I recently purchased one of these to replace my Sound BlasterX AE-5. I love my AE-5, which is now sitting in a box, but my main reasons for switching were noticeably degraded performance while gaming (interference, coil whine, which highly depended on which video card I had at the time) and constant driver issues. The software, when it worked, worked well, but it really seems that Creative has been battling Microsoft when it comes to updates and compatibility issues. A few months ago I started experiencing a major issue where the stereo channels in my audio would become inverted at times. This was a major issue while gaming, as enemies approaching me on my left sounded like they were on my right and vice versa. No amount of tweaking, driver installs, etc. rectified the issue. The microphone input also really sucked. Lots of hissing and white noise. So I pulled the trigger on the Schiit Hel, my first USB DAC.
Build quality seems great, setup is a breeze and comes with everything you need to get started. It IS plug n play, but I opted for installing the "Gaming Drivers" from their website as it added more options in Windows Control Panel in terms of configuration and usage. I've had zero issues with operation thus far. Sound quality, to me, is just as good as my outgoing AE-5, which I really liked audio-wise. Music sounds rich and full, and hectic video games like BFV sound extremely well detailed. Low sounds like a slight breeze and shell casings hitting the floor are discernible from even the loudest of explosions and sonic cracks. And the added benefit of this device being outside of my computer means no degradation in sound quality because of other components humming away in my computer. Lastly, the mic input is leaps and bounds better. Everyone I spoke too reacted to how crisp and clear my headset mic sounded after switching. "Woah, did you get a new mic?".
Perhaps the only thing I will miss from the Creative AE-5 is the ability to switch between headset and speaker outputs on the fly (in software) while simultaneously applying a EQ. I wrote Schiit asking if there was a switch on the Schiit Hel that could toggle between the Line-Out and Headphone Out, to which they replied there was. This is not true. Unless I'm missing something, the Hel will always output to the headphones if they're plugged in. So to switch to the preamp line-out, you have to unplug your headset. It's not a deal breaker, but I'd prefer not to be constantly unplugging and plugging things into the unit. Overall, I'm very happy with the quality of the Hel and I'm a little disappointed in the lack of attention and coverage it's getting. The Sound BlasterX G6 seems to have won the hearts and minds of mainstream users and gamers who want or recommend USB DACs, but I really think the Hel is worth a look at as well.
CPU: Ryzen 7 3700X w/ Thermalright TS140P Cooler
Motherboard: Gigabyte X570 Aorus Elite
GPU: Sapphire Pulse RX 5700 XT
Memory: G.Skill TridentZ 2x8GB @ 3733 MHz (16-17-16-16-32-48-288-1T)
Power Supply: FSP Group Hydro G 650W
Sound: Schiit Hel USB DAC
Case: Fractal Design Define R6