Superb audio quality comes at a price. While most gaming machines offer some sort of digital-to-analog conversion (DAC) for their sound production, there’s always more audible fidelity to pump out of your games. For the best results, you’ll need a solid sound card. To get you acquainted with some of the best options, we list some of the best external DACs for gaming purposes.
Not all audio is equal. Some gamers might be fine with whatever comes out of their PC and/or gaming consoles, but others want their gaming audio to be a tad bit deeper. That’s exactly where sound cards come in, be it external or internal. For a few bucks, gaming DACs offer a richer soundscape, while also being less prone to electronic interference.
If you hear the integrated sound card on your motherboard ‘crackle’, or if you think the sound coming out of your high-end speaker set is muffled, a proper DAC can alleviate these problems.
Internal sound cards can be built into your gaming PC (if you have a spare PCI slot and knowledge), external models offer more flexibility. They are easier to use, often without an immediate dip in audio quality. Most external DACs are intended to be used with analog headsets, so keep in mind that high-end surround set-ups rarely benefit from these external conversion units.
What we look for in an external sound card, is mostly related to auditive quality. You’ll want something that churns out studio-grade audio, preferably on a compelling price point. Any additional ease-of-use is always welcome, as well as integrated EQ settings that might prove useful when gaming.
Our recommendations on external DACs isn’t definitive by any means. We cherry pick some great options, mostly because of their great price-to-performance ratio. If you’re looking for an external sound card that is great for gaming, these recommendations get you browsing in the right directions.
Audio brand Sennheiser recently rebranded their gaming division to EPOS. As such, some highly renowned products have found new names as well. The newly branded EPOS | Sennheiser GSX 1200 Pro has proven useful for many dedicated esport teams and athletes, and it might be a good fit for you too.
What sets the GSX 1200 Pro apart, is its myriad of game-oriented functions. With relative ease, you’ll be able to tweak game volume, microphone side-tone, high-end binaural audio upscaling and other EQ presets. All functions work out-of-the-box, without the need for any drivers or software.
For competitive teams, there’s even the option to daisy chain up to eight GSX 1200 Pro’s together. This audio chain will grant everyone in the squad access to a highly reliable team chat. If you want to feel, speak and hear like an esports athlete, this handy unit is a great way to start upgrading your set-up.
The EPOS | Sennheiser GSX 1200 Pro runs off a micro-USB connection and works solely with analog audio jacks. That includes two outputs (headphones and optional speakers), one microphone input, and two smaller ones for daisy chaining multiple units. The DAC tops out at 24 bit / 96kHz on stereo output, and 16 bit / 48kHz over the upscaled 7.1 audio.
If you were ever into internal sound cards, you know about the Sound Blaster brand from Creative. Although most gamers these days skip the internal audio solutions when building their PC, Creative is still “at it”. And when it comes to external audio products, they still make a mean DAC for gaming, as proven by the Creative Sound BlasterX G6.
Being the successor of the already solid Sound BlasterX G5, this model ups the ante when it comes to fidelity. This sturdy “brick” boasts oversampled audio at 32 bits / 384 kHz, at a range of 130dB — far higher than even some studio-grade solutions go. In addition, this external DAC also decodes Dolby Digital, and is able to upscale your audio to “Scout Mode” for additional spatial awareness.
It’s quite an impressive package, especially considering the supported platforms. The 384 kHz frequency can only be achieved on a Windows 10 system, but the device still performs well on other platforms, like PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch.
The Creative Sound Blaster X G6 pulls power through its micro-USB port. Audio can come in through either that same port, or a Line/Optical In. The DAC outputs its upgraded audio over 3.5 mm audio jack, as well as the optional Line/Optical Out. This external sound card is mostly meant to be used with an already solid headset, or headphones.
Take Sennheiser’s iconic GSX 1200 Pro, but make it console ready. That’s what you’ll get with ASTRO Gaming’s MixAmp Pro TR. This “Tournament Ready” DAC offers solid audio performance on either PlayStation or Xbox (both with PC compatibility as well), and adds some spiffy ease-of-use to it.
With highly enjoyable dials, gamers are able to tweak general volume, as well as tweak the game-to-voice balance. Added on top of that, this DAC decodes Dolby Digital, with multiple tweakable EQ modes, and some additional audio benefits through ASTRO Audio V2. Output is done over a 3.5 mm audio jack, which should replace the one on your controller.
The audio upscaling is not exactly “surround”, but it ensures your game sounds the best it can. The same goes for your microphone, if you want to record or stream gameplay over the handy amp. Fidelity-wise, the MixAmp Pro TR tops out at 16 bit sample rates, on a 48 kHz frequency.
ASTRO’s gaming DAC is powered over micro-USB, which can also pick up console and PC audio too. From there on out, there’s loads of possibilities when it comes to I/O wiring. Consoles will benefit most from the optical port on the rear, but there’s also ports for 3.5 mm aux and microphone jacks. For squad related set-ups, the MixAmp Pro TR comes with the optional daisy chaining as well.
A more minimalistic approach can be found within EPOS’s (and therefore Sennheiser’s) slick GSX 300, available in either black or white. This nifty little headphone amplifier offers your gaming PC an easy upgrade in sound quality.
The GSX 300 puts out 24 bit / 96 kHz sample rates for any headphones. Through the LED illuminated dial, users can control volume and opt for different EQ profiles. The proprietary EPOS Gaming Suite software offers some additional tweakability, while also opening up 7.1 surround sound upscaling. This mode will turn down sample rates to 16 bit / 48 kHz, however.
With its small form factor and gaming oriented software integration, the GSX 300 makes a strong case for an easy-to-use audio upgrade. The DAC will pull power and audio over a micro-USB connection, and offers separate 3.5 mm audio jacks for both headphones and microphone.
If you intend on taking live streaming seriously, you might want to consider an external sound card that will also pick up a microphone over XLR. These come in many different shapes and sizes, but Focusrite often offers a solid starting point. The Focusrite Scarlett Solo is an affordable yet solid option for any beginning streamers.
This DAC won’t come with any gaming oriented functions, but excels in its analog performance. The third generation Scarlett devices offer 24 bit / 192 kHz sample rates over USB-C, compatible with PC and Mac. Aside from its output, the Scarlett Solo also lets you record one 48V powered XLR microphone, and one additional ¼ inch source. Each has their own separate gain control, and can be monitored directly over the headphone output.
More experienced content creators may require additional features, but this package gets many starting streamers going. In turn, the focus on content creation means audio is picked up in the most neutral of ways. Don’t expect any Scarlett sound card to upscale your game sound to virtual 7.1, or amplify spatial awareness.
If you need a gaming oriented sound card for on the go, Creative has you covered with their Sound BlasterX G1. This USB dongle offers one simple 3.5mm audio jack for headphones, but still packs a punch when it comes to digital-to-analog conversion.
The Sound BlasterX G1 offers sample rates of up to 24 bit / 96 kHz. Out-of-the-box the dongle will convert any audio to a sort of 7.1 surround sound scape. Through the proprietary BlasterX Acoustic Engine (available on Windows), the sound can be tweaked to your likings further. Aside from that piece of software, there’s no physical way of controlling this sound card.
It’s not exactly the most luxurious of external DACs, but the G1 is adequate, considering its easy plug-and-play nature. Aside from basic compatibility on Windows and Mac, this DAC also works when plugged into a PlayStation 4.
And with that cute outlier, our top picks have come to an end. Whether you’re looking for an easy upgrade or an eSports-grade option, hopefully we touched on a sound card that caught your eye. Or rather, your ear.
We certainly hope our list of recommended external DACs for gaming was of any help to you. If there is anything you would like us to expand on, feel free to hit us up in the comments down below. The same goes for any great suggestions you want to tip your fellow gamers on. Let us know, and we might just expand on our list.