If you love to play games, you’ll know how important audio quality is.
This becomes even more important if you intend to share your gameplay with followers, such as via a Twitch or YouTube channel.
Do you need a sound card for gaming?
A sound card should be on your must-have list of tools for gaming because of how it enhances gameplay audio and makes games more immersive.
At A Glance: Our Top 5 Picks For External Sound Cards
- BEST OVERALL: Sound BlasterX G6 External USB Sound Card
- RUNNER-UP: Creative Store Sound Blaster G3
- ALTERNATIVE: Creative Sound BlasterX G5
- ALTERNATIVE: EPOS | SENNHEISER GSX 1200
- ALTERNATIVE: StarTech.com 7.1 USB Sound Card
With that in mind, read our reviews of the best external sound card for gaming.
What’s great about these is that you’ll be able to make use of them for other purposes, too.
The Studio Genie is dedicated to helping streamers and YouTubers or anyone looking to have their own home studio. The author, Felicity Martinez, have been helping out streamers and YouTubers for years.
The goal is to provide a free resource for anyone looking to build a quality home studio. The reviews below are a result of hours of research and analysis. We provided the pros and cons and ranked each product to help you make a quick decision.
QUICK OVERVIEW: Our Top Picks for External Sound Cards
Sound BlasterX G6 External USB Sound Card
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Creative Store Sound Blaster G3
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Creative Sound BlasterX G5
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EPOS | SENNHEISER GSX 1200
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StarTech.com 7.1 USB Sound Card
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External Sound Card Reviews & Recommendations For 2021
Best Overall: Creative Store Sound BlasterX G6 4kHz Gaming DAC
If you spend a lot of time playing games, you’ll love this external sound card. But, it also has some other valuable benefits. Let’s check it out and see why it makes the number-one spot on our list of reviews.
- Scout Mode
- Mismatch shaping technology
- Gaming console versatility
- This external sound card not only improves the quality of your audio but it has game-focused features that you’ll enjoy. These include profile buttons that are within reach and Sidetone volume control.
- You’ll also have in-game voice communication enhancements to make your gaming more immersive.
- This sound card is versatile and can be used on Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, and PS4.
- It has 7.1 surround virtualization, which will give you much more of an enhanced experience.
- This external sound card has what’s known as Scout Mode, a feature that boosts in-game audio cues.
- It has a custom Xampp headphone amplifier, so that every audio channel is amplified individually. This gives you a much more authentic sound experience, which is ideal for when you’re making music in your home studio.
- It supports your microphone, as it has headphone and microphone jacks located on the front of the device.
- Some people who have purchased this external sound card have reported that while the RGB light on the top of the card can be disabled, you can’t remove the one by the dial. This can be annoying.
- If you’re hoping to connect this external sound card to your PC, you’ll dislike that it has a USB wire that’s a little too short.
- You want to enjoy more details in your audio, and you’ll be able to do this with this sound card’s mismatch shaping technology. This removes distortion and gives you much crisper sound so you don’t miss a thing, and it’s thanks to this sound card’s 32-bit 384kHz DAC that has an ultra-high dynamic range of 130dB.
If you’re looking for better audio quality, such as when playing games, this external sound card is definitely going to help you achieve that – and it also comes with some extra frills and features you’ll love.
Runner Up: Creative Store Sound Blaster G3 External Gaming USB DAC
This is another external sound card from Creative Store, but how does it compare to the previous product? Let’s find out by taking a closer look at its features.
- USB-C to USB-A converter
- GameVoice Mix
- Sound Blaster Command app
- This external sound card is entirely powered via USB-C in a plug-and-play format. This makes it easy and simple to use audio on your PC, Mac, and gaming consoles. Basically, once you’ve unpacked it, it’s ready to use.
- This best external sound card for Mac comes with a USB-C to USB-A converter if you run into connection problems.
- It has a GameVoice Mix feature. This enables you to increase your voice chat volume during a game so that you can better hear the friends you’re playing with. Similarly, if you want to hear more elements in your game, you can lower the volume of the chat. But what’s best of all is that you don’t have to first leave your game screen.
- You can easily reach for the mic and volume controls on the side of this Creative external sound card, even with just one hand. No more game or music production interruptions!
- This device gives you high-quality audio and you can take it up a notch with the Sound Blaster Command app. This is available on iOS and Android devices so that you can control your audio settings without unplugging the device or leaving your game.
- This app also enables you to make other adjustments to the sound quality, such as changes to treble and bass elements. You just need to connect it via Bluetooth and you’re good to go.
- GameVoice Mix is only compatible with PS4, PS4 Pro, Mac, and PC.
- Some people who have purchased this best external sound card for PC have reported that it’s sometimes not user-friendly. For example, if you disconnect and reconnect it, it tends to forget the volume setting you previously used.
- If you need the Sound Blaster for conference calls, you’ll love that it’s been designed as an add-on to improve the audio quality of these important calls so that you always sound professional and clear to others.
This external sound card has many excellent features in place to boost the quality of your audio, and it’s especially good to purchase if you already have your own mic and headset that you want to connect.
Alternative: Creative Sound BlasterX G5 7.1 HD Audio External Sound Card
If you’re an avid gamer who wants to share your gameplay with viewers on platforms such as Twitch, this Creative Sound device will take your experience up a notch. Here’s why.
- 3D audio
- BlasterX Acoustic
- Engine Pro
- SB-Axx1 multi-core chipset
- This external sound card makes use of 7.1 surround sound support. This enables you to enjoy a much more immersive experience.
- It’s great for gaming, thanks to its 3D PC Gaming Audio. This also contributes to making your experience more immersive. You’ll feel like you’re right inside the game.
- It has a Blasterx Acoustic Engine Pro feature. This makes your audio sound more authentic and it also reduces distortions.
- This sound card has a built-in SB-Axx1 multi-core chipset. This means that your hardware will offer 3D virtual surround sound when you use a headset.
- Unlike some other external sound cards, this one doesn’t have a Bluetooth feature available so that you can connect your iOS and Android devices. You can only connect them via the audio cable.
- It’s a bit more expensive than some other quality sound cards on the market.
- For even greater convenience when you’re increasing or decreasing volume, this sound card has an illuminated volume indicator.
If you want to buy this Sound Blaster because of all its special features, make sure you keep an eye out for Amazon specials. Recently, this external sound card was selling for almost half of its original price.
Alternative: EPOS | SENNHEISER GSX 1200 PRO Gaming Audio Amplifier
This audio amplifier offers 7.1 surround sound, but what else has it got to offer you? Here’s what you need to know about it.
- EQ settings
- DAC chip
- Sidetone control
- This sound card allows you to use up to eight amplifiers together to increase your audio quality.
- It’s a great sound card to use for gaming and chatting. It has separate controls for both functions so that you can reduce noise and interference when multitasking.
- It provides you with EQ settings for balancing sound frequencies. This is especially important when you’re in the middle of a game.
- It has a dedicated DAC chip that’s easy to plug in and start playing.
- It has reverberation level control, which changes the spatial feeling depending on whether you’re in a small room or larger one. This makes your audio quality much more immersive.
- It has Sidetone control. This enables you to control how loud you want your voice in your headset to be. Lowering the sound of your voice is helpful to enable you to hear members of your team, whether during gameplay or other situations.
- Some people who have purchased this product have reported that since using it they have found that its profile-setting is easily triggered, such as when unplugging the mic or headphones from the device.
- This external sound card comes with different audio profiles you can access with a one-touch mode switch.
- As a nice bonus, you can lock your preferred settings so you don’t have to worry about losing them.
While this sound card might be a bit expensive, it’s worth purchasing during sales. Keep an eye out for them on Amazon.
Alternative: StarTech.com 7.1 USB Sound Card
This StarTech sound card makes the list of the best sound cards on the market because it’s the ideal upgrade for your PC or laptop. Let’s see what it has to offer.
- 7.1 sound card
- S/PDIF compatible
- This sound card has an audio-to-USB adapter feature with volume control that’s user-friendly, and two external mic inputs.
- It offers support for 44.1 KHz and 48KHz sampling rates for analog playback as well as recording.
- You can connect this usb external sound card to speakers through 3.5mm mini-jacks or optical S/PDIF.
- It’s easy to set up this best external sound card for laptop devices – it’s plug-and-play!
- By downloading the drivers for Windows 10 from the company’s website, this will further enhance the sound quality you can achieve from this device.
- Some people who have purchased this sound card have reported difficulties with connecting it to Windows 10.
- Others have stated that the construction of this sound card is not as good as it could be.
- It supports digital and analog audio for 2 to 7.1 channel audio applications. Since it’s a 7.1 sound card, it enables you to turn your desktop PC or laptop into a home theater sound system with just a USB 2.0 connection.
This is one of four StarTech sound cards you can purchase from Amazon, and it’s the best external USB sound card because of how it’s a multi output and dual mic. That said, it is a bit more expensive than others you can purchase, such as the 3.5mm audio adapter.
External Sound Card FAQ
Now that we’ve looked at the best external sound cards on the market, you might have some questions about sound cards and how they work, and if they’re really worth purchasing.
Here’s what to know.
Do external sound cards make a difference?
An external sound card is said to be really useful to improve audio quality, such as when gaming or recording your voice. But can you really tell the difference between using your device’s in-built audio and the external sound card?
Sound cards can definitely enhance the sound quality of your system. However, they need to be combined with a good headset and quality speakers otherwise you won’t be able to tell if they’re working well!
Let’s take a look at what to know about external sound cards.
External sound cards get connected via Thunderbolt and USB to your devices. They are portable and convenient to use because they’re so small, while also being of the plug-and-play variety.
They’re focused on giving you improved audio quality in a more convenient way because they’re compatible with all operating systems. Since their connections are easier to reach as compared to those on other sound cards, this makes them valuable for recording studios.
They are better than internal sound cards because they are easier to access. You don’t have to open up your laptop or PC.
When it comes to gaming, external sound cards are useful in a variety of ways, as we’ve seen in our list of reviews. For example, some of the best external sound cards have Scout Mode, a feature that enhances the audio cues in games so that you can hear them better.
Another important feature of external sound cards is that they enable you to have better, more convenient control over the sound in your game, which is especially important when you’re chatting to friends or teammates during gameplay.
Is a DAC better than a sound card?
Before you purchase a sound card, you might wonder if you should just get a DAC. But, what is a DAC? A DAC (otherwise known as a Digital-to-Analog Converter) basically converts digital audio into an analog signal so that you’re able to play the audio over speakers or headphones.
This is actually the same thing as a sound card, but there is an important difference between the two that you need to know about. A sound card is usually installed inside the computer and connected to the motherboard. Of course, an external sound card is not – this makes it easier to use and more portable.
Now, you might wonder if you even need a DAC if you have a sound card. Well, to further complicate the issue, you should know that DACs are so essential in PC audio systems that motherboard audios and sound cards usually already have them installed. This is because they’re essential to draw sound out of digital devices.
Does a sound card act as an amp?
An amp, or amplifier, amplifies audio so that it can be used with headphones or speakers. It basically works to increase the analog signal that is sent by the DAC.
You can find DAC/amp combos that work well to provide you with greater versatility. For example, you can connect them to your computer via USB or your mobile device via Bluetooth.
By comparison, a sound card is a digital device that converts digital signals for sound, so that they can be used by speakers and headphones.
While it can be confusing to know how these devices differ, here’s an easy thing to remember. Most DACs will contain amps in their construction, but you won’t find this with all sound cards. These devices are built to drive other audio devices or gear like headphones.
That said, there are some sound cards on the market that contain amps. An example is the EVGA Nu Audio Pro 7.1, which is a sound card with a built-in amplifier to enhance bass and treble sounds.
When used for gaming, it provides better sound, such as during shooting or explosion scenes. This is especially useful if you’re using headphones because you don’t have to make use of a separate amp.
Does my PC need a sound card?
Right off the bat it’s worth noting that dedicated sound cards used to be essential but modern PCs already have audio hardware built into their construction that’s of a good quality.
External sound cards still exist, though, but why would you need them?
There are actually many good reasons why you should invest in a sound card for your PC instead of relying on your computer’s hardware. These include the following:
A PC’s audio hardware is susceptible to interference. This is because its motherboard has a lot of electrical impulses in it. There are also many other things happening in the device, such as USB connections and RAM. All of these contribute to sound interference. While some PC motherboards will have shielding for the computer’s audio parts, this doesn’t completely improve the situation.
Sound cards are useful for gaming. They can help to reduce your CPU usage and by offloading work from the CPU or GPU, this will give you better frame rates during gameplay. A frame rate basically refers to how smoothly a game can run on your machine.
External sound cards improve the basic sound that’s produced by your PC or laptop. They also give you a chance to control it separately from your machine.
It’s really easy to install an external sound card. You don’t have to open up your device or call a professional to help you. Since external sound cards are plug-and-play tools, they’re really easy for anyone to start using.
External sound cards are small and portable, which is great for ensuring that you always have audio quality on the go.
Since external sound cards don’t have to be installed inside your computer, they will have greater protection against dust and other problems.
You can use an external sound card for a variety of tasks, such as connecting it to your microphone so that you can turn your device into a recorder. You’ll also be able to connect up to 7.1 surround sound system as well as your home theater sound system.
If you need to boost the audio quality of your PC or laptop, such as for gaming purposes, you’ll need to purchase an external sound card.
In this article, we’ve looked at five of the best sound cards to purchase. We’ve also provided you with information about sound cards in general, such as if you really need to buy one and what benefits they provide.