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Budget USB Sound Card for Gaming/Recording

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

I hope I'm not falling into any newbie traps by making a post to ask a question too early, but I've been lurking through these forums for a little while following the death of my gaming headset. I couldn't find any threads that satisfied me on this particular issue, however. I was hoping I could get some pointers on getting a USB sound card of some decent quality - preferably one under $50.

A bit of background - I'm not an audiophile, but like most consumers of media, I do like good sound. I'm a gamer first and foremost: Music is great, but it comes second in most areas of my life. As such, I'm a bit of a basshead, particularly as I'm sort of a simulator buff - the whole experience loses something if the roar of a Merlin engine sounds tinny and flat instead of throaty and powerful, and the usual cacophony of explosions and gunfire is likewise far more impressive with some depth to it. (I'll say nothing of music; the advantages there are obvious.) 


Going by the advice I saw on this forum, I went with the M-Audio Q40s for my headphones, and a Zalman ZM Mic1 for all my Skyping and voice chatting needs. I was told the Q40s didn't really require amplification, and as someone who works a minimum wage job I'm on a tight budget, so I elected to just see if my onboard audio would perform adequately. The headphones arrived first, and to my satisfaction, save for an almost-inaudible buzz in headphones that I can't really hear even when the room is quiet, they do indeed sound fantastic. 

The mic is another story. Now, I've seen tests on Youtube of people wearing this thing a full twelve inches from their faces, attaching it to collars or headphone cables, and speaking clearly without a massive amount of static behind them, but I can't get it to do anything like. It's nearly inaudible even if I boost the volume as high as it will go, and while adding a +30db boost to it makes my voice almost loud enough to listen to comfortably, it makes an awful static background unacceptably loud. It's not actual background noise; I can cover the mic and it makes no difference at all in pitch or volume. The noise cancelling feature sort-of worked, but distorted my voice and made me sound like a robot.

On a hunch, I tried plugging it into my laptop, and it sounded much better in spite of that little thing being horribly grounded and having awful static in the headphones. My voice was clear and while the static was present, it was much, much quieter. So, it's without question an issue related to the onboard sound on my computer. I think I can reasonably rule out a software issue, as it sounded just fine on my laptop with the boost off and levels turned down to around 25. I've done some research on grounding, but I doubt that's the issue in my case.


I'd like to stay away from an internal sound card, as from what I understand the sort of electrical interference that causes the static in recording and headphones is a greater factor with them than it is with the more isolated USB interface. As I game and value surround sound, I need something capable of that, as well. Essentially, I just need something without static and capable of producing decent sound. I've heard good things about the ASUS Xonar U3, but most of them were music-related and none mentioned how it played with analog microphones. 

A little guidance, perhaps?

post #2 of 6
Originally Posted by hiddengecko View PostI'd like to stay away from an internal sound card, as from what I understand the sort of electrical interference that causes the static in recording and headphones is a greater factor with them than it is with the more isolated USB interface.


Do note that, if you are using an internal sound card, this static noise is (in my experience) less then the static noise produced by the motherboard-integrated soundcard. This static noise is the almost inaudible buzz that you only hear when it's really quiet. As such, I don't think you will find an internal sound card to be such a big problem.


A much, much bigger issue is whether or not you actually have enough expansion slots in your case to install an PCI or PCI-express card. For me, this was an issue when I had to switch motherboards: My Xonar DG became unusable because in the new configuartion, the only way to use it was by blocking half of my video card's fan, which then began producing noises so loud that it ruined the whole point of having a sound card in the first place :P.


And that's the thing really. Because your budget is rather low, you have few options: The Xonar U3, the Creative Go, and the Creative Go Pro (and I can't attest for the quality of any of them). However, if you open up to internal sound cards, you get quite a few more options, including second hand X-Fi's, and the Asus Xonar series.

Edited by MoerasGrizzly - 5/14/14 at 8:51am
post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 

I have a pretty massive graphics card that kind of blocks most PCI peripherals, as most of them will end up placed too close to the heatsink fans. I overclock, and I live in a desert, so anything that negatively impacts the cooling efficiency of my computer is something I'd like to avoid. Besides that, it would be nice if I could transfer the sound card to my laptop when I travel, so I don't have to endure the sounds of my CPU somehow bleeding into the audio line.

I've heard the ASUS sounds good from some folks on this forum, but I haven't heard much about its mic jack and how well it works. I've heard the Creative cards sound good from some people outside this forum, but here people appear to think it sounds bad.

post #4 of 6

I'm inclined to just give you this recommendation.   http://www.amazon.com/Xonar-DGX-PCI-E-GX2-5-Engine/dp/B007TMZ1BK/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1400197044&sr=1-1&keywords=ASUS+XONAR+DG+pcie


However you could tell us a little more about your PC specs, and we could take a look at the motherboard lay-out,  then we can give better advice. :D



I was in quite a pickle choosing my motherboard a few months back when I was upgrading coz I currently use an old X-Fi xtrememusic PCI soundcard, I wanted the Asrock Z77 Extreme4 and I had 2 GTX680s and wanted the SLI config and the only unblocked PCI slot was between the 2 GPU cards,  I was afraid that this would be an issue with heat and ofcourse sound.


I did it anyway just to try,  and to my pleasant surprise it worked quite well, the 1st GPU with the fan blocked was usually only 2 degrees Celsius hotter,  and FYI it is mostly 38deg Celsius 98deg Fahrenheit where I am.  there were no sound issues and I was Gaming and Listening to music wonderfully,  Although it could be different with your setup.


I do not game with headphones though, I have a Logitech Z-5300e with the satellites replaced with bookshelf speakers by Polk audio and Wharfedale, my center channel is also from Polk.



Bottomline is, if you have only 1 gpu, just place the soundcard to the farthest slot and be done with it, and if you suffer from interference you can always make an EMI shield for the soundcard.


See here: http://www.overclock.net/t/571718/how-to-make-emi-shielding-for-your-sound-card


I'm also a hybrid gamer and hifi audio enthusiast, never upgraded my soundcard, still lovin it.


Take my quote with a grain of salt.  "Internal Soundcards are for gamers, USB Audio/DACs are primarily for stereo music".


since you said you lean more on the gaming side, I suggest PCI-e Soundcards,  now if your budget allows for more, I could suggest an even better gaming soundcard. :D

post #5 of 6
Thread Starter 

I have an Asrock Z75 Pro3 Motherboard with an Intel i5 3570k, 8GB of DDR3/16000 RAM, and an Nvidia GTX 780 OC edition all powered by a Corsair Professional Series HX 750 modular PSU. I have three 7200 RPM SATA drives of varying sizes, and a 250GB Samsung SSD. I do indeed have room for a sound card, but I elected to go with an external one in part because it's more likely to avoid any EMI issues, but also because I can use it with my laptop, which has intolerably awful sound. 

Yeah, I was avoiding a normal DAC because from what I've seen they cost far too much for what they do, and are incapable of managing positional audio for games and such - which is far more important to me than making music sound a minuscule amount better. The Xonar U3 apparently has quite similar technology to the Xonar DG, though I've heard from a couple people that the Xonar DG sounds slightly better.

Perhaps regrettably, I already ordered it; I wanted to get the replacement before the weekend. If it doesn't work for me, I suppose I could just leave it with my laptop and get an internal card for my PC, but I don't think it'll be necessary. I want it to sound better than my crappy Realtek onboard sound, and  also have a microphone jack that actually works. I also wanted to avoid any coloring of audio, or paying for something that didn't work well - like the X-Fi Go! Pro, which is apparently a rather poor sound card.

post #6 of 6

Not a bad choice at all if the U3 does what it says. :D  tell me about it as soon as you test. :D

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