What do computer games, music, movies, YouTube, and Grooveshark all have in common? They all use your computer’s sound card. An oft forgotten component of computers is their sound card, but that does not mean it is unimportant—quite the opposite. The quality of sound card often determines how good your music sounds, how quickly you can react while playing a game, let alone those awesome surround sound effect while watching movies. Simply put, you want the best sound card you can get, because it will make difference in everything you listen to on your computer.
Before looking at specific cards, let’s look at what makes a sound card great. When comparing cards, look at the processing frequency, the higher the better. This is usually displayed in kHz. Currently, high-end cards provide 192kHz; that is roughly four times CD quality. Also check the bit-sampling, 24-bit is the best. To compare, CD quality is only 16-bit. Because sound cards deal with audio, electronic interference can create sound artifacts and audio quality. The best cards have shielding built-in to prevent those issues. Now, let’s look at some top-of-the-line sound cards.
HT Omega Claro Plus 7.1
The HT Omega Claro Plus 7.1 Sound Card is great if you are a careful listener, and desire the finest audio from your computer. Retailing at $50, it is not only cheaper than most other cards, it provides stellar audio performance. With the gambit of outputs, including RCA, optical, and 3.5mm it will support any type of speakers you wish to use. It also supports 5.1 and 7.1 surround setups. The best part is the 192kHz processing embedded. Expect crystal-clear sound sampling, excellent for stellar playback and recording. This is a great card for those on a budget, while requiring the absolute best in sound quality.
Asus Xonar Essence STX
The Asus Xonar Essence STX Sound Card is quickly becoming the gold standard among audiophiles. Along with great audio playback, the typical outputs, headphone support (so your headphones sound just as good as your normal speakers), and 7.1 surround sound, it comes with 24-bit support and 192kHz processing. The Xonar also includes measures to restrict electronic interference. If you demand the best from your music, games, and movies, purchase the Xonar. The only drawback is the price, this beast retails at $180.
Creative X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Professional
The Creative X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Professional lives up to its name. It is professional. It is a gamer’s dream. The platinum standard among gamers, Creative X-Fi’s series has long held the top-end market for gaming audio. It, of course, supports 7.1 sound, 24-bit audio, and 96kHz processing; it also comes with electronic shielding. While this card can handle any type of audio work, it really shines when used with gaming. Since it supports EAX, it allows you to hear in vivid detail the minutia of footsteps and ilk. If you are a gamer, you can’t go wrong with the X-Fi Titanium. Expect to pay for the extra boost, it sells for $110 and up.