Product Name: Sound BlasterX G6
Website: Get it Here!
Was this a gift for purpose of a review? No, Personal Purchase
Cost: $149.99 USD
As gamers we want the best experience while playing games. Whether it’s on PC, console, or shall I dare say it, mobile. We are willing to put a lot of our hard-earned money on the best GPU, keyboard and monitor. Our eyes and hands are delighted cause of it. But when it comes to audio, do we shaft ourselves? Does our audio lag behind our visuals in terms of quality and experience?
Sure, we get good headsets and/or speakers. But what about what is driving that sound? Typically, a gamer, whether building their own or buying a pre-built, overlooks the sound card. For the last few years, motherboard manufactures have been improving on-board audio. They even provide decent software so you can it ‘tweak’ to your liking. And for the most part, we like it. But is it enough? Are we allowing this ‘standard’ practice to take away the full experience of gaming? This is what we are going to find out.
I am not an audiophile by any means. There is a lot of technical terms thrown out there for audio that I do not understand. However, I trust my ears. I’ve heard high end sound systems that professional audio companies use to the lowest of the low Bluetooth speakers found in the clearance bin at your local gas station. Once your ears get accustomed to good sound, you lust for it.
What options do gamers have to improve the audio they already have? If you already own a good headset, like the Astro A40 TR that I own, you can get an internal or external Digital to Analog Converter (aka DAC). And yes, your motherboard comes with it’s own DAC. However, an aftermarket unit, like the Sound BlasterX G6 I am reviewing here, takes it to a whole other level. Or does it?
Digital to Analog Converter (DAC)
I did some research on getting an external DAC for my computer. There is a lot of them, from many brands. High end to low end. Just under $50 to a lot of money. Astro even offers a mix amp for the A40 but it’s lack of availability had me searching for a different unit. Since my priorities were for gaming, I had to find one that would allow me to connect a microphone. Most DAC’s are catered to audiophiles where it’s meant to connect to headphones or speakers. Microphones are usually omitted. Companies that add a microphone feature usually label it for gaming.
Full disclosure: Like I stated above, I am not an audiophile. The purpose of this review is to help others like me to see if getting a DAC is worth getting for their gaming setup. Is it worth the setup time to tweak the audio settings to your liking? Does it work out of the box? Basically, this is an average consumer review of the Sound BlasterX G6.
I am not going to go over most of the specs of the unit in this review. The specs can be found at Sound Blasters website. And there is plenty of technical reviews going over it. There are also plenty of audiophile users that post great info for you to get deeper information on certain specs. I’m just going to go over the experience of this DAC. While the G6 works on consoles and phones, I will only be using it on the PC, which is the focus of this review.
The G6 is an external device that is hooked up via USB. It is 4.31” long by 2.5” wide by 0.88” thick. It’s small but not tiny. It does have smooth rubber padding on the bottom that seems to be more of a protection for it and your desk than for anti-slip. There is a volume knob in the front/middle with an audio out on the left and microphone in on the right. The rear houses the micro USB connection (USB cable included). There is also an optical line in and optical line out. One cable is included for that. I used the USB connection to my PC.
On the right side of the device, there is buttons for ‘Scout Mode’, SBX button which turns the Sound Blaster custom processing on and off. There is also a high and low gain switch. This allows you to make some quick changes without having to go into the software. The volume knob is very smooth and has the right amount of resistance, so you don’t accidentally raise or lower the volume too much. The volume knob is also has a back light so you can find it in low light conditions. And by pressing on the volume knob, it will change the color to red and convert it to your mic volume.
To take full advantage of the sound card with the PC, you will need to download the Sound Blaster Connect software. This is where things can get interesting.
The software is where all the settings can be adjusted. You can fine tune just about anything, even the microphone. There are preset equalizers for music (by music type) and gaming (by a specific game or game type). The software comes with some custom ‘BlasterX Experience’ settings tuned by it’s own engineers. Popular games like ‘Call of Duty’, ‘Counter Strike’ and even ‘The Witcher 3’. And if your game isn’t listed, you can select a generic version (like FPS and Driving Simulation) of it and tweak it to your liking from there. You can create multiple personal settings for specific games and programs.
The software can seem a little overwhelming at first. With so many settings, you’re not sure where to begin. The presets help. I would start with the generic preset and leave it or even adjust a few settings. The one thing that helped me to get started was having all the processing turned off. Sound Blaster calls this the ‘Direct Mode’. This is your headset amplified with the DAC with no processing. By doing this, it will give you the neutral sound of your headset. You can figure out what you like and do not like with the sound profile and adjust it or play with the presets. My headset did sound different if not a bit better with the neutral DAC compared to my on-board audio on my computer. The over saturated sound was gone, and sound was clearer and more crisp. Could use a little more treble for my taste but I was shocked how different it sounded without the aid of processing.
Tweaking takes time, however. It is a little hard playing a multiplayer match and alt-tabbing out to make adjustments in between deaths. Even single player games can get annoying as it seems you’re constantly switching or trying something to get it just right. Patients is the key here. But does it pay off?
That’s a hard question to answer. If you’re used to a fully boosted audio, meaning over boosted bass and saturated sound, you’re not going to understand why it initially sounds ‘flat’. Gun shots and explosions in BFV with the FPS preset for example, no longer had a deep bang and impact sound it once had with your old sound card. You can certainly tune it to that but the sound card’s presets trade the over boosted sounds for clarity. The preset adds what a I call a focus clarity to the sound. You hear sounds in the game you didn’t even know it had. The foot-steps and gun shots of your enemies, all sound different than before. It’s purpose is to tell you where those sounds are coming from and how far they could be. It’s an odd experience that can be either exciting and immersive or completely off putting. If you’re willing to train your ears and adapt to the changes, it can be the former.
Things get even more interesting when you turn on ‘Scout Mode’. This enhances the focus on certain sounds around you. Nearby footsteps and voices are clearer. The ‘Scout Mode’ is probably terrifying on horror games. It would even help with games like ‘Alien: Isolation’. ‘Call of Duty: Warzone’ is another game where this setting can be helpful. But during extreme fighting scenarios like Battlefield can create, ‘Scout Mode’ can be a little too much to handle.
For me, FPS and driving games excel with this DAC. It enhances the sounds where it counts and is needed. Once you get used to the changes, it can even help you and make the game even more immersive. Games like Diablo 3, the sound enhancements make less sense. I usually left it in ‘Direct Mode’ as changing anything didn’t make the sound any better, at least make the experience better.
During my time with the G6, I didn’t have to tune my microphone. I left the settings at default and no one even noticed that I sounded different. Either good or bad. I see this as a good thing and probably says a lot on the quality of the mic on my A40. The G6 does have ‘Morph’ settings. This gives you the ability to change your voice from chipmunk to a demon. So you could have fun with your friends for maybe 5 minutes by messing with them. Not sure where else this could be helpful.
For those that care, there is some RGB lighting. The ‘X’ on top of the unit has RGB effects. So if you have a setup already on your desk, the G6 will accommodate it.
As of this writing, the G6 goes for $149.99. The number of features and it’s performance seems to be on par with it’s competitors. Many for this price don’t come with the microphone connection or full-fledged software. It’s specs also seem high for it’s price point.
But does it make sense for a casual gamer with a decent headset to upgrade to an external DAC like the G6? There are various factors to consider. First, your headset. Will your headset take advantage of a DAC enough to justify it? Does your current sound card provide enough output for it? Second, your ears. Are you satisfied with your current sound? That’s a trick question, cause this DAC creates sounds you didn’t know you needed in games. But the biggest issue is are you willing to adapt to the change of sound. This is not as linear improvement as a GPU upgrade can give. It can be as noticeable, but it requires tweaking by the user and patients to get there. If you are willing to give it the effort, it will pay off in the end.
Sound quality and enhancement
Many presets included
Sound settings can be overwhelming for beginners
Expensive for budget gamers