As expert gamers and audio-lovers know, stock onboard sound cards can often be “hot garbage.”
Have you ever dealt with annoying hissing and buzzing? How about frying your entire unit?
If so, don’t fret my friend, we’re going to let you in on a little secret. Upgrading your motherboard’s sound card doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg when done cleverly.
In fact, choosing the best budget sound card of 2020 for your computer becomes simple when you select a highly-reviewed one from our list. To aid your search, we’ve narrowed the field of over 160 models down to our top 10.
That way, finding the best cheap sound card for your taste is nearly guaranteed while avoiding the lemons. If you’re ready to take your $200 bookshelf speakers, or whatever set up you have, to new heights – jump right in with our quick comparison table and say hello to crystal clear sound.
Built-in dual microphone, direct stereo facility, reasonably priced
Pocket-friendly, exemplary performance, better sound quality, Dolby Digital Support
Budget-friendly, excellent sample rate and SNR, GX 2.5 fro improved In-Games Audio
StarTech PCI Surround
Budget-friendly, easy to use onboard controls, better than onboard laptop audio
Syba IO Crest PCIe X1
Excellent sound quality, best budget option
Better sound quality, built-in microphone, excellent gaming audio
EAX support, AE-5 Hi-resolution, Easy to set up, hear 3D positional audio
Discrete headphone amp, top-notch software suite, built-in Camp
Reasonably priced, 5.1 virtual speakers, excellent surround sound
SHINE STAR PCIe
5.1 3D stereos surround sound, 16-bit editing decoder
Factors to Consider when Buying the Best Budget Sound Card
Carefully consider the following points to make a smart and wise purchase.
Your need and Requirements
Whether you buy a sound card or any other device, the first point you must consider without any second thought is your need and requirements. This is because we purchase any product to fulfill a particular need that the product can satisfy. If you just randomly pick up any product without actually knowing what you want, then you will merely waste your time and money. The first thing that you need to consider when buying a sound card is its intended usage. If you require simple sound support and not an amazing 3D surround sound, you should aim for a low budget and economical option. However, if you wish to have a spectacular surround sound with enhanced speaker connectivity options, you will want to buy a wholly dedicated sound card that provides better facilities.
They say money matters. Yes, when you buy a product, it does matter a lot. If you are spending a significant amount, you would want to get all the current features available in the market. If not all, then at least all the features that are of utmost importance to you. As such, the budget is always a pivotal point to consider whenever you make a purchase decision. In today’s time, an ordinary, essential, and no-frills sound card is available at around $10.
On the other hand, the latest, trendy, heavy-duty sound card with surround sound support may cost you around $250. But, if your requirements are low and straightforward, sound support may suffice, then it is recommended that you don’t waste money on buying a high-grade sound card. The extra features may get lost if you do not need them. You should instead stick to a basic budget sound card and save money for better investments.
When buying a surround card, one of the most crucial factors to consider is the sound standard. Find out what level your sound card supports. In the market today, the most high-end sound cards offer EAX and 5.1 surround sound supports. This allows a user to connect a maximum of five speakers to these cards. You can thus enjoy surreal, 3D audio effects at your home and get an amplified sound experience. A number of the best budget sound cards these days even offer 7.1 surround sound support.
Each one of you has some unique requirements that you need your purchased product to satisfy. If you have some unique features that you need, then it is essential to consider the following. If you are into professional, multitrack music recording, you will require a proper multi-channel sound card. On the other hand, if you are someone who likes features like MIDI, you will need a sound card that supports enhanced MIDI support. Consider all the other requirements to make the most of your budget sound card.
Does Your Computer Have the Updates
A sound card is closely associated with your computer, as it is a device that gets installed in it. If you wish to benefit from the latest and high-end features of the new sound cards in the market, you will need to make sure that you have a powerful and updated CPU to match it. It makes no sense to have the best-in-class sound card if you do not have an enhanced computer to support it. If you are installing the high-end sound card into an old Pentium 3 computer, then you are merely wasting your money.
When buying the best budget sound card for your set-up, it is also essential to carefully look for the software that comes along the sound card package. Several sound cards such as the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS are marvelous, as they offer great music and audio software. It will help you in saving money. This will work well, primarily if the package provides the software that you always desired for.
Make sure that the computer you wish to install your sound card has the available connections. Generally, sound cards are compatible with both PCI and ISA.
– PCI – In the current market system, many sound cards are available as PCI. As such, if you are planning to use your best budget sound card for playing games and watching DVD movies, then it is advisable you at least buy a PCI sound card.
– ISA – Currently, the ISA cards are available at relatively cheaper rates as compared to their counterparts. They are suitable for people who may not have money to have decent sound on their computer system. Additionally, they are not only affordable but also efficient. Buying an ISA sound card helps you to keep an extra free PCI slot available.
– Furthermore, you must not only verify that your computer system has the possible connections, it is also imperative to find out if your computer has a built-in sound card attached to the motherboard. Find out whether the primary sound card can be disabled, or will automatically be disabled when you install a new sound card.
It is imperative to know about the available connections on the card.
– Speaker connections – If you are a gamer, then it is essential that the sound card that you buy offers two speaker connections. One connection for the front speakers and the other for the rear speakers. There may be people who do not wish to utilize all four speakers or do not plan to use this feature. Some may be comfortable only with one speaker connection to connect a set of two speakers. You must consider this point before purchasing to avoid future regrets and extra costs.
– Midi port and Game port – With the MIDI port connection, you can connect to a MIDI keyboard. However, this is most likely used only for gaming as it allows users to connect game paddles and joysticks to the card.
– Microphone connection – Presently, it is reasonable to check if the sound card offers a microphone connection. It is imperative to verify whether the sound card you are looking for includes a microphone connection.
3-D Acceleration is used and found widely in the latest computer games. Here is a list of the 3-D Accelerations found in the market today:
DirectSound 3D by Microsoft: It comes with API software that also includes DirectX.
EAX Creative Labs Environmental Audio Extensions: It offers realistic and amplified sound effects that enhance the gaming experience.
A3D Originally by Aureal: It is A3D API software, specially designed for additional 3D Acceleration sans utilizing Microsoft’s API code.
Warranty and Support
It is undeniable that electronic devices need proper maintenance and care. Most of the devices have substantial repair costs attached to them. As such, if you buy the best budget sound card that offers a reasonable warranty period and an excellent support system, you’re saving yourself from incurring expenses in the future. Carefully consider the warranty period provided by the company; understand its inclusions and exclusions. Furthermore, take into account the technical support that is provided. Is it available for 24 hours, seven days a week, and do they have a toll free number? Considering the support factor is essential, as you may need help anytime.
After carefully understanding the factors, you should read the review of the product, for appropriate information before deciding to make a final call. If you’ve followed the functioning and qualities of a budget sound card, move ahead with the purchase decision. However, make sure that the place from where you are planning to buy the sound card from is reputable, trustworthy, and has goodwill in the market. So conduct your research and analysis carefully – either online or personally, before making the purchase. You can read expert reviews online and customer testimonials to comprehend the device better.
If you’re searching for the best budget sound card 2020, you have to look no further. Our experts have prepared a list of the best budget sound cards of 2020, after hours of research and testing. Check out the list given below and choose the sound card that fits your requirements.
Top 10 Best Budget Sound Cards 2020
The new Sound Blaster Z Gaming sound card is designed around the powerful Sound Core3D™ audio processor. This Z series has once again raised the industry standards with regards to PCIe sound cards. It is specially designed to fulfill the criteria for a superior quality experience over motherboard audio. It comes with external DACs that deliver 116dB SNR, along with 600-ohm audiophile-grade headphone amp. It also has an extensively customizable SBX Pro Studio technology and a Sound Blaster Z pack to provide a robust audio effect.
Additionally, it includes an external high quality dual-microphone. The sound card duly supports operating systems such as Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 10. It also comes with a Stereo Direct facility, that lets you listen to your music, pure and unprocessed. It offers a marvelous bit-rate of 24-bit 192 kHz. You come comfortably use this sound card to jump between your headphone and speakers.
Why we like it:
The Sound Blaster Z gives you the most bang for your buck. Period.
The Creative Sound Blaster Audigy is a perfectly designed PC application that allows users to control and alter your sound card functions depending on your needs. You can easily adjust your Creative Multi Speaker Surround (CMSS or CMSS 3D) settings to precisely upmix the stereo content to your multi-channel speaker system. This will help you to add the acoustic depth to your multi-channel content, making it all the more realistic. Additionally, you can use the Mic Monitoring and Stereo Mixing feature to hear yourself while you record – it helps you to listen to the effects immediately.
It has an advanced chipset to process the legendary EAX reverb engine that provides strong and better quality audio. The sound card’s features include a 106dB SNR that ensures high audio quality and a 24-bit 192 kHz stereo direct playback. It supports operating systems such as Windows 8, Windows XP SP2 or higher, Windows Vista SP1 or higher, Windows 7, and Windows 10. This amazing sound card allows you to immerse in full cinematic 7.1 multi-channel audio experiences that are perfect for games, movies, and music. It is the best budget sound card under $60.
Why we like it:
The Creative Sound Blaster Audigy is our best value budget sound card.
The Xonar sound card is specially optimized for gamers. It helps in immersive gaming action, through precision audio. It combines audio card and Dolby Headphone 5.1 high definition surround sound, with the ASUS-exclusive GX 2.5 gaming audio engine. Additionally, it also has an on-board headphone amplifier. It provides accurate and deep audio effect, that brings every nuance and sound across perfectly. This makes the new Xonar DGX 5.1, a perfect sound card for gamers who essentially remain completely unaware of their gaming atmosphere. It comes with an inbuilt Headphone AMP, that boosts up every sound detail in gaming. Also, it offers 3 headphone Amp gain modes for suit different usage scenarios. It features a GX2.5 for realistic 3D audio effects and an audio processor with High-Definition Sound Processor. It has an automatic jack-sensing front-panel output. It is the best budget sound card under $40.
Why we like it:
The Xonar GDX 5.1 makes our list because its extremely budget-friendly, but still gets the job done.
4. StarTech.com 5.1 Channel PCI Surround
The StarTech sound card comes with 5.1 channel audio, that is o to be attached to a desktop PC through a PCI slot. This Surround Sound Card allows you to add 5.1 channel audio, giving you great audio output, and microphone/line input via 3.5mm mini-jacks. It offers a cost-effective multimedia solution that provides high quality surround sound. It helps you enjoy full-duplex, 48 KHz/ 16bit audio playback/recording. It also supports HRTF 3D positional audio, Microsoft DirectSound, DirectSound 3D, and A3D. Additionally, it offers three internal auxiliary input connectors that help you connect your CD drive directly to the sound card. In case your drive features external control buttons, then this sound card allows you playback sans impeding your PC’s performance. It is available under $40 in the market.
Why we like it:
If you need a budget sound card asap and don’t want to fuss over the features, this StarTech model can do the trick.
5. Syba IO Crest 5.1 Channel PCIe X1
Now you can easily expand your system with this multi-channel PCI-Express sound card. This sound card offers a HRTF-base 3D positional Audio with wavetable music synthesizer. It has a compatible midi interface, and requires 4 pin Power to provide the best experience. Its high fidelity multi-channel audio, home theater and entertainment station, provides an amazing experience overall. The controller offers surround sound output and perfect audio quality – for playback and recording. It makes use of an x1 pci-e lane with the media chipset, that provides for the output of high quality sound. This is the best budget sound card available under $20.
Why we like it:
It’s shockingly cheap, but yet, it still works like a charm.
The Sound Blaster ZxR is specially designed to work with the philosophy of “Total System Performance”. The Sound Blaster has been made by combining audiophile-grade componentry, with unique audio playback and recording technologies. It comes with refined audio playback and high-fidelity recording capabilities. It is also equipped with a CrystalVoice Voice Enhancement and Clarity Technology, that helps you express yourself and record your voice. You can hear audio crystal clear in video conferencing, multiplayer games and online chats. It features a high-quality headphone Amp that supports studio quality headphones and has a Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect that allows your home theater system through a single digital cable for intense 5.1 surround sound.
Why we like it:
The Sound Blaster ZxR goes overboard, in the best way possible. If you’re an audio-geek like us, you’ll love it.
With the Creative Labs Titanium sound card, you can now watch your DVDs in cinematic surround sound with PowerDVD software having DTS and Dolby Digital-EX decoding. The sound card comes with a PCI Express Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium, featuring fantastic inputs and low-latency ASIO drivers for great music recording. The Hear 3D positional audio is so precise that you can locate enemies by sound while enjoying your game. It makes game-playing highly exceptional, and you can hear the crackling gunfire and earth-shattering explosions. EAX 5.0 delivers amazing audio sound effects to enhance your gaming experience. If you’re a hard-core gamer, this is the best budget sound card under $60 to make your game experience better. It also helps to enhance your performance with hardware audio acceleration.
Why we like it:
The Creative Labs Titanium sound card offers you a deal. Its at the sweet spot between price, and performance.
The Sound BlasterX AE-5 is an Ultra Class Hi-Resolution PCIe Gaming sound card and DAC. It also features Xamp, a new unique headphone amp that uses bi-amplification technology. It provides amazingly clear audio and stands out with the Aurora Reactive Lighting System – with 16.8 million customizable colors. It is the very first sound card to have Xamp, the individually discrete headphone amplifier. Every audio channel is distinctly amplified and allows the AE-5 to provide enhanced audio fidelity.
It offers an audio sound that is unaltered, and precisely reaches each ear-cup profoundly needless of the demand. Its ultra-low 1O output impedance drives 16-600O headphones with precision. It is specially designed for enjoying games, music, and movies. The sound card provides around up to 32-bit 384kHz playback with a 122dB DNR, ultra-low distortion and jitter. This amazing all-in-one is a little heavy on your pockets and is available at $150, but if you have so many features at hand, then the price isn’t a matter of concern.
Why we like it:
The SoundBlasterX AE-5 makes our countdown for its unique ability to dramatically increase the sound-quality of gaming headphones. Once you try it, you can’t go back.
The Diamond XtremeSound XS51 sound card is one of the most affordable options for anyone looking for better audio and sound. It provides an extraordinary a cinematic effect to your daily computer audio experience. This 5.1 Channel sound card offers high-quality audacity that helps in recording live audio through various sources. It also features 5.1 virtual speaker shifter providing surround sound for CDs, and MP3s EAX 2.0 and A3D sound support. It works on PCI 2.2 interface with bus mastering and burst modes, enhancing your audio listening experience. It is available on Operating Systems such as WIN 8.1, WIN 8, WIN 7 32, WIN 7 64, WINVISTA32, WINVISTA64, WINXP, WINXP64, WIN2000 and MCE. Additionally, it comes with a One Year Limited Warranty and can be bought under $20.
Why we like it:
Its simple, and it produces higher-quality audio than most stock sound cards.
10. SHINESTAR PCIe Sound Card
This surround sound card allows you to add 5.1 channel audio to a desktop PC through a PCI slot, giving you audio output, and microphone/line input via 3.5mm mini-jacks. It offers three internal auxiliary input connectors, that help you to connect your CD drive directly to the sound card. This is the best choice of sound card for PC desktop, offering a profile bracket for 2U case. Additionally it features a 16-bit multimedia digital signal editing decoder inside that supports 32/64-bit audio processing, recording and playback. This small wonder is available under $20.
Why we like it:
This budget sound card is another cheap option, that packs a surprising punch in terms of audio performance.