The 5 Best PC Sound Cards to Buy in 2017

Selection of PCI and PCI-Express Cards for Audio, Gaming and More

The PC audio card market is much different than it was several years ago. Changes in the way the Windows operating system handles audio and the improvement in built-in audio has shifted the focus of many audio card designs. Now they are much more specialized for certain audio tasks than they were before. After all, a gamer might want different features from someone using their PC with a home theater setup. With this in mind, here are my selections for the best audio cards for different computer audio uses and types of interfaces.

One of the big features that gamers look for is support for the EAX audio extensions. Creative was the developer of these audio extension to provide effects to simulate a variety of different environments to provide a more realistic audio experience for games. The most advance version of this is EAX HD that is only supported on Creative's audio cards. Other companies can only support up to EAX 3.0. Creative released their Core3D audio processor which was fairly well received but there were a few minor audio issues. Essentially, the Z series takes that same audio processor and makes a number of hardware and software changes to address some of the static it produced. It also received a bright red card cover as well.

Audiophiles are interested in getting the best audio quality they can out of their components. The ASUS Xonar Essence STX II is probably one of the best consumer level audio cards on the market thanks to its high signal-to-noise ratio, 192KHz/24bit support, superb digital to audio converters and even a built-in headphone amplifier. The audio components also have shielding to ensure that it doesn't receive any interference from other computer components. This provides it with some of the best playback and recording capabilities in a desktop audio card. The card does require an additional 4-pin power connector to provide it with sufficient power.

Many people might want to use their computer for more than just one aspect. Some cards may be better for PC gaming, stereo audio or HTPC setups. What if you want to use your computer for each of these? Or what if you just want to have some better audio than the built-in solution that came with your desktop computer? If this is the case, then the ASUS Xonar DX is an excellent choice. It provides high quality audio along with features such as EAX 3.0 support, Dolby Digital Live output and has high signal-to-noise ratios. It also features DS3D GX 2.0 that lets it emulate higher levels of the EAX extensions. The card does require a 4-pin floppy power connector to properly function.

As mentioned before, many games are designed with EAX audio extensions to provide high quality, immersive audio for the player. Only Creative audio cards can support the highest level of these extensions, EAX HD. If you happen to have an older system with PCI expansion slots that you are playing PC games on, then the Sound Blaster Audigy RX 7.1 is about the only option left. This is a much older audio engine from Creative but is still quite well liked by many gamers.

The HT Omega Claro Halo is easily the best card for anyone looking for exceptional audio for a system that only has a PCI expansion slot. The card offers impressive 192KHz audio support at 24-bits thanks to the CMI8788 audio processor and the high quality components. It even features a swappable OPMAP for those that want to tweak its performance even further. It should be noted that it does have limited connectors on the board unless you purchase the separate XT daughter board that provides it with standard RCA jack inputs. Note that this is the primary card only. There is a daughter card that adds extra connectors for expanded features.


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