Sound Blaster is a name most people associate with soundcards in ancient 486 computers from the late 1990s. These days, the brand has a wider range of gaming-related audio equipment.
Creative, the parent company of Sound Blaster, has an entire line of Sound Blaster X products specifically for gaming fans, and the H7 headset and G5 external sound card represent the company’s premiere offerings in the high midrange gaming headset market. The H7 goes for $130, and it pipes virtual 7.1 surround sound through 50mm audio drivers. The G5 is a tiny $150 sound card with a built-in headphone amplifier. When combined, this system provides high-quality, detailed audio even at the highest volume levels.
What you’ll like
I primarily play games using a headset. That’s typically through the headphone jack on my PC tower or built into the an Xbox One or DualShock 4 controller. When I do that with the H7, I get nice full audio without a lot of outside noise leaking in. The 50mm drivers provide a broad spectrum, and that is even more noticeable when you plug in the G5.
This little amplifier helps the H7 headphones keep their composure no matter what you’re listening to. I loaded up a few Prince albums and was able to pick out the various instruments even during the most cacophonous moments. And the real benefit here is that you get that rich, all-encompassing sound at volumes that aren’t going to cause permanent damage. That’s what you want when you invest in solid headphones and an amplifier, and Sound Blaster delivers.
For gaming, you’ll get a more lifelike and engrossing experience. In Rocket League, I could hear the cheering and the sound of each individual automobile engine roaring around me. I went back to playing with headphones plugged directly into the computer’s headphone jack, and that sounded like a confusing soup of sounds in comparison.
Lightweight and comfortable
The gaming-headset market is crowded, but comfort is a key aspect that can help a product standout. Sound Blaster has done a fine job building something ergonomic that you won’t mind wearing for long gaming sessions.
The H7s have memory foam underneath an imitation leather that feels nice against the skin. The material is also gripes without snagging. It’ll hold into place on your dome because the leatherette has a lot of friction to it but not so much that it’ll stick to your flesh when you take it off.
It also has enough give that when you want to keep one cup off your ear, it doesn’t dig into your head. That’s crucial because those cups form such a tight seal that they’re great at keeping outside sounds out. If you’re listening for the door bell or for a crying kid, you can wear this over one ear for a long time.
Scout mode and software
The Sound Blaster X software that comes with G5 handles the virtual surround sound, and it also has a number of built-in presets for popular games like Counter-Strike and Call of Duty. You can also use this to ensure the 7.1 is working as intended.
One of the coolest features is Scout Mode, which makes what’s supposedly distant audio sound like it’s closer to you. This is beneficial in online multiplayer games, where hearing the enemy is crucial. I tried that out in Overwatch, and it gave me a tangible advantage. You can activate Scout Mode through the software or by pressing a button on the side of the G5.
Convenient and portable
While the G5 is packed with features, it’s also small enough that it won’t take up a lot of space in a bag. Even if you don’t want to bring along the full-sized over-the-ear H7 headphones, you can take the G5 with you on trips to use with a gaming laptop and a pair of earbuds.
What you won’t like
The H7 isn’t a fashion statement. I know a lot of people who don’t care what headphones look like, but I think Creative’s design make the headphones look cheaper than what they actually are. I don’t need a million flashing RGB LEDs, but I want something that looks mature and professional. Sound Blaster’s style is a weird mishmash of nice-looking materials and splashy gaming aesthetics. The outside of the headphones are a nice aluminum, but they’re splotched with the Sound Blaster X logo and random divots that I think are ugly.
Mic is only OK
The microphone that comes with the H7 gets the job done in online multiplayer, but it’s not going to give you broadcast-quality recordings for YouTube or anything like that. Of course, you can swap out the mic for something better whenever you want, which is something you’ll only want to do if you’re doing a lot of voiceover recording. But don’t pick this up thinking it’ll act as your daily driver for making audio-related content.
Sound Blaster isn’t a name people should leave in the past. With its latest products, the brand deserves to end up right alongside other top gaming-headset companies like Astro, Razer, and Turtle Beach. The H7 and G5 make an excellent pairing for playing narrative-based single-player games that rely heavily on cinematic elements as well as online multiplayer gaming where every advantage you can get matters.
The Sound Blaster X H7 and G5 are out now for $130 and $150, respectively. Creative provided GamesBeat with sample units for the purpose of this review.