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. The best sound card will enhance your audio quality, providing rich tones, deep basses, and unrivalled 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.
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.
Our pick for the best PC sound card
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 the best PC sound card on our list, and the perfect addition to your gaming or cinematic rig.
- 5.1 surround sound with SBX Pro Studio
- Comes with a 600 ohm headphone amp and studio-grade monitoring
- Compatible with Windows 8 and higher
Our pick for the best internal sound card on a budget
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 5.1 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.
- 5.1 surround sound with 3D audio effects
- Features Dolby Headphone, GX2.5, and Media CMI technology
- Internal sound card is easy to install on your Windows machine
Our pick for the best USB sound card for gaming headsets
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-cancelling tech to give your headset the boost it needs to keep you competitive.
- Plugs into your gaming headset to boost your performance
- Delivers 7.1 surround sound and noise cancelling tech
- Convenient audio control box gives you access to top commands for on-the-fly adjustments
Our pick for the best 7.1 sound card
The HT Omega Claro is the best 7.1 sound card on our list thanks to a powerful CMI audio processor, wide I/O compatibility, and durable components. Install in your gaming rig to take your experience to a whole new level.
- Boasts powerful 7.1 surround sound with a top-of-the-line processor
- Wide I/O compatibility and gold-plated connectors offer convenience and solid construction
- PCI sound card for you Windows machine
Our pick for the best external sound card
Looking for a simple external sound card that works great for PCs and laptops? The Micolindun Sound Card has a dedicated audio chip that can transform a standard USB port into a high-powered audio output device. Experience stellar sound quality with this simple plug-and-play device!
- Dedicated audio chip turns your USB port into several 3.5mm connections
- Plug-and-play design offers an easy install with no drivers required
- Small form factor makes it easy to carry and highly versatile
Our pick for the best gaming sound card
Creative Labs is known for their powerful sound processors, and the BlasterX G5 is no exception. It offers native 7.1 surround sound, 3D gaming audio, and more with the powerful BlasterX Acoustic Engine Pro. Make waves with this attractive offering that includes a backlit volume control and sleek design.
- 7.1 surround sound thanks to the BlasterX Acoustic Engine Pro
- Best-in-class headphone amplifier for game chat
- Perhaps the best sound card for gaming
Our pick for the best budget sound card
One of the best selling external sound cards on the market, the Sabrent USB External Sound Card comes in under $10! It easily transforms a USB port into a headset and mic jack for easy connectivity. Perfect for Windows, Mac, and Linux machines.
- Listen and record with a headset and microphone jack
- USB powered with no installation
- The best budget sound card available
Our pick for the best 5.1 sound card
The StarTech 5.1 Sound Card is an affordable option that turns your rig into an audiophile’s dream. It features 5.1 surround sound, various audio input jacks, and more. The small design fits into most builds and supports up to 48kHz and 16-bit sampling. A great option for performance and affordability.
- Slim form factor fits into most PC builds
- Immersive audio with 5.1 surround sound and solid performance
- Works great with your Windows machine
Our pick for the best external sound card for laptop
The Sound Blaster Play! 3 is designed to bring you high-quality audio while gaming. And- it’s an external device! It works with PC or Mac and upgrades your sound system to a 24-bit, 96kHz performance powerhouse! While it’s perfect for laptops, this device doubles as the best external sound card for gaming.
USB connection delivers 24-bit, 96kHz sound quality
Simple headphone connectivity with stereo/mic support
Plug-and-play design is ready out of the box
Our pick for the best sound card
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 on the market.
- Best-in-class 124 dB SNR sound quality
- Various I/O jacks including headphone, mic, RCA, S/PDIF, and more
- Fantastic consumer reviews backed by Asus’ leading customer support
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 external or replacement options. 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.
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.
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 the 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?
Choosing the Best Sound Card
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.
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.
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.
Installing 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: