Which sound card should I get

Best sound card 2021: internal & external sound cards in the current test & comparison (purchase advice)

You will probably agree with us when we say: sound cards are a very controversial topic among gamers. Each of us has heard these questions before:

Why do I even need sound cards? What are the benefits of a sound card and what are the main advantages over onboard solutions? And if I need one: what is the best sound card (internal or USB)?

We answer these and other questions in our current article about the best sound cards! This is not a technical sound card test, but we have again compared in detail for you in the usual manner and researched extensively:

Scoured forums, read subreddits, researched in international trade magazines, analyzed leaderboards and viewed countless reviews. The result? The latest sound card comparison on the net, which is updated regularly!

With our recommendations, you’re going to the right place and avoiding bad purchases. Just take a look at our sound card best list below, or read our detailed purchase advice if you are still unsure.

The best sound cards for gamers in 2021 in the test: overview

In the following you will find all our sound card recommendations listed, categorized according to internal and external sound cards.

The best internal sound cards

Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX

  • Channels: 5.1
  • Sampling: 24 bit / 192 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): 106 dB
  • Amplifier: Up to 600 ohms

Creative Sound Blaster Z

  • Channels: 5.1
  • Sampling: 24 bit / 192 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): 116 dB
  • Amplifier:Up to 600 ohms

Creative Sound BlasterX AE-5

  • Channels: 5.1 / 7.1 virtual
  • Sampling: 32 bit / 384 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): 122 dB
  • Amplifier:Up to 600 ohms
  • Extras: RGB & Scout-Mode

Asus Essence STX II 7.1

  • Channels: 7.1 
  • Sampling: 24 bit / 192 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): 124 dB
  • Amplifier:Up to 600 ohms

EVGA NU Audio Pro

  • Channels: 7.1 
  • Sampling: 32 bit / 192 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): 123 dB
  • Amplifier:Up to 600 ohms

The best external sound cards

LogiLink USB Sound Box 7.1

  • Channels: 7.1 
  • Sampling: 48 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): n / a
  • Amplifier:n / a

Creative Sound Blaster Omni

  • Channels: 5.1 
  • Sampling: 24 bit / 96 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): 100 dB
  • Amplifier: Up to 600 ohms

FiiO E10K Olympus 2

  • Channels: 2
  • Sampling: 24 bit / 96 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): 108 dB
  • Amplifier: Up to 150 ohms

Creative Sound BlasterX G6

  • Channels: 7.1 
  • Sampling: 32 bit / 384 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): 130 dB
  • Amplifier: Up to 600 ohms

By the way: Without the right PC speakers, a good gaming headset or high-quality headphones, sound cards won't do you any good. Now read: The best PC speakers, gaming headset test or headphone test.

The best internal sound cards

Internal sound cards are built into the PC either in a PCI or a PCIe slot. Internal sound cards have the main advantage that you can configure your audio settings individually with the associated software. In addition, they usually offer you a higher audio quality than external sound cards. So if you want to get the most out of it, you can't avoid an internal one.

The main point of criticism with internal sound cards is always the possible electrical interference with other PC components in the case. This problem is now well solved by good sound cards through a special shielding technique. In the following we recommend the best internal sound cards currently on the market.

Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX - The best affordable internal sound card

Technical key data

  • Channels:5.1
  • Sampling:24 bit / 192 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): 106 dB
  • Amplifier:Up to 600 ohms
  • Type: Internal, PCIe

If you don't want to spend a lot or just a little on a good sound card, then the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX is just the thing for you. Because this price-performance hit offers 5.1 surround sound, which is really impressive and allows you to easily transform your PC into a small cinema entertainment system. With SBX Pro Studio, Audigy-FX processes your audio signals behind the scenes to deliver the best sound with advanced audio processing.

In addition, there is a 600-ohm headphone amplifier, which can still offer you an outstanding sound experience even without high-end headphones. Added to this is a sampling rate of 192 kHz / 24-bit stereo fidelity and a high signal-to-noise ratio of 106 dB. Technically speaking, there is a lot going on here.

If you connect a 5.1 analog speaker system, you can achieve the best possible sound here. It should be noted, however, that there is no EMI shielding here, so you may have problems with electronic interference.

For just under 30 € you really can't complain here! The perfect entry-level sound card for anyone who just wants to test it out.

  • Extremely cheap
  • Very good value for money
  • Great features for little money
  • No shielding (possible interference)
  • Does not come close to the sound quality of higher quality models
  • Somewhat outdated model

Creative Sound Blaster Z - The best all-round gaming sound card

Technical key data

  • Channels:5.1
  • Sampling:24 bit / 192 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): 116 dB
  • Amplifier:Up to 600 ohms
  • Type:Internal, PCIe

Once a sound card, always a sound card - that would be your conclusion after testing the Creative Sound Blaster Z. Creative is known for its good sound cards and, with the Sound Blaster Z model, has one of the best mid-range PCIe sound cards on the market. This is a good model, especially for gamers.

Thanks to the powerful sound and speech processor, you will be perfectly heard in voice chat, the practical software gives you a lot of fine-tuning options and thanks to special shielding technology you have crystal clear gaming sound.

In addition, the Soundblaster Z control center gives you plenty of opportunities to tinker with your audio. You can make all kinds of audio adjustments via the SBX-Pro-Studio, Crystal-Voice manages your microphone settings and effects.

Very relevant for us gamers: The scout mode, which emphasizes both the middle and high tones, so that you can hear ambient noises (such as steps in CS or CoD) better. Scout mode is like cheating in shooters!

Very cool gimmick: You can use the software to set hilarious voice distortions such as Mickey Mouse or robot voices. That will certainly make for a few laughs in the TS. Extremely practical: with one click you can switch between speakers and headset as the primary audio source.

Furthermore, the Soundblaster Z offers you a lot of special features:

  • The EAX technology (Environmental Audio Extensions) in the Soundblaster Z gives you better 3D sound. Many current games (e.g. Battlefield, Mass Effect or Bioshock) use this technology to generate realistic surround sound, which is of course worth gold for the in-game atmosphere.
  • 3D audio processor: Creative uses a special audio processor for sound processing, which slightly offloads your CPU.
  • Cinema mode: If you often watch films in Dolby Digital format, you will be pleased: The cinematic mode of the Soundblaster Z brings you better audio quality for your cinema films.
  • Nice gimmick: the included beamforming microphone is a good interim solution if you don't have a headset or stand microphone at hand.

The Soundblaster Z is a great entry-level sound card for low-budget gamers who still want to have great sound while paddling. Great audio quality via headphones or speakers at a good price is available here!

  • Lots of features
  • Very good value for money
  • Electromagnetic shielding for distortion-free sound
  • Headphone output can be a little too loud
  • Software easily ram hungry
  • Common driver problems

Creative Sound BlasterX AE-5 - Best for 7.1 virtual sound

Technical key data

  • Channels:5.1 / 7.1 virtual
  • Sampling:32 bit / 384 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): 122 dB
  • Amplifier:Up to 600 ohms
  • Type:Internal, PCIe

The Creative Sound BlasterX AE-5 not only delivers high-resolution audio in first-class quality, but is also the best-looking one in our sound card leaderboard! Right, this baby is equipped with RGB LEDs that sparkle and glow in your PC case.

With the AE-5, Creative deliberately wants to offer an upgrade to its earlier generations of sound cards. Here you get the Scout 2.0 software, which, as mentioned above for the Soundblaster Z, helps you in shooters. Then there is also a clear technical upgrade with the 384 kHz ESS-ES9016K2M-Saber-32-Ultra-DAC. It is a first-class digital-to-analog converter that supports 5.1 analog surround audio and 7.1 headphones surround virtualization.

Incidentally, Creative Labs uses the discrete Xamp headphone amplification for those who want to connect headphones to this good sound card. Xamp uses two different channels to amplify the right and left channels individually. In addition, the impressive 124 DNR value means that the sound is absolutely crystal clear.

So if you are looking for an absolute high-end sound card, you will find it here.

  • Lots of features
  • Extremely high quality audio
  • High quality and great optics
  • Very expensive
  • Software sometimes with problems
  • No Dolby DTS support

Asus Essence STX II: Best Sound Card for Music Production & Premium 7.1

Technical key data

  • Channels:7.1 
  • Sampling:24 bit / 192 kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): 124 dB
  • Amplifier:Up to 600 ohms
  • Type:Internal, PCIe

The Asus Essence STX II is intended for everyone who is looking for a high-end 5.1 or 7.1 sound card. The 5.1 version is extremely suitable for music recordings, the 7.1 version is the ultimate premium card for gamers.

With a very good SNR of 124 dB, the good delivers up to 64 times more power than the standard audio hardware on new motherboards. The 7.1-channel sound card has an integrated headphone amplifier, which is designed for maximum sound quality at up to 600 ohms.

Ergo a top choice for high-end headsets or studio headphones. One thing is certain: audiophiles as well as music purists and gamers are fully picked up here, as the sound can be adjusted depending on the scenario. Film lovers will also get their money's worth: the surround sound is amplified by the Dolby Home Theater, which turns your PC into a real home cinema center.

In addition, Asus is taking sound customization to a new level by offering interchangeable op-amp sockets. This allows you to create different timbres and combinations of tones until you find your version of the perfect sound.

So you see: This sound card is something for professionals who want to tickle everything out (unfortunately that is also reflected in the price). Nevertheless, everyone really gets their money's worth here!

  • Very good signal to noise ratio
  • Crystal clear sound, well suited for all purposes
  • good shielding