The 7 Best PC Sound Cards to Buy in 2018

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

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 When it comes to PC gaming, the sound that comes from your computer can definitely be a “make it or break it” part of the experience. The quality of video and game physics continues to improve at a mind-boggling rate and, with virtual reality being the next evolution, sound is often an overlooked part of the total experience. While the audio experience that comes with a gaming or regular PC is often good enough, getting the highest quality sound can make all the difference in your day-to-day gaming. Consider one of these sound cards for the best overall experience and take your gaming and multimedia to a whole new level.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Asus Xonar DSX PCIe 7.1

At a relatively inexpensive price, the Asus Xonar DSX PCIe 7.1 sound card is perfect for both movies and games. Plugging directly into the PCIe x1 slot that works with the newest motherboards, the Xonar’s support for 7.1 surround sound is matched by added support for its swapped OP-AMP. The “operational amplifier” assists in signal amplification, so it can produce a powerful output signal and thereby provide better sound. Beyond swappable components, the Xonar works to bring hi-fi theater directly to your desktop with support for DTS Connect, which assists in boosting overall sound quality. The introduction of Xonar’s GX2.5 audio engine adds an outstanding depth of sound for a truly immersive gaming experience. Additionally, the Xonar’s 192K/24bit support minimizes signal-to-noise and allows the focus to be solely on gaming or multimedia performance. Kick EAX into gear for older games and you’ll find an equally high-quality sound that’s comparable to 4K televisions upscaling older movies to HD for the best possible entertainment experience.

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 Ultra-Budget: Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX

If spending a lot or even a little on a sound card isn’t your cup of tea, the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX is exactly what you need. The bang for your buck offers a 5.1 surround sound that’s truly immersive and helps easily turn your PC into a cinematic-friendly entertainment system. With SBX Pro Studio, the Audigy will process audio behind the scenes to output the best sound with advanced audio processing. The 600ohm headphone amp offers a still outstanding experience without sacrificing or requiring a wildly expensive pair of headphones to get the best possible sound. Additional specifications include 192KHz/24-bit stereo fidelity and a signal-to-noise ratio of 106dB, as well as a half-height mounting bracket for installing this sound card on smaller PCs. Plugging in a set of 5.1 analog speakers will help you discover the best possible sound, but it’s worth noting that there’s no EMI shield here, so so there is the potential for some inference with other electronic equipment.

Best Splurge: Creative Sound Blaster ZxR PCIe

The flagship card for Sound Blaster is the flagship for a reason: it is the crown jewel of their already sterling lineup. The ZxR gives you mind-blowing sound on your gaming rig in an extremely tiny package. To start off, it gives you super clear audio at an unrivaled 124 dB while also employing a DBPro daughter board for dedicated, non-motherboard operation for extra oomph. This separate sound deployment also gives you 99.9 percent clarity, which is about 90 percent better than motherboard operation. It puts out sound at 24-bit and 192 kHz with SBX Prod Studio sound tech that gives you studio quality sound and even 3D surround sound effects.

Speaking of studio sound, the built-in headphone amp operates at 600 ohms for pristine sound in your cans, while there are RCA and optical inputs for top-quality (and versatile) ins and outs. There’s a desktop sound control interface that lets you easily switch between headphones and speakers, while also letting you easily adjust volume and in-board micing for beautiful reproduction of the spoken voice. The price point is high, that’s why it’s a splurge, but you won’t be disappointed when you plug this thing into your gaming computer.

Best Gaming: 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 Value: Creative Sound Blaster Audigy PCIe RX

The Creative Sound Blaster Audigy PCIe RX 7.1-channel surround sound card has an advanced chipset that includes the EAX engine for creating and outputting enhanced audio that handily lets gamers know when an enemy is at their backdoor. The 7.1-multi-channel audio is best paired with a compatible speaker set for maximum performance but, with a 600-ohm headphone amp on-board, there’s plenty of reason to pick up a good pair of headphones. The included Audigy RX control panel adds dedicated PC software for providing complete control over every aspect of the sound card, allowing users to find their ideal pitch, tone and bass. If gaming isn’t your purpose, the dual-microphone input allows two microphones to connect at once, so you and a friend can sing and record simultaneously. You can utilize the second input for recording music if you're looking to create the next Billboard 100 album.

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.