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Purchased Creative G6 External DAC/Amp

Discussion in 'Soundcards, Speakers HiFI & File formats' started by Chastity, Aug 11, 2019.

  1. Chastity

    Chastity Ancient Guru

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    Experimenting with surround audio to my headphones was somewhat derailed due to the fact that I cannot configure my X-Fi USB HD for 5.1 in Windows, and thus do the simulated surround with Dolby Atmos for Headphones. Shame really. If the game supported selecting an audio config, like Diablo 3 can, then I can get it working. But most of the games I play use Windows to handle that, and thus fail.

    So I decided it's time to replace the 116dB USB HD. It's worked well on my hi-end headphones as I have an external amp, the Headroom Supreme. I've always used the Line-out ports since they output higher amperage than the headphone port (1A vs 2A RMS) which I thought was a fail on Creative's part.

    So I shopped around, and found it on Amazon for $139.90, so I decided to go for it. It supports a 7.1 config, 130dB DAC, and the bi-amp (X-AMP) setup should be interesting to test on my Senn HD580 and Sony MDR-SA5000. If I can eliminate the need for the Supreme amp, I can reclaim some deskspace. :)

    I went with the G6 vs the Sennheiser GX100 due to the fact I have hi-ohm headphones, and I'm already used to the SBX software. More when it arrives.
     
  2. Chastity

    Chastity Ancient Guru

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    OK, got the G6 delivered. Unit must be a recent build, as it came with the latest March 2019 firmware already installed. So I downloaded the matching driver package, and it installed without a hitch. Came with Sound Blaster Connect 2 v.3.4.6.0, which also detects and works with my laptop's Realtek audio, since it's SBX 720 enabled. Nice to see they can co-habitate. :)

    I spent the evening getting accustomed to the controls and feature set, and decided to focus on music for my initial impressions. Threw the unit into Direct mode, changed Windows to 32bit/96K, because why not, and had to change my DSP options for Foobar2000, mostly turning off unnecessary ones. After some initial listening I noted distortion in vocals, and realized the unit exposed an error in my EQ curve for my Sony MDR-SA5000 headphones. After a minor tweak, the issue was resolved, and happiness was mine.

    I tested stereo and 6ch music files (DTS and DVDA 24/96 sources) with the speaker options, Stereo, 5.1, 7.1, and I settled on 5.1. Even in Direct Mode, the 7.1 virtualization was distributing the rear channels of the 6ch sources a bit, and I found the 5.1 virtualization truer to the intended presentation, after having had a true 5.1 system for years. (I still have it, but having a potent 5.1 system set up in an apartment complex is a sure formula for becoming your neighbors' nemesis, and making the landlord unhappy.)

    I set the gain on High for the 5000's, as they are 70 Ohm units. (Guide says low for up to 149 Ohm, but they sound better on High gain*) The bi-amp setup, aka Xamp, does a wonderful job on powering these headphones. I also found that the crossfeed I was using with them was not needed, which was a nice bonus.

    When playing stereo files, they stayed true to remaining stereo, and played very well, despite the 5.1 virtualization being active. (I haven't tried this with Direct mode disabled) 6 channel files played very well, and was a pleasure to be able to enjoy my surround-encoded music once again. Yes - Fragile, Metallica - Black, and Fleetwood Mac - Rumours 24/96 6ch all sounded as what was to be expected, and rendered well on with the Direct Mode 5.1 virtualization. I especially enjoyed "Film Busters DVDA - The Ten Commandments", as the presentation reminded me of watching the film in the theatre when I was younger.

    Tomorrow, I will get into the gaming, following up with movies, and testing out some Atmos love with Dolby Atmos For Headphones.

    * - further testing shows Low Gain @ 60% is adequate for gaming and music listening on the 70 Ohm Sonys.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2019
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  3. nhlkoho

    nhlkoho Ancient Guru

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    Good you didn't go with the Sennheiser GX100. I've been experimenting with different setups and bought one recently and it is just terrible compared to my current SB AE-5. There is no customization aside from the 4 different preset modes and the overall sound quality compared to my AE-5 was a noticeable downgrade. Surround simulation with headphones was also subpar. Sent it back to Amazon yesterday. Will stick with the dedicated sound card for now.
     
  4. Mufflore

    Mufflore Ancient Guru

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    Nice.
    Looking forward to what you think.
     

  5. Chastity

    Chastity Ancient Guru

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    The amp itself has a very low noise floor, and even max volume on High gain is clean and not distorted, assuming the audio isn't too loud for your headphones to handle. :) (See EDIT2 at end)

    Back in the day of 3DSoundsurge.com, I did reviews for this site, and moderated the forums there. There was a member there called "theEar", and I believe he was on Head-Fi under another name, and he was the resident audiophile. I remember a quote he made in regards to the Senn HD580 headphones, which were a new item at the time, and he said, "The HD580 headphones only get better and better as you improve the source." He then went on to discuss that the unit is very high quality, and can reveal shortcomings of your analog stage. That stuck with me, as at the time I was using the SoundBlaster 4, a hi-end card with a breakout box and was one of Creative's first attempts to put hi-end components on a PCI card.

    Recently I've been using their X-Fi USB HD as a DAC, and line-out to an external amp. (Headroom Supreme Portable Amp, got to love using 4 D Cell batteries as power for portability, and personal defense) The amp was also very clean, with a negligible noise floor, and I thought the combo was pretty good. The G6 has excelled this, probably with the X-Fi USB being the weaker link. Output from the DAC is similar to my Burr-Brown 126dB DAC in my Yamaha receiver, and quite resolving, matching well with the Sony's very quick drivers. The amp provides power for great dynamic range, which the MDR-SA5000 has in spades. The full spectrum is powered, allowing bass to be musical, tight, and punchy, mids and vocals are distinct and impactful, and highs are well defined, and not harsh.

    My 6ch files (listening to Fleetwood Mac- Rumours DVDA-You Make Loving Fun) and the song is presented with full HTRF cues, but not distorted or sounding mushed together. Tho sometimes the female vocals sound somewhat recessed to the rear. Doesn't happen on all tracks, however.

    ..it also appears that after my move, I cannot find my 1/8" AUX interconnects. Time for Amazon...

    Plugged in the Sennheiser HD580 Precisions, and once again I had to tweak the EQ curve, and lower some amplification on the highs and lows. (Nice amp) Also had to raise the volume up by 10 to get the same volume levels. (about 60 on High gain, so yeah there is still amp power to spare) ... and I've noticed that the Music Reactive mode for the RGB X is no longer responding. Unf. The other modes are working, so the RGB lighting works. Maybe it's the software. Disconnecting the unit and reconnect doesn't fix. I'll have to try a reboot.

    BBIAF

    EDIT: Music reactive working... doesn't react when testing WASAPI mode :)

    Also wanted to mention the unit uses the Cirrus Logic CS43131 DAC vs the Saber DAC of the AE5. In the past, I've enjoyed Cirrus Logic DACs, especially with string instruments. This one seems very accurate, and doesn't color the audio much at all, as compared to some earlier CL DACs I've tested. The unit pairs very well with both the Sonys and Sennheisers, so I would gather the DAC is very neutral, and I'm sure some of you would love to use the analog line-out in order to use some external tube amp.

    Also of note, there's a bigger brother of this amp, called the X7, which supports exchangeable DAC components, and connecting external speakers. There's even a 100w unit, which would be nice with a pair of floor standers. For myself, I can use the G6 line-out to my DIY sub, which has a 377W amp plate, and can use that to power a set of bookshelf Infinity Primus 150's.

    EDIT2: On amp noise: with the 300Ohm Senns, I don't pick up amp noise until on High gain @ 86%. Listening level is 60% or under. On the Sony's, which are more sensitive and only at 150 Ohm, noise disappears at 30% High, which is less than my 40% max listening level. It's very faint, but is there at 40%.

    EDIT3: Forget what I mention in EDIT 2. :) The background noise was from the mic amp creating hiss because no mic was attached and it was enabled. Once mic is muted, amp noise was non-existant, even on max volume at High gain.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2019
  6. Chastity

    Chastity Ancient Guru

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    Gaming: On my PC laptop, I discovered the best sounding surround for me was to leave it in Direct mode, 7.1, and just let the game do the Surround mapping. I also discovered that SWTOR has minimal Surround effects. :D Divinity II was much better, and immersive.

    Note: If your game is in 7.1 mode, do not enable SBX, because you will have an abortion of way-overblown surround effects. Basically you'll be doing surround virtualization twice. It's bad, mmkay?

    Using it as such also allows me to use my music player to play tunes while gaming. I had to turn down the in-game volume on SWTOR because it was just way too much. It's best when starting a game with this amp to lower the volume first, then adjust accordingly. You've been warned.

    To test out the SBX, I decided to go out of Direct Mode, and enabled the RPG preset, which enabled some enhancements in the Acoustic Engine, a bit of a Bass Boost, a bit widening of the Surround, and Smart Volume with a small dabble of Dialog+. And, it actually wasn't bad, tho a bit too much bass for my taste. Of course what I like will not match everyone's taste, but the fun here is that it's all adjustable. What is missing is a Neutral profile, which disables everything, which is present on my 720 list of profiles.

    It would also be cool if you could import/export profiles, so you could generate a Community collection, and get new ones from Creative. But I guess that was "too" creative. :)

    EDIT: Noticed a bug, sometimes when you switch to a game, the amp will change modes, or error up somehow. Way to tell is that the side panel will be flashing like it's in Direct Mode, yet SBC will show Audio Effects Mode. The fix is to toggle to Direct and back, and enjoy the feedback squeal while in Direct Mode. :O Once back, choose whichever mode you desire, and enjoy proper amp levels.

    Pretty much once you start having audio output, it throws itself into Direct Mode. This is confusing. I managed to get it to stop this behavior by changing bit output, and Windows reported that some process was using iy, and it would have to stop the process in order to apply changes. Once I did this, it stopped automatically kicking into Direct Mode. Weird.

    Also when in SBX mode, background noise levels increase.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2019
  7. Chastity

    Chastity Ancient Guru

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    Another fascinating tidbit is process usage. Today's spotlight is on the Music Reactive feature, and it's sub-process, SBAVMon.dll.

    This fascinating fellow will consume Core 0 rather easily, usually between 80-90%, on my 7700HQ.

    [​IMG]

    Just what I need for gaming, something eating Core 0. In fact, Pulsate and Cycle has it eating Core 0 like ice cream on a hot summer day. Solo also runs the process, but no processor hit. :rolleyes: Not to mention notable lag for Windows desktop.
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2019
  8. Chastity

    Chastity Ancient Guru

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    Movies

    Just finished setting up MPC-BE to be used in conjunction with Dolby Atmos for Headphones. (Which btw, is on sale at the MS Store for $11.99, 20% off. Otherwise you'll need lavfilters.) i prefer to use the MPC Audio Renderer vs DirectSound. Just make sure your DAC is set up to stereo, and any audio processing is disabled. For the G6, set it to Stereo Direct Mode, and make sure the Acoustic Engine and such are off.

    So I downloaded a few demo tracks from Dolby, and played them in MPC to test, and everything worked just ducky. So I tested out some movie files, and they worked too. The G6 amp provides my Sony's the power it needs to have the impact and dynamic range as the authors' intended. So yeah, this was a great experience, and vindicated my purchase even further. (I really do miss using my home theatre, but alas, apartments aren't home theatre friendly)

    Also headphone movie watching is great for night time viewing, or when you want to ignore a spouse.

    EDIT: Comparing using lavfilter's E-AC3 and TrueAudio decoder vs Atmos for Headphones, I find Atmos the clear winner. With the lavfilter I find the dynamic range is less, and that some audio info isn't being rendered, which is easily exposed with testing Atmos demos. (they're E-AC3 encoded) So I recommend setting the AC3/TrueAudio Audio Decoder in your player to Passthru and let the Atmos for Headphones do it for you.
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2019
  9. Astyanax

    Astyanax Ancient Guru

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    directsound isn't used? its a wasapi session.
     
  10. Chastity

    Chastity Ancient Guru

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    Correct, you have a choice of Shared or Exclusive WASAPI.
     

  11. Chastity

    Chastity Ancient Guru

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    G6 as a DAC / Virtualizer

    Since the unit supports Line-Out / SPDIF Optical Out, you could use it as a surround virtualizer for your beefy external amp and DACs. This way your high-end amps and tubes can enjoy HRTF audio like a champ. The CS43131 is no slouch, as other online measurements show, so you can use the analog Line-Out, and use the G6 as a DAC for your external headphone amplifier (and preamp if you must).

    I also wanted to note that the virtualizations also work on speakers. I have a nice Sony SRS-X7 stereo box that I use for desktop audio, and the sound field imaging is quite amusing. It isn't perfect, as rear audio will sound like it's above, tho distancing yourself from the speakers help.

    So for now, I think I am going to wrap things up on this review. All in all, I think it's a great product at a MSRP of $159.99 ala Creative's US website, tho I paid $139.90 @ Amazon. The fact that the unit works for consoles is like an added bonus, tho you still need a PC to configure it for your tastes. PC Master Race forever. :)

    EDIT: Noticed that when you switch modes from Headphones to External Line-Out, there's an audible switch sound coming from the G6. It's so cute.
     
  12. Chastity

    Chastity Ancient Guru

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    On Dolby Atmos for Headphones

    Great for watching movies, and for listening to games encoded for it. But there are some caveats:

    1) Windows Sound is set to 16bit 48K, whether this is ignored for plug-in's output, I don't know.
    2) Forces sound card to stereo mode only. Bit of a downer for games w/o a surround setting.
    3) 5.1 Mode with SB Headphone HRTF is better than Atmos plug-in for playing DVDA rips. Especially since you can select 24/96 stream for Windows Audio. Also, the virtualization is too forward sounding on Atmos for Headphones.

    EDIT on amp noise:

    Also, I edited my findings on amp noise. I forgot to mute the mic, and the noise reported was from not having a mic installed, and thus not proper, causing amp noise. Once muted, it has an extremely quiet noise floor, even at max volume on High gain. Make sure no Windows Events occur when testing, and don't be wearing the headphones when they do. :)

    EDIT2: Firmware 1.13.190307.1520
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2019
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  13. Mufflore

    Mufflore Ancient Guru

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    Good report, that is sure to help those wondering what you can do with it, and some good general tips to boot.
    How do you rate the sound quality?
    ie bass extension/resolution, character of midrange, air/detail/extension of treble + ease of listening
    How it all melds together, compared to other sources if possible.
    How it differs (if at all) with different headphones/speakers.
     
  14. Chastity

    Chastity Ancient Guru

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    The most notable benefit of this unit is the Xamp. (bi-amp) Since each channel has it's own amplifier, you eliminate potential crosstalk, and there is no sharing of power output. This will allow for quick attack parts to get the power they need to have the desired impact, without getting diluted from the other channel. While this technology has long existed in dedicated audio amplifiers, it's relatively new on consumer soundcards. I wouldn't doubt if studio soundcards already have this. (RME comes to mind)

    The output is quite neutral, noise floor is very low, so it's a nice match for low-ohm headphones, and has power for high-ohm cans too. I no longer have my studio PCIe card, so I can't take any measurements, and I don't like testing with RMSS with a loopback, as you are limited by the ADC. But I can tell that the output is more dynamic in range vs the 116dB rated X-Fi USB HD. Another issue with that DAC was the lack of 44.1 support.

    The output I find quite balanced; it's not a warm amp, nor a hot one. It has power to to render both bass, mids and treble accurately, and with impact, but doesn't add anything that isn't already there. I've read reviews where people say the MDR-SA5000 are bright sounding, and harsh. I found the experience to be detailed, and lively, especially after EQing the headphones to adjust for Freq bumps. But the highs were not harsh or fatiguing at all. Also of note, I also found no need to use a crossfade DSP like I did before with the earlier DAC. Most likely a testament to the improved channel isolation.

    I think it would mesh just fine as a DAC to use with a tube amp. As you know, headphones all have their own characteristics, and some people like to mix & match warm amps with certain types of headphones, for example. I find it a pleasant experience with both cans, and it brings out whatever characteristics they have.

    As for stand-alone speakers, I think this would make a great source DAC. I'd love to try it paired with some near-field powered monitors.

    Shortcomings and wishlist:

    1) No RGB lighting option with volume knob.
    2) No hardware switch/button for toggling between headphone out and line out. Have to use app.
    3) CPU Core 0 hit by SBAVMon.dll when using any mode other than Solid. Probably the .dll needs to be recompiled, because it's very inefficient. Also, Core 0 is very important to NVIDIA users and games in general.
    4) Rarely, the unit will not initialize properly when changing settings, like from Stereo to 5.1 for example, or when first powering up. Audio out has feedback, and loud hum/buzz. Fix is to toggle Direct/Non-Direct mode and back. May be needed to do more than once. Quite possibly USB power noise.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2019
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  15. serbicu

    serbicu Ancient Guru

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    ok so any issues with drivers (I am on WIN 10 64 btw) so far? checked some more about this, and saw some BSODs ugly issues. Also checked their drivers and they appear to have fixed that with the latest drivers and firmware updates. Also, what about that CPU Core 0 stuff? Can you elaborate a little bit more? What do you you mean by solid mode? Just to be clear, I use MY PC only for gaming, and listening to music on the side. I have no other program installed on my system lol. I have my work laptop and MAc for that.

    I am really thinking of buying this, or the NU audio pci card from EVGA. I am not a big audiophile guy, but slowly I am getting more interested in this :D . MYsetup is a low one, with the ASUS xonar U7 (witch has served me well so far, but the lack of drivers is driving me crazy right now lol, as I have lost the Dolby Theater feature, after the latest windows update) and paired with only "cheap" headphones like HyperX Cloud (the original), Sennheiser HD599 and Audio-Technica ATH-AD500X, so not really high end, high OHm stuff :D
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2019

  16. Chastity

    Chastity Ancient Guru

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    1) The Core 0 thing refers to SBAVMon.dll process that is part of Connect 2, and refers to the G6's RGB lighting. There are 4 settings, and Solid refers to the simplest option of having the RGB set to one color, and being on. Then there are others that will pulse or respond to music. If the RGB lighting is set to anything other than solid, CPU usage on Core 0 will, over the course of a minute, spike to about 85% on Core 0.

    This is important because Core 0 is your first CPU core, and will be used primarily by the OS, drivers, and games. For example, NVIDIA drivers will use Core 0 for scheduling commands to the hardware. AMD less so dependent.

    2) No driver issues thus far. ie. no BSODs or crashing. One annoying niggle is using Dolby Atmos for Headphones. It changes my sound settings from 24/96 to 16/48, and when I disable it, resets it back to 32/48. So I have to restore 24/96 manually, and restore 5.1 setting in SBC2. I use this setting because I have 24/96 6ch audio rips that I listen to.

    EDIT:

    3) Just read the specs and reviews of the NU audio card. Hardware-wise I think it'd make a very nice headphone card. The fact it has 1/4" RCA plug for the headphone port is a nice bonus. My caveat with it is that it seems to only support 5.1 via Digital out. I can't find anywhere if you can force it to 5.1 for the analog out, and do HRTF surround like the G6 can.

    For me this is a deal breaker, as I enjoy my 6 channel audio files, and immersive surround in my games. However, the ADC specs are very nice, and would make for a nice card to test other cards' outputs with.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2019
  17. serbicu

    serbicu Ancient Guru

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    Thank you for your detailed explanations! I guess nothing to worry about that solid mod then :) , as I am not into RGB anyways, so that should work for me. Also thinking in getting some other more expensive cans in the future. Priority for me would be that unencumbered stereo sound for my headphones. Sure, the surround sound it's pretty good on the G6, so I might give it a go in some games for sure.
     
  18. Chastity

    Chastity Ancient Guru

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    Update:

    Wanted to add that for fun, I took a USB-C to 4-port USB-A 3.1 hub, and connected it to my LG V40 ThinQ smartphone, and was using my Corsair K63 Wireless and Dark Core mouse, along with the G6 + Sony MDR-SA5000 headphones. All with no AC connections! :)

    Was pretty sweet using Foobar2000 Android on that setup with G6 in Direct Mode. Hmm, forgot to test 6ch files. Meh.
     
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