What Is The Best Soundcard For Gaming? - 2018 Top Reviews

Need to find the best soundcard for gaming? We’ve rounded up five compelling sound card options for you to choose from, and we hope you like them!

Finding the best soundcard for gaming meant sifting through a range of options. After a few hours of sorting through the best options available right now, we narrowed the list down to five choices, each at various price ranges, one of which will be crowned the best soundcard for gaming.

Our personal top pick is the ASUS Xonar DX, but yours may be different. We’ll dive into all the pros and cons of the provided options below.

Don’t sit around waiting, though- let’s dive right in!

ASUS Xonar DGX

The Best Soundcard For Gaming: Breakdown

nameaudio channelssignal to noise ratio and sample rateinternal or externalRating
#1ASUS Xonar DXASUS Xonar DX 7.1 116 and 192 KHzInternal (PCIe)4.5/5
#2Creative Sound Blaster OmniCreative Sound Blaster Omni 5.1100 and 96 KHzExternal (USB)4.3/5
#3ASUS Xonar DSXASUS Xonar DSX 7.1107 and 192 KHzInternal (PCIe)4/5
#4ASUS Xonar DGXASUS Xonar DGX 5.1105 and 192 KHz Internal (PCIe)4/5
#5StarTech USB Audio AdapterStarTech USB Audio Adapter 5.1 (Windows Only)91 and 96 KHzExternal (USB)3/5
#1

ASUS Xonar DX

TECH SPECS

  • Audio Channels
    7.1
  • Signal To Noise Ratio and Sample Rate
    116 and 192 KHz
  • Internal or External?
    Internal (PCIe)

Last but not least, the Xonar DX offers some of the best SNR and Sample Rate you can get out of a soundcard. However, it’s also...$100.

Ouch. That price range does hurt, but what does it offer in turn?

Well...just look at the list of Pros, honestly. Not to break the fourth wall in my own article, but the Xonar DX is a really fully-featured soundcard that offers just about everything a gamer or audio enthusiast would want out of a soundcard.

Honestly, it’s our top pick for a reason. The only real problem we can raise with it is its price- because, jesus, $100 for a sound card? That’s one expensive sound setup!

But if you’re passionate about your listening experience, whether in or out of game, the Xonar DX should offer you the best-possible audio experience. That makes the ASUS Xonar DX the best soundcard for gaming.

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#2

Creative Sound Blaster Omni

TECH SPECS

  • Audio Channels
    5.1
  • Signal To Noise Ratio and Sample Rate
    100 and 96 KHz
  • Internal or External?
    External (USB)

Of the external sound cards out there, I found the Creative Sound Blaster Omni to be the most impressive of them.

This is mainly due to its multitude of features. By bundling a headphone amp, Dolby Digital Support, a software suite for controlling your audio, and a gaming-optimized Scout Mode, the Omni far surpasses your garden variety external sound card thanks to all of the features it has on offer.

In addition to those features, it offers a pretty respectable SNR and sample rate...for an external solution. Compared to internal solutions, however, it unfortunately falls short.

Additionally, the price of $80 for an external sound card probably raises more than a few eyebrows for our audience. It’s important to be very sure about a purchase like this, so be sure to finish our article before making your selection!

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#3

ASUS Xonar DSX

TECH SPECS

  • Audio Channels
    7.1
  • Signal To Noise Ratio and Sample Rate
    107 and 192 KHz
  • Internal or External?
    Internal (PCIe)

The ASUS Xonar DX is a midrange internal soundcard, and provides a generally great audio experience.

First and foremost, it supports 7.1 surround sound, which is perfect for high-end headphones and home theater audio setups.

Secondly, it significantly boosts Sample Rate and SNR over cheaper sound cards. This means a clearer, higher-quality listening experience overall.

However, where it suffers is in a lack of portability and extra features. It’s strange to move up in price and lose some features, but that’s what the Xonar DSX seems to do.

In exchange for the bumps in SNR and 7.1 surround sound, the Xonar DSX sacrifices Dolby Headphone support and a Headphone Amp. This is a pretty big downer for headphone users, making this more suitable for home theater setups than gamers.

For gamers, it still does offer GX 2.5, but the loss in headphone features will hurt gamers used to using headphones in their games.

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#4

ASUS Xonar DGX

TECH SPECS

  • Audio Channels
    5.1
  • Signal To Noise Ratio and Sample Rate
    105 and 192 KHz
  • Internal or External?
    Internal (PCIe)

The ASUS Xonar DGX is the best budget option on this list, thanks to its great sample rate, good SNR and large number of extra features.

First and foremost, it has a built-in headphone amp to bring out the fullest potential in your headphones. It also supports Dolby Surround for your headphones, allowing improved spatial awareness in games.

Speaking of spatial awareness in games, GX 2.5 is included too. This improves and enhances in-game audio, especially for enhancing your awareness of your surroundings in-game.

The only real downside of this one is part of its nature as an internal soundcard: you can’t take it anywhere you want to go.

It’s also a bit weaker overall than other options, but its included extra features alleviate this somewhat.

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#5

StarTech USB Audio Adapter

TECH SPECS

  • Audio Channels
    5.1 (Windows Only)
  • Signal To Noise Ratio and Sample Rate
    91 and 96 KHz
  • Internal or External?
    External (USB)

The StarTech USB Audio Adapter is a pretty basic external sound card available for a budget price. At only $30, it’s probably a better audio experience than your laptop’s onboard audio.

Unfortunately, unless you’re dealing with crappy laptop audio or your internal sound is broken altogether, we find ourselves pretty hard-pressed to recommend this one. That’s because it doesn’t have a lot of extra features to incentivize the purchase: it’s a basic external soundcard that isn’t quite as good as internal options.

If you’re using a laptop or replacing broken onboard broken audio on a budget, the StarTech USB Audio Adapter may be what you’re looking for.

But if you want to enhance your gaming experience in any meaningful way, you may want to keep looking.

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Do you need a soundcard for gaming?

Not necessarily, but there are some benefits you can enjoy by investing in a sound card.

First, let’s talk about when you DON’T need a sound card:

  • When your onboard audio isn’t giving you any noticeable problems.
  • When your headphones and speakers are pretty basic stereo and not an advanced surround-sound setup.
  • When you aren’t an audio engineer, editor or musician.
  • When you just want to play video games, and aren’t having trouble hearing your surroundings.

For most basic usage, and for gaming, you don’t really need a sound card. Getting a sound card can benefit you, though, even if you don’t particularly need it. Here’s a few ways how:

  • Takes some load off of the CPU, since it doesn’t have to process audio anymore.
  • Provides a significantly cleaner, more detailed signal than onboard audio solutions.
  • May offer features like headphone amplification or Dolby audio, which are great.
  • May have software optimizations for in-game audio.
  • Provides the hardware needed for high-end music and vocal recording and playback. Especially important for audio engineers and musicians.

Those are the benefits you’re looking at from buying a soundcard. It’s not a necessity, but it can be a nice thing to have.

Selection Criteria

Audio Channels

Audio channels essentially refer to the number of speakers in the audio setup, or drivers in the headphones that you’re wearing. The more audio channels, the better surround-sound and detailed audio you’ll get.

Here’s a quick guide to common audio channels:

  • 2 Channel - Stereo setup. Two speakers.
  • 5 Channel - Surround-sound setup. Five speakers, typically 4 for each corner of the setup and one placed in front of the screen.
  • 7 Channel - Surround-sound setup. Seven speakers, typically 3 for each side of the setup and one placed in front of the screen.

The .1 you often see at the end of audio channels refers to support for subwoofers, a common piece of home audio setups. The channels otherwise correspond to the number of speakers/drivers.

Signal To Noise Ratio

Signal-to-noise ratio pretty much determines how clean the audio output you get from your soundcard is. We won’t dive too deep into the technical aspects here, but it pretty much just means that the higher the SNR, the better your listening experience will be.

Sample Rate

Sample rate determines the frequencies that your audio setup can play or record. In general, you want to have this be as high as possible, but typically, music post-mastering won’t stress your sample rate too much.

The main reason you may want a high sample rate is if you aren’t only listening to music, but also working on audio yourself. This could be for music, for recording voice, etc, but in this case having hardware that supports higher sample rates will typically benefit you more than hurt you.

Internal or External

This choice largely depends on whether you’re using a desktop, a laptop, or a desktop with no room for more internal upgrades.

Internal sound cards use PCI Express lanes to provide their sound, and are mounted on your motherboard right around where your graphics card is mounted.

Meanwhile, external sound cards usually use USB or some other hot-pluggable interface and usually rest outside of your PC for this reason, typically on your desk or surface-of-choice for your laptop.

If you’re using a desktop PC and you have room on your motherboard for it, get an internal sound card. It’ll provide a better audio experience.

If you’re using a laptop, or don’t have room to pop in an internal sound card, buying an external sound card can be good too. If nothing else, it should be better than your onboard audio.

Making Your Choice

To wrap things up...

If you’re on a budget, go for the StarTech USB Audio Adapter or the ASUS Xonar DGX. Those are the best budget options you can get, and we highly recommend the DGX thanks to its rich feature set on a budget.

If budget isn’t a concern, shoot for either the Creative Sound Blaster or ASUS Xonar DX. Those are the best external and internal soundcards, respectively, and which is for you depends on what you’re using.

For the most part, the Xonar DSX is most suited for home theater setups using a full 7.1 surround sound system on a fair budget. If you don’t have that kind of audio setup and don’t plan to in the future, it’s probably best you opt for another one.

Ultimately, what makes the best soundcard for gaming depends on what you need.

So what did you choose?