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Review and Measurements of Sound BlasterX G6

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#22
Looking at the whole SINAD chart (which as most of you know goes against everything I hold dear...:) ), in terms of price vs performance and features, I think this is actually at the very top of the chart, particularly when you consider that it will be over 112dB in most normal usage situations, and includes a very good headphone amp. While the IMD rise is moderately disappointing from a technical perspective, this seems to happen only at high levels that will rarely be seen in normal use, and is strictly THD related at frequencies where increases in THD are generally inaudible.

It also seems likely that something may have gone wrong with the high powered headphone output. I am not sure what. RAA / iXBT Labs measured it flattening out at .003% THD+N, and their measurements and those elsewhere generally tend to match up very well. They also had some initial issues trying to get ASIO to work (hence their feeding it with a cellphone), but finally ironed it out somehow. Perhaps the issue at high gain is somehow related.

What this review doesn't entirely capture (and I wouldn't expect it to since features are rarely discussed--most DACs/headphone amplifiers have almost none), is that the bundled driver software and features are exemplary for those who just want something that plugs in, and is easy to use with useful features. This is not true of the competing Chinese products or standalone DACs, which generally do not have custom software interfaces. The driver software is necessary to control the SBaxx1 processor. Creative has spent millions of dollars over the years to develop a chip that offers functionality that the niche competition cannot match. Reviews elsewhere capture all of the other things that this product can do, and they are worth seeking out.

In particular for headphones, Creative has HRTF software built into the product, and it works very well. I normally find headphone listening somewhat fatiguing and irritating after a long period of time. I do not care for the shrunken soundstage wedged completely between my ears, even with good open back headphones. Drumkits just get smeared across the whole mess. Voices are coming from right between my ears. I open up SBX Pro Studio, click the "surround" button (which is the HRTF processor), and all is well. The drumkit goes where it is supposed to, and the rest of the instruments take their places. On some songs, it does not work quite as well, but overall, it's worth it. Turn it back off, and everything just collapses into a boring mess. There is some program I experimented with that tried to do this by applying similar filters through the Windows volume control. Comparatively, it is nowhere near as good. There are also some HRTF features built in into Windows 10, or the separate Dolby software you can purchase (through Windows). For me, Creative's solution works better than all of these, too. An "audiophile" product that did what this does would likely charges hundreds extra for the privilege, if not more, and headphone geeks would be raving about it.

While this probably isn't the product for people who prefer a more "raw" DAC, it is perfect for those who just want something that they can just plug in using USB and be assured it will work properly using the Windows volume control, and do just about anything they need in a USB audioface. And it just might make your headphones sound much better, too. And did I mention the exemplary bass boost? Perfectly tailored, also. All things considered, for $150 I don't think there is any other product that can touch the G6, or its moderately more expensive big brother the X7, which includes a 1W headphone amp (but otherwise will not measure as well on the DAC).

Personally, I can't imagine replacing my Creative X7 at the office with anything else, since it would not have the SBX magic button. At home, I'm going to have to buy a Creative G6 or Super X-Fi just to get that magic button. The magic button is purely subjective, though, so your mileage may vary.
 
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#23
They do but I'm not positive that they necessarily work as well as they should.

Also AE-5 also need the Sound Blaster Connect 2 in order to get the direct mode to work. But anyway, I've actually been really happy with it compared to X-Fi Titanium, Forte and Zx. I do find even the lowest gain too powerful for my taste though so I'll use O2 as an amp so that I get some proper analogue volume control. Line out at 30% give acceptable range (I'll keep O2 around 10'o clock). When using HD 6XX that is. If I plug in them directly to AE-5 I could only use something like 12% and low gain. At that point even 1% change is really significant. I can't even thing who could use high or even normal gain... Then again I do have rather sensitive ears to loud sounds.

According to wikipedia AE-5 has "1W output power and low output impedance of 1 Ohm so it can provide high damping factor for virtually any dynamic headphone". I wonder where someone pulled that info from (1W output power) but it does have quite a bit of oomph.
 

bennetng

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#24
hey do but I'm not positive that they necessarily work as well as they should.
Right. Driver is required to access the full feature set. Otherwise it is just a barebone DAC/ADC. @ryanmh1 expressed some of my thoughts.

What this review doesn't entirely capture (and I wouldn't expect it to since features are rarely discussed--most DACs/headphone amplifiers have almost none), is that the bundled driver software and features are exemplary for those who just want something that plugs in, and is easy to use with useful features. This is not true of the competing Chinese products or standalone DACs, which generally do not have custom software interfaces. The driver software is necessary to control the SBaxx1 processor. Creative has spent millions of dollars over the years to develop a chip that offers functionality that the niche competition cannot match. Reviews elsewhere capture all of the other things that this product can do, and they are worth seeking out.
Good point. They made their own processors and driver is required to access the additional features.

My Titanium HD uses the older CA20k2 chip, and driver is required to access the additional features as well. Without driver it is just an HD Audio interface with line in/out. It can still use WASAPI, one could also install ASIO4all to get emulated ASIO but that would not be multiclient. At this point it is not so different from some random driverless USB DACs. It uses PCM1794 so DSD is unavailable anyway.

On the other hand I won't blame Amir for not testing other features. AP and technical knowledge in audio are his main weapons and he tried his best to deliver the reviews to readers. If people need to know other features they can visit other websites and forums to get a more complete picture of a product's features, driver compatibility, bugs, annoyances and so on.

The additional features may not be other people's cup of tea. If it is the case just buy a Khadas tone board.
 
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#25
@amirm By the way, have you tested how much "damage" the non-direct mode (but all processing off and stereo speaker setup) cause over the direct mode?

Somewhat annoyingly when using the non-direct mode the AE-5 at least changes back to 5.1 speaker setup mode after each boot which is a tad annoying (since I don't want it to do extra processing for stereo signal, I always manually select stereo speakers). I do sometimes use the smart volume when watching some stuff (to prevent ads from shouting etc.) DSP effect obviously will not work in direct mode though.
 

amirm

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#26
About G6 is it okay ask for 32-tone test.
I can't run it because it is configured for 192 kHz and the Toslink input doesn't go up that high.
 

amirm

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#27
Asio driver should come bundled with the driver package and installed automatically.
In that case, there are serious issues with their support of ASIO. Here is the dashboard at 0 dBFS with Creative's ASIO interface:

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


As you see, it is massively clipping at 0dBFS. You don't get a sine wave until you go down to -11 dBFS on the source. Lowering the volume control doesn't help (I have done that above to get 2 volt).

Even simple things like frequency response and the phase between channels is screwed up:

Creative Labs Sound BlasterX G6 Line Out Frequency Response ASIO Audio Measurements.png


Absolutely do NOT use ASIO with the G6.
 

amirm

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#28
@amirm By the way, have you tested how much "damage" the non-direct mode (but all processing off and stereo speaker setup) cause over the direct mode?
I just tested the dashboard with and without direct mode and it makes no difference. But this is after me turning off all the effects. Turning the Crystalizer on which defaults to 50%, took a 3 dB hit in SINAD.

Overall they seem have done a good job of keeping the pipeline clean when features are turned off in my limited testing.
 

amirm

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#29
I open up SBX Pro Studio, click the "surround" button (which is the HRTF processor), and all is well. The drumkit goes where it is supposed to, and the rest of the instruments take their places. On some songs, it does not work quite as well, but overall, it's worth it. Turn it back off, and everything just collapses into a boring mess.
I just went through my reference quality playlist which has tons of different styles of music and what you describe doesn't match my experience at all. First, it doesn't take much out of your "head." That headphone sound remains which in some sense is good because it is not trying too hard.

The most problematic thing I find with it is that it causes the sound to become brighter. This is a problem with many of these processors. At first, this seems to give a sense of space but it quickly wears thin on me. If the vocals have any lisping, it makes them much worse.

On some vocals, the effect is darn weird. In one case the female singer's voice became more recessed and just wrong sounding.

As for placing instruments, it does change them but not for the better. Many tracks are artificially mixed to have something in the left or right channel. SBX processing moves that around and just makes it unnatural.

As I am typing this I am listening to Eva Cassidy's Aint' Doin Too Bad. Activating SBX makes the whole tone flat and high-pitched sounding, removing the warm bass that is normally there. And it does nothing useful spatially. No way would I prefer the SBX version.

I switched to the next track, Ain't No Sunshine and the vocals become very muffled when I turn on SBX. The effect here is entirely negative.

Contrary to what you say, the SBX processing would make me grow tired very quickly due to this thinning of the sound.

Again, I can understand the initial appeal of turning SBX on. And the fact that Creating didn't go all crazy here with what it does. But as with any effect, it is easy to grow tired of it.
 

Veri

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#30
In that case, there are serious issues with their support of ASIO. Here is the dashboard at 0 dBFS with Creative's ASIO interface:

View attachment 23462

As you see, it is massively clipping at 0dBFS. You don't get a sine wave until you go down to -11 dBFS on the source. Lowering the volume control doesn't help (I have done that above to get 2 volt).

Even simple things like frequency response and the phase between channels is screwed up:

View attachment 23463

Absolutely do NOT use ASIO with the G6.
Wow that 28% distortion is one nightmare graph :)
 
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#33
Again, I can understand the initial appeal of turning SBX on. And the fact that Creating didn't go all crazy here with what it does. But as with any effect, it is easy to grow tired of it.
For someone who likes the sound of headphones, any sort of HRTF is probably terrible. :) It's a matter of taste. But I have never found headphones to sound even remotely natural, and for me, this helps. Unfortunately, a HRTF that isn't specifically tailored for the user will work better for some than others. I would agree that it can make the sound somewhat brighter, and the vocals more diffuse. I'm eager to try Creative's Super X-Fi and see how much it improves on things.

I also wonder if some of the minor measurement issues weren't due to the Toslink interface or some other interface issue. For some reason, that IMD rise at low frequencies did not seem to show up in RAA's 4:1 test at 0dBFS. Odd. Their multitone was shockingly clean though. I am very impressed by the work Creative did on the DAC here. Both sets of public measurements to date are exemplary.
 
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#34
I just tested the dashboard with and without direct mode and it makes no difference. But this is after me turning off all the effects. Turning the Crystalizer on which defaults to 50%, took a 3 dB hit in SINAD.

Overall they seem have done a good job of keeping the pipeline clean when features are turned off in my limited testing.
That's good to know.
 
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#35
I just went through my reference quality playlist which has tons of different styles of music and what you describe doesn't match my experience at all. First, it doesn't take much out of your "head." That headphone sound remains which in some sense is good because it is not trying too hard.

The most problematic thing I find with it is that it causes the sound to become brighter. This is a problem with many of these processors. At first, this seems to give a sense of space but it quickly wears thin on me. If the vocals have any lisping, it makes them much worse.

On some vocals, the effect is darn weird. In one case the female singer's voice became more recessed and just wrong sounding.

As for placing instruments, it does change them but not for the better. Many tracks are artificially mixed to have something in the left or right channel. SBX processing moves that around and just makes it unnatural.

As I am typing this I am listening to Eva Cassidy's Aint' Doin Too Bad. Activating SBX makes the whole tone flat and high-pitched sounding, removing the warm bass that is normally there. And it does nothing useful spatially. No way would I prefer the SBX version.

I switched to the next track, Ain't No Sunshine and the vocals become very muffled when I turn on SBX. The effect here is entirely negative.

Contrary to what you say, the SBX processing would make me grow tired very quickly due to this thinning of the sound.

Again, I can understand the initial appeal of turning SBX on. And the fact that Creating didn't go all crazy here with what it does. But as with any effect, it is easy to grow tired of it.
Personally I've always found the virtual 5.1 or 7.1 stereo binaural simulation lacking and SBX is not exception. Can be acceptable in certain games but obviously disastrous for stereo content and doesn't seem to work that well in movies either.

However, what does work well is virtual HRTF in OpenAL games or old games when using Alchemy (that being said, in those cases SBX should be off...). The situation is a bit different there though since one is not limited to just certain audio channels. Even height simulation is there.

Sound quite nice and immersive:

In that case, there are serious issues with their support of ASIO. Here is the dashboard at 0 dBFS with Creative's ASIO interface:

View attachment 23462

As you see, it is massively clipping at 0dBFS. You don't get a sine wave until you go down to -11 dBFS on the source. Lowering the volume control doesn't help (I have done that above to get 2 volt).

Even simple things like frequency response and the phase between channels is screwed up:

View attachment 23463

Absolutely do NOT use ASIO with the G6.
I remember when I did some RMAA test last year, the ASIO out bugged at one point where it looked like it produced maximum (and didn't sound right) volume at 50% and some other random weirdness. Had to reboot in order to get it working again. Currently I can't get ASIO to work at all on my AE-5. Driver reinstall might fix it (or not) but in any case Creative's ASIO driver for their current products is in rather questionable form. Though, the target audience is gamers so maybe they haven't bothered but when they do launch the AE-9, it better work flawlessly.
 
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#36
Personally I've always found the virtual 5.1 or 7.1 stereo binaural simulation lacking and SBX is not exception. Can be acceptable in certain games but obviously disastrous for stereo content and doesn't seem to work that well in movies either.
On stereo content, it does not go too crazy trying to turn it into a multichannel mix, so far as I can tell, although I've never turned it all the way up. I usually keep it around the 30% level. At that setting, it simply acts as a stereo HRTF, I did try a variety of convolution filters using HeSuVi at one point, and found that most of them screwed up the audio to an unacceptable level. Creative's doesn't do that. What it does do is get rid of the sense that sound is being relentlessly funnelled into my ears. Does it create an accurate soundstage 10 feet out in front of me? No. The closest they ever came to saying what it does is that it uses a combination of "HRTF filters, environmental early reflections and ambience extraction". If you do a patent search on some of those terms, you will see that Creative holds more than a few of them, and that the engineers who developed their stuff also have worked for companies like Sennheiser and Apple on audio DSP algorithms. This wasn't just Creative tossing in some half-baked crap they developed on the cheap.

Their Crystalizer is also sort of interesting too. You might think it's just an EQ filter, but it isn't. It's a dynamic range expander that is supposed to help restore bad mastering, if you dig through the patent nonsense. How it works, exactly? Again, light on details, and I haven't played around with it much. One thing it doesn't do is function as a proper declipper. I just put on Metallica's Death Magnetic--an atrociously mastered disaster--but the awful clipping is still there, mostly. Something like Stereotool's Perfect Declipper will transform this album, but this doesn't. Guess you can't get everything for $150. Oh, well.

Still, they've spent tens of millions in R&D time on this stuff for decades, and even if the DSP options are not for everyone, well, at least they are there if you want them.
 
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#37
Was there a Jitter test done without USB? I wonder if the Toslink would clean that up a bit.

I am also curious to see the -2dbFS results because this is how we'd probably use the product, given the horrendous low-frequency distortion.
 

amirm

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#38
Was there a Jitter test done without USB? I wonder if the Toslink would clean that up a bit.
I have become a mind reader knowing someone would ask for this so yes, I ran it. :)

1552445633752.png


There is a reduction in the tallest jitter spikes but some remains since the device is ultimately USB powered.
 

la2ygoo

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#39
I have become a mind reader knowing someone would ask for this so yes, I ran it. :)

There is a reduction in the tallest jitter spikes but some remains since the device is ultimately USB powered.
Plz Jitter test musiland mu2 plus , musiland say mu2 plus's jitter is 2ps , ultra low.
 

amirm

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#40
Plz Jitter test musiland mu2 plus , musiland say mu2 plus's jitter is 2ps , ultra low.
They have been returned to their owner already. That number is useless marketing thing anyway. So just ignore it. With jitter, you always want to see the graph as I post it.
 
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