I like a lot the ESS cards, not only from nostalgic POV (my first PC soundcard back in 1996 was a Miss Melody with ESS 688 chipset). They are easy to configure, have excellent SB Pro compatibility and they really flex their muscles in games with native support for ESFM, which IMHO sounds better than OPL3. On second place in my preferences are Yamaha OPL3-SAx cards. I use one of these in my current DOS/Win98 build; for a very simple reason, it has the WT connector in the right place so I can connect a NEC XR385 wavetable, which is kinda large and cannot be used directly with a reduced height card (I am too lazy to build a ribbon connector).
Worthy mentions are some pieces in my big collection of soundcards, like:
Aztech 2320 (That card is really PnP, the only thing I had to do to get it work in DOS was the SET BLASTER line, had no need for drivers, I do not use it now because it has no WT header and my MIDI projects like building an external MIDI module around the NEC XR385 or using a Raspberry Pi as a host for FluidSynth have stalled);
Reveal SoundFX, decent card, kinda noisy.
Yamaha SW20-PC, my only card with OPL4 and sort of a rarity.
Gravis Ultrasound ACE, which 16 years ago worked in tandem with the SW20, for that time they gave me the best audio experience for ISA cards.
Honorable mentions for ALS 100+ and 120, if I remember correctly they sounded good and were SB16 compatible. I still have an 100+, when (or if) I finish my external MIDI module projects I will give it a spin.
I have several SB16 Vibra and AWE64 cards, and a SB32. Can't say I was impressed in any way by them.
Crystal 4235 cards are horrible, missing FM notes, clicks, sometimes skipping digital audio. 4237 are better;
CMI 8330: I had one onboard on an old M726 P II board from champions of sleaze PC Chips. Have one discrete card, again not impressed by it.
Voodoo box: Celeron 800 MHz, 512 Mb SDRAM, Voodoo 3 3000 AGP, 80 Gig Seagate, Yamaha OPL3 SAx 718+NEC XR 385, SoundBlaster Live!, NEC USB 2.0 PCI card.
WIP: external midi module based on NEC wavetable (Yamaha clone); VLB 486