- Best sound cards rating
- Best internal sound cards
- Creative Audigy Fx
- ASUS Xonar AE
- ASUS Strix Soar
- The best external sound cards
- BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UM2
- BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UMC202HD
- Steinberg UR12
- Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen
- ZOOM UAC-2
- The best gaming sound cards
- Creative Sound Blaster Z
- Creative AE-7
- Creative Sound BlasterX G6
*Review of the best according to the editorial board. About the selection criteria. This material is subjective, not an advertisement and does not serve as a guide to purchase. You should seek professional advice before buying.
Even though motherboards with sound cards are de facto standard, discrete sound cards are still on the market. However, their specialization has narrowed greatly to professional (studio), gaming or at least “audiophile” applications.
The editorial staff of Expertology magazine has studied the sound card market of the mid 2021 and has prepared for you a selection of the best models in the context of applications. In our research we have studied in detail the results of independent tests, the experience of renowned studios and feedback on online marketplaces from ordinary users.
Best sound cards rating
|The best internal sound cards||1||Creative Audigy Fx||3 136 €|
|2||ASUS Xonar AE||3 499 €|
|3||ASUS Strix Soar||5 909 €|
|The best external sound cards||1||BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UM2||2 862 €|
|2||BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UMC202HD||5 734 €|
|3||Steinberg UR12||8 616 €|
|4||Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen||9 809 €|
|5||ZOOM UAC-2||18 600 €|
|The Best Gaming Sound Cards||1||Creative Sound Blaster Z||7 219 €|
|2||Creative AE-7||15 697 €|
|3||Creative Sound BlasterX G6||15 990 €|
Best internal sound cards
First in our review will be a selection of internal sound cards. This form factor involves connecting the device directly to a desktop PC motherboard via the appropriate expansion slot, usually PCI-Express. These cards are cheaper on average than external ones, but if you take the best ones, then the price difference in terms of functionality is far from being equal.
On the whole, an internal sound card can be nearly as good as an external one, but there is still the problem of noise interference, which is inevitable inside a PC case full of powerful electronics. Besides, an internal sound card most often has no controls, but only interfaces to connect speakers and other peripherals. Nevertheless, there is a demand for such solutions and many are fully satisfied with the functionality.
Creative Audigy Fx
Let’s start with the most inexpensive sound card in this series from the famous Creative brand. The Singapore-based company Creative Technology
The main advantage of this soundcard is that it’s not integrated, no joke. The manufacturer himself positions it simply as an alternative to the built-in, which is now available in almost any modern motherboard. The thing is, all other things being equal, this model may be better, give a more expressive sound. But the most important is that it can be used in case the built-in sound chip is out of order, which happens sometimes, or “glitches” that happens even more often.
This model, like any self-respecting modern sound card, supports multichannel sound 5.1 in SBX ProStudio technology. What not every integrated sound card can boast is separate interfaces for audio input and microphone. In practice, it gives you the flexibility to use the card for a karaoke device or other form of recording with an overlay on the background incoming sound.
The electronic stuffing and firmware of the card is very similar to a lot of sound chips integrated into motherboards. It’s based on the Realtek codec – a name known to anyone who’s installed an operating system on a PC at least a couple of times on their own. To be exact, here there is a sound chip Realtek ALC898, providing signal-to-noise ratio of 110dB for a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and 104dB for a reverse – ADC. And these are very good indicators that give great sound.
Besides this card has a built-in chip for hardware sound amplification, just like it is used in sound cards of Z and Zx family of the same producer. This is extremely important for owners of headphones with high impedance.
Compared with previous generations, the sound card firmware has made great progress. If before it was a collection of rather functional but fragmented utilities, nowadays it’s a very powerful unified application. Exactly with its help the potential of the sound card can be fully revealed.
- Supports multichannel 5.1;
- Separate channels for the incoming audio signal and microphone – optimal for karaoke;
- the built-in headphone amplifier;
- The useful and handy proprietary software;
- Easy installation and setup.
- Notable part of the users, whose sound card catches noise from the video card.
ASUS Xonar AE
The review continues with a more interesting sound card from ASUS. In audiophile circles it evokes both rave reviews and merciless criticism. But if we judge the results of independent tests and reviews of users, we can say that the lion’s share of criticism is caused by snobbishness of too sophisticated audiophiles and their overestimated expectations. As for the performance and durability, the most eloquent here is an official three-year warranty from the manufacturer.
It’s pretty old, but in 2021 it’s still going strong, thanks to its former glory. In 2018, when it was still a flashy new product, the ASUS Xonar AE confidently asserted itself as the best sound card in the price class under 5k. rubles. It has lost none of its price since then, at around 4k. rubles.
The very interesting feature of ASUS Xonar AE is in the hardware interface. So, besides main components – Cirrus Logic CS4245 and CS4361 chips, operational amplifiers ES9601 are used here, which, attention, are not soldered “by default”, but inserted into pre-assembled connectors. So, if you want you can just take it out and swap it for another one, which gives a lot of room for experimentation to those enthusiasts who like to “play” with the character of the sound.
The main technical characteristics of this model: DAC and ADC support bitrates of 24 bits and 192 kHz. Signal to noise ratio is 110/103dB for DAC and ADC, respectively. The above amplifier can easily power headphones with impedance up to 150 ohms.
Of the interfaces, the card has four outputs to the speaker system, 3.5mm combo line and microphone input, 3.5mm headphone output, Tos optical output
What is also remarkable, despite all the modesty of the form factor and functionality, the manufacturer is not shy to position this sound card as a gaming. ASUS gives itself such a moral right due to the package of voice processing algorithms. For example, there is a “Perfect Voice” algorithm similar to what Creative Crystal Voice did. In fact much more valuable is the sound card capability to emulate sound very well.1 in games, provide accurate localization.
- not a bad imitation of the sound 7.1 in headphones in games;
- Pumps speakers and “heavy” headphones very well;
- Good signal to noise ratio;
- Processing algorithms with interesting effects;
- Three years of official manufacturer’s warranty.
- no pins for connecting the front panel interfaces.
ASUS Strix Soar
Another ASUS sound card, also positioned as a gamer sound card, which is unambiguously hinted at by the Strix marking in the model name. Recall that a series of gaming equipment and computer components Strix was released by ASUS to fill the niche of medium-price gaming products. Top of the line Repub
The apparent difference from the previous devices can be seen even at first glance – the board with electronics is enclosed in a protective casing with a strict, but effective design. It’s not just a fancy piece of hardware, but also quite practical, giving you extra protection from noise and interference inside your case.
In terms of principle ASUS Strix Soar is a sound card conventional “audiophile” class with support for multichannel sound 7.1. There are seven connectors on the panel, five of which are analog outputs for speakers and headphones, one analog input, and one S
DIF . Technically this card looks more than decent in its price range. Now there are some technical details that are not clear to everyone, but we will comment the most unobvious moments in more accessible way.
So, a powerful sound processor C-Media CM6632AX plays a central role in electronic “ensemble” of device. It is the connector which primarily supports five synchro outputs (8+2 channels of sound) and two synchro inputs (2+2 channels). It also provides high bit-rate signal processing up to 32 bits and up to 192 kHz, which is more than good performance for a mid-range head unit.
In addition to an audio processor with such attractive features, the ASUS Strix Soar also boasts a pretty bright DAC – it’s an eight-channel ESS SA
E9006A high level, supporting 120dB dynamic range. The sound card accepts and plays a wide frequency range from 10 to 48 thousand. Hz.
The card connects to the motherboard expansion slot PCI-Express x1, the smallest one. The board needs an external power supply to work, a 6-pin connector is dedicated to connect the source.
From Yandex user review.The market with the status of “Level 10 Gadget Inspector”: “The card is beautiful. Listening to music, you can hear all the instruments in the song now. The sounds are separate and sound as intended. For gaming, the same picture. High and low frequencies don’t merge into one stream at high volume, no detail is lost.
- positioned as a gaming model;
- a metal protective cover;
- Supports multi-channel audio 7.1;
- wide frequency range;
- powerful sound processor;
- A high-end DAC;
- Effective protection against interference, interference and damage during installation;
- spectacular appearance.
- you can’t get the outputs on the front of your PC;
- You can not turn off the backlight.
The best external sound cards
Now let’s move on to a review of the best external sound cards on the market in 2021. Strangely enough, there are noticeably more of these on sale than the internal. We consciously did not consider the most expensive solutions, which are beyond the means of most consumers. This does not make sense, since such devices have a very narrow specialization and are designed for professional musicians who do not need the recommendations of experts, and they themselves are.
BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UM2
Score : 4.6
The first traditionally considered the most inexpensive model, and it really will surprise you with its price of about 3 thousand. RUR at the turn of Spring-Summer 2021. There are even cheaper options, but we are still talking about the best ones. Given that this is a well-known German brand of professional music equipment, this model is expected to be in great demand. Indeed, U-PHORIA UM2 – the top-seller for more than one year and continues to steadily collect massive positive feedback.
This sound card is focused on studio use and, of course, with an eye to its features which can’t be compared with more expensive models. Nevertheless, even for such a ridiculous price, the manufacturer has taken care of two separate inputs – line and microphone. So, you can connect an instrument, like a guitar, to a line card and record vocals on a separate channel.
The key technical characteristics of the device, as expected, modest. So, the built-in DAC and ADC support sampling rate of 48 kHz and the bit depth of just 16 bits. For an amateur studio this is quite enough. Recall that the bit depth of music CDs, which not so long ago were considered the standard of quality, is exactly 16-bit.
This model does not require additional power – it is enough that the device receives through a USB connection. The control panel has all the necessary connectors and controls: two inputs, ¼ headphone output, direct monitor switch. The inputs are augmented with LEDs indicating the available signal and clipping.
On the rear panel there is a switch for phantom power and some more interfaces, including RCA-outlets. Overall, the communication capabilities of the sound card are more than sufficient for this cost.
In general, the users leave mostly positive reviews about this model, noting the reliability, ease of operation and, of course, the cost combined with the functionality. Most of the complaints are about the fairly frequent problems with the drivers, but this only applies to the most recent batches, and probably in the very near future, the manufacturer will solve the problem.
- Top sales – performance has been confirmed by many users;
- do not need an additional power supply;
- easy operation;
- Reliability and reliability;
- Two inputs with separate controls;
- Many interfaces in general;
- most affordable price.
- There are problems with drivers.
BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UMC202HD
Another one BEHRINGER in the selection of the best external sound cards, and this is also U-PHORIA, but much more advanced model than the previous one. There is more and better. And although the device costs twice as much as the model described above, such a cost for this class of devices is still considered quite affordable. Especially considering the features of this particular model.
Externally, this model is very similar in design to the previous one, and in fact it is the same, only “at maximum”. Compared with the previous super-compact one this sound card is bigger: 170x125x46.45 mm. But this is good because the place is cleverly used for interfaces and controls.
Key features of signal conversion in this model are already higher compared to the previous model. 192 kHz DAC and A/D conversion frequency and 24-bit bit rate. This is not the modest performance, which was with the U-PHORIA UM2, and we can already talk about studio applications without any particular limitations.
Even greater potential for use thanks to a wide range of interfaces. On the front panel there are two physical microphone inputs on XLR sockets. They are combined with instrument sockets
Users of reviews on the largest trading sites Runet in general are unanimous in their high estimate of the sound card’s ability to unlock the potential of various microphones, to provide quality studio recording. They often mention high reliability and stability of the device. Most of the enthusiastic comments about the combination of price, quality and functionality.
There are some comments about the drivers, but in this case there are no such obvious problems as in the previous model. If anything, the drivers downloaded from the official site solve all problems.
From Yandex user review.Market with “Level 10 Gadget Inspector” status: “Bought for guitar and work with Guitar Rig. All set up without problems. Delays are negligible, the card’s own noise is absent. Even with a Chinese tablet on a Celeron N3540 it works. The sound is perfect with headphones (Axelvox HD241)”.
- reliability and stability;
- ease of operation;
- Quality sound conversion;
- separate volume for speakers and headphones;
- a wide range of interfaces;
- combination of price and features.
- No principal disadvantages, especially in view of the price – no.
Another prominent German manufacturer of professional music equipment – Steinberg. Steinberg Media Technologies GmbH has been owned by Japan’s Yamaha Corporation since 2005. This alliance has benefited both manufacturers, since the takeover very interesting products have been released under the Steinberg brand name.
Steinberg UR12 is already a pretty old model, presented in 2014. But it was so technically and commercially successful that it remains relevant in 2021. In essence, it is partly a reduced and partly augmented version of the more versatile UR22. Designed as a much cheaper alternative to an expensive older model while maintaining a professional level.
The sound card keeps all the important features of the previous model: power via USB, metal enclosure, all frequency modes from 44 to 192 kHz, phantom power +48v to connect a condenser microphone, D-PRE preamplifier for a microphone. Even the DAC and ADC remain the same.
Lost sound card only in quantity, but not in quality. For example, this compact version eliminated balanced outputs and separate line outputs
And here’s what the new version has gained, which, for some users, may more than cover the above trade-offs. So, the developers have provided a special mode Class Comp
The conclusions of independent experts and the vast majority of ordinary users about this model is extremely positive. The testers tested on equipment with very high detail, in particular on 3-band studio monitors by ADAM Audio brand and on different Beyerdynamic and GRADO headphones. The device proved to be very decent, even at the level of much more expensive copies.
- easy operation;
- exceptionally high quality audio conversion even compared to the more expensive models;
- reliability and stability;
- metal body;
- Full compatibility with iPad;
- The useful Cubase AI software with a preferential upgrade;
- Affordable price for a professional sound card.
- Some users have the occasional sound loss that does not happen with the same card connected to other computers. The nature of the phenomenon is unknown.
Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen
Now let’s look at an even more expensive sound card of the Focusrite brand. This is a prominent British manufacturer of professional audio equipment – audio interfaces, related electronics and equipment. It’s a relatively new 2019 model. At a cost in 2021 of about 10k. It is the youngest model of the Scarlett line.
This series in all model variants, senior and junior, has gone through three generations of upgrades, and this is just the third. In the new updated version the sound card became even more compact and got AIR mode, which mimics the function of the widely acclaimed ISA microphone preamplifiers. Everything good that was in the previous generation of this model remains here, including the sturdy metal body made of a solid aluminum profile.
The key characteristics of sound conversion here are. The DAC and ADC are “standard” 24-bit, with a maximum frequency of 192 kHz. The updated version has significantly improved the already good signal-to-noise ratio. This was achieved by deep reworking and improvement of the wiring – in the third generation, the signals to the analog controls are placed in a separate loop, rather than stretching across the entire board, as in the 2nd generation.
Another important difference is a new operational amplifier JRC8065 with much better noise performance than the previous generation. The separate operational amplifier for the microphone input is the same as before. But that’s just as well, since the JRC2122 Opus is precisely characterized by ultra-low noise.
In general, experts and average users agree that the new generation of Scarlett SOLO turned out to be successful. Definitely not worse than the previous one, and in some respects better and more interesting. AIR preamplifier emulation gave this model a serious advantage over other external sound cards in this price category.
Thanks to the addition of balanced outputs this model became finally suitable for full-fledged music creation and recording at home studio level. For interaction with entry-level studio monitors and even though inexpensive, but already professional microphones it is fully suitable.
One unpleasant drawback mentioned by users – the only regulator for speakers and headphones at the same time. It would seem that the moment of principle is not crucial but it irritates many people and even creates inconveniences in work.
- prominent British brand;
- Although entry level, but professional level;
- Deeply developed electronics to minimize noise;
- added balanced outputs;
- a convenient universal application Focusrite Control;
- reliability, safety and durability
- The case is made of thick one-piece aluminum profile.
- The Monitoring control regulates sound of speakers and headphones at the same time.
The top model of the Japanese brand ZOOM will complete the selection of the best external sound cards according to Expertology magazine. This brand is not too popular on the expanses of the CIS and there can be erroneous assumption of its obscure origin. In fact, behind it is a serious Japanese corporation that produces professional and amateur audio equipment. In particular, it’s known for its USB and Thunderbolt external audio interfaces.
The specialization of this audio interface is rather narrow – mainly guitar and microphone recording, but the technical level is definitely premium. The price also corresponds and is not available to everyone – about 20 thousand. The end of spring 2021.
The key advantage of this audio interface – high-speed USB 3 connection.0 SuperSpeed, which provides minimal latency. In addition, the high-speed interface enables MIDI I/O, Loopback and quadruple-upsampling.
The key sonic parameters of this model are as follows. 24-bit DAC and ADC, up to 192 kHz. The dynamic range of the DAC is 120 dB, ADC – 118 dB. As it was already said the model is optimized for guitar recording with instrumental Hi-Z input. There are also two balanced analog inputs, two outputs, and a separate headphone output.
The sound card is equally suitable for studio recording, audio playback on stage, podcast recording, game streaming, online media presentations, etc. d.
User reviews on major marketplaces are for the most part strictly positive, in some places enthusiastic. There are some highly specialized comments from experienced professionals. The only systematic note – not infrequent problems with the drivers. Not every hardware platform or operating system version can be installed “on the fly” and the help of a professional is required.
From Yandex review.Market with “Gadget Inspector Level 7” status: “I got very cool sound in combination with Sennheiser ME 2-US. The voice is velvet, you can hear the overtones, with the bass inverter it sounds even deeper and more expansive, without it the sound is dry, studio like on the radio. No phonics and does not catch anything unnecessary”.
- premium class;
- Exceptionally high quality materials of the top level;
- Impeccable technical performance;
- reliability, stability and reliability with proper initial installation and integration into the operating system;
- High-speed USB 3 connection.0;
- two balanced inputs;
- Compatible with iPad;
- stylish and “expensive” appearance.
- Can be difficult with the drivers, you may need the help of a specialist.
The best gaming sound cards
The third and the last nomination in our review is devoted to sound cards, which have a pronounced gaming orientation. Above we have already looked at models that are positioned by manufacturers as gaming, such as ASUS Strix Soar. But there gamer specialization is more “cosmetic”. As for sound cards with distinctive gaming specialization, there are very few such models on the market and almost all of this narrow niche is occupied by Creative Singapore brand.
Creative Sound Blaster Z
First consider the younger model in the relatively new Z-series under the old local brand Sound Blaster. There are three versions in the series – Z, Zx and ZxR. The first two have minimal differences, and the third – ZxR in many ways similar to the top AE-7, which is also the flagship, and we will talk about it at the end. Of these three, only the Z version is really popular, while the ZxR version is almost unrealistic to find in Russia.
The actual specifications, officially announced by the manufacturer, are rather poor. But even with these models we can judge about the impressive capabilities of the device. On the background of the widest frequency range of playback the signal to noise ratio of 116 dB looks favorably. Maximum DAC frequency is 192 kHz, ADC frequency is 96 kHz. The bit depth of both converters is 24 bit.
The only thing that raises questions is the fact that here is implemented support for multichannel sound only 5.1, while ASUS gaming models support 7.1. It seems that Creative made reliability a priority instead of pursuing innovation, especially when it is not critically needed. But all three Creative “sound blasters” beat ASUS by elements.
The board itself is enclosed in a metal case that does a pretty good job of protecting the electronics from pickups and noise. Colored in bright red, it looks spectacular. All the necessary interfaces are on the panel: three jacks 3.5mm “mini-jack” for speakers 5.1 jacks, two separate mini-jacks for headphones and microphone and two digital ports.
In the game, according to feedback from users and professional independent testers, the sound card shows itself at its best, providing detail and accurate localization of sounds. You can hear literally every rustle, and you can unmistakably tell where the sound is coming from in the game world.
- powerful element base;
- high performance sound converters;
- reliability and reliability;
- has all the necessary interfaces, even with excess;
- a lot of settings;
- A metal enclosure with effective anti-interference protection;
- impressive appearance;
- the most inexpensive in the selection.
- Brilliant, non-switching backlighting.
Let’s continue our pick of the best soundcards for gaming according to Expertology magazine with the same brand we started with – Creative. But this is going to be an expensive solution, easily outbidding many external studio models in terms of price. Let’s see what kind of stuffing is in the price of about 16 thousand. rubles at the turn of spring/summer 2021.
This is exactly the type of sound card that is called hybrid – something between external and internal. Fundamentally the card is still internal, but the external part is just a control unit, which is a separate desktop device.
The main characteristics of Creative AE-7 categorically says that we are dealing with a high-class device. This is a high-end DAC ESS 9018, supporting 32-bit bit rate, and the same A/D converter. The sample rate of the DAC is top-notch at 384 kHz. Signal-to-noise ratio is also noticeably higher than the mid-priced models – 127dB.
The sound card supports the most common multichannel sound codecs Dolby Digital
Five gold-plated jacks 3.5mm “mini-jack” and one TOS
Separate attention deserves the external control unit. This is even an attractive device inspiring respect by its solid and expensive design in a gamer style. Its functionality does not fail either. Here lies not only the volume control with a handy rotary knob, but also additional connectors: 6.3mm microphone input and HP output on the left, and two 3.5mm jacks for the mono-microphone and HP output.
Do not let the developers of this model and in terms of software. The proprietary application and concurrently a set of drivers Sound Blaster Command pleasantly surprises with functionality and quality Russian localization.
- premium class;
- gold plated connectors;
- external control unit;
- High quality headphone amplifier;
- Effective protection against interference and pickups;
- user-friendly proprietary software;
- The look of the board and the external control unit in a gamer style.
- Some users think the price is overpriced.
Creative Sound BlasterX G6
And the review of the best sound cards according to Expertology magazine will be completed by the top external model with the same outstanding characteristics as the previous one, but with some clear advantages as well.
This model is already interesting because of its background. It is a continuation of the truly epochal Sound BlasterX AE-5 model, which was connected via PCI Express. It came out in 2017 and immediately became a trendsetter of new standards for computer sound. It took several long years of hard work on its development, including the participation of Russian specialists.
Due to the peculiarities of the stagnating market, the AE-5 model was underestimated by the creators themselves, setting the price close to the production cost. This position has passed to the “successor” – the device in 2021 costs just over 16 thousand. and by its characteristics exceeds several times the characteristics of competitive models.
Let’s see what the upgraded sound card has received, moving to an external form factor. First of all, it hasn’t lost the main thing: outstanding DAC and ADC performance. That is, the digit capacity of both converters is 32 bits each. Maximum DAC frequency in stereo mode – 384 kHz, ADC – 192 kHz. The dynamic range of the converter is prohibitive – 130 and 114 dB for DAC and ADC respectively.
Externally the device looks flawless – strict shapes, unobtrusive backlighting, the same unobtrusive but expressive attributes. Controls are simple, accessible, the card is generally reliable and stable. There were some software issues in the first batches, but after an update, the issues have been fixed. So after you buy it, it’s worth downloading the latest drivers and software from the official site.
Finally, this model is fully compatible with Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch. Thus, all the needs of not only PC gamers, but also avid console gamers are covered.
From a Yandex user review.Market with the status of “Gadget Inspector Level 2”: “Sound, sound and more sound. The card is top notch. It’s a top-of-the-line DAC. The bomb in your ears. I use Hyperx Cloud, the sound is revealing, you can hear everything clearly – the slightest rustle and t. d. Sounds juicy and well-balanced. Easy to handle, user-friendly software.”.
- top-of-the-line flagship level;
- Advanced 32-bit 384 kHz DAC;
- efficient discrete Xamp headphone amplifier;
- A number of implemented a highly progressive Hi-End technology;
- spectacular design in the Gemeric style;
- Cute and switchable backlighting;
- compatible with Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch;
- The characteristics and features are much higher than the set price.
- No major drawbacks have been found.