installation. Make waves with this attractive offering that includes studio-grade monitoring and high-quality 24-bit playback.

High Ground Overview:

  • Type: Internal sound card
  • Compatibility: PC (Windows 7+)
  • Connectivity: 2x input, 3x output, 1x digital output
  • Signal-to-Noise: 106dB SNR
  • Features: PCIe installation, 7.1 Channel Surround Sound, and Audigy Control Panel

7. Sound Blaster Z PCIe Gaming Sound Card

Our pick for one of the best PCIe sound cards

Sound Blaster Z PCIe Gaming Sound Card with High Performance Headphone Amp and Beam Forming Microphone

The Sonic Blaster Z is among the most popular sound cards on the market. This is largely thanks to it’s Sound Core 3D Processor and Crystal Voice tech which provides unrivaled depth in-game and out. As for quality itself? 116dB SNR combined with a gold-plated I/O panel ensures stunning quality. And at just under $100, it’s also a major steal!

High Ground Overview:

  • Type: Internal sound card
  • Compatibility: PC (Windows 7+)
  • Connectivity: 1x input, 1x output, 3x 5.1 channel connections, TOSLINK digital I/O
  • Signal-to-Noise: 116dB SNR
  • Features: Sound Core3D Processor, Crystal Voice tech, and beamforming microphone

8. Creative Sound BlasterX AE-5

Our pick for best-looking sound card

Creative 70SB174000000 Sound BlasterX AE-5 Hi-Resolution PCIe Gaming Sound Card

Not only does the Creative Sound BlasterX AE-5 deliver hi-resolution audio with best-in-class quality, 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. Plus, the overall look and feel perfectly matches the BlasterX Acoustic Engine Software for vivid sound and usage. As for use in gaming? Destroy the competition with Scout 2.0, which lets you hear your enemies way before they hear you!

High Ground Overview:

  • Type: Internal sound card
  • Compatibility: PC (Windows 7+)
  • Connectivity: 1x input, 4x output, 1x optical output
  • Signal-to-Noise: 122dB SNR
  • Features: SABRE32 PCIe DAC, RGB lighting, XAMP headphone amplifier, and Scout 2.0

9. ASUS Sound Card Essence STX II

Our pick for best sound card from ASUS

ASUS Sound Card Essence STX II

Are you a true audiophile? If so, the Asus Essence STX II is the only option for you. It features legendary audio quality with 124 dB SNR, hi-fi quality audio, and immersive tones that’ll keep you in the game for days. It’s truly the best sound card from ASUS on the market.

High Ground Overview:

  • Type: Internal sound card
  • Compatibility: PC (Windows XP+)
  • Connectivity: 1x input, 3x output, 1x S/PDIF output
  • Signal-to-Noise: 124dB SNR
  • Features: Amp for 600ohm, jitter-free TCXO clock, and great customer reviews

10. Creative Sound Blaster ZxR PCIe Audiophile Grade Gaming Sound Card

Our pick for best sound card

Creative Sound Blaster ZxR PCIe Audiophile Grade Gaming Sound Card with High Performance Headphone Amp and Desktop Audio Control Module

Coming in at the end of our list, you can be sure that the Creative Sound Blaster ZxR bundle is second to none. This sound card set features everything you need for studio-grade recording and 5.1 surround sound pro gaming. What’s in the box? You get 2 soundboards and a beamforming microphone that’s sure to elevate your game to the next level. Throw in an exceptional I/O panel and 124dB SNR, and you’re looking at the best sound card on our list.

  • Type: Internal sound card
  • Compatibility: PC (Windows 7+)
  • Connectivity: 1x input, 1x output, 4x speaker output, 2x RCA input, 1x TOSLINK I/O
  • Signal-to-Noise: 124dB SNR
  • Features: SBX Pro Studio, beamforming microphone, 24-but audio fidelity, ASIO 2.0, and more

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

A sound card is a printed circuit board that supplies the input and output of audio waves, aka sound, 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?

Sound cards function as internal expansion boards. In other words, they are either integrated or installed onto your computer’s motherboard to provide the required audio signals for all 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 attached to your motherboard. This provides extra flexibility and makes it easy for everyday users to experience enhanced audio.

sound blaster
Early Sound Blaster Card Design

The best sound cards are used in a variety of situations from everyday computing, to listening to music, to gaming in cinematic quality. To that end, 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 audio 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 separate card, the audio system is given the space it needs to perform its functions without all the 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, and the best sound cards play a huge role in enhancing your setup. Alongside the audio source and speaker setup, excellent sound cards are a must for hardcore audiophiles.
  • Affordable. An amazing audio setup doesn’t have to cost a fortune. The sound cards on our list start under $20 and provide stunning audio for rich tones and deep bass.

Depending on the type of sound card you choose, there are a number of 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

USB sound card
External Sound Card (Image Credit: Sabrent.com)

Choosing the best sound card can be a challenging task. There are lots of options out there, and the technical jargon can be intimidating. But — with the right planning, it can be easy.

Example of an Internal Sound Card
Internal Sound Card (Image Credit: Creative.com)

Let’s take a look at some of the questions you need to ask yourself when deciding on the right sound card:

1. Do you want an internal or external sound card?
If you’re an audiophile and want to take your experience 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 installation time.

Micolindun Example of an External Sound Card
Micolindun Audio Hub – External Sound Card

Fortunately, the options on our list feature a wide variety of sound cards with different specs and purposes. Check the ratings to find the ideal match, then consider how you’ll use it.

Sound Card Guide Part IV: How to Install a Sound Card

Ready to make some (sound) waves?

Installing a sound card is a relatively simple process. If you’re tech-savvy and know how to build a PC, it might be second nature. But if you’re an everyday user, the installation process can be a little tricky. So what are the options?

If you’ve decided on a plug-in sound card, the instruction manual should be enough to guide you through the process.

However, something trickier often requires a visual aid. To that end, we’ve pulled the video from Butter Scotch on YouTube to guide you through the process. While each installation is different, this is a great overview of what’s in store: