The audio pioneers at Creative have recently released the Sound Blaster G3 DAC, a Digital-to-Analog Converter that aims to improve the audio experience for both PC and console gamers. Time to take an in-depth look.
Of course, we know that Creative goes way back, when they (as Creative Labs) unshackled PC gamers from the PC speaker sounds they were used to by successfully launching a series of dedicated PC audio cards in the early nineties. They’re still doing those (the recent AE-7 and AE-9 being two of the best sound cards you can get), but they’ve gradually expanded their range of products as well. Where the old range was mostly PC-centric, newer products include audiophile-grade headphone technology geared towards use with music and movies as well as products that are console gaming-optimized, like the G3.
Its compatibility with a wide range of consoles is what sets the Sound Blaster G3 apart from similar products on the market today, including the Cyrus Soundkey which we reviewed earlier. The G3 can be hooked up to a PS4 or Nintendo Switch as well as a PC, and they’ll all work straight out of the box as plug and play solutions (though additional and more complex setup options are available – more on those later). We also found out that you can connect the G3 to an Xbox One as well, even though it’s not officially supported. You lose the voice/mic option with this setup, but if communication with other players isn’t crucial to you then this is a wonderfully versatile piece of hardware that covers the entire spectrum of today’s consoles.
When opening the box, the most eye-catching piece of hardware is the G3 itself. It’s bigger than the Cyrus Soundkey (which looks like a USB memory drive), but it’s still small and packed with a bunch of useful physical controls for mixing audio and mic output or enabling special soundscapes that emphasize things like footprints in shooters – very useful for certain gamers.
The build quality is excellent, despite a plastic exterior. The buttons feel solid as well, even though the G3 is a lightweight product at just 32 grams (upped to 36 if you use the USB-C to USB-A converter). The default connection option is a USB-C cable, which unfortunately doesn’t detach from the unit and affects portability a little bit. You won’t need anything else when connecting to a Nintendo Switch, but for a PS4 (as well as older PCs and laptops) you’ll need to hook up the aforementioned (and included) converter.
The G3 also comes with an optical audio cable that connects the G3 to the optical audio port of your PS4, which is a great feature that enriches the audio over standard stereo output and one I haven’t seen on similar DACs before.
Ease of use
As mentioned, the Sound Blaster G3 is incredibly easy to use, but how easy exactly depends on your hardware and the features you want to use.
If you want to make use of the optical connector, then the optimal experience on a PS4 requires you to hook up the USB converter as well as the included optical cable. You’ll also need to tweak a few settings on your PS4 if you want to use GameVoice Mix, allowing you to change the balance between voice and audio using just a single dial. Doing all that may sound complex, but it’s done within the scope of two minutes and it’s a one-time deal.
A lot of what I wrote above is optional by the way – if you’re not using GameVoice Mix and don’t want optical audio then the PS4 setup is as easy as plugging in your headset and plugging the DAC into a USB port. The experience is the same on other consoles, and on a PC you might have to change the default audio device in your config if you were using onboard audio or a different sound card. This should also be a one-time deal, as the computer should default back to your original choice when you detach the G3 and come back to it when you reconnect.
The unit supports both single jack headsets and dual ones that split the mic and audio channels, so that helps in not needing an additional converter. A carry pouch isn’t included, but I’d recommend finding one if you plan on regularly switching between the various platforms that the G3 supports. The different configurations require different hardware setups, and you don’t want that tiny USB converter to go missing.
Lastly, the Sound Blaster Command app gives you additional control over the G3 through a free app that works on Android and iOS as long as your phone or tablet supports bluetooth. It gives you even greater control over the equalizer, and lets you tweak the ‘footsteps mode’ beyond what’s readily available once you plug in. Again, it’s optional, but a quality of life improvement nonetheless.
Obviously, the single most important aspect of any DAC is how well it performs and enhances the audio experience. This is where things really get interesting, because the G3 is a versatile little audio beast. You’ll hear people refer to DACs as amplifiers while others call them external sound cards, and the truth is that they’re both.
Drawing (a small amount) power from the USB slot, the Sound Blaster G3 has a 16 to 300 Ohm amplification range for headphones, which is enough to even power studio grade headphones. In addition, it supports PCM 16 and 24-bit output resolutions and a dynamic range of 100dB. That may not blow you away if you spend a lot of time looking at sound card specs, but let’s put that into perspective.
If you’re used to listening to game audio through a headset that’s connected to your DualShock controller, or the standard audio out port on your TV, then you’re in for a treat when you try out the G3. The 100dB dynamic range in particular provides a big boost to the ability to discern low bass-heavy sounds from higher-pitches samples like footsteps – an effect that’s further enhanced by the G3’s footsteps mode. Add amplification into the mix, and you’ve got a degree of audio clarity that’s a big upgrade for a small price. Sure, you can get a 200 to 300 Dollar/Euro solution that gives you a dynamic range of 125dB or more, but in terms of bang for your buck this is a great alternative that also offers multi-system compatibility that you don’t get elsewhere.
The Command app is a nice feature as well, making the device feel almost like a full fledged sound card – and on a PC it actually functions as one by bypassing your existing solution. We didn’t use the app much beyond a little experimentation, but that is actually a good sign because it means we were content with the base performance that the G3 offers. Its handiest features include switching from headset audio to TV/speaker audio without having to unplug anything as well as presets that favor music or movies in case you want to move beyond gaming.
The Sound Blaster G3 DAC might not offer the same kind of performance as some of Creative’s dedicated sound cards, but if you have one of those and only play on a PC then you’re probably not in the market for a DAC like this anyway. What you do get here is a small yet powerful DAC with a really impressive set of features at its price point.
In addition to its solid performance in terms of amplification and dynamic range, you also get almost unrivaled connectivity across PCs and consoles. There are plenty of usability features as well, most of them geared specifically towards gamers. This includes presets for certain games, making this a viable option for competitive gamers as well.
If you’re used to playing in a noisy environment then the G3 won’t offer a big difference, but if you appreciate the immersive quality of good audio then you should definitely consider this affordable upgrade to your gaming experience. It works as a solid replacement for onboard audio on a PC, but really shines when connected to a console setup.