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Review and Measurements of Sound BlasterX G6

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Sound BlasterX G6. I purchased it last month for USD $150 from Amazon including shipping.

Typical of PC audio connectivity devices, the Sound BlasterX G6 is a combo device which includes an audio DAC, ADC, and headphone amplifier. This being targeted towards gamers, there are a lot of specific features in that regard which I did not test. My focus here is the pure audio performance.

The Sound BlasterX G6 looks better in pictures than in person due to lightweight, plastic case:

Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 Review.jpg

No, there are no batteries. The unit is USB powered and I used photoshop to erase the USB cable. I hope those of you picking on my photography are happy! :)

The volume control is a rotary encoder so turns forever in either direction. There are no notches but overall feel/stiffness is not bad. I did however find that there was a lag between turning the dial and my Roon player registering the change.

As you see, the front panel has headphone out and microphone input. The back end has nice combo digital and analog 3.5mm jacks:

Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 back panel Review.jpg

Creative nicely includes the 3.5mm mini Toslink cable which was a good thing as I once again lost mine. :)

There are headphone gain button, one called SBX and the other "SCOUT" which if you hold down, causes an annoying blinking white LED to light up indicating you are bypassing all the effects.

As usual, there is a crapware called Sound Blaster Connect 2 to control the G6 from the PC. I found it attractive unlike most out there and functional in some cases such as selecting the digital audio filter type:
Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 Control 2 Review.png


There is also a nice mixer to control what is happening although it was hard to figure out at times.

Anyway, let's get into the measurements and see how the G6 performs.

DAC Measurements
I initially ran into lots of difficulty measuring the G6. Even though Windows and ASIO4ALL wrapper would recognize it, the latter could not send it any signal. Nothing would happen. I downloaded a driver package from Creative website but that didn't fix anything. I don't know if it installed an ASIO driver or I had one from testing previous Creative products. Selecting that gave me audio but horrendous results. Even simple things like frequency response were all over the place.

As a workaround I played my 1 kHz tone through Roon player to G6 which worked fine so I knew the problem was the ASIO driver:
Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 Line Out Audio Measurements.png


I must stay, I did not expect the results to be this good! Distortion products are kept to -120 dB so what we see in SINAD must be noise dominated.

As with the 1 kHz tone, I also played the J-test signal manually to get our jitter and noise response:

Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 Line Out Jitter Audio Measurements.png


It is not picture perfect and we have the clear signature of jitter in the symmetrical 4 and 20 kHz indicating that the jitter frequency is 8 kHz (12-8 = 8; 12+8 = 20). Levels are below 120 db.

Problem with manual testing like this is that I can't run the full suite of tests. Then it hit me that there was Toslink input so I used that for balance of my testing to good results:
Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 Line Out Toslink Audio Measurements.png


Toslink input is a bit cleaner than USB. What is even more interesting is that if I dialed down the level by 2 dBFS (digitally), SINAD would rocket up to 112 dB! That would drop the output voltage to below 2 volt so for the purposes of comparison, I used the full dB value in our SINAD chart:

Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 Line Out SINAD Audio Measurements.png


Creative sells its audio products seeming by signal to noise ratio, usually boasting unbelievable numbers. The G6 marketing material was no exception:
Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 Line Out Toslink Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


We are getting almost 120 dB here which is excellent so not sure why they play games to advertise 130 dB.

Frequency response was nice and flat:
Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 Line Out Frequency Response Audio Measurements.png


There is a lot to show in this review so I am omitting the usual filter response for now.

Linearity is nailed, absolutely nailed with flat and noise-free response:
Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 Line Out Toslink Linearity Audio Measurements.png


Unfortunately problem was waiting for us around the corner in the form of intermodulation distortion:

Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 Line Out Toslink Intermodulation distortion Audio Measurements.png


What is going on here? The G6 was doing exceptionally well, beating my reference Topping DX3 Pro but then it shoots up like crazy. We have not seen this before in any DAC. And how is it that we are seeing clipping behavior here but not in the Dashboard which is at full amplitude just the same? The clue is in THD+N versus frequency (the dashboard is at 1 kHz):

Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 Line Out Toslink THD vs Frequency Audio Measurements.png


Focus on the blue line first. Starting from right (higher frequencies) response is fine but the moment we get down to 300 Hz, distortion starts to shoot up and keeps getting worse and worse. By the time we get to 20 Hz, we are talking nearly 1% THD+N!!! A quick FFT (not shown) showed a spray of harmonic distortion at low frequencies. Dialing down the output by 2 dBFS completely fixed the issue.

The G6 is USB powered and likely doesn't have enough capacitance in its DC input to ride out the lasting peaks at low frequencies.

How did this get caught in the IMD test? It did because I use the SMPTE IMD test signal which consists of a pair of frequencies: 60 Hz and 7 kHz:

1552335127835.png


It was the 60 Hz tone that got severely distorted. In other words, the SMPTE signal not only shows intermodulation but also plain THD of low frequency tones. Those of you who advocate dual tone 20+21 kHz CCIF IMD would not have seen this benefit there. :)

Headphone Amplifier Measurements
Switching to headphone jack and measuring the power versus distortion using 300 ohm load we get this:

Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 Headphone Out 300 ohm Load Audio Measurements.png


Considering that the G6 is purely USB powered, the power ratings in high gain mode are quite respectable. While I like to see more than 100 milliwatts, 85 is almost there so I expect good subjective performance in listening tests.

Low gain mode doesn't do much here seeing how it just stops early. With a digital volume control, I don't expect to have channel balance issues either (sorry, forgot to run that test).

Switching to 33 ohm load, the emphasis on current delivery causes more issues:

Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 Headphone Out 33 ohm Load Audio Measurements.png


Power once again is respectable but now our THD+N has risen fair bit. This is all with 1 kHz tone so it is without the issues we saw in IMD test.

Output impedance is comfortably low:

Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 Headphone Out Output Impedance Audio Measurements.png


Headphone Listening Tests
As usual, I started with my Sennheiser HD-650 and found the experience quite good. Mind you, there is no sensation of infinite power and you would be operating near or at max volume. But what is there is dynamic which is an issue I find with lesser powered headphone amplifiers.

Switching to Hifiman HE-400i on one loud track, I thought I was hearing static which is the signal of clipping. There was plenty of volume although the sound did get bright towards the end.

Overall, a good passing grade for most people who are not as picky as I am. :)

ADC Audio Measurements
Usually I am too lazy to go this far into testing a budget product but somehow I mustered extra energy energy last night and this morning to test the Analog to Digital (ADC) of the G6. Here is the dashboard with Toslink capture:

Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 ADC Audio Measurements.png


I was pleased that feeding the G6 2 volt, resulted in 0 dBFS showing no overflow. Performance though is not all that great with SINAD in the high 70s. We have lots of distortion components together with mains leakage.

Realizing we don't have good frame of reference and killing two birds with one stone with people asking for ADC measurements of Behringer UMC204HD, here is its dashboard:

Behringer UMC204HD Balanced Input ADC Audio Measurements.png


I had trouble getting to 0 dBFS as the UMC204HD would severely distort there. Above is with 0.53 volts with analog gain controls set to minimum. Balanced input is used which nicely eliminates any hint of mains noise. And we are using USB interface that we like. SINAD performance though is not much better than Creative G6.

This is a good time to start our SINAD graph for ADCs:

Best ADC Distortion SINAD Ratings.png


Compared to high-end products, we are short some 40 dB! Definitely not splitting hairs here.

Hopefully over time we can fill out the table with bargain ADCs with excellent performance.

Conclusions
The Creative Labs BlasterX G6 delivers surprisingly good performance in this feature-filled package. It definitely erases my impression of them of shipping audio junk these days. This is all the more impressive given the USB powered nature of the device.

I am unhappy about lack of good ASIO support. This is listed on the website as supported but I could not find any ASIO drivers to download and what I have is badly, badly broken.

The ADC input is passable but don't look to it to provide transparency.

Overall for someone looking for a gaming sound card with good audio performance, they have it in Sound Blaster G6.

------------
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M00ndancer

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#4
I have problems recommending Creative products, mainly because of the software suite. It works good on some system and not at all on others. The old SB cards worked fine, but then they started to add tons of "features". Asus have similar problems. So I'm using a amp/dac that uses the included win10 drivers. The G6 have some great hardware though. Anyone know about any third party software like the one for Asus soundcards?
 

Veri

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#7
Does great for USB powered device. For a gaming product more than passing grade. Wish it was slightly more expensive with a proper power supply and top-tier performance since 112+dB seems possible, but this isn't exactly an audiophile product now is it :)

Pretty great chip from Cirrus Logic, shows AKM/ESS aren't the only "players".
 

amirm

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#9
Their internal sound card is even better and costs about the same.
If someone wants to buy the G6 from me, I can use the money to buy that one. :)
 

BYRTT

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#10
...There is a lot to show in this review so I am omitting the usual filter response for now..
About G6 is it okay ask for 32-tone test.

..somehow I mustered extra energy last night...
Thumbs up, enjoy a good day then.

...I had trouble getting to 0 dBFS as the UMC204HD would severely distort there. Above is with 0.53 volts with analog gain controls set to minimum. Balanced input is used which nicely eliminates any hint of mains noise. And we are using USB interface that we like. SINAD performance though is not much better than Creative G6...
Have seen info/tip at other site that for line level using non ballanced 1/4" TRS insert at the back of UMC204HD unit should get measureable distortion below noice floor compared to ballanced input at front of unit, now as far as i can see manual don't tell if its tip or ring that is input, all it tells is one is a 100 ohms send and one is a 10k ohms return, probably some mains noice spurs will climb in via this non ballanced line level input.
 

la2ygoo

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#11
About G6 is it okay ask for 32-tone test.



Thumbs up, enjoy a good day then.



Have seen info/tip at other site that for line level using non ballanced 1/4" TRS insert at the back of UMC204HD unit should get measureable distortion below noice floor compared to ballanced input at front of unit, now as far as i can see manual don't tell if its tip or ring that is input, all it tells is one is a 100 ohms send and one is a 10k ohms return, probably some mains noice spurs will climb in via this non ballanced line level input.
but in here , is not much noice ,mostly distortion
 
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#12
Amir, on the setting control panel, I saw the equalizer tab. Can you tell me how many bands there? Also can I uae the equalizer without PC (just optica in)?
 

bennetng

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#13
AE-5 uses ES9016 (8ch), datasheet claims -110dB THD+N and 124dB DNR.

G6 uses CS43131 (2ch), datasheet claims -115dB THD+N and 130dB DNR.

Specs aside, some gamers may need AE-5's 8ch feature and probably better latency with PCIE.

Don't know what the AE-9 will use. Probably a newer ESS chip and a better ADC with a breakout box. I guess they will also release a card-only version later. With that 6-pin PCIE power there should be no power bottleneck.
https://www.pcworld.com/article/332...igh-end-sound-blasterx-ae-9-breaks-cover.html
 

Veri

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#14
Amir, on the setting control panel, I saw the equalizer tab. Can you tell me how many bands there? Also can I uae the equalizer without PC (just optica in)?
I believe with these sound blaster devices you can set up the settings and it stays in "memory" afterwards (since you can use it with PS4/consoles too)
 

MZKM

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#16
What’s the Vrms when at -2dB (or let’s say -3dB to take care of intersample overs as well)?

By the time we get to 20 Hz, we are talking nearly 1% THD+N!!!
You know “studies” have shown that well over 80% THD+N is needed to be audible at 20Hz, correct? But yes, as a comparison against similarly priced products it falls very short in this metric.
 
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#17
Asio driver should come bundled with the driver package and installed automatically. One AE-5 though it seems somewhat broken at the moment at least on my system. Probably October Windows 10 update broke it since I can't get recording nor playback to work.

But anyway, this is interesting... AE-9 could actually be really interesting product since it's highly unlikely that it would perform worse.
 

M00ndancer

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#18
Probably October Windows 10 update broke it since I can't get recording nor playback to work.
That's also one of the complications we always have. Not easy to troubleshoot unless you have more than one system.
 

bennetng

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#19
Asio driver should come bundled with the driver package and installed automatically. One AE-5 though it seems somewhat broken at the moment at least on my system. Probably October Windows 10 update broke it since I can't get recording nor playback to work.

But anyway, this is interesting... AE-9 could actually be really interesting product since it's highly unlikely that it would perform worse.
My X-Fi Titanium HD PCIE is HD-Audio compliant, it works without installing additional driver.
https://www.creative.com/oem/products/chips/ca20k2.asp

However, if I don't install driver I can't use the optical I/O and lose hardware based Multiclient ASIO capability, direct monitoring, signal routing and so on. These are the very reasons I chose this card. The cheapest alternative at that time was RME HDSPe AIO which costs like 4x more expensive.

People who don't need other functionalities may just consider buying something without other functionalities, like the Khadas tone board and so on, but such products are not for me.
 
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#20
My X-Fi Titanium HD PCIE is HD-Audio compliant, it works without installing additional driver.
https://www.creative.com/oem/products/chips/ca20k2.asp

However, if I don't install driver I can't use the optical I/O and lose hardware based Multiclient ASIO capability, direct monitoring, signal routing and so on. These are the very reasons I chose this card. The cheapest alternative at that time was RME HDSPe AIO which costs like 4x more expensive.

People who don't need other functionalities may just consider buying something without other functionalities, like the Khadas tone board and so on, but such products are not for me.
In case of AE-5 only line out would work and it would be impossible to use the headphone out (and select gain). It will probably install something from Windows Update so that the line out would probably work properly (and volume control would use DAC instead of Windows so that it would work even when playing stuff in exclusive mode when using direct mode).

I used to have X-Fi Titanium and Forte (actually still do) but those really do need the drivers. Not sure if they will even perform properly without them.
 
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