Creative G5 discussion and reviews

Discussion in 'Portable Source Gear' started by evshrug, Dec 11, 2015.
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  1. Evshrug
    Thread for discussion, impressions, and reviews of Creative Labs new BlasterX G5

    Official Creative Labs, Europe page on the BlasterX G5:
    http://uk.creative.com/p/sound-blaster/sound-blasterx-g5

    User's "QuickStart Guide" manual (English, with EU and USA sections):
    http://support.creative.com/manuals/download.aspx?nDownloadId=13585&prodName=Sound%20BlasterX%20G5%20UG%20EN
     
  2. Evshrug
    Creative's new BlasterX G5... New Coke?
    Creative Giveth, but also takes away?? First Impression


    My friends (that probably includes you) know that one of the things I like best about Creative Labs is their headphone surround processing. I consider myself an evangelist for headphone surround, actually... It just makes sense to me to match up the visuals of a 3D game to 3D (or at least 2D) surround sound. I've bought or borrowed a bunch of the different DSPs for this purpose out there, and I was (like many) hotly anticipating the upcoming G5.

    The G5 would be like an E5, but with console surround added right? Assuming the G5 would at least be the Console Gamer's E5, people tossed around a laundry list of other ideas of what they'd like to see in the G5... lower price, less feature bloat than the X7, visual indication of volume setting, headphone-processed digital and analog line-out, microphone and chat feature to work with consoles, and more. How much of that was "creatively" worked into the unit?

    Reading through Creative's website and setup manual, it seems the G5 actually wedged in more of the wishlist than I expected!

    Unconfirmed, but pretty sure... No surround for consoles.

    This doesn't look good:
    image.jpg
    Read footnote 1:
    image.jpg


    This actually looks promising:
    image.jpg
    Processed optical/line out? YES!


    So it seems like we gained a hotly requested feature in processed surround "out" for hooking up to high-end gear. We also have an "active" indicator for volume level in how bright the red volume LED is. I actually don't mind the loss from an E5 of a battery, Bluetooth, and digital connection to smartphones using USB HOST, all in trade for a lower cost device more accessible to consumers with lower budgets. I guess Creative heard our pleas for this, and determined that gamers wanted that MORE than console surround. It also makes the choice between a G5, E5, and X7 more clear, even if there is no direct spiritual successor to the Recon3D.

    The G5 is essentially an Omni 5.1, with the addition of (stereo) optical input and (stereo) console support. I haven't heard the device yet, but the amp and the DAC chips should also be an upgrade from the Omni (which already has a decent DAC).

    The other side of this could be that most gamers don't use surround or know about headphone surround, or that the console makers just make it too hard this generation to integrate all the things gamers want and still make a profit. Ok. I started out on Head-Fi because I just wanted to figure out how to connect a headphone to my Xbox 360, and find a super comfortable headphone that made sound seem to project from outside the headphones' cups. The G5 achieves that, and solves some mic issues with the PS4. GREAT! That shouldn't be ignored. But what hooked me on Head-Fi, sustained my interest in headphones, was the discovery of surround sound when I didn't have the budget, space, or environment for a speaker setup. THAT'S why I follow and bought Creative Labs stuff, otherwise I could use any optical DAC/Amp and a separate mic. So the G5 is a tougher sell, to a primarily console gamer like me. What about how feasible it is to make a DSP compatible with current-gen game consoles? I've always thought there must be a contract agreement that if something can decode Dolby (probably also DTS) then the only output must be analog, BUT the Recon3D USB already proved that a DSP with chat integration can be made! That had all the hookups to get chat working with PS4 or Xbox One (+ M$ headset adapter), the Recon3D USB just could use a DAC and particularly an amp upgrade.

    So, for console gamers, I still see the Recon3D USB and the X7 (with Bluetooth dongle) as the two best DSP devices. The G5 is a hard sell for PC gamers compared to the Omni 5.1 for less (with the upgrade plan of separate DAC and Amp) or X7 as an upgraded all-in-one. What do you guys think? Could Creative license and add Dolby or DTS decoding via a firmware update? Do you even care about surround (as many of the E5 & X7 reviewers don't)?
     
  3. Evshrug
    Sound Blaster X G5 Reviewed
    The Gaming device with everything* we asked for

    image.jpg


    A Little Context
    The G5 is part of Creative's "Blaster X" gamer focused line, cued after the name of the X7. I loved the Sound Blaster X7 (reviewed here) and the more music-focused Sound Blaster E5 (also reviewed here). The X7 is my most–used piece of audio gear right now, but the $400 X7 is Creative's top of the line setup, and a lower-cost, upgraded replacement for the discontinued Recon3D USB (reviewed here) was still missing. For me, the Recon3D USB represented a headphone to console connection, with headphone surround processing and microphone input, for around $120.

    When Creative hinted about an E5 variant they would call the G5, people on the X7 and Mad Lust Envy gaming threads were dreaming of an Astro Mixamp killer. It seems Creative was actually listening and filled an impressive number of our requests, but does the G5 succeed and absolutely slay the competition? Read on!

    image.jpg


    Statistics/Design
    In the box, you get the G5 itself, which is a DSP, DAC (Cirrus Logic CS4398), dual headphone amp (Texas Instruments TI6120A2), and mic (with ADC), but also you get a bold red micro USB cable (the new ones like on android smartphones and Playstation 4 controllers), a 1m optical cable (yeah I used metric, and it's a Toslink to Mini-Toslink connector cable), a map of various setup/cable wiring options and instructions, two warranty papers, and something in Singaporean which I also assume is a warranty/thank you card. If you noticed that was mostly copy-pasted from my E5 review, that's because the G5 is mostly a gamer-focused adaptation of the E5, and that's a very good start! Plus, you know, I can plagiarize myself without fear of lawsuit :p

    The power aspects of the G5 are kinda balanced between a portable and desktop amp. Creative removed the E5's lithium battery, but as a hardcore gaming device it would be plugged in to USB on a PC or console anyway, so that's an acceptable cost savings measure to bring the price down. As an amp, it does have enough power for my AKG K612 to sound linear and full... Which, by the way, requires a higher volume setting than the 600 ohm DT880 for the same apparent loudness. Output impedance on the headphone jacks is between 2.2 and 2.4 ohms, pretty ideal for most headphones except the most sensitive IEMs. Speaking of IEMs, my Custom Art CIEMs and entry-level RHA IEMs pick up a little background hiss (less than the X7) that is easy to ignore once the audio starts, with no hiss for my 32 ohm Oppo PM-3 or V-MODA M-100. Unlike the Astro Mixamp or Creative's old Recon3D USB, it has plenty of volume headroom and has some nice density to the notes. From a pure value:sound quality perspective, this is pretty impressive at this price compared to the more commonly recommended signal chain gear, but more on competitive options in the conclusion.

    image.jpg image.jpg image.jpg


    The G5 contains a fair number of connectivity ports and buttons, same layout as the E5 but some have different functions. There's two 3.5mm jacks by the big but unobtrusive volume dial; the left jack is for headphones (TRS) and headsets (TRRS), the right is for microphones only. The digital volume dial and can be clicked to mute, and it is also backlit with a red LED that changes brightness with the volume setting, cool! Next side to the right of that has the Scout Mode button and the SBX activation, both with white indicator lights for "on," and a gain switch. You can hold the buttons to turn off processing for a "straight" audio signal. Then there's three LEDs indicating which of the three SBX profiles is active, those three plus Scout Mode total 4 sound profiles which can be customized with a computer. The next face around the right is the wide picture above. The two ports on the left are combination 3.5mm (TRS) and mini-Toslink ports. Then, the "USB–Device" port is for connecting to a keyboard, mouse (not on PS4), USB thumbdrive, and I can confirm that my PS4 recognizes my Blue Snowball USB microphone through this port. It doesn't work as a digital connection to smartphones or tablets. The furthest right micro-USB port is for charging the E5 and PC/Mac/PS4 connection (Just one cable! No rats' nest, yay!). The G5 CAN play from USB and the line-in at the same time, and you CAN output straight or processed audio through the line-out to another DAC or amp... So you can build a rats nest if you want!

    image.jpg


    Sound
    I played some high-rez FLACs of music using VLC (and some fun stuff from iTunes), with SBX and any EQ off the sound is pretty good: it's overall pretty clean, though maybe a slight upper mids emphasis which makes vocals and guitars sound a tad more romantic. This is all so slight and close to flat, that you have to be really used to your headphone on another amp to hear the difference; without A/B testing this will sound like a nice flat amp. Plugging in my headphones to the G5 compared to my PC's Gygabyte more board was an immediate improvement; every note more crisp, nuances revealed so the playing stage is more transparent (and thus relative depth of a great recording is easier to sense). My next description will be familiar to most people who have owned a nice amp: audio is a bit more engaging, like as if you can feel the artist's emotion or the music is "full of life" rather than dull or a soda-gone-flat.

    One more thing… Straight out of the box, the G5’s SBX processing was smeary and, frankly, bad. The G5 sounded good without processing, and a firmware update basically fixed the processing. I highly recommend installing the new Blaster X suite to your computer and updating the G5’s firmware right out of the box before judging the processing.


    What makes it cool?
    Let's cut to the chase here: this is a lower cost reconfiguration of Creative's E5, with fewer features but still retaining most of the things a gamer at home will like. As an audiophile, this is a great starter Amp/DAC. I would go as far as saying is pretty comparable to the well-known Schiit M&M stack or FiiO E09k (with less output impedance and hiss) and E17 stack for a pretty great price. It also includes a DSP that can be custom-tuned for a headphone (Hot treble? Anemic bass? EQ that!) or use (music engagement, tactical gaming, movies at night). That processing (including SBX Headphone) can be output to a crazy desktop super-setup or AV receiver (night mode + Netflix, anyone?). They also enabled Creative's excellent SBX Headphone Surround to take positional audio from PC/Mac and immerse players in 360° (2D) sonic environments. I feel trading things like the battery, built-in microphones, digital phone connections via USB or Bluetooth from the E5 in order to reach a lower price point is fair (though the loss of Bluetooth controls on a mobile app is a tiny bit annoying). The lower cost, LED volume indicator, easy mic setup, and processed output were all community requests for improvements after looking at the X7 and E5, and Creative brought that to market.

    That leads me to the uncool part. The G5 cannot decode Dolby or DTS from a Playstation or Xbox, so consoles are a Stereo-Only affair. Good stereo, no problem for 2D games, but that means the G5 is not a true successor to the Recon3D USB, even if the sound quality is improved.

    I can only speculate as to why the G5 wasn't enabled to decode Dolby while the Recon3D USB was for around the same price (less, when on sale). The existence of the Recon3D makes me doubt cost as the reason, though maybe it has to do with Dolby and post-processed digital outputs, or perhaps not enough gamers have been educated about the appeal of surround gaming.

    image.jpg
    Conclusion
    If you liked the Sound Blaster Omni but wanted to be able to connect to consoles as well as computers, then the G5 does that while being an amp upgrade. However, for PC-only gamers, the Omni is cheaper and you won't outgrow it because the Omni also has a line-out and post-processed optical output for upgrades. If you like the G5 but could make use of turning it from a transportable to a portable, with the extra features of Bluetooth, Microphones, phone and tablet USB support on the go, and a battery, then for $50 more you can buy the very versatile Creative E5. If you want headphone surround with a game console, then shop for an X7 or another brand. The G5 definitely takes a stab at all of Astro’s Mixamp line with a much more powerful Amp and crisper DAC for overall sound quality at almost the same price, but the Mixamp still has 360° surround audio for consoles and a physical knob for mixing chat and game audio.

    Purely based on sound quality, Schiit, FiiO, Fostex, and others should watch as the G5 sounds surprisingly close for less money. The G5 has it’s own implementation of the amping chip also used in the FiiO E09k, Fostex HP-A4, Asus STX, and Creative’s own ZxR, while sharing the same DAC chip as used in several of Astell & Kern’s DAPs and sounds nigh-indistinguishable in A/B tests with Schiit’s Modi DAC. Let that sink in for a little… The G5 is no gaming gimmick.

    As it stands, the G5 is low–cost considering it's sound quality, and is a great *stereo* home-gaming device.
     
    Dobrescu George likes this.
  4. DagsJT
    I'm still tempted to pick this up but I must admit I'm concerned about the sound not being as good as my Mixamp due to missing Dolby Digital. Especially as the G5 will cost me more than twice what I can sell the Mixamp for.
     
  5. Evshrug
    On one hand, I have an E5 with the same DAC and the same amp chips, Creative knows how to implement these chips well and on a pure sound quality level I'm confident you'll notice an improvement in clarity, detail, and dynamics. If you don't care about surround, the G5 will still be a good stereo device, better sound than an Astro and a tidier setup than typical optical DACs + amp stack. If you're on PC, you still get full front/rear surround support. If surround with a console is a killer feature for you, well...

    Realistically, I can only think of a few DAC/Amp combos with optical input that can compete with the G5 at this price point. But if you have a higher budget or are a PC gamer, the G5 is kinda stuck between the Omni and the X7.
     
  6. Fegefeuer
    Evshrugist,
     
    do you think the surround feature itself got a nice change? Not only from 5.1 to 7.1 but maybe more refined overall?
     
    Edit: I have a Code as well. Reduces the price to 109,99€. It's bound to my mail though. Last year I forwarded a X7 to conquerator2 (living in Czech) so if you want this device somewhere in Europe (or preferrably to Germany) just reply.
     
  7. Yethal
    Have that code too. PM me if interested. As for the device itself it seems that G5 is pretty pointless since it does not offer enough new features compared to the E5. Gj Creative.
     
  8. DagsJT
    I'm sure I posted in here earlier but my post is gone. Anyway, the code "BLASTG5" takes £40 off and isn't tied to your email address if anyone wants to order it themselves.
     
  9. venkman781
    Stereo surround? Drag. Welp, guess I'll stick with the DSS.
     
  10. Stillhart
    I have to say, I'm not really sure what makes this a "gamer" device if it doesn't have virtual surround processing for consoles.  Hopefully, something was missed in the official literature and we're getting worked up over nothing?
     
    I wonder if anyone from Creative actually reads these threads and could comment...
     
  11. DagsJT
     
    Creative advised on Twitter that it does have stereo virtual surround for consoles so there is an element on surround.
     
  12. Evshrug
    I mean, it's got the mic integration and the one cable connection I liked from the E5, at a cheaper price, plus the creature comforts like the LED volume indicator and processed outputs. I honestly had expected that the processed output wouldn't make it, but Creative did get it in. I just... Console surround man! The E5 is on sale now and I'd take that for the price difference so that I also have a portable DAC/amp/dsp which also acts as a digital transport, if all I wanted was stereo.
     
  13. cdsa35000
    What a useless rip-off, it just a exact strip-off E5 without battery and bluetooth, E5 cost 163 euro at Amazon.de.
     
  14. Stillhart
     
    That would be cool if true.  Do you happen to have the source?
     
  15. DagsJT
     
    Yep, they tweeted me :)
     
    Darren Thomas @DagsJT
    @CreativeLabs Thanks! Does the G5 provide surround sound for consoles or is it PC only?

     
    Creative Labs @CreativeLabs
    @DagsJT Virtual surround for both. Consoles are stereo virtual surround. Pc is native 7.1 virtual surround. :)

     
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