The Best Sound Cards For Gamers – 2023

If youre a serious gamer, then you know that having the right sound card can make a huge difference in your gaming experience. With the right sound card, you can get better sound quality, improved latency, and more immersive gaming. But with so many sound cards on the market, it can be hard to know which one is the best option. In this guide, we will discuss the best sound cards for gamers.

The best sound cards for gamers 

The game is not just about skill and reaction. The right hardware can also bring a decisive advantage. With the right sound card, for example, you can locate opponents much earlier – assuming, of course, that you have a good headset, good headphones, or a good PC box system. Because what good is the best hardware if you save at the wrong end.

If you plan to tap the sound digitally, a separate sound card is of no use, since many onboard solutions also provide this, and the sound is not processed by the sound card in this case.

In our “Sound Cards for Gamers” buying guide, we tell you what to look out for, why it might be worth buying a separate sound card, and which sound cards we recommend. You should plan at least 30 euros when buying a sound card.

In terms of quality, cheaper sound cards are usually equivalent to a normal sound solution installed on the mainboard and therefore do not bring any advantage. A free PCI Express slot is also required for the internal sound cards.

In our recommendations, we refrain from models with the outdated PCI slot, since modern mainboards hardly have them anymore. Alternatively, we have three recommendations for external sound cards that are connected via USB.

If you have a USB box set or USB headset that already has an integrated sound card, it makes no sense to buy a separate sound card. Furthermore, the right plug, whether it’s a 3.5 mm jack or a digital connection, isn’t available.

What’s better about a separate sound card than an onboard solution?

As in all technical areas, there are higher and lower quality solutions – this also applies to sound cards. As a rule, chips on separate sound cards belong to the higher-quality ones. They also have better D/A (digital/analog) converters installed, which is a major advantage over the onboard solutions.

While the processor takes over the processing of the sound signals with sound cards on the mainboard, this is the task of the built-in chip on the separate sound card – this relieves the CPU. This can result in a noticeable FPS difference, especially in CPU-heavy games.

In principle, onboard solutions are completely sufficient for most people. But audiophiles will not be satisfied with that. In games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, it is extremely important to be able to react quickly and accurately. The sooner you hear your opponent, the better you can prepare for it.

Onboard chips are usually not quite as clear in sound as separate sound cards. The sound can also be processed specifically for games so that certain frequencies can be heard more clearly. In contrast to film DVDs, for example, where the surround sound is already stored as a soundtrack, spatial game sound has to be calculated directly in real time. The audio standards Dolby Digital Live or DTS Connect are responsible for this.

Depending on the quality of the built-in sound chip, this can sound very convincing. The same applies to features such as CMSS 3D (at Creative) or Dolby Headphones. These functions convert stereo sound into virtual surround sound and create a certain sense of space even with stereo headsets.

Separate sound cards are also more generous when it comes to software and drivers. You can adjust more and thus set up the sound better according to your own feelings. Last but not least, the variety of connections is another decisive advantage.

some separate sound cards even have a second slot bracket with connections. This is not possible with mainboards due to the limited size of the I/O panel.

What is the difference between digital and analog connections on sound cards?

In principle, with sound cards, the sound is read out digitally from data, converted in a D/A converter, i.e. from digital to analog, and forwarded via the analog outputs to the speakers or to the headset or headphones.

Poor shielding or too-long cable runs can lead to noise or sound interference. With stereo, two channels, a cable with a normal 3.5 mm jack plug is sufficient, with 5.1 surround (analog) there are already six channels and three cables.

If you connect a suitable box set or a receiver via a digital connection, the sound is passed directly through the sound card without further processing. A single digital cable is enough, optical or coaxial.

How do I install a sound card?

The installation of a separate sound card is think bar simple: Simply open the housing, remove a slot panel where the sound card is to be plugged in, and then press it into the free PCIe slot.

All of the internal sound cards we recommend have a PCIe 1x connector that can also be installed in PCIe 4x, 8x, or 16x slots. Some sound cards have an additional power requirement, which is then covered via the floppy power connector or a 6-pin PCIe power connector.

If the installation is still too complicated for you, we have recommendations for external sound cards that you can easily connect via USB cable.

Stereo, Surround, 5.1 or 7.1: which is better?

On the one hand, it depends on the game, and which sound modes are supported at all. On the other hand, of course, there is also the question of what kind of speakers or headset do I have? With stereo, you have two separate channels left and right.

With surround, depending on the version, there are two additional rear channels and a center channel, whereby the two rear channels are not separated and therefore deliver the same sound. This is different from the 5.1 or 7.1 sound.

The former consists of six channels, with the .1 standing for the subwoofer, i.e. for the deep tones (bass). The other five channels are made up of the two front channels, the center, and the two separate rear channels. With 7.1, two separate side channels are added. 5.1 or 7.1 sound comes across best if you connect a correspondingly good box set, such as the Trust GXT 658 Tytan 5.1.

There are even headsets that promise virtual 7.1 sound. However, this is only a stereo sound changed by the USB sound card, which is supposed to have a more spatial effect. However, there are indeed headsets on the market with true 5.1 sound that really makes you feel like you’re right there.

Even if it does not yet come close to the three-dimensionality of a good speaker system, since the individual membranes are distributed very close to the ear, you can often hear more or more detail with such headsets than with stereo versions. However, this also takes some time to train your ears.

What is the minimum cost of a good sound card?

If you don’t want to invest a lot in a separate sound card, our recommendations for up to 60 euros are the best choice. However, you should budget for at least 30 euros, since the models below are hardly or not at all different from onboard solutions.

The Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy Rx, for example, which offers both good stereo and 7.1 surround sound, has a total of four 3.5 mm jack connections, of which 2 x microphone or line in and 4 x line out, an optical digital TOSlink output and is our best buy recommendation for internal sound cards.

How much do higher-quality sound cards cost?

The Creative Labs Sound Blaster Z SE is the current model from the multimedia specialist. Nothing has changed in the connections compared to the predecessor but in the built-in technology.

GameZoom awards Soundblaster Z with a buy recommendation. The retail version of the Sound Blaster Z SE from Creative Labs costs just under 80 euros.

In return, the buyer receives a sound card in the original packaging with a red sheet metal cover, a manual, and a table microphone.

What are the advantages of high-end gaming sound cards?

The premier class of gaming sound cards starts with the Creative Labs Sound BlasterX AE-5 at a current purchase price of around €120. Compared to the cheaper Sound Blaster Z SE, the latest model offers a new sound chip.

Buyers can look forward to the extensive Sound Blaster software, RGB lighting, and great sound. With the Sound Blaster AE-9PE, Creative Labs has the nonplus ultra not only for gamers in its portfolio.

It is not only more than convincing in the test. Both the supplied software and the sound represent a new reference for gamers. But the AE-9PE can also be used in the professional field. Thanks to the included external control element, there are more than enough connections available for every imaginable purpose.

You can call this flagship your own from 280 euros upwards – unfortunately, it is only very poorly available

What are the advantages of an external sound card?

Anyone who is reluctant to install a card in the PC or who would like to enjoy the same high-quality sound on other PCs should only consider an external sound card. The Sharkoon Gaming DAC Pro S v2 offers a single headphone output, which can also be used as a microphone input via the supplied cable.

For a comparatively small price, this external sound solution offers an amazingly clear sound and is considered an insider tip. Of course, there is also an external solution from Creative Labs: The Sound Blaster X G6 is the internal sound in the same black and red design cards and consistently showed good performance in the test – even if they don’t come close to the built-in cards of the same price.

As far as the connections are concerned, the buyer is offered two 3.5 mm headphone inputs and outputs for headphones and microphones, as well as an optical digital input and output. The external USB sound card goes over the virtual counter for about 120 euros. EPOS

Sennheiser has developed the GSX 300 external sound card, especially for audiophile gamers. Above all, ease of use paired with first-class sound was taken into account.

The high-resolution gaming DAC and audio EQ ensure crystal-clear and convincing sound. Mic-IN, line-out (each via a 3.5 mm jack), and a USB port are available as connections.

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