If you’re an avid gamer, music producer, or video editor, you need high-quality audio. Audiophile sound cards drastically increase PC audio quality, and the best ones have valuable features like headphone amplification and noise-free recording. There are many options on the market. However, if you’re not tech-savvy, don’t worry, as we have reviewed & compared the top rated ones for you.
In a hurry? The best sound cards on the market in 2021 are Creative Sound Blaster X3 External Sound Card and Sound BlasterX G6 USB Sound Card. These high-quality sound cards give an immersive surround sound audio experience. Alternatively, if you’re on a budget, go for the affordable FiiO E10K USB DAC Sound Card.
Top Sound Cards For Audiophile: Quick Comparison
Creative Sound Blaster X3 External Sound Card||Check Price|
Sound BlasterX G6 USB Sound Card||Check Price|
FiiO E10K USB DAC Sound Card||Check Price|
StarTech.com 7.1 USB Sound Card||Check Price|
Best Audiophile Sound Card 2021: Reviews
1. Creative Sound Blaster X3 External Sound Card
Best External Sound Card For Audiophile
The 7.1 surround immersion is incredible and supports studio-grade headphones up to 600W, making it a top choice for gaming and movies.
The X3 has three customizable EQ presets for different usages. You can choose between movies Mode, music mode, and footsteps enhancer Mode.
There’s also a built-in audio balance feature for gamers, allowing them to balance audio and chat volume levels.
This high-quality sound card is highly versatile and can connect to many devices via USB-C for PC and Mac, Optical-out, and Line-in for AV receivers and digital audio players.
It has a 115dB SNR and a recording audio fidelity of 24bit/192 kHz. While it may not be the most high-end product, it’s easy to set up and is affordable.
- 7.1 surround sound
- Three customizable EQ presets
- Compatible with most consoles, PC, and Mac
- DAC quality could be higher
2. Sound BlasterX G6 USB Sound Card
Best USB Sound Card For Audiophile
In addition, this USB sound card uses Dolby Digital decoding for the clearest sound possible and boasts excellent channel separation and ambient sound boost.
The G6 is engineered with Sound BlasterX’s custom-made Xamp headphone amplifier, which uses discrete components and features a bi-amp design to amplify each audio channel separately.
This results in pristine audio fidelity of 32-bit/384 kHz, which virtually eliminates all distortion guaranteeing an audio output that remains authentic and unaltered.
What’s more, the ultra-low 1 Ohm output supports up to studio-grade 600W headphones.
Thanks to its crisp audio quality, the Sound BlasterX G6 is one of the best audiophile sound cards for gaming, music production, and movie editing.
However, gamers will most enjoy the impressive features like the Sidetone volume control and easy-to-reach profile buttons.
- High DAC Quality
- 7.1 surround support
- Pristine, unaltered audio
- 32-bit modulator to eliminate distortion
- Limited Input Selection
- Not the most affordable sound card
3. FiiO E10K USB DAC Sound Card
Best Value Audiophile Sound Card 2021
It uses an internal DAC chip of 24-bit/96 kHz to improve sound quality with a linear filter. Other features include reduced delay, internal silence on changing tracks, and no phase shifts.
The E10K has an optimized low-pass filter and selectable bass boost, giving a low noise floor when engaged. This lets you customize the sound to your preferences and is excellent if you like thumping tunes.
It has a 105 dB SNR, so while it’s not the highest, it’s still pretty good for the price.
The FiiO E10K has three output options; a headphone jack, line output, and coaxial digital output. What’s more, the gain switch allows you to use powerful headphones at high sound levels without any sound distortion.
Lastly, what impressed us about this soundcard is its rugged, durable build. It feels incredibly sturdy, thanks to its brushed aluminum shell and chassis construction.
- Very affordable
- Great bass boost
- Gain switch
- Rugged build
- Not the highest DAC quality
4. StarTech.com 7.1 USB Sound Card
Best Cheap Sound Card Audiophile
At its super low price, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to hear that this sound card has 7.1 surround support, allowing you to effortlessly turn your laptop into a home cinema through a single USB 2.0 connection.
This StarTech.com audio card uses a C-Media CM6206 chipset and delivers audio quality up to 16-bit / 48 kHz. Of course, this may not be high enough for professional audiophiles and music producers.
However, if you’re simply looking to upgrade the sound quality of your movies or games, it is sufficient.
Another perk of this USB sound card is how user-friendly it is. It is easy to install as it has plug-and-play support for Windows PCs. It also features easy-to-use volume control and two external microphone inputs.
Overall, if you want a cheap surround sound setup for your PC or laptop, this is easily the best budget sound card audiophile.
- Very affordable
- 7.1 surround support
- A quick way to improve your PC’s audio
- An excellent option for beginners
- Only compatible with PCs
- Low audio fidelity
Audiophile Sound Card Buying Guide
USB Vs. PCIe Sound Cards
Before shopping for an audiophile sound card, you should first understand the difference between USB AND PCIe types. USB sound cards connect externally by plugging into your PC’s USB port. PCIe sound cards have an internal connection point and require mounting inside your computer.
PCIe cards can produce better sound quality as they use more power from the PCIe port and, therefore, are often favored by professionals with technical knowledge. However, USB cards are much more user-friendly, which is why we have chosen to focus on external cards in this guide.
Signal To Noise Ratio
Always check the signal-to-noise ratio of a sound card before you buy. This number will tell you the quality of the Digital-to-Analog-Converter. The higher the DAC quality a sound card has, the more noise-free your audio will be. Most high-end sound cards will have 124 dB SNR, resulting in pure audio.
Another component of DAC quality is the audio fidelity, consisting of the bit rate and sampling rate. The bit rate determines the quality of recorded sound, of which professional recording requires a minimum of 24-bit.
The sampling rate relates to the sound card’s accuracy in reproducing higher frequencies and should not be lower than 96 kHz. However, with that being said, the best high-quality sound cards will have 24-bit or 32-bit audio with a 192-kHz or 384-kHz sampling rate.
Headphone amplification is a common component of high-end sound cards and an essential feature to have if you use studio-grade headphones. This is because these headphones have a high impedance that many low-quality sound cards do not support. Without a headphone amplifier, you will experience low volume when using studio-grade headphones.
Channel System Support
Another specification to check before purchase is the soundcard’s channel support. Any high-end sound card should have at least 5.1 surround sound, but 7.1 or 7.2 is much better. 5.1 means the sound card supports six audio channels, while 7.1 supports eight channels.
You should ensure your card’s surround sound supports your speaker configuration. For example, if you use 7.1 headsets, then the eight-channel support of 7.1 can make your surround sound system feel 3D. However, if you have 5.1 surround speakers, 5.1 support is sufficient.
Final Thoughts About Sound Cards For Audiophiles
In 2021, you don’t need to be technical-minded to upgrade your PC’s sound quality. With an external sound card, you can plug it into your computer’s USB port and get set up straight away. After we reviewed & compared 2021’s top rated ones, we found the best audiophile sound cards are Creative Sound Blaster X3 and Sound BlasterX G6. They produce 3D-style unaltered audio to take your gaming or media production to the next level!