Review: Sound BlasterX G6 External DAC/Amp for Gaming – Power for your ears
Creative’s Xamp goes mobile
While I’ve not had the pleasure of testing the previous portable DAC/Amp from Creative, the G5, I have spent quite a bit of time with the internal soundcard, the AE-5. That internal soundcard was the first to feature Creative’s Xamp custom discrete headphone amplifier which amplifies each audio channel separately, keeping audio fidelity while driving your headphones.
What Creative has done with the G6 is taken that Xamp headphone amplifier, fed it from the 32-bit 384kHz Cirrus Logic CS43131 DAC, and shrunk it into a portable casing. Oh, and a first for Creative – Dolby Digital decoding on a portable amp via the optical input.
That means you’re no longer bound by needing a PCI-e slot, so any device is now able to use the DAC/Amp. That’s all of your consoles, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, and your PS4 (where voice works). Knowing how odd consoles are with chat audio, it’s nice to see the PS4 is supported, even if the Xbox doesn’t get chat.
The physical volume knob feels good to turn and is weighty so even the most ham-fisted touch won’t blow your eardrums. The G6 has physical buttons for Scout Mode and SBX, so you can turn them off without the software. It also has a Low/High Gain switch depending on the impedance of your headphones: High is for 150 – 600 Ω (+14dB), Low Gain is for up to 149 Ω (+0dB).
With mini TOSLINK optical combo jacks for input and output, a micro USB for PC/Mac use and power, and 3.5mm jacks for headphones and microphone, the G6 has all the connectivity you can wish for. Creative includes a micro USB and mini TOSLINK cable in the package, so you can get started right away. Without an included power adapter or internal battery, you’ll need a USB power adapter to use it on some consoles. It would have been nice for Creative to include one since they don’t add much cost overall.
That’s perhaps nitpicking though, as lack of power adapter or internal battery are the only things I can find fault with. The sound is glorious, no matter what device the G6 is plugged into. When I reviewed the AE-5, I said that the discrete soundcard wasn’t dead. With Creative putting all of the best bits of the AE-5 into a portable package and improving on it – maybe it’s time for me to rescind that statement. If you can get the same sound across all your devices, isn’t that a better device?
You get all the usual Creative technologies for gaming audio too, Scout Mode to hear things like weapon changes and footsteps more clearly, accurate 7.1/5.1 positioning and a host of pre-configured profiles for different types of games in the software. Creative’s audio processor will take whatever audio streams it’s passed and virtualize them to your headphones. Yes, that means virtual surround sound on consoles, as well as on PC/Mac, assuming that the audio output is feeding surround and not stereo. Consoles need to use the optical in, and the PS4 can also give surround through USB. SBX also works on any device, with the physical button to enable/disable it. Once you’ve set an audio profile in the PC software, the G6 will keep that profile in memory so you get the benefits when moving to other devices.
Everything from music to movies to multiplayer is all enhanced significantly with the G6. That’s also independent of the headphones/speakers you’re using with it, so everything from a $20 set of IEMs to a $300 set of over-ears sounds better through the G6.
So, should I buy it?
If you’re a gamer that’s been using onboard sound til now, it’s worth checking out the G6. Your eardrums will thank you. The sound in your games will be richer, fuller and more natural sounding with better 3D positioning. Audiophiles will also find something special in the G6’s Xamp and DAC combo, with all the SBX processing turned off, your headphones will sing. Normally you’d need an internal soundcard or external DAC/AMP to do what the G6 can do – and then you’re limited to which devices you can pair with.
With the G6 you get an awesome sound that can move with you between devices, so look at the $150 price as an investment in future listening.
A sample unit was provided to KnowTechie for the purpose of this review.
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