Whether you’re an audiophile, a gamer or a transcriber or a quality analyst, or simply like high tech stuff inside your computer; you can not go wrong with a decent sound card.
These not only make your audio output crystal clear, but also give your overall sound output a REAL boost.
Even dirt cheap entry level sound cards can make music sound amazing.
1. Creative Sound Blaster ZX PCIe
Creative has always been in competition with ASUS. But they delivered a killer blow with this sweet piece of tech. And that’s a double blow (sounds weird) in terms of features and price. Below are some amazing features of this dynamite:
- Features the Audio Control Module (ACM) which incorporates a built-in microphone array and mic/headphone I/O connections. Plus a knob on the ACM to adjust the headphone levels.
- Features Sound Core3D Audio Processor for accelerating advanced audio and voice technologies.
- SBX Pro Studio sound technologies create unprecedented levels of audio realism, including stunning 3D surround effects for your speakers and headsets.
- Scout Mode allows you to hear your enemies in a video game before they hear you, from further away, giving you a distinct advantage.
- DTS Connect, connects your home theatre system through a single digital cable. Enjoy cinematic DVD movies by transforming any stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1 audio stream into high fidelity surround sound.
This is $109.49 on Amazon.com
2. ASUS Essence STX II
This is a bit on the pricey side. But an awesome sound card for the audiophiles nonetheless.
- ASUS boasts of an industry-leading 124dB SNR (signal-to-noise ratio) audio quality inherited from the original Xonar Essence ST/STX.
- Ultra-low jitter with premium TCXO clock source.
- Clean and consistent power supply, thanks to high-fidelity low-dropout regulators and their own proprietary capacitors for uncompromising sound.
- Top-notch headphone amplifier supports up to 600ohm-headphone impedance with additional gain for in-ear monitors (IEMs).
- Exclusive op-amp swap kit includes three op-amps and tool for easy tone tuning Celebrated MUSES op-amps deliver true-to-life musicality.
This is $249.99 on Amazon.com
3. ASUS Xonar DX
This is an oldie, but still a goldie. It may get beaten on the price point by other newer competitors. But at $80, it still does an awesome job of boosting your computer’s sound. Also, it stands as a viable upgrade over your motherboard’s onboard sound. You cannot go wrong with it.
- Output Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted): 116dB for front-out, 112dB for other channels dB.
- Input Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted): 112 dB; Output THD+N at 1kHz: 0.00056% (-105dB) for Front-out.
- Input THD+N at 1kHz: 0.0004% (-108dB) for Line-in.
- Frequency Response (-3dB, 24-bit/96kHz input).
- Audio Processor: ASUS AV100 High-Definition Sound Processor (Max. 192KHz/24bit).
This sells for $80.99 on Amazon.com
4. ASUS Xonar U3 (USB sound card)
This one is a personal favorite of mine. Why? Simply because I have used it for a long time. Especially while traveling and during long trips. This is the perfect portable sound card if you have to work on audio intensive projects on-the-go. It’s a perfect companion for the laptop, whether you have to do audio transcription or simply connect a pair of speakers to it for a surprise, impromptu party! It’s a nice tiny wonder-boost.
- High performance headphone amplifier drives headphones/headsets to its full potential.
- Best surround sound experience with support for Dolby technologies.
- ASUS GX2.5 enables realistic 3D audio effects in games.
- Xonar hyper-grounding technologies separates audio signals from noise which results in clean and clear sound.
This sells for $49.85 on Amazon.com
Note: I haven’t used other newer portable offerings like Creative Sound Blaster Omni Surround or the ASUS Xonar U7, so I can’t give a more definitive verdict on them. But I think the Xonar U3 above strikes the perfect balance between price and performance.
5. Creative Sound Blaster ZxR PCIe Audiophile Grade Gaming Sound Card
We are now getting into the pricey range. Although I am sure dedicated and determined audiophiles and gamers won’t mind shelling out those extra $ for top of the line tech.
Below are the claims from Creative:
- CrystalVoice Voice Enhancement and Clarity Technology. Express yourself and be heard crystal clear in video conferencing, multiplayer games and online chats.
- CrystalVoice FX, forge your own unique team identity in crystal clear audio; match your voice to your game avatar.
- High Quality Headphone Amp, supports studio quality headphones with up to 600 ohm impedance.
- Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect; connect to your decoder or home theater system through a single digital cable for intense 5.1 surround sound from any source.