The best sound cards available in 2021 can either be discrete internal cards in a PC, or external USB devices more suitable for closed architecture computers/laptops and gaming consoles.

But the most important question on everyone’s mind is:

Are sound cards worth it?

If your device is fairly new, whether it’s a PC, Mac or a laptop, or even a smartphone, chances are it’s already carrying an advanced sound chip on the motherboard.

Which means if you lean more towards the casual side of things, the onboard audio that comes with your motherboard will most likely suffice for your gaming or music needs.

Having said that, if you’re an audiophile, a musician, a podcaster, a gamer, a transcriber or a quality analyst, the right sound card can definitely improve the overall audio quality, especially if your PC/device and it’s motherboard is older generation.

So, oftentimes instead of buying a whole new device, adding a sound card can make a world of difference.

What are sound cards used for?

Sound cards provide the audio component for uses in:

  • Music Composition
  • Podcasting
  • Streaming
  • Video or Audio Editing
  • Presentation
  • Education and Entertainment
  • Video Games
  • Video Projection
  • Voice-over IP and Teleconferencing

They may improve the sound output of a bad recording

Oftentimes whether you’ve recorded the audio/video yourself, or you’re working on someone else’s recording, external factors can affect audio quality.

It’s not always smooth sailing with crystal clear sound recordings, whether you’re researching or transcribing.

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, angry screaming kids, angry motorcycles, or angry barking dogs can make an appearance in the background.

The best sound cards listed in this article may help if you’ve been struggling to understand an audio or video file, whether it’s your own recording or someone else’s.

Furthermore, if you’re doing any transcription or quality analysis work on an audio or video file with bad sound quality, in my experience, a sound card definitely makes a difference.

They can help with enhancing a phone interview

can sound cards improve phone interviews

Almost 95% of all interviews recorded today (at the time of writing) are phone interviews due to COVID precautions.

Since most phone calls are still recorded in the analog format, a sound card can convert the sound output to digital.

If you struggle with recording good phone interviews, our article on how to record an interview can help.

They can make your device faster

By offloading sound processing to a discrete card, it frees up system resources to reallocate elsewhere.

So, it can help improve things across the board whether you’re a:

  • Podcaster
  • Gamer
  • Streamer
  • Audiophile
  • Transcriber
  • Or a Quality Analyst

Now, because most devices these days come with advanced sound chips, a budget sound card is not really going to blow your eardrums away.

So, for this article we’re going to focus mostly on medium to high end sound cards.

Having said all that, we haven’t forgotten people with older generation tech, which is why our curated list of the best sound cards begins with a budget option:

Best Affordable/Budget Sound Card

1. Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX


Currently $42.74 on

Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX

Despite strong competition from ASUS in recent years, Creative have stood their ground.

Utilizing their SBX Pro Studio technology, this sound card provides 5.1 surround sound at an affordable price.

You also get a much improved control panel and more granular control over settings.

If your PC is already rocking the latest gen motherboard, then adding this won’t make much of a difference.

However, if your PC is more than 10-12 years old, even a budget sound card such as this can not only improve audio quality, but may also improve overall system performance by taking over sound processing.

Best Overall Sound Card



Currently $74.85 on

asus xonar ae sound card

I had great success using the ASUS Xonar DX (now discontinued) in my old computer about 10 years ago.  It was an entry level sound card which sounded distinctly different from the onboard sound right after installation.  The difference was night and day.

The Xonar AE featured above is not an entry level card, but a mid range sound card, which will make a difference in sound even if your PC is new.

ASUS achieves this with its exclusive Hyper Grounding PCB fabrication, which ensures strong signal insulation to reduce distortion and interference.

Below are some of its key features:

  • 192kHz/24-bit Hi-Res audio and 7.1-channel, 150ohm headphone amp
  • High-quality ESS DAC with 110dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR)
  • Exclusive EMI back plate provides noise shielding for exceptionally clear audio
  • Sonic Studio enables full audio control via an intuitive, one-page interface
  • Perfect Voice technology eliminates background noise for clear in-game communication

Best High End Sound Card for Music and Gaming

3. EVGA NU Audio Card


This is $191.78 on right now

EVGA Nu sound card

This one’s for the audiophiles.  The EVGA Nu is one of the best PC sound cards available right now that can be used with high-end output devices.

You will definitely feel the difference compared to your onboard audio, no matter how advanced and next-gen your motherboard is.

Some of its features are:

  • Audio-grade components deliver lifelike Audio
  • Native DSD Audio support (up to x256)
  • Engineered by EVGA and audio Note (UK), Ltd.
  • Ambient RGB lighting, switchable op-amps

If you’re more on the casual side of things, the price of this sound card may make your eyes water.

However, the eye watering may stop once you see what kind of shiny, sparkly things you can do with it!  For example:

  • Protection through a copper shield and gold-plated PCB.
  • 10 modes RGB audio-reactive lighting
  • Control RGB lighting with their EVGA NU audio software.

Best External USB Sound Card or DAC

4. Creative Sound Blaster X3

WORKS WITH: Windows PC & Laptop | macOS | PS4 | PS5 | Nintendo Switch

Creative Sound Blaster X3 External Sound Card DAC

If you don’t have a PC where you can swap and upgrade parts at will, don’t worry.

The X3 external sound card or DAC from Creative Labs connects to your device via USB and improves the sound quality whether you’re on a PC, a Mac, a Windows laptop or a Macbook, or even a gaming console, regardless of the speakers or headphones you choose to use.

It is the world’s first external multi-channel USB DAC and Amp to feature Creative’s award-winning Super X-Fi technology, as well as 7.1 discrete surround on speakers, 7.1 virtual surround on headphones, and Dolby Digital Live.

High-quality audio components make sure that audio is delivered with studio-level precision and clarity.

As an external sound card or DAC, it has to offer tons of connectivity options, which it does with a USB-C port, Optical-out, and Line-in making it compatible with most audio devices.


If you’re a casual music enthusiast, the onboard sound on your device with a decent pair of headphones will just do fine.

If you’re an audiophile, a podcaster, a gamer, a transcriber or a quality analyst, you will notice the difference in sound with a mid to high range audio card featured in this article.

If you have an older generation PC, even an entry level/budget sound card will make a difference in audio quality.

For laptops and consoles your options are limited with an external sound card/DAC, but there are tons of great options available.

If you’ve struggled with transcribing audio or video with bad sound quality, maybe we can help.