The 5 Best PC Sound Cards of 2023

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

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Choosing the right sound card for your system can be a daunting task since dozens of them exist. To help you, we've detailed some of the finest PC sound cards/amplifiers in the market.

Among these are PCIe-based options (best suited for desktops), such as ASUS Essence STX II, and USB-powered models (ideal for laptops and gaming consoles) like Creative Sound BlasterX G6.

Best Overall

Creative Sound Blaster Z

Creative Sound Blaster Z SE Internal PCI-e Gaming Sound Card and DAC


What We Like
  • Lots of connectivity options

  • Integrated beamforming microphone

What We Don't Like
  • Annoying red LED lighting

Offering many features at a reasonable price, Creative's Sound Blaster Z is easily among the best PC sound cards you can buy. It comes with a Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) of 116dB and can output audio at 24-bit/192kHz, allowing you to enjoy high-resolution music in all its glory. It also has Audio Stream Input/Output (ASIO) support for reduced audio latency. The card's dedicated "Sound Core3D" audio processor enhances the overall sound/voice quality without taxing the computer's primary CPU.

As far as connectivity and I/O are concerned, the Sound Blaster Z sports a total of five gold-plated 3.5mm audio ports and two TOSLINK ports, so you can connect everything from headphones to home theater system(s) and enjoy high-fidelity immersive digital audio. The PCIe sound card also comes bundled with a beamforming microphone that suppresses outside noise and creates an acoustic zone, thus resulting in improved voice clarity.

“Having goodies like ASIO support, dedicated audio processing, and noise suppression in a sensibly-priced package, Creative Sound Blaster Z brings a lot to the table.” — Rajat Sharma, Product Tester

Best Budget

ASUS Xonar SE Gaming Sound Card

ASUS XONAR SE 5.1 Channel 192kHz/24-bit Hi-Res 116dB SNR PCIe Gaming Sound Card


What We Like
  • Affordable price

  • Low-profile bracket ideal for small cases

What We Don't Like
  • No ASIO support

Not everyone can (or wants to) spend a fortune on top-tier computing hardware, and if that includes you, ASUS' Xonar SE is just what you need. This budget PC sound card features a Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) of 116dB and supports high-resolution audio playback (5.1 channel) at up to 24-bit/192kHz. Its integrated 300ohm headphone amplifier also makes for immersive sound output with well-defined bass.

The card is manufactured using exclusive "Hyper Grounding" fabrication technology, which ASUS claims reduces distortion/interference and ensures better signal insulation.

For connectivity and I/O options, the Xonar SE includes four 3.5mm audio ports, one S/PDIF port (with TOSLINK), and a front audio header. The PCIe sound card is powered by a Cmedia 6620A audio processor and comes with a low-profile bracket that allows it to be installed in smaller cases without any issues. Its audio parameters can be easily configured via the companion app.

Best Controller

Creative Sound Blaster AE-7

Creative Sound Blaster AE-7 Hi-Res Internal PCIe Sound Card


What We Like
  • Handy controller unit with audio ports

  • Individual amplification for each channel

What We Don't Like
  • Unintuitive software

Hands down one of the most potent PC sound cards available, Creative's Sound Blaster AE-7 boasts a Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) of 127dB and supports 32-bit/384kHz audio playback. It also has an integrated 600ohm headphone amplifier, working alongside the ESS SABRE-class 9018 Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) to output rich (5.1 channel for speakers and 7.1 channel for headphones) surround sound.

However, the card's best feature is its companion "Audio Control Module" unit, which allows you to adjust the volume level using a convenient knob. It also has a built-in microphone array, two 3.5mm audio ports, and two 6.3mm audio ports for hassle-free I/O and connectivity.

The Sound Blaster AE-7 has five 3.5mm audio ports and a TOSLINK port. The PCIe sound card is powered by a dedicated "Sound Core3D" audio processor. You can adjust settings (e.g., recording resolution, encoding format) via its companion software utility.

Best External

Creative Sound BlasterX G6

Sound BlasterX G6 Hi-Res 130dB 32bit/384kHz Gaming DAC


What We Like
  • Works with a multitude of devices

  • Special gaming-oriented mode

What We Don't Like
  • Disappointing mic input

Even though internal sound cards work great, they are limited to PCs because of their PCIe expansion bus interface. However, that's not an issue with Creative's Sound BlasterX G6, as it's powered via USB. This means that, besides laptops and desktops, you can hook it up to gaming consoles like Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. Featuring an integrated Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) and a Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) of 130dB, it supports 32-bit/384kHz high-fidelity audio.

The external sound card also includes a discrete 600ohm headphone amplifier, which amplifies both audio channels individually. For connectivity and I/O options, the Sound BlasterX G6 comes with two 3.5mm audio ports, two Optical TOSLINK ports, and a micro USB port. You get a single side-mounted dial to control gameplay audio and mic volume easily. The companion app can adjust everything, including Dolby Digital effects and noise reduction settings.

Best Compact

FiiO E10K

FiiO Headphone Amps Portable DAC USB Type-C


What We Like
  • Lightweight yet premium design

  • One-click Bass boost

What We Don't Like
  • Questionable long-term reliability

Measuring around 3.14 x 1.93 x 0.82 inches and weighing just 2.75 ounces, FiiO's E10K is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. It's worth mentioning here that it's not a sound card but a portable Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) that can decode 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution audio without breaking a sweat. This is made possible by its new PCM5102 chip, which enhances the internal digital filter's linearity for superior sound output.

You also get a Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) of 108dB, while the new LMH6643 op-amp inside turns the unit into a 150ohm headphone amplifier. As far as I/O and connectivity go, the E10K comes with two 3.5mm audio ports, a coaxial audio port, and a MicroUSB port. Some other noteworthy features include a convenient volume control dial and a slim aluminum case with a brushed metal finish.

“Packed with features like high fidelity audio decoding and trouble-free amplification, FiiO’s E10K belies its diminutive form factor.” — Rajat Sharma, Product Tester

What to Look for in a PC Sound Card

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

Channels - Many 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 excellent if your headphones support 7.1 channels and your audio sources don’t.

Connectivity - Look for a sound card with the jacks you need to plug in 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.

  • Why does my PC need a sound card?

    Nearly all modern computers (desktops and laptops) available in the market feature integrated (on the motherboard) audio functionality, which ensures that both built-in (e.g. speakers) and external (e.g. earphones) work as intended. But even though this setup works well, it's extremely basic. If you want to use your PC with high-end gear like studio headphones and home theater systems, you need a sound card capable of driving all this additional hardware. It's also important if you want to fully enjoy high-resolution lossless music.

  • Should I go for an internal or an external sound card?

    Generally speaking, internal sound cards are more powerful. They plug in directly into your desktop PC's motherboard, and offer features like switchable op-amp chips and a plethora of connectivity ports. However, if your target device is a laptop PC (or a gaming console), external sound cards are the way to go.

  • Can I install/set up the sound card myself?

    Installing most internal sound cards isn't that hard, since you just have to plug them in your motherboard's expansion slot. External sound cards are even easier to set up, as they are usually powered via a USB port. In both cases, you also have to configure the associated drivers (if any) to get things up and running.

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