The sound that comes from your games is important because it is one-half of the gaming experience. Now, most motherboards come with built-in audio and they have come a very long way. Back in the day, hissing and other audio distortions are present due to what is known as RFI or “Radio Frequency Interference”.
Motherboards nowadays have a sound isolation module that keeps those RFIs at bay and some people might not need discrete sound cards anymore. But, if you value audio so much and you want a much more improved listening experience, then getting one is a good choice. In this article, I will talk all about sound cards: what they are and why you should consider buying one for your gaming PC. I will also talk about the things that you need to look for when buying one on the market.
Below you’ll see our entry list of the gaming soundcards we are going to discuss in this article:
|Name||SNR||Frequency Range||Audio Resolution|
|Creative Sound Blaster Z||116 dB||10-36000 Hz||24-Bit/96 kHz|
|Asus STRIX Soar PCI Sound Card||116 dB||10-48000 Hz||24-Bit/96 kHz|
|Creative Sound Blaster Audigy RX 7.1||106 dB||10-48000 Hz||24-Bit/192 kHz|
|HT Omega Claro Halo||106 dB||100-28000 Hz||24-Bit/192 kHz|
|Asus Xonar Essence STX II 7.1||124 dB||10-90000 Hz||24-Bit/192 kHz|
Before anything else, why buy a sound card?
Top Reasons Why You Would Want to Buy a Sound Card
1. It carries the all of the audio load. When you’re using your motherboard’s onboard audio, your CPU will also need to work harder in order to deliver the sound to you. This can affect your PC’s overall performance. Discrete soundcards carry all of the audio load and take off the burden from your motherboard and CPU.
2. It has a lot of ports. Discrete sound cards offer a lot more ports that you can use. It has the usual 3.5mm jacks for the headphone and microphone and there are also another set of slots that you can utilize. This is perfect for people who are looking to use a professional sound system that requires much more power.
3. It has a lot of options. By options, I mean settings and tweaks. Most soundcards come with their own equalizer software and there are some that allow you to tweak different settings as well.
4. It can Drive Multiple Sound Systems. Even those with high impedance headphones.
5. Better Audio effects. If you value positional audio so much, then you might want to get a discrete sound card. For example, Creative has allowed game developers to use their EAX positional audio effects in their games and it can only be unlocked if you’re using one of the Creative sound cards.
Much like any other product, there are certain terminologies you need to be aware of when you’re going to buy a discrete sound card for your gaming PC. Here are just some of the most commonly used terms:
1.Frequency Response- This is a term that refers to the card’s audible range. It is usually denoted by Hertz (Hz). For example: 20 Hz- 20,000 Hz.
2.Dynamic Range- This is the range of the quietest and the loudest sound that the card is able to handle.
3.SnR (Signal-to-Noise Ratio)- This refers to the relationship between unwanted background noise and the desired signal from the source. This is denoted by Decibels (dB)
4.DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter)- All of your music files on the computer are in digital format and for your speakers/headphones to play the sound, they need to be converted to Analog. The DAC handles that conversion.
Best Sound Cards for your Gaming PC
Now we’ve come to the most important part of the article, the actual Sound Cards. These sound cards prove to be the best on the market today and if you’re looking to buy one, definitely consider one of these.
Creative Sound Blaster Z
As you’ve read earlier, there is this audio technology called “EAX” or “Environmental Audio Extensions”. This is a proprietary technology by Creative and only Creative sound cards are able to handle this. That is why the Creative Sound Blaster Z is first on this list. It has impressive features and it is also relatively cheap as well.
Some of its amazing features are the 116dB SnR ratio, a 600 Ohm Headphone amplifier for high impedance headphones, the SBX Pro Studio software, Sound Blaster Beamforming microphone, and a 24-bit/192 KHz audio output. At the back of the card, you will find five different 3.5mm jacks. They are for the front and rear speakers, the subwoofer, an amplified headphone, and the microphone slot.
For the software, the Creative Sound Blaster Z has two applications to make it shine: Alchemy and the Z-Series Control Panel. Alchemy is essentially an app that lets you enable EAX support on older games. If you play modern games, especially those Triple A titles, you will not need this. The Z-Series control panel lets you do a ton of things to further improve the functionality of the sound card. It allows you to tweak with the equalizer, change presets, tweak the microphone’s certain parameters, and you can also enable “Scout Mode” as well, which is a feature that enables audio processing effects that improve the highs and middle frequencies for better positional audio output.
So, how’s the audio performance? Well, whether you’re using a headphone or a discrete speaker system, the audio output is always going to be amazing. That is thanks to the Z-series control panel which allows you to tweak a number of things so that you can set it according to your preference. If you want a solid sound card that costs below $100, then definitely get the Creative Sound Blaster Z.
Asus STRIX Soar PCI Sound Card
Asus is a very busy company that is dedicated to delivering high-quality tech products to the world. They even made a slew of discrete sound cards that are pretty much worth your money. The Asus STRIX Soar is one of those sound cards.
The STRIX Soar is a PCI-E sound card that has a 116dB SnR Ratio, a 600-Ohm headphone amplifier, Sonic Radar Pro which enhances positional audio, and it is also powered by the Sonic Studio utility which is a software that controls the different aspects of the card. It has an impressive frequency range of 10-48000Hz and it also comes with an aesthetically pleasing PCB shroud to cover the board. The Sonic Studio suite is pretty good. It is aesthetically pleasing and it is pretty straightforward as well.
You can select which output audio device you want to use (via checking/unchecking the speaker/headphone icon), you can configure the playback configuration like changing it to 5.1 surround, 96KHz, etc., it also comes with some preset equalizer settings that you can use to improve the overall sound of your PC. People who value positional audio so much will surely love the Sonic Radar Pro. This addon will allow you to place an overlay to help you discern the correct audio positioning. This addon is perfect for people who play FPS games as you can pinpoint exactly where the shots are coming from.
Probably, the only thing to note when buying this sound card is that it will require a 6-pin power connector for it to work. If you want another solid sound card, the Asus STRIX Soar is a good choice.
The Creative Sound Blaster Audigy RX 7.1
Here I am with another Creative sound card. The Creative Sound Blaster Audigy RX 7.1 is a sound card with a long name and an equally long list of features.
It has an SNR ratio of 106dB, six 3.5mm jacks on the back, a 600-Ohm headphone amp, and it has a maximum channel output of 7.1 channels. Although the Audigy’s software is lacking in gamer-centric features, the program itself has a list of options you can tweak in order to further improve your gaming audio. It actually gives you a finer control, especially when you’re tweaking the equalizer. If you do not want to fiddle with the equalizer that much because it is a bit daunting to do so, then you will find that the present ones are actually pretty good already.
Because this Audigy comes with a 600-Ohm headphone amp, you can pretty much use any studio-grade headphones when you use this sound card. 600 Ohms is actually pretty high so it can power just about any headphone out there. According to a lot of people, just by plugging their headphone or their discrete sound system to the sound card, they instantly noticed the difference in sound. It is much warmer and the tracks were not “muddy”, especially at higher volumes.
Do note that this is a Creative product, it natively supports the EAX positional audio format nicely. This is perfect for people who play a lot of games that require precise positional audio like FPS games, MOBA games, just to name a few. With all of these features, you will be surprised that this card only costs $68 or even less if you can find this one on sale.
So, if you have less than $70 to spend on a sound card, then the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy RX 7.1 is a must-have.
HT Omega Claro Halo
If you are an audiophile and sound quality is something really important to you, you need to have a sound card that delivers the goods.
The HT Omega Claro Halo is one of those sound cards that deliver high-fidelity sound and what’s interesting is that it only requires a PCI slot. For sure, you will have a vacant PCI slot on your motherboard. This sound card has been hailed as one of the best because of its simplicity and its uses. It has RCA connectors as well as your usual 3.5mm jacks for headphone and microphone as well. Although you can plug in a discrete set of speakers, the beauty of this sound card really shines when you use its headphone slot. It comes with a high-fidelity 600-Ohm headphone amplifier that has some sort wizardry.
You see, when you plug in a high-impedance headphone to the said slot, it will magically produce crisp sounds and amazing bass. A lot of people who have bought this sound card can attest to that. For its technical specs, the HT Omega Claro Halo uses the C-Media Oxygen HD CMI8788 Audio processor, a built-in 120dB Headphone Amplifier that supports up to 600 Ohm Impedance headphones, 24-bit/192 KHz line input, 192/24-bit S/PDIF high-grade special optical output. This sound card has a black PCB shroud and it is built with Japanese capacitors, which are well known for their durability and reliability. So if you’re going to purchase the Omega Claro Halo, you are assured that this sound card will last for a couple of years.
With a lot of people stating that this Sound card delivers great audio performance because of its crisp highs, clean mids, and bombastic bass, the HT Omega Claro Halo is definitely one you should consider buying when you want a high-quality sound for your gaming PC.
Asus Xonar Essence STX II 7.1
The last card on the list is one that deserves a special mention. The Asus Xonar Essence STX II is a 7.1 surround sound card. It comes with a daughter card which will enhance its capabilities.
Right off the bat, I have to salute Asus for creating not only a great performing sound card but also one that is superior in aesthetics as well. Its specifications include a 124dB SnR ratio, a frequency range of 10-90,000Hz, sturdy capacitors that provide an ultra-low jitter, clean and consistent power for noiseless audio, and also included in the kit are adapters that you can use to plug in your headphone and discrete speakers. Aesthetics-wise, the STX II is pretty much the same as the original one and the software is nearly the same with some nice additions.
The software is easy to use and requires no technical knowledge. When firing up the software, you will be greeted with an interface that has the DSP mode, EQ Mode, and Output Device indicators. Clicking on the lower right button will reveal an additional set of options you can tweak such as the sample rate, audio channel, SPDIF Out, just to name a few. The companion application also allows you to tweak the Equalizer via the preset ones or you can create a custom one that suits your needs.
Now, I mentioned earlier that the STX II comes with a daughter card. The Daughter card can be connected to the main sound card via a bridge connector and it essentially increases the number of ports so that you can create a true 7.1 surround sound speaker system. The daughter card offers 6 RCA jacks so you can complete your surround sound setup. If you do want to use the daughter card, your PC case needs to be big enough to house both the sound card and this one in your system.
With an easy to use software, a main sound card coupled with a daughter card for a true 7.1 surround sound experience, a 600-ohm headphone amp, and an impressive design, no wonder the Asus Xonar Essence STX II 7.1 surround sound card is one of the best out there.
What to look for in a Sound Card?
Now that you know the top 5 sound cards you can buy for your gaming PC, what are the essentials that you need to look for when buying one?
The very first thing you need to be looking for is compatibility. Some of the cards in this list are a bit dated and they may require special software to make them work on newer operating systems. Also, look at your motherboard if it still has a PCI or PCIe slot and also makes sure that there is enough clearance on your case as well.
Now that you’ve decided to buy a sound card, the next thing you need to be aware of is your budget. Once you’ve established your budget, you can then proceed to narrow down your options.
Although sound cards have a bevy of ports, you have to make sure that there is enough for the setup that you want.
The sound card’s companion software is equally important because it further enhances the capabilities of the said component. If you’re buying sound cards from prominent companies such as Creative and Asus, you’re pretty much guaranteed a solid product with an impressive software to come with it.
Some sound cards are bundled with additional adapters and goodies such as posters, and others. Although this may not be necessary, it is still good to have some extras, right?
Discrete sound cards are great because they offer a much more superb listening experience compared to the onboard audio that your motherboards have.
Because sound cards work separately, they are less prone to RMI or interference that causes those nasty audio distortions.
Although motherboards have evolved through the years; some getting equipped with a much better audio solution, nothing compares to the prowess of the dedicated Sound card.
There are a lot of sound cards on the market but they are not too great. The five sound cards I’ve mentioned in this article are the most bang for the buck and if you’re looking to amp up your listening experience while playing games, definitely consider buying one of them.
If you ask me, “do I need a sound card?” Well, it depends on. If you just want a simple solution, you can go with your motherboard’s own audio solution. But, if you want a more robust solution and a lot better audio performance, then do consider buying a discrete sound card.
I hope that this article has helped you in choosing the best sound card for your PC.