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What we hear, plays a critical part in every aspect of our life. Those that can’t hear, just as critical. Sound tells us what the world around us is doing. When we hear traffic pass by, planes above, waves, birds in trees. Whatever we hear, it confirms and validates the world around us. In terms of entertainment, sound is important there too. There is depth, highs and lows, screeches and vibrations. In terms of music, movies, and video games, the depth and quality of sound plays an important part in the experience and thus the industry pays close attention to it. However, sometimes our devices have low quality integrated sound cards. In these cases it’s time to reach for an external sound card: that is where the best USB sound card becomes something to think about.
This article will discuss what USB sound cards are, what the benefits are of owning the best USB soundcard. Furthermore, we will explain what factors you need to consider before purchasing USB sound cards, and what are the best USB sound cards you can obtain in today’s market.
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On USB Sound Cards
USB sound cards primarily act as a digital translator. Since most of today’s music is digital, it is written in bits, in strings of ones and zeros.The excellent sound card will translate this digital code and output the sound. USB sound card acts as if it is DAC, a digital audio converter.
However, it doesn’t output the sound. The purpose of the card is to translate and convert the digital audio into analog form and send the process to your speakers or headphones. In general, people buy USB sound cards because their devices have poor quality integrated sound cards.
Benefits Of USB Sound Cards
USB sound cards can replace that built in sound card in your laptop or desktop pc, or any other sound-playing device. Not all laptop or pc manufacturers pay attention to their sound cards; they do, but it is not of their primary concern.
On the other hand, USB sound card manufacturers have to worry about one thing; that their device helps produce high-quality sound.
USB sound cards aren’t integrated, they aren’t built-in into your devices. They are portable, allowing you to bring them with you on the go and use with multiple devices.
High-quality USB sound cards will also have several jacks, allowing you to plug in several devices simultaneously.
Factors To Consider
There are various things you must to consider before you decide on which is the best USB sound card for you. Here are the most critical factors:
Compatibility: make sure that the USB sound card is compatible with your device, that it supports your channel output
Function: some USB sound cards work best for video games, some work better for playing music. Make sure that you understand the technology that comes with the device: does it feature 3D sound, what kind of audio processing unit it uses and so forth.
Material and Design: material affects the case quality, and it determines the sound quality too. Also, check the dimensions, color if you care about such things, assuring it looks nice with other devices.
Naturally, these aren’t the only factors to consider but are the basic ones. Now we will move one to our list of ten best USB sound cards, where we will discuss in detail all the pros and cons of each particular sound card.
Ten Best USB Sound Card Reviews
7.1 Sound Card for PC,Laptops – External USB Audio Adapter for Gamers, Music & Movie Lovers
Driver Genius have brought a real contender to the world of the external USB sound card, in the form of a 7.1 Channel Sound Card. With transfer rates of up to 480 mbps across USB 2.0, this USB audio adapter is a great choice for all audio demands. It’s a good, affordable choice to add oomph to your gaming, music or movies. The audio output on this device can accommodate up to 7.1 channels, or as few as a 2 channel (pass through) stereo audio adaptor. As there are so many audio outputs, it can support a wide range of speaker set ups as well as multi directional audio for headphones.
Inputs include an Optical S/SPDIF digital audio input, and this USB external sound card adaptor will connect either directly to PC, 3.5mm jack speaker systems or headphones. The simple to use audio buttons are nicely positioned on the device and there are no complicated sequences or combinations to press. It’s a simple plug and play sound adapter, and a good one at that!
- excellent hardware
- high-quality converter
- headphone amplifier
- excellent for music and movies
- low CPU usage
- Features 3D sound
- Microphone input (line in) and headphone jack
- Some have experienced issues setting up 5.1 surround on a laptop.
Creative Sound BlasterX G5
Creative Sound BlasterX G5 is a gaming USB sound card, featuring 3D gaming audio technology, allowing gamers to enhance their audio experience.
The product has native 7.1 virtual surround sound played on 24-bit technology and an absolute 120db limit. The product is best suited for ps4 and pc gaming rigs.Creative Sound BlasterX G5 uses Acoustic Engine Pro virtualizer, sending signals in all directions, working perfectly with headphones (it has incredible headphone amplifier).
It has an SB-Axx1 chipset to accelerate the hardware decoding and converting, bringing out the best out of any device. Though suitable for several functions, this is a gaming USB sound card, one of the best of its kind.
Creative Sound BlasterX G5 is beautifully designed, featuring easy to navigate illuminated wheel for convenient volume control. It uses quality parts and smart technology and is undoubtedly a valuable option for any audiophile or gamer that appreciates quality sound.
- excellent 3D audio gaming technology
- sleek and futuristic design
- multi-core audio processor
- illuminated volume wheel for convenient control
- 7.1 surround sound
- perhaps not the best option for non-gamers
- Creative Sound Blaster Omni Surround
- Creative Sound Blaster Omni Surround features 5.1 surround channels, working in combination with microphone
Sound Blaster Omni Surround 5.1
Sound Blaster Omni Surround 5.1 utilizes several awesome technologies, including SBX Pro Studio and Blaster’s Crystal Clear technology. This produces fantastic sound on both pcs and Macs.
The device is simple to use, utilizing Sound Blaster Omni software for easy control and navigation. It is suitable for gaming too, featuring scout mode, allowing you to hear your enemies better than they hear you, giving you a competitive edge (it is not cheating, its just technology).
The device is created for digital entertainment, best suited for the enhanced gaming experience, as well as music and movie playing. Upon purchase, you will receive the Sound Blaster card, USB 2.0 cable, stereo jack adapter and installation cd containing instructions and drivers.
- 5.1 Dolby Digital Live surround technology
- scout mode (perfect for gaming experience)
- Crystal Clear technology enhancing mic output sound quality
- very compact and lightweight
- some customers complained about the headphone port and amplifier
ASUS Sound Card Xonar U5
Xonar U5 features 5.1 channel HD sound, able to transfer 104 dB signal into analog audio using SNR technology. Sound technology is controlled by Sonic Studio software, easy to use and navigate, giving you full control over the desired sound specifications.
Xonar U5 features built-in headphone amplifier, assuring that you hear every bit of that digital sound, which can come in handy for all musicophiles and gamers. The stereo audio adapter also pays close attention to unnecessary noise, reducing it to a minimum, assuring that you hear only relevant data. You power it via USB cable.
Though ASUS didn’t have any particular purpose for this device (other than quality sound output), it seems as if this USB sound card is intended for gamers, since they emphasize headphone sound quality.
- high quality 5.1 surround sound (24 bit)
- SNR technology
- Sonic Studio software
- good for gaming
- some customers claim the product is “too quiet.”
- also, some argue the product stopped working after a year and a half (not durable)
Creative Sound BlasterX G1
Creative Sound BlasterX G1 supports 7.1 sound channel and can translate digits and convert them into quality sound at high speed without sacrificing the quality.
Headphone amplifiers will satisfy hardcore gamers, especially the ones playing FPS games. The Creative Sound BlasterX G1 is also suitable for amplifying studio headphones.
BlasterX Acoustic Engine brings the best out of this device, allowing numerous modes and enhancements. It is very compact, simple, but efficient, and it delivers in sound quality too.
This audio sound card also features X-Plus mode and configurator. The work best with an H5 headset, giving you a competitive edge over your opponents. The mode selects and recognizes sounds that matter, filtering out unnecessary noises and sounds. Note that you will have to purchase H5 headset separately. This additional technology will help gamers, but not non-gamers.
- 7.1 sound channels
- BlasterX Acoustic Engine offers various customization options
- X-Plus mode for gamers
- Scout mode (also for gamers)
- very compact and easy to use
- Headphone jack
- predominantly gaming USB hub sound card
- some customers complained about hissing and static noise
BC Master Karaoke System
Unlike most products on our list, BC Master Karaoke System is particular and explicit when it comes to usability. This karaoke sound system features eight different modes and is portable, allowing you to sing, record and stream anywhere you want.
It features two in one 3.5 mm mic jacks and can be connected to the speaker without any third party object. You can charge it with simple USB cable, anywhere you want.
The device is simple, easy to use, having only several buttons with which you control the entire device. It has a built in BC Master sound card, best suited for singing.
BC Master Karaoke System is smart, having the option to change male to the female voice and vice versa, allowing the users more freedom and fun. And that is the point of this device; that you have fun with it and share it with your friends and family.
- Eight different modes
- compact, portable and easy to use
- female to male/ male to female voice transition modes
- high-quality sound output
- only ok according to some users
- made just for karaoke purposes
Baile Portable Sound Card
Baile Portable Sound Card works with Windows and Mac OS platforms, featuring 7.1 channel with 3D adapter, ultimately producing high-quality sound.
It is inexpensive and cost-effective, offering a lot for a small price. The device supports 2.0 USB ports and will work with almost any laptop and desktop PC.
It supports 48/44.1KHz audio sampling, suitable for playing and recording. The product is made of aluminum, is relatively lightweight, has two mic jacks, and four control buttons that make it very simple to use.
Upon purchase, you will receive the Baile Portable Sound Card, USB cable, and instructional CD. It is also worth mentioning that its signal to noise ratio (SNR) is 90 dB, which isn’t top quality, but still high quality.
- 7.1 channel
- features 3D sound
- aluminum made
- high, but not top sound quality
- SNR is only 90dB, which is okay, but not the best
Tech Rise Sound Card Adapter
Tech Rise Card Adapter works with international USB standards (2.0) and is truly beautiful. The Tech Rise sound card is simple to use, its unique and compact design making everything look simple and organized.
It works with Windows, Mac OS, Linux, headphones, gaming headsets and so forth; it is highly compatible because it doesn’t require driver installation.
LED indicators make it simpler to use, and the volume wheel is smooth and functional, allowing you to control the volume. The product is built for musicophiles, featuring 16 different rhythmic patterns and 23 environment modes (yes, 23!)
The product is also fit for casual gamers since it does have a gaming mode, working best with gaming headset because the Tech Rise stereo sound adapter brings best out of any devices. So if you already have quality headphones or headsets, prepare to be blown away by this small but unique device.
- simple and sleek design
- 16 different rhythmic patterns
- 23 different environment modes, including gaming mode
- compatible with almost all devices (no driver installation, just plug in)
- somewhat short cable
StarTech External Sound Card
StarTech External Sound Card has many advantages: it is the smallest adapter on this list, it requires no driver installation (at least not for the older windows version, and has only two buttons (volume up and down).
However, StarTech External Sound Card doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but it will come in handy if your laptop or pc don’t have a mic jack (most modern laptops don’t).
Furthermore, the device does its job, and it does produce good sound for such a small device. After all, it features 7.1 channel sound and comes with a CD containing XEAR 3D software to boost the 7.1 channel sound.
- excellent sound quality in such a small device
- comes with XEAR 3D software
- easy to use, having
- 7.1 surround sound
- not so durable
- some customers complained about surround system, claiming it does not work on Mac devices
VAlinks External Sound Card
VAlinks External Sound Card features 5.1 channel audio, giving you the ability to record and play high-quality digital-to-audio content.
It supports up to 44 kHz sampling rate in both recording and playing options. It is relatively inexpensive, made for both analog and digital recording and representing. The product also features Full-duplex playback.
It is compact and lightweight, has line and mic input, as well as SPDIF input. Upon purchase, you will receive a sound card, USB cable, and the cd containing the driver.
Consumers reviews are mixed, some claiming it works correctly others claiming it didn’t work at all so that we can assign it to manufacture problems. But, when it does work, it works as described: smoothly, producing and recording high-quality sound.
- compact and easy to use
- works great with most platforms and devices
- produces high-quality sound for the price
- not so durable
- some customers complained about functionality
- color is bright and unconventional
Again, it is hard to pick the best USB sound card and proclaim it the winner of this list. Some of these devices are good for gaming (most focus on delivering enhanced gaming experience), others are made for karaoke, and some are multi-purpose.
Moreover, they differ in sizes, some inputs and outputs, design and many other things. Naturally, there is also the price involved in all this.
The top one on the list (Sewell Direct Soundbox, Creative Sound BlasterX G5, and Creative Sound Blaster Omni Surround) are probably your safest bet, but they are also the most expensive ones.
You can also go for cheaper version because any of these devices will give you better sound than your integrated sound cards; you can bet on that. In any case, make sure it is compatible with your devices and that it suits your needs.
Sound Card Interfacing
1. General info
In some cases, interfacing radio equipment audio lines to a computer sound card can be as simple as buying cables or adaptors with the appropriate connectors. However, there can be many problems which can appear due to impedance mismatching, lack of shielding, ground loops, etc. which can lead to audio that may be weak, noisy, or distorted. A common problem is RF 'feedback', where an audio line acts as an antenna feeding RF into the computer. If the level is high enough, it is possible to damage the sound card or other major components in the computer.
One of the simplest cures is to install isolation transformers. ComTekk offers sound card isolators with sound card connectors already installed. Snap-on ferrite filters are also good for solving difficult RFI problems, and should be attached to audio cables very close to the end of the connectors plugged into the computer.
2. Sound Card Connections
Most PC's have at least three audio connections available:
1. Output (for speakers, usually black or blue)
2. Microphone Input (pink/red)
3. Line/Aux. Input (green)
4. Line/Aux. Output (for speakers or amplifier - green)
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There are usually tiny symbols next to the jacks, which may be very hard to see! Most include an arrow pointing toward the jack (input), or away from the jack (output).
Here are some more examples - click on the images to zoom in:
If there is no Line/Aux Input jack on your computer, the Microphone jack may be used instead. Here's an example, with the symbols highlighted:
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A stereo connecting cable such as this one, is suitable for connection to most receivers. Notice the 3 metal rings - the two near the tip are the left/right audio, and the 3rd is a common or ground ring:
For best results, plug a mono-to-stereo adaptor into the receiver first. 1/8' 'phone' plugs are standard on all computers, and most radios:
This will split the mono signal from the radio into stereo, feeding audio to both channels of the sound card.
* Protecting your computer *
Direct connections can be made between sound card and radio equipment, but there can be a risk involved. It is our recommendation that a sufficient isolation and protection circuit be installed between the computer and any radio equipment. 600-ohm 1:1 isolators for sound cards are available (order) to protect input and output ports. This will block DC current, protect against a hot or floating ground, and has the added benefits of reducing AC hum and RF interference (RFI).
If connecting sound card to a very long line, such as a twisted pair, a quality telephone-type surge protector should be installed to guard against spikes, surges and lightning.
When connecting a low-impedance radio output (like the external speaker jack) to the MIC input on a computer, the volume control on the radio must be set very, very low, to avoid over-driving the sensitive Mic input on the sound card. Don't worry - in most cases, it would take a LOT of power to actually damage your sound card. It's best to use the LINE or AUX input if one is available.
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