Creative Sound Blaster GC7 – The Best DAC-Amp for Gamers
Creative is a well known name within the audio industry especially for their Sound Blaster sound card range since the late 80s. Currently, part of their gaming series includes headsets, DAC-amps and speakers and advertised as the “gamer’s kit”. Previously we reviewed one of their headset, the Creative SXFI Air Gamer. This time, we got our hands on their flagship gaming focused DAC-amp, the Sound Blaster GC7, aimed squarely at gamers and content creators alike.
Physical, I/O and Controls
The GC7 comes only in black, with a full matte plastic build. The top features buttons and knobs for unit operation. 3 rotary knobs, 2 big ones for volume and GameVoice Mix, and a small knob for EFX audio effects adjustment.
There are 2 button groups, center (EFX) and lower (macro) . The EFX buttons flank a 2-digit 7-segment display. Press either the Bass, Treble, Surround or Mic button and the screen lights up with the corresponding level of adjustment. Adjustment is done using the EFX dial, which is also a pressable button to zero the mode level.
The macro button group (C1 to C4) are customisable in both RGB colors and actions. Configurable through the Creative software, you can assign functions like media playback, Scout Mode switch and any keyboard macros. Finally, a dedicated mic mute button for the mic jack.
On the back is a multitude of ports and switches for input and output. From the right: power switch, device switcher, USB-C port, Optical In, Optical Out, gain switch, line in (mobile only), line out. On the front there is a power LED, Dolby activity LED, 3.5mm mic-in jack and 3.5mm audio-out jack.
The device switcher determines which ports are usable. For example the Optical In is available in “console” mode. The Optical ports are also the only access to Dolby audio features. Sadly I do not have the equipment to test this. The GC7 can also be used as a DAC/preamp with a line-out to a separate amplifier module if you so wish.
Accessories are adequate, Creative includes a USB-A to USB-C cable, a TRRS 4-pole 3.5mm aux cable and surprise surprise, a TOSLINK fibre optic cable. A cool trick from Creative is the outer sleeve can be unwrapped to reveal a quick guide printed on the inside, great use of packaging.
- Compatibility: PC, Mac, PS5, PS4, Xbox, Nintendo Switch
- Audio SNR: 120 dB
- Effects: Virtual 7.1, Super X-FI, GameVoice Mix, Dolby Audio, Scout Mode
- Amp Spec: Low output impedance 2Ω; 32 – 300 Ω headphone support
- DAC Spec: 24-bit / 192 kHz
- Connectivity: Optical-in, Line-in, Optical-out, Line-out, USB-C, 4-pole 3.5 mm jack, dedicated mic jack
Super X-FI Magic
As part of their Super X-FI capable product lineup, the GC7 is equipped with Super X-FI audio holography. For the uninitiated, Super X-FI is a proprietary virtual surround technology by Creative that computes user’s ear and head measurement to build a custom surround profile. The effect is a much wider soundstage akin to live music on stage and theater cinema.
To start using SXFI, download the SXFI App to your smartphone, then proceed to login with a SXFI account (or create one for first time users). Next proceed to the scanning process which we covered in detail in our SXFI Air Gamer review here. Quick version is : Get another person to scan your face, left ear and right ear. No friends? Use screen mirroring on a computer. The calibrated SXFI profile will be saved to your SXFI account and synced across different SXFI devices.
For listening, I paired the Sound Blaster GC7 with the aforementioned SXFI Air Gamer headset and the resulting experience is on par or maybe slightly better than just on headset. Wide soundstage, music feels like being in a live show and movies feels like being in a theater, Super X-FI magic works as intended.
Now, why would you want to use SXFI headset with SXFI DAC-amp? Simple; you can experience Super X-FI with the SXFI Air Gamer on passive mode (headset turned off). Win-win here. No need to sacrifice battery life when plugged in with aux mode to use it. When you want to move about, just unplug and turn on the Air Gamer with SXFI on.
Gamer Matters review of SXFI Air Gamer was “average” whereby the Super X-FI experience was spoiled a bit by unfavorable stock tuning of the headset itself, at least to my experience. Therefore, I want to really focus on getting Super X-FI right. So how does a discrete Super X-FI device like the Sound Blaster GC7 fare?
I stand corrected now, Super X-FI is actually super legit. With the limiting factor of being tied to a specific headset gone, I was able to try with different gears. Lucky for me too there’s a tuning preset for one of my daily driver, a Philips SHP9500. Super X-FI magic works even better with the GC7 and my SHP9500.
The movie part is especially delightful. I tried SXFI on mostly action movies and the heavy effects like explosions and gunshots in John Wick series were a treat to the ears. Just like in a movie theater. For music, the live music simulation works to a degree, in a sense that the concert speakers have that overdrive and static twang to them in an open stage setup, not an enclosed venue where the reverb and reflection are accounted for.
However, certain songs are just bad with Super X-FI because of the emphasized highs. Listening to Linked Horizon is kinda painful on SXFI mode, and their songs are orchestral rock fit for a concert. In short, still very convincing but could use more work. Maybe few notch down on speaker simulation and the trebles, then boost reverb a touch. It was noticeably sub-par on the GC7 and Air Gamer pairing, with the Air Gamer bright signature makes the whole experience on certain songs outright unbearable like “JustiΦ” by ISSA.
For games, the SXFI Battle Mode is claimed to improve situational awareness in games such as first person shooter. Honestly, this one was still underwhelming just like in our SXFI Air Gamer review. Instead of better situational awareness, it felt like I was a soldier with some hearing damage after being shelled with mortars. For real situational awareness boost, there is Scout Mode.
Scout Mode Is Cheat Mode
As the name implies, Scout Mode improves on situational awareness to a “scout” level by enhancing audio cues. Dialogues, footsteps and gunshots are more prominent and more directionally identifiable. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is a game changer.
It really does feel like cheat mode superhuman with how good you can identify where the enemies are. It works with VODs too so if you’re watching Let’s Plays of Warzone, Squad or Tarkov, Scout Mode will augment your watching experience.
A demo on Scout Mode is available on its own mini-site here.
An excellent feature inspired from audio mixer boards is GameVoice Mix, and Sound Blaster GC7 delivers it with ease. Here’s how it works: Plugged onto a computer, the GC7 will appear as two separate devices, Headset and Speaker. Set your normal audio on Speaker and your chat app on Headset.
The GC7 will mix both into your headphone output, then you use the GameVoice knob on the right to adjust game or chat volume mix on the fly. Right turn and it reduces game volume, left turn and it reduces chat volume, center it for a balanced volume. Easy and very intuitive. I love it. Discord voice chat while gaming can now be given priority volume as needed.
As an industry powerhouse like Creative, the sound quality from GC7 meets expectations which is “Great!”. Just stock tuning is excellent, music sounds natural and full, with a slightly bright signature. I boosted the bass a touch which was easily done with the EFX button and knob.
Creative’s surround EFX (non-SXFI) is also excellent. It widens the soundstage and sort of gives the instruments and vocals room to breathe and be noticed. Most of the time, I prefer this virtualization instead of Super X-FI for music. Of course, this is no replacement for the live music simulation that SXFI can do, but some days I’d want SXFI while most of the time just standard virtualization is good.
Just a bit (20% for me) is sufficient on open back headphones. Closed back headphones will especially benefit from the surround feature. The level of surround is also adjustable from 0 to 99 using the EFX knob or in app. The Crystallizer Audio Engine from the app enhances some smaller detail especially in the higher range of frequencies. Musical textures are more noticeable with Crystallizer and as someone who appreciates the little details this is an all time “On” for me.
Personally, I enjoyed my time with the Sound Blaster GC7. Excellent tuning, easy on-the-fly adjustment of bass, treble and surround, the GameVoice Mix feature is to die for and Scout Mode is a built in cheat mode. Also, it is doing Super X-FI justice with how good it is when paired with different headphones. I am proud to announce that the Sound Blaster GC7 is now a permanent fixture on my desk replacing my Fiio E10k Olympus II. This is rightfully the best all-in-one DAC-amp for gamers.
However good the GC7 is, it is not perfect. The full plastic build feels cheap and lack premium feel. At least give us metal knobs please. Also, the Creative and SXFI softwares can be quite glitchy and sluggish at times. The SXFI desktop app especially, sometimes did not detect the GC7 as connected. Finally, the macros are not stored onboard and can only be invoked with the Creative software running.
Even with the disadvantages, I still wholeheartedly recommend the Sound Blaster GC7. If you are a gamer or a streamer/content creator in need of a versatile all-in-one audio interface and customizable macro buttons, consider picking up the Sound Blaster GC7. Currently retailing for USD 149 (approx RM 650 as of time of writing), the Sound Blaster GC7 is a worthy upgrade to your built-in soundcard not just for audio quality but the extras that come with it like Super X-FI, GameVoice Mix and Scout Mode. Also consider picking up the SXFI Air Gamer or other gears from their gaming lineup.
Get to know more about and purchase Creative’s gamer’s kit lineup here.
A great all-rounder gaming DAC-amp that not only delivers great sonic experience, but also augments them through the power of Super X-FI, Scout Mode and GameVoice Mix
- Hardware and Equipment 8
- Sound Quality 9
- Value 9