Best USB Sound Cards

Review & Comparison, Last Update November 7, 2018
Nowadays most people tend to favor laptops over stationary PC models as they're more convenient for work and traveling. However, laptops rarely can produce the kind of volume you want for watching movies or listening to music so an external sound card is needed. We've chosen the 5 best USB sound card models available on the market today. ...Read more ...Read less
BEST 2018
PROS
CONS
OUR VERDICT
Channels
Interfaces
Power Source
Audio Fidelity
Signal-To-Noise Ratio
Extras
Warranty
 
PROS

The BlasterX Acoustic Engine Pro software has plenty of SBX presets for all popular games so you can quickly switch between different ones to immerse yourself in gameplay.

CONS

The LED backlighting is bright enough to be distracting when it's dark.

OUR VERDICT

This is a high-end card that automatically changes the sound settings with hundreds of presets for the user's benefit. Its fidelity and STN ratio are some of the highest we've seen and though the price is steep, this kind of quality is worth it.

detailed parameters
Channels

7.1

Interfaces

1 x 3.5mm line/optical in

1 x 3.5mm line/optical out

1 x 3.5mm jack for mic/line in

1 x 3.5mm jack for headphones

1 x USB-port for connecting devices

Power Source

1 x microUSB-port for power supply (cable included)

Audio Fidelity

24-bit / 192kHz

Signal-To-Noise Ratio

Up to 120 dB

Extras

Scout Mode, 3 SBX profiles, Backlit Volume Control knob with Illuminated Volume Indicator, BlasterX Acoustic Engine Pro Software

Warranty

1 year

PROS

The model has built-in dual microphones with high sensitivity and good noise cancelation.

CONS

The audio output doesn't auto switch between headphones and speakers.

OUR VERDICT

If you want a model that's good for recording, this 5.1-channel card is a great fit, offering surround sound with high fidelity and plenty of ports to work with. It's not the cheapest but professional equipment rarely is.

detailed parameters
Channels

5.1

Interfaces

2 x RCA and 2 x 3.5mm jacks (Front, Rear, C/Sub) for speaker out

1 x optical out

1 x 3.5mm jack for line in

1 x 3.5mm jack for mic in

1 x 3.5mm jack for headphones

Power Source

1 x microUSB-port for power supply (cable included)

Audio Fidelity

24-bit / 96kHz

Signal-To-Noise Ratio

Up to 100 dB

Extras

Scout Mode, Volume control knob, Built-in dual microphones with CrystalVoice™ technology, Creative Wave Studio and Sound Blaster Omni Control Panel software

Warranty

1 year

PROS

The USB cable is 13 feet long so you can easily set up a sound system over a large area.

CONS

The button presses emit loud clicking sounds which can get annoying.

OUR VERDICT

Those who appreciate great sound quality and want to improve their home sound system should look to this card as it offers 7.1 channels and a long connection cable to work with. Making an impressive home theater setup will be easy when you have this card on your side.

detailed parameters
Channels

7.1

Interfaces

1 x 3.5mm jack for mic/line in and headphones

Power Source

13-ft hard-wired braided USB-cable

Audio Fidelity

N/A

Signal-To-Noise Ratio

N/A

Extras

Built-in control panel with LED-indicators, Advanced microphone noise cancellation technology, belt clip

Warranty

6 months

PROS

The card supports full-duplex operation and can both receive and send audio signals simultaneously.

CONS

The ports are on 3 sides of the device so when they're plugged up the device looks more like a pin cushion.

OUR VERDICT

Not everybody has the budget for a high-end sound card but aspiring artists deserve to be heard so this budget-friendly card with 7.1 audio is a real bargain. Its fidelity is lower than the more expensive models but it's a nice compromise and a good choice for amateur musicians.

detailed parameters
Channels

7.1

Interfaces

4 x 3.5mm jacks (Front, Side, Rear, C/Sub) for speaker out

1 x optical in

1 x optical out

1 x 3.5mm jack for line in

2 x 3.5mm jack for mic in

1 x 3.5mm jack for headphones

Power Source

1 x Type B USB-port for power supply (cable included)

Audio Fidelity

16-bit / 48 kHz

Signal-To-Noise Ratio

Up to ~100 dB

Extras

Built-in control panel with LED-indicators

Warranty

2 years

PROS

The cable has triple-shielding to protect it from interference and physical damage.

CONS

The mic jack is only compatible with 2-pin TRS connectors.

OUR VERDICT

This is a basic model that combines high quality and affordability and while it's not great for professional use, it's a shoe-in for boosting your laptop audio. If you just need to improve the sound of your PC, this is a great option.

detailed parameters
Channels

2.0

Interfaces

1 x 3.5mm jack for mic/line in

1 x 3.5mm jack for headphones

Power Source

0.5-ft hard-wired USB-cable

Audio Fidelity

16-bit / 48 kHz

Signal-To-Noise Ratio

Up to ~100 dB

Extras

Cable with Triple-shielding Technology

Warranty

1.5 years

Creative Sound BlasterX G5 (SB1700)

Game On with Sound On

Those who play online games know how important sound can be, both in terms of immersion and gameplay. After all, if your audio quality is low and the sound is too quiet, you won’t be able to hear an enemy approaching. So if you want to kick things up a notch and get great sound quality without spending too much time on setup, choose the Creative Sound BlasterX G5 SB1700.

This model comes with a myriad preset SBX profiles thanks to the BlasterX Acoustic Engine Pro software, supplied for free with your purchase. What this means is you get special sound settings that can be changed in a single click and are specifically designed for various games. From CS GO to Dota 2 to Call of Duty, every popular title has its own preset so you can optimize your sound for online play. In addition to that the software serves up several presets for different music genres so audiophiles can enjoy tunes with the volume blasting loud.

As if that wasn’t enough, the body of the card has a special button that lets you switch between 3 of your favorite SBX profiles. Sadly, the design isn’t flawless as the red backlighting here is a bit too bright and might get annoying, especially if you tend to spent evening or nights in front of your laptop as the light would be a source of distraction.

Review of Creative Sound BlasterX G5 (SB1700) 7.1 Headphone Surround HD USB Sound Card

Unrivaled Sound Quality

In terms of interfaces, the Creative Sound BlasterX G5 SB1700 is a clear winner with two 3.5 mm line/optical ports (in and out) a mic jack and a separate jack for headphones. Connectivity shouldn’t be an issue for this portable card and neither is the power supply. The microUSB cable comes with the purchase and is a pretty easy way to keep your card working.

We have to admit that this might not be the best choice for music production as it’s clearly a card aimed at producing good sound for home theaters and PCs. But it’s definitely one of the best USB sound card models for that purpose thanks to 7.1 channels and 24-bit/192kHz fidelity. Plus, nothing short of an airplane taking off in your backyard will drown out the sound from this one, thanks to the 120 dB STN ratio.

Last but not least. The mini TOSLINK ports keep the decoding quick with no audio loss so the quality of your sound won’t diminish as the data is converted.

All things considered, the Creative Sound BlasterX G5 SB1700 is one of the best USB cards for home use with computers and sound systems. It has excellent Windows 10 compatible software to go along with it and delivers unrivaled quality. If you’re ready to pay more to get more, this is a no-brainer.

Creative Sound BlasterX G5 (SB1700) 7.1 Headphone Surround HD USB Sound Card in the use

Additional Info

    Manufacturer


VIDEO
Creative Sound BlasterX G5 7.1 Headphone Surround HD Audio External Sound Card DAC / AMP
 

Creative Sound Blaster

Hear You Loud and Clear

Recording songs in your own bedroom isn’t that rare of a phenomenon anymore as many musicians rise to fame by simply doing a few tunes in their home. But recording isn’t always easy as it requires some equipment that can get pretty pricey. Luckily, there are alternatives such as the Creative Sound Blaster 5.1 Omni Surround.

This small desktop card has built-in dual microphones that are extra sensitive and far more high-quality than any of the standalone microphones in a similar price range. Plus, and this is a big one for music recording, they use the special CrystalVoice™ technology to keep external noise out. That way your voice or singing isn’t interrupted by the sound of a lawnmower or other people talking.

Now, admittedly, the Creative Sound Blaster 5.1 Omni Surround isn’t a perfect product as few of them are. But the shortcomings here are minor inconveniences at best. For one, the audio output mode here doesn’t switch automatically. This means that you’ll have to go to the settings menu after plugging in your headphones and switch output from speakers to headphones. It’s not too substantial a gripe but it’s still a bit annoying.

Review of Creative Sound Blaster 5.1 Omni Surround USB Sound Card

Pump Up the Volume

Even if you’re not planning to record songs any time soon, the Creative Sound Blaster 5.1 Omni Surround will impress you with its crystal clear 5.1 sound. You can control the volume using the built-in knob on the device. And you won’t have to get it particularly high as this model can drown out up to 100 dB of external noise, a pretty excellent STN ratio. We do have to admit that the volume knob, though convenient, sticks out a bit too far, making the card bulkier than it has to be.

While the audio fidelity on this model isn’t the highest ever, the 24-bit / 96 kHz level is very good and more than sufficient for a home entertainment system. You shouldn’t have any issues hooking up the card to any of your devices as it comes with two RCA and two 3.5 mm jacks as well as an optical out. Unless you have some professional system that requires a special adapter, setup shouldn’t take more than a minute or two.

Although there are some small flaws in terms of design, we found the Creative Sound Blaster 5.1 Omni Surround to be one of the better choices both for musicians and those who want to boost the sound on their personal devices. The surround sound here is top-notch and the sensitive microphones are a plus both for recording and talking to friends in online gaming.

Creative Sound Blaster 5.1 Omni Surround USB Sound Card in the use

Additional Info

    Manufacturer


VIDEO
[Unboxing | 開封] Creative Sound Blaster Omni Surround 5.1
 

HyperX Cloud Virtual (HX-USCCPSS-BK)

Keeps It Simple

There are few people who would say no to a high-quality sound system in their home with speakers loud enough to make gaming and movie watching immersive. But not everybody wants to spend tons of money on it or bother themselves with complicated setup. If you want a reasonably priced option that doesn’t have a headache of an installation process, consider the HyperX Cloud Virtual HX-USCCPSS-BK.

Not only is this a plug-and-play card, but it also makes things easy on the user by being sold in a kit. That kit includes a 13-ft USB cable so you can hook the card up to your console or TV and still keep the HyperX Cloud by your side for quick access to controls. Don’t worry about routing the cable either as its braided nylon coating protects the cord from twisting and breaking. Plus, it also has the benefit of mild interference protection. It is a bit bulky but, to be fair, that size has a reason behind it.

As for the price, while the HyperX Cloud Virtual HX-USCCPSS-BK certainly isn’t the cheapest model out there, it’s firmly in the middle range. You won’t have to spend months saving up just to get it and yet the quality will be about as good as what you receive from high-end models.

Review of HyperX Cloud Virtual (HX-USCCPSS-BK) 7.1 Surround USB Sound Card

An Air of Mystery

We’ve already revealed that you can control your volume and sound via built-in buttons on the body of the HyperX Cloud Virtual HX-USCCPSS-BK but it’s probably time to elaborate a bit. The buttons on the card’s slim body allow for boosting the mic and headphone volumes separately. It’s not the broadest control panel we’ve ever seen but it’s a convenient choice and, besides, this keeps the card itself very compact. Our one gripe with the buttons is the fact that they click when pressed which can get annoying if you have to do a few presses in quick succession to get the volume down.

Puzzlingly, we couldn’t get any concrete info on the audio fidelity and STN ratio although the 7.1 channels and overall sound quality were quite excellent. That along with the microphone noise canceling makes up for the vagueness of the specs a bit. However, we still wouldn’t mind a bit more clarity in that respect. While the sound is undeniably great, knowing the exact parameters is important for anybody seeking a model for professional use.

As is, the HyperX Cloud Virtual HX-USCCPSS-BK is probably suited best for home use with consoles, sound systems, and television sets. It delivers 7.1-channel audio with good volume and convenient controls, which is exactly what the best USB sound card should offer.

HyperX Cloud Virtual (HX-USCCPSS-BK) 7.1 Surround USB Sound Card in the use

Additional Info

    Manufacturer


 

StarTech.com ICUSBAUDIO7D

Connectivity for All

Those who record music or have some experience with sound system setup know that sometimes one or two ports is just not enough. For those who want to be able to do a large-scale connection, the StarTech.com ICUSBAUDIO7D is one of the better and more reasonably priced choices.

This small sound card supports Full-Duplex operation and can receive and transmit audio signals simultaneously. That should come in especially handy to those who record music as you can both launch playback of some instruments and layer your voice over them without having to do it in several complicated steps. The process is made as easy as possible so even an amateur should be able to get use out of the StarTech.com ICUSBAUDIO7D.

Now, we’ve already stated that this model has quite a few ports, which includes: an optical in and out, four out 3.5 mm jacks (front, side, rear, C/sub), and four 3.5 mm jacks for line, mic, and headphones. While this is great for connectivity, we have to admit that placing them on three of the card’s sides is a strange design choice. It leaves the card looking like a hedgehog when several cables are hooked up at once and makes placement of the card itself a bit less convenient. It’s not a huge issue but still, smarter design decisions would have greatly improved the card and its usability.

Review of StarTech.com ICUSBAUDIO7D 7.1 USB Sound Card

More than Meets the Eye

What the StarTech.com ICUSBAUDIO7D does indisputably well, though, is audio quality. This small box boasts an STN ratio of up to 100 dB so you can rest assured that whatever sounds you play won’t be drowned out by street noise. Couple that with 16-bit / 48 kHz fidelity and you can see that this is a great candidate for both sound systems and recording. It’s not the highest fidelity we’ve ever seen but it’s a great level considering the more than affordable price.

Besides, this model has 7.1 audio support so you can take full advantage of a large sound system complete with subwoofers and multiple extra speakers. And the two mic ports are a perfect match for karaoke nights so you can entertain guests at home.

All things considered, we’d call the StarTech.com ICUSBAUDIO7D a model that might initially be seen as basic but shows its true potential once used. It’s a budget-friendly yet advanced choice, offering many ports to work with and pretty great sound quality both for watching movies and listening to music as well as recording your own tunes. If you want to have an all-in-one USB sound card without making a dent in your budget, choose this model.

StarTech.com ICUSBAUDIO7D 7.1 USB Sound Card in the use

Additional Info

User Manual     Manufacturer


VIDEO
StarTech External Sound Card
 

UGREEN 30724

Back to Basics

Not everybody out there is a sound engineer or an audiophile as some people simply seek an adapter to send audio transmissions to their laptop or TV, converting the signal from their mic or to their headphones. If you’re in the market for a basic model and want an affordable and reliable one, we recommend the UGREEN 30724.

Although the card might initially seem pretty fragile due to how compact it is, there’s no need to worry about durability. The USB cable here has a special triple-shielding technology to protect the cord from mechanical damage and twisting as well as interference. The first layer is a braided copper shield, the second is an aluminum foil one, and the third is a soft PVC jacket to keep flexibility up. With that kind of quality, there’s not a chance of any interference getting through. Admittedly, we wouldn’t have minded a longer cable as 0.5 feet isn’t that convenient if you have a big sound system. But an extender is easy to find so that’s just a minor gripe.

What did disappoint us a bit is the mic jack compatibility. The UGREEN 30724 only accepts 2-pin TRS connectors, not 1-pin or 3-pin ones. This limits your choice of devices somewhat but it’s only going to be a problem if you plan on using the card to record with a mic or do karaoke.

Review of UGREEN 30724 USB Stereo Sound Card

Modesty is a Virtue

The UGREEN 30724 is a great fit for use with a laptop, in particular, as it has great volume boosting and, coupled with an STN ratio of up to 100 dB, you can enjoy loud sound without buying portable speakers for your computer. Despite the modest size and look, this model delivers stereo sound with 2.0 channels. It’s a bit too simple for a sound system but great for phones and laptops as a means of boosting audio quality.

Speaking of which, the fidelity here is 16-bit / 48 kHz, not the highest ever but good enough for watching movies or listening to music. Plus, it’s not like you’ll be connecting it to some high-end tech as the UGREEN 30724 has two basic 3.5 mm jacks for headphones or mic/line.

Combine all of the above with a ridiculously appealing price and you can clearly see where the strengths of this modest USB sound card lie. It’s intended for basic home use and if you want to have loud audio with clear sound when you watch movies or play games on your PC/laptop, this is a fine choice. Sure, the UGREEN 30724 is not going to get you the studio-level quality of audio but it’s a solid and affordable choice for amateur home use. It has a long service life and keeps the signal free of interference thanks to a high-end USB cable, which puts it above the regular competitors.

UGREEN 30724 USB Stereo Sound Card in the use

Additional Info

    Manufacturer


VIDEO
UGREEN USB 2 0 External Sound Card Adapter Review
 

What Is a USB Sound Card?

This is, admittedly, one of the rare cases where the name may be somewhat self-explanatory but the purpose of the device isn’t inherently clear. Sure, a USB sound card is an external gadget that does the same thing a built-in audio card does but with the added benefit of portability and compatibility. What these small devices do is add audio port options and serve as an adapter for your laptop to get more sound input/output choices. All you need to connect it to your laptop, PC/Mac, or any other device of choice is a USB Port.

Much like the cards hidden deep in your computer, these exterior models convert digital data to sound and songs so you can enjoy music straight from your PC. And though you can rely on the built-in card in your laptop, for example, they tend to deliver quieter sound and seem a bit more fragile overall. Besides, with the right external USB card, you can even get surround sound, which is simply impossible with a regular laptop setup. And, if you’re a musician, you can also use any of these cards for recording music, a first step to making a home studio where you can create the next hit.

If a single USB sound card isn’t enough and you want something to boost your TV’s volume, consider buying a soundbar. And if you plan on hosting parties with some good tunes, don’t forget to get a powered subwoofer.

What Features to Compare

Although sound cards are a bit of a techy product and do require some knowledge of audio devices, you don’t necessarily need to be an expert. Just knowing the few main parameters that matter should be enough to make your choice among many models available on the market.

Channels

Even if you have zero knowledge of audio tech and how it works, you’re likely familiar with the two numbers you see on every single sound system nowadays: 5.1 or 7.1. These designate channels, which are hugely important when picking out your sound card and aren’t restricted to these two common choices.

To put it simply, the bare minimum is 2.0, meaning that your system has two audio output channels. This is what you’d call stereo and it’s more than enough if you’re not an audiophile. Sure, there’s room for improvement but stereo has been the standard for a while. If you like thumping bass, you could buy an extra subwoofer and go up to 2.1. However, if you decide to actually do an upgrade we’d advise going up to 5.1 or 7.1 (or choosing them right away). These are the channels used in high end home theaters and a sound card that supports these gives you the ability to enjoy movies and music on your laptop paired with some high-quality speakers. Channels from 5.1 and upwards add amplifiers and surround sound so the audio is not just louder but more immersive. This is what you should choose if you like gaming (especially horror games) or really getting into movies. But, if you just have your laptop with no extra speakers, a 2.0 channel level will be fine in the grand scheme of things.

Interfaces

This one’s simple, the more ports your sound card has the more devices you can connect to it without paying extra for adapters and converters. Plus, more ports means more simultaneous connections which is important if you plan on creating a whole sound system grid in your living room.

Power Source

This is an easy one as it just determines where your sound card needs to be plugged in, in order to work. What you should pay attention to on this one is the length of the included cable. If it’s too short - the card will not be practical in use and we’d advise getting a longer backup cord instead.

Audio Fidelity

While this option is aimed more at music lovers who have high end equipment in their homes, the availability of high fidelity is always a good sign. Check to see if your audio card is up to par because a sound system requires high fidelity or else the audio won’t sound as good as it should.

Signal-to-Noise Ratio

This parameter is hugely important for those who don’t live alone. Tired of your kids shouting over a football game you’re watching or a neighbor’s lawnmower drowning out the sound of your favorite album? STN shows what level of loudness the sound card can overturn, meaning that a model with 100 dB ratio will even be able to cover up the noise made by a car. If external sound has been an annoyance for a while, don’t pass this feature by.

Did you know?

Let Your Voice Be Heard

Since USB sound cards are often used for recording music in home studios, there are plenty of amateur musicians trying to find a model that suits them. However, there are a few handy tips and tricks that can help you achieve more with less. One of the easiest is placing your mic in a corner to get an unusual effect of a slight echo. Moreover, sometimes all you need is to move the microphone from a large room, where the sound bounces, to a smaller one where your voice can be heard clearly without you raising it. Also, while it requires a bit more money, we’d suggest using a 24-bit card to record if you can. It delivers better quality than a 16-bit one and in music the mix is what matters most. You could belt out a few perfect takes but the end result depends on how well you record and mix it.

Another common mistake that amateurs tend to make is headphone bleed. Placing your headphones with the beat playing (to keep yourself in tune) too close to the microphone means getting some of that noise into your mix. Try to either keep the volume very low or, if you can, make do without the music helping you along.

It’s All in the Game

We’ve already mentioned that sound cards are a worthy investment for any avid gamer as they can help you hear your favorite game’s sound more clearly. And while some people tend not to notice audio that much, it’s actually an integral aspect of gameplay, especially in stealth and horror genres. After all, it’s much spookier to inch down a dark corridor when you hear creaking in your left ear and some ominous wind whooshing in your right one. The benefits of good sound cards and speakers are reaped in immersion as with the right kind of setup you can just lose yourself in the story and the world of the game. Even for an open-world title where you roam in a big city, the ability to hear cars honking and people chatting on the street draws you in that much deeper. Besides, in online gaming this can even give you an edge over the competitors as you can hear them creeping up to your position before they even know you’re there. Sound might not be everything but it’s an integral part of the game.

What’s in a Subwoofer? That Which We Call the Bass

Although it’s one of the more commonly known speaker types, a subwoofer seems to still largely be a mystery to most people. They tend to know it “does bass” and “makes things louder” which is, technically, true. But what do you need a subwoofer for after all and why is paying for one worth it?

Well, in a good sound system, a subwoofer will be the sole part responsible for low frequencies in your audio. And while it’s just the .1 in a 5.1-channel system, this makes for a crucial part of your listening experience. Ever felt that deep rumble in a movie theater when planes fly overhead or the troops roll in? That’s what you could achieve with a good subwoofer in your sound system and it’s what makes the sound you get truly immersive. Without that three-dimensional richness of audio, you might as well be watching a movie on your basic laptop.

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Publish Date: 2018-11-07 08:49:35