Which external sound card should I get?

When I listen to music on my laptop, there's a rather annoying background fuzzy sound. I initially thought it was the headphones (Sennheiser HD 280 Pro), but there is no fuzz when I listen to the same mp3s on my iPod or on other computers. So it's definitely my computer. I tried changing the various settings (Windows audio settings, SmartAudio's settings, iTunes settings, ...), and I tried listening to the mp3s with other programs on my computer (Windows Media Player, VLC, QuickTime, ...) So I'm guessing the laptop's built-in sound card is just crappy (it's an Conexant 20561 SmartAudio HD).

So I have three questions:

1) Is there any other potential cause of this other than a crappy sound card? I should mention that this happens with all my mp3s, some of which are encoded at 256kbps or 320kbps, so it's not an issue with the mp3. And as I mentioned above, there is no fuzz when listening to the same mp3s on my iPod or on other computers with the same headphones.

2) Will getting an external sound card likely fix the problem?

3) If so, which one should I get? I am not a DJ so I don't need any fancy features or anything. I just want to get rid of the fuzzy background sound. I looked on various forums and reviews, but most of the people who post there are either DJ's who have completely different needs in a sound card, or audiophiles who wouldn't bat an eye at spending hundreds of dollars on a sound card (not that there's anything wrong with that per se, just I am not one of them). Two I found that weren't ridiculously expensive but looked good were Creative's "Sound Blaster X-Fi Notebook" and Creative's "Sound Blaster X-Fi Go!". The prices on Amazon are $45-$50 for the first, and $40-$45 for the second (I haven't looked at other places yet). I have no need for the wireless sound part of the first one, so if that's really the main advantage of that one, then the second makes more sense. I'd also be open to other suggestions for external sound cards if anyone has any...

There are also much cheaper usb sound cards (like in the $5-$15 range), but I'm guessing those have poor sound quality. Is that a correct assessment?

8 answers Last reply
More about which external sound card
  1. if u want an external sound card, then try the ASUS xonar U1
  2. Most external soundcards do little more then offer a AC97 connection through the USB audio hub; I'm not a big fan of them.

    You could give the ASUS Xonar U1 a try, but I really don't know if you'll get any improvement...
  3. well im only suggesting this, cos its cheap and i think will solve his noise prob.
  4. Its worth a shot; at the very least, it will bypass his onboard audio device.
  5. $110 is too expensive in my opinion. I went with Creative's Sound Blaster X-Fi Go! sound card (only $35 from Dell). It sounds amazing - no fuzzy sound in the background anymore. I'd recommend it to anyone with a laptop who's sound card picks up distortion.
  6. m8 its like £40....
  7. That's weird. When I searched for "ASUS Xonar U1" on Google last week when you first suggested it, I only found it on like 2 websites and it was $110. Now it is around $70 on those same websites...
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