A great sound card can transform a mediocre gaming experience into a rich and formidable one that is bound to blow your socks off every time you fire up your favorite game. Whether you want to increase your immersion in an open world RPG, or need to hear footsteps more clearly in a battle royale match, a sound card upgrade will always be able to take your gaming set up to the next level.
Gamers often forget just how important sound are in their games, and sometimes overlook it when building a new PC. If you want a truly amazing setup though, a high quality sound card is an absolutely essential purchase. In this article, we’ll outline what you should be looking out for from a sound card, and then recommend a few options that we think are great.
What to look for in a gaming sound card
The best gaming sound cards will have a number of great features that will improve the quality of your audio. They’ll have a super rich sound stage, that will make your games sound infinitely more detailed and immersive. In this section, we’ll list a few of these features, and what they can bring to your setup.
3D sound, or 3D spatial imaging if we are using the posh name, is a feature that many gamers look out for when choosing their next sound card. 3D sound gives the user a full directional picture of the sound around them in their game, and can be used with headphones or a speaker system.
3D spatial imaging is particularly great for first person shooters or battle royale games, since you can listen out for an enemy’s footsteps and sounds, and easily work out whereabouts they are. This can give a player a big advantage compared to someone who does not have 3D sound.
This feature isn’t just for shooters though. It can enhance an experience and greatly increase immersion in games from any genre. 3D sound really makes you feel like you are in the game, so is really nice for sprawling open worlds. If you also want to listen to music out of your PC, then 3D sound can also make songs sound more impressive and powerful.
If you want to link your computer’s sound up to a home theatre system, or even to your headphones, then you want to make sure that the sound card you buy has the necessary ports. You’ll probably need S/PDIF ports if you want to hook up to a speaker system, since this type of connection offers the fastest and most reliable connection to your speakers.
If you do want to link to a home theatre, or surround sound system, then you also need to make sure that the sound card supports these systems. Look out for cards that are described as Dolby Surround sound cards, because these will provide a 7.1 or 5.1 surround output, depending on what type of speaker setup you have.
Gaming with a surround sound speaker system is a truly magical experience and when this is paired up with 3D spatial imaging, the result will blow you away.
Although MIDI connections are typically used by musicians to input sounds from an external instrument, they can also be used to connect joysticks for playing certain games. If you’re into games like Street Fighter, then you might well be familiar with using a joystick. So, look out for MIDI ports if you know that you are going to be connecting certain controllers, or if you also use sound cards for music creation.
Now for the boring part. Although weighing up the different features of sound cards is the most important way to choose which one is right for you, it’s always worth looking at the warranty and guarantee that the card manufacturers offer.
A warranty will protect the buyer from manufacturer defects and any problems with the build quality of the card. If problems develop that weren’t the user’s fault, then a product under warranty will usually be replaced free of charge. Most sound cards are well built and reliable these days, but there’s no harm in having a warranty in case something goes wrong. You don’t want to spend loads of money on an expensive sound card, only for it to stop working a month later.
Best Sound Cards for Gaming in 2020
Now that we’ve gone over a few of the features to look out from a great gaming sound card, let’s have a look at a few of the best sound cards around for the budget buyer.
Creative Sound Blaster ZxR
Another great option if you are looking for a high quality, yet affordable sound card, is the Creative Sound Blaster ZxR. This card is extremely popular in the gaming community and can really elevate your sound setup to the next level.
This sound card is really built with a surround sound system in mind, but it still works very well with headphones or desktop speakers. You’ll struggle to find better sound quality at this price point and the inclusion of Crystal Voice FX software provides premium voice chat capabilities when you are playing with friends.
The Creative Sound Blaster ZxR is definitely highly recommended. If you want to discover some more fantastic sound card options for gaming, then head straight to BestBudget. They regularly review sound cards and computer equipment, and are always hunting for budget gems.
Asus Xonar SE
Asus are one of the most popular and reputable manufacturers of computer equipment in the world, and for good reason. Their products are always extremely well built, powerful and can be relied on to deliver top performance for years to come.
The Xonar SE lives up to the high standard that Asus sets. It has 5.1 surround sound audio, which means you can hook it up to your home theatre system for a truly immersive experience. This is complemented by some excellent 3D imaging, which catapults you straight into the game.
The sound card also has excellent sound quality, with rich bass and clear highs. It is very easy to install and has a very low profile bracket, which will save space for other components in your build.