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Best USB sound cards for gaming 2020

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Over the previous few months, we have examined a couple of USB sound cards designed particularly for PC gaming. As properly as including further ports and bettering sound high quality, these cards embody options that goal to extend immersion or present a aggressive edge. While exterior sound cards stay a comparatively area of interest buy, as gaming headphones have improved over time we have discovered that pairing them with a superb USB sound card has develop into more and more essential. After all, in case your pc’s on-board audio is sub-par, you will not be getting probably the most out of your shiny new headset. In this text, we’ll break down the perfect USB sound cards for gaming we have examined up to now.

As properly as our prime three suggestions at three value factors – below £100/$100, below £200/$200 and below £300/$300 – we have additionally included a short glossary and FAQ on the finish of the article, the place we have defined some widespread phrases and answered some ceaselessly requested questions requested by USB sound card patrons. You can use the desk of contents under to leap instantly to the part you are fascinated with, or just scroll all the way down to learn the entire thing!

  • Best USB sound card for gaming under £100/$100: Epos Sennheiser GSX 300
  • Best USB sound card for gaming under £200/$200: Creative Sound Blaster X3
  • Best USB sound card for gaming under £300/$300: Creative Sound Blaster AE-9
  • Glossary
  • FAQ

Best USB sound card for gaming below £100/$100: Epos Sennheiser GSX 300

Specs: 91x81x41mm, 160 grams, 2x 3.5mm

Pros: Good sound stage, compact design, handy controls.

Cons: Can’t drive high-impedance headphones, no speaker output, doubtlessly buggy software program.

Epos, the corporate previously often known as Sennheiser’s gaming division, has turned out one thing of a deal with on its first try. The GSX 300 sound card is compact and comparatively cheap at round £70, nevertheless it produces an ideal expanded sound stage and gives an immersive simulation of seven.1 encompass sound on stereo headsets. High decision sound is supported, as much as 24-bit 96kHz, and the GSX 300 can drive headphones as much as 75 ohms. That meant my 50-ohm Sennheiser HD 598 SE labored high quality, however the 300-ohm HD 600 is off the desk.

The small bodily design signifies that there isn’t any room for further ports – you simply have Micro USB and two 3.5mm inputs for your headphones and mic – nevertheless it does imply that the GSX 300 is one thing you’ll be able to simply put in your bag to make use of with a laptop computer on the go. A single to twin 3.5mm adapter is required in case your headset makes use of a single TRRS jack as an alternative of separate TRS connections for headphones and mic, however this is not a giant problem as these adapters usually come commonplace with any headset that require them (not that they’re expensive anyway).

There’s a quantity dial on the entrance, which gives tactile steps, in addition to a second button that may be set to modify between sound modes or completely different EQ profiles. The software program works properly, with handy EQ settings and complete mic controls, nevertheless it did generally cease working and require a restart. This ought to have been fastened in a current software program replace, and hasn’t occurred since in my testing.

If you need a compact USB sound card at an inexpensive value, the GSX 300 is value contemplating.

Best USB sound card for gaming below £200/$200: Creative Sound Blaster X3

Creative Sound Blaster X3

Specs: 129x129x41mm, 330 grams, 7x 3.5mm + optical

Pros: Great audio processing, each 7.1 speaker and headphone outputs, good software program.

Cons: Speaker/headphone swap is annoying, takes up a number of desk area.

The Sound Blaster X3 gives a step-up in audio high quality, with a higher-grade sound processor that features help for 32-bit 196kHz hi-res audio. It may drive extra highly effective headphones than the GSX 300 we checked out earlier, with impedances as much as 600 ohms supported.

The bigger body additionally permits a marked enhance in ports, making it extra appropriate for use with a desktop PC than the compact GSX 300. The X3 contains separate 3.5mm headphone and mic ports on the entrance, with 5 additional 3.5mm ports on the rear for connecting up a full 7.1 speaker system plus a line-in system. An S/PDIF optical output can be offered.

The bigger measurement of the X3 signifies that the amount dial may be mounted on prime, making it simpler to spin with one finger, and there are three further buttons for toggling sound processing, altering modes and muting your microphone. Annoyingly, altering between the headphone and speaker outputs requires a rigorously timed lengthy press of one among these buttons, making probably the most generally used function a chore to truly carry out.

The software program facet of issues is properly dealt with, with the Sound Blaster Command app offering a handy option to alter microphone settings, set customized EQs or check out the (many) included modes, together with some optimised for sure video games and Super X-Fi, which is predicated on images of your explicit ear form. I are inclined to choose a impartial setup with no processing for aggressive video games, however these modes are properly value testing your self.

Recent reductions have made the Sound Blaster X3 an ideal worth choice if you need to use its further options over the GSX 300.

For extra data, take a look at our full Sound Blaster X3 evaluation.

Best USB sound card for gaming below £300/$300: Creative Sound Blaster AE-9

Creative Sound Blaster AE9

Specs: 150x128x65mm, 480g, 2x optical + 4x 3.5mm + 4x RCA + 1x 6.35mm

Pros: Unparalleled audio high quality, works as audio interface, nice controls.

Cons: requires PCIe set up and 6-pin energy, no DTS:X or DolbyAtmos help.

The costliest exterior sound card we presently suggest is the Sound Blaster AE-9. This mannequin really sports activities each inside and exterior components, nevertheless it nonetheless does largely the identical job – changing your desktop pc’s built-in audio with a alternative that sports activities further, electrically remoted ports, higher sound processing and additional options.

This hybrid strategy does imply you will have to have a free PCIe slot and a spare 6-pin energy enter to put in the AE-9, which can take some smaller PC builds out of the working. This additionally signifies that the AE-9 is a whole non-starter for laptop computer use, and even shifting it from desktop to desktop is one thing of an endeavor.

What you lose in portability although, you achieve again in energy. That features a flagship-grade DAC, the ESS Sabre 9038, which is able to 32-bit 384-kHz hi-res audio playback and sports activities each high quality gold capacitors and swappable op-amps that allow you to tune your sound signature in {hardware} relatively than software program. The audio high quality coming off this factor is unmatched within the PC area, vivid and detailed, and I’m a giant fan… even when correct audiophiles can little doubt determine cheaper amps that carry out even higher.

Another profit to the hybrid design is that you’ve two locations to plug stuff in, so you’ve got a loopy quantity of inputs and outputs. As properly as separate ¼ inch and ⅛ inch headphone and mic ports, you additionally get XLR inputs with 48V phantom energy. That means you do not want a separate audio interface; splendid in case you’re utilizing one among our advisable XLR mics for streaming. There are additionally 4 line-out ports and optical in/out. In phrases of processing, in addition to the built-in Acoustic Engine, you’ll be able to choose for Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect Encoding – sadly, there isn’t any Dolby Atmos or DTS:X help. The Sound Blaster Command app can be obtainable, similar to on the X3, offering a handy place for tuning and tweaking.

The AE-9 is the sound card that made me imagine in sound cards once more on a conceptual degree, and if that is not sufficient of a advice I do not know what’s.

For extra data, take a look at our full Sound Blaster AE-9 evaluation.

Glossary

Sampling frequency: also referred to as the pattern price, that is the variety of samples taken per second. The increased the sampling price, the extra data is maintained from the unique recording.

Bit depth: the variety of bits of knowledge used to document every pattern in a lossless recording. CD audio is 16-bit, whereas high-res audio is 24-bit. Higher bitrates enable for improved signal-to-noise and dynamic vary.

Impedance: a determine, usually between eight and 600 ohms, that successfully measures how a lot energy is required to ship a cushty listening quantity. Low impedance headphones (50 ohms or much less) are usually designed for cellular use with moveable units, whereas excessive impedance headphones are designed for house/studio use.

DAC: a tool that interprets digital audio (eg out of your pc) into an analogue sign (eg one which your headphones can reproduce); actually a Digital to Analogue Converter.

Headphone amp: a tool that raises a low-voltage audio sign (eg from a tool like a pc or cellphone) in order that it’s sturdy sufficient to drive headphones.

FAQ

What is a USB sound card?

A USB sound card provides audio enter and output ports to your pc by way of USB, whereas additionally taking up sound processing duties out of your pc’s built-in sound card.

Do I would like a USB sound card?

No, you do notwant a USB sound card – however they’ll supply improved sound high quality, add new options they usually’re higher remoted from electrical interference than the sound cards which can be constructed into laptops or the motherboards of desktop PCs. If you’ve got a pleasant headset and care about these things, then it is a worthwhile improve.

When does a USB sound card make sense?

USB sound cards make sense when your built-in sound is not as much as snuff, whether or not that is by way of its port choice, its options or its general sound high quality. Cheaper laptops and desktop motherboards usually undergo from poor sound, so USB sound cards can supply a major enchancment. Of course, you will want a pleasant headset to take full benefit of a pleasant sound card!

What specs ought to I care about?

There are a couple of figures on the spec sheet you would possibly have to care about: supported bit depth and sampling frequency (essential for high-res audio) and advisable impedance (essential for amplifying high-end headphones).

If you commonly hearken to hi-res audio, guarantee that your sound card of selection helps the best bit depth you usually use – so CDs are 16-bit 44.1kHz, however Tidal’s hi-res audio streams can be found in 24-bit 96kHz. That means you will want a USB sound card additionally able to 24-bit 96kHz sound in case you’re a Tidal subscriber.

If you’ve got a excessive impedance set of headphones, that are mostly fairly costly and supposed for studio use, you then’ll want a USB sound card that may really drive them. For instance, the consumer-grade Sennheiser HD 598 has a nominal impedance of 50 ohms, whereas the extra skilled Sennheiser HD 600 has a nominal impedance of 300 ohms, requiring a considerably stronger amplifier to drive at affordable volumes.

  • Best USB sound card for gaming under £100/$100: Epos Sennheiser GSX 300
  • Best USB sound card for gaming under £200/$200: Creative Sound Blaster X3
  • Best USB sound card for gaming under £300/$300: Creative Sound Blaster AE-9
  • Glossary
  • FAQ

Best USB sound card for gaming below £100/$100: Epos Sennheiser GSX 300

Epos Sennheiser GSX 300

Specs: 91x81x41mm, 160 grams, 2x 3.5mm

Pros: Good sound stage, compact design, handy controls.

Cons: Can’t drive high-impedance headphones, no speaker output, doubtlessly buggy software program.

Epos, the corporate previously often known as Sennheiser’s gaming division, has turned out one thing of a deal with on its first try. The GSX 300 sound card is compact and comparatively cheap at round £70, nevertheless it produces an ideal expanded sound stage and gives an immersive simulation of seven.1 encompass sound on stereo headsets. High decision sound is supported, as much as 24-bit 96kHz, and the GSX 300 can drive headphones as much as 75 ohms. That meant my 50-ohm Sennheiser HD 598 SE labored high quality, however the 300-ohm HD 600 is off the desk.

The small bodily design signifies that there isn’t any room for further ports – you simply have Micro USB and two 3.5mm inputs for your headphones and mic – nevertheless it does imply that the GSX 300 is one thing you’ll be able to simply put in your bag to make use of with a laptop computer on the go. A single to twin 3.5mm adapter is required in case your headset makes use of a single TRRS jack as an alternative of separate TRS connections for headphones and mic, however this is not a giant problem as these adapters usually come commonplace with any headset that require them (not that they’re expensive anyway).

There’s a quantity dial on the entrance, which gives tactile steps, in addition to a second button that may be set to modify between sound modes or completely different EQ profiles. The software program works properly, with handy EQ settings and complete mic controls, nevertheless it did generally cease working and require a restart. This ought to have been fastened in a current software program replace, and hasn’t occurred since in my testing.

If you need a compact USB sound card at an inexpensive value, the GSX 300 is value contemplating.

Best USB sound card for gaming below £200/$200: Creative Sound Blaster X3

Creative Sound Blaster X3

Specs: 129x129x41mm, 330 grams, 7x 3.5mm + optical

Pros: Great audio processing, each 7.1 speaker and headphone outputs, good software program.

Cons: Speaker/headphone swap is annoying, takes up a number of desk area.

The Sound Blaster X3 gives a step-up in audio high quality, with a higher-grade sound processor that features help for 32-bit 196kHz hi-res audio. It may drive extra highly effective headphones than the GSX 300 we checked out earlier, with impedances as much as 600 ohms supported.

The bigger body additionally permits a marked enhance in ports, making it extra appropriate for use with a desktop PC than the compact GSX 300. The X3 contains separate 3.5mm headphone and mic ports on the entrance, with 5 additional 3.5mm ports on the rear for connecting up a full 7.1 speaker system plus a line-in system. An S/PDIF optical output can be offered.

The bigger measurement of the X3 signifies that the amount dial may be mounted on prime, making it simpler to spin with one finger, and there are three further buttons for toggling sound processing, altering modes and muting your microphone. Annoyingly, altering between the headphone and speaker outputs requires a rigorously timed lengthy press of one among these buttons, making probably the most generally used function a chore to truly carry out.

The software program facet of issues is properly dealt with, with the Sound Blaster Command app offering a handy option to alter microphone settings, set customized EQs or check out the (many) included modes, together with some optimised for sure video games and Super X-Fi, which is predicated on images of your explicit ear form. I are inclined to choose a impartial setup with no processing for aggressive video games, however these modes are properly value testing your self.

Recent reductions have made the Sound Blaster X3 an ideal worth choice if you need to use its further options over the GSX 300.

For extra data, take a look at our full Sound Blaster X3 evaluation.

Best USB sound card for gaming below £300/$300: Creative Sound Blaster AE-9

Creative Sound Blaster AE9

Specs: 150x128x65mm, 480g, 2x optical + 4x 3.5mm + 4x RCA + 1x 6.35mm

Pros: Unparalleled audio high quality, works as audio interface, nice controls.

Cons: requires PCIe set up and 6-pin energy, no DTS:X or DolbyAtmos help.

The costliest exterior sound card we presently suggest is the Sound Blaster AE-9. This mannequin really sports activities each inside and exterior components, nevertheless it nonetheless does largely the identical job – changing your desktop pc’s built-in audio with a alternative that sports activities further, electrically remoted ports, higher sound processing and additional options.

This hybrid strategy does imply you will have to have a free PCIe slot and a spare 6-pin energy enter to put in the AE-9, which can take some smaller PC builds out of the working. This additionally signifies that the AE-9 is a whole non-starter for laptop computer use, and even shifting it from desktop to desktop is one thing of an endeavor.

What you lose in portability although, you achieve again in energy. That features a flagship-grade DAC, the ESS Sabre 9038, which is able to 32-bit 384-kHz hi-res audio playback and sports activities each high quality gold capacitors and swappable op-amps that allow you to tune your sound signature in {hardware} relatively than software program. The audio high quality coming off this factor is unmatched within the PC area, vivid and detailed, and I’m a giant fan… even when correct audiophiles can little doubt determine cheaper amps that carry out even higher.

Another profit to the hybrid design is that you’ve two locations to plug stuff in, so you’ve got a loopy quantity of inputs and outputs. As properly as separate ¼ inch and ⅛ inch headphone and mic ports, you additionally get XLR inputs with 48V phantom energy. That means you do not want a separate audio interface; splendid in case you’re utilizing one among our advisable XLR mics for streaming. There are additionally 4 line-out ports and optical in/out. In phrases of processing, in addition to the built-in Acoustic Engine, you’ll be able to choose for Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect Encoding – sadly, there isn’t any Dolby Atmos or DTS:X help. The Sound Blaster Command app can be obtainable, similar to on the X3, offering a handy place for tuning and tweaking.

The AE-9 is the sound card that made me imagine in sound cards once more on a conceptual degree, and if that is not sufficient of a advice I do not know what’s.

For extra data, take a look at our full Sound Blaster AE-9 evaluation.

Glossary

Sampling frequency: also referred to as the pattern price, that is the variety of samples taken per second. The increased the sampling price, the extra data is maintained from the unique recording.

Bit depth: the variety of bits of knowledge used to document every pattern in a lossless recording. CD audio is 16-bit, whereas high-res audio is 24-bit. Higher bitrates enable for improved signal-to-noise and dynamic vary.

Impedance: a determine, usually between eight and 600 ohms, that successfully measures how a lot energy is required to ship a cushty listening quantity. Low impedance headphones (50 ohms or much less) are usually designed for cellular use with moveable units, whereas excessive impedance headphones are designed for house/studio use.

DAC: a tool that interprets digital audio (eg out of your pc) into an analogue sign (eg one which your headphones can reproduce); actually a Digital to Analogue Converter.

Headphone amp: a tool that raises a low-voltage audio sign (eg from a tool like a pc or cellphone) in order that it’s sturdy sufficient to drive headphones.

FAQ

What is a USB sound card?

A USB sound card provides audio enter and output ports to your pc by way of USB, whereas additionally taking up sound processing duties out of your pc’s built-in sound card.

Do I would like a USB sound card?

No, you do notwant a USB sound card – however they’ll supply improved sound high quality, add new options they usually’re higher remoted from electrical interference than the sound cards which can be constructed into laptops or the motherboards of desktop PCs. If you’ve got a pleasant headset and care about these things, then it is a worthwhile improve.

When does a USB sound card make sense?

USB sound cards make sense when your built-in sound is not as much as snuff, whether or not that is by way of its port choice, its options or its general sound high quality. Cheaper laptops and desktop motherboards usually undergo from poor sound, so USB sound cards can supply a major enchancment. Of course, you will want a pleasant headset to take full benefit of a pleasant sound card!

What specs ought to I care about?

There are a couple of figures on the spec sheet you would possibly have to care about: supported bit depth and sampling frequency (essential for high-res audio) and advisable impedance (essential for amplifying high-end headphones).

If you commonly hearken to hi-res audio, guarantee that your sound card of selection helps the best bit depth you usually use – so CDs are 16-bit 44.1kHz, however Tidal’s hi-res audio streams can be found in 24-bit 96kHz. That means you will want a USB sound card additionally able to 24-bit 96kHz sound in case you’re a Tidal subscriber.

If you’ve got a excessive impedance set of headphones, that are mostly fairly costly and supposed for studio use, you then’ll want a USB sound card that may really drive them. For instance, the consumer-grade Sennheiser HD 598 has a nominal impedance of 50 ohms, whereas the extra skilled Sennheiser HD 600 has a nominal impedance of 300 ohms, requiring a considerably stronger amplifier to drive at affordable volumes.

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