The 4 Best PC Sound Cards of 2020

See our selection of the top PC sound cards for audio, gaming and more

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The Rundown
"For gamers, look no further than the Creative Sound Blaster Z and its slew of gamer-friendly audio features that will enhance anything from Minecraft to today’s most popular action shooter."
"Matching audio with ambiance, the 10-mode RGB audio reactive lighting lets you flood the room with your favorite colors."
"Featuring a built-in audio amplifier that offers three different gaming options, the Asus Xonar GHX PCIe GX2.5 is a superb budget option."
Best for Music Production:
ASUS Essence STX II at Amazon
"The surround sound is boosted by Dolby Home Theater that can turn your PC into a true home theater entertainment center."

The best sound cards should heighten your audio experience and elevate your overall user experience with your computer, especially when it comes to gaming. These sound cards are designed to pair with the right headphones to create the best audio quality your device can achieve.

When looking for your perfect sound card, there are three top factors to take into account: audio quality, channels, and connectivity. First, find cards within a nice range of signal-to-noise ratio. Next, make sure it has enough jacks for the equipment you would like to plugin. Lastly, make sure it supports at least 5.1 channel audio and do not be afraid to splurge on a 7.1 channel audio version. Our top pick: Creative Sound Blaster Z at Amazon is gamer-friendly. This card also has five jacks and a good amount of signal-to-noise to help create the optimal gaming setup. The best sound cards will make sure you top-level hearing senses while gaming.

Best Overall: Creative Sound Blaster Z

For gamers, look no further than the Creative Sound Blaster Z and its slew of gamer-friendly audio features that will enhance anything from Minecraft to today’s most popular action shooter. It has a 116dB signal-to-noise ratio, 600ohm headphone amplifier for high impedance headphones and five different 3.5mm headphone jacks (front and rear speakers, subwoofer, amplified headphones and microphone slot).

Included with the Z are two different types of software to help make it fit for you, including the Z-Series control panel and Alchemy. The latter allows you to enable EAX support on older games, while the Z-series panel allows total control over the functionality of the sound card with equalizer, changing presets, tweaking microphone parameters and enabling “Scout Mode” for improving the high and middle frequencies. Toggling between headphones and a speaker system requires little more than the flip of a switch, so you can to fill your room with immersive sound and easily adjust back to headphones to avoid waking family members or neighbors.

Best Lighting: EVGA NU Audio Card 712-P1-AN01-KR

Elevate entertainment with the EVGA NU Audio Card 712-P1-AN01-KR. Building off its reputation for powerhouse graphics cards, EVGA is improving your sound experience whether you're streaming or playing. For gamers, this card’s impetus is lifelike immersion: Virtual surround will situate you in your world of choice, and a lowered measured and perceived noise floor will make enemies easier to detect. Ambient noise is suppressed so you’ll easily be able to hear conversations while communicating with fellow players. 

Whether you’re consuming or producing content from music to podcasts to movies, the audio card deals in nuance, capturing soft dialogue to explosive moments and can record at up to 384kHz, 32-bit. Matching audio with ambiance, the 10-mode RGB audio reactive lighting lets you flood the room with your favorite colors, or lets the sound dictate the hue. The card has Native DSD support and its analog section is crisp and realistic, so you can fully enter virtual worlds or capture yours the way you want.

Best Budget: ASUS Xonar GHX PCIe GX2.5

Featuring a built-in audio amplifier that offers three different gaming options, the Asus Xonar GHX PCIe GX2.5 is a superb budget option. The VOIP, pro-gaming and exciter gaming options are ideal depending on your gaming level and just how serious you are about the audio experience. Beyond amplification, the GX2.5 engine helps provide realistic 3D audio effects (up to 128 different sound effects) and when paired with an equally well-performing graphics card, it’s a glimpse of the 3D gaming future and showcases how critical sound is to the overall gaming experience.

The jack-sending front panel will automatically switch from back to front when headphones are plugged in and quickly adjusts the sound before or during gameplay, so you don't have to manually changing connection settings. The inclusion of Dolby Headphone 5.1 HD sound results in accurate and deep audio that allows for every sound to feel immersive and keep gamers focused on the environment around them.

Best for Music Production: ASUS Essence STX II

With an industry-leading 124dB signal-to-noise ratio, the Asus Essence STX II can deliver up to 64 times better performance than the audio hardware that’s included with a new computer purchase. The 7.1-channel sound card includes a built-in headphone amplifier that can support up to 600ohms for maximum sound quality. The engineers at Asus have also added additional gain control options for high-sensitivity IEM headphones, which both audiophiles and music purists will recognize as isolating ambient noise for an undisturbed audio experience.

Asus takes sound adjustment to another level by offering swappable op-amp sockets that allows buyers to create different timbres and tonal combinations until they find their version of the perfect sound. The surround sound is boosted by the addition of Dolby Home Theater that can turn your PC into a true home theater entertainment center with truly immersive and realistic sound that places users directly in the action.

What to Look for in a PC Sound Card

Audio quality - The overall audio quality of a sound card is an extremely complicated equation that takes into account things like signal-to-noise ratio, frequency response, and total harmonic distortion. You generally want a sound card with signal-to-noise ratio over 100dB, but the best sound cards are in the 124dB range, which is a significant improvement.

Channels - A lot of decent, budget-friendly sound cards typically support 5.1 channel audio, but you can spend a little more to get one that can handle 7.1 surround sound. Some are even capable of upmixing 5.1 channel audio to 7.1, which is great if your headphones support 7.1 channels and your audio sources don’t.

Connectivity - Look for a sound card that has the jacks you need to plug in all of your equipment. Basic sound cards have 3.5mm jacks that work fine with most headphones and headsets, but look for one with RCA jacks or a TOSLINK optical connection if you’re hooking up to audio equipment that requires those types of connections.