The GC7 is a USB DAC/Amp for taking control of your audio and immersing yourself in Super X-Fi sound.

Put intuitive control of your gaming audio experience at your fingertips with the latest USB DAC/amp from Creative, the Sound Blaster GC7. Leave behind the inconvenience of opening control panels, and the buzzy, weak sound of built-in PC headphone jacks. And beyond PCs, you can use the GC7 with PS4/PS5 consoles, Nintendo Switch, and even mobile devices. It’s feature-packed and promises high-end audio fidelity along with 3D headphone sound with Super X-Fi tech and Dolby Audio.

Features

The Sound Blaster GC7 is a $169.99 (MSRP) DAC/amp designed for tethered, desktop use. It connects via USB C or optical-digital input, or 3.5mm analog input, and is designed to offer premium sound and drive a wide variety of headphones (32-300 ohm impedance). With the inclusion of inputs and outputs as well as mixing controls, the GC7 qualifies as a USB audio interface, not just a DAC/amp.

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Creative touts an “audiophile-class” DAC for the GC7. Since DACs aim for neutral, transparent sound, the definition of “audiophile” in this case refers to the noise floor, which is spec’d at -120 dB. This translates to a silent background, free of noise and hiss, and offers the dynamic range needed to accommodate hi-res playback. With CD audio offering 96 dB (un-dithered) listeners enjoy a nice cushion of extra silence, beyond the noise floor of the source material.

This DAC/amp is designed to rest on a desktop and offers large, tactile buttons and knobs for making adjustments. Two large knobs define the interface and offer volume adjustment (left knob) and Game/Voice mix (right knob). Between these two knobs is a circular arrangement of buttons and a smaller rotary controller knob, plus a numeric display. This interface lets you rapidly adjust parameters like surround, bass, treble, mic level and SXFI effect. Rounding out the physical controls are four programmable buttons and a mute button, arrayed along the bottom of the unit’s face.

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The GC7 supports hi-res PCM audio up to 24-bit/192 Hz and can translate Dolby Audio (5.1 channels) into virtualized 2-channel headphone surround. You get dual DSPs to process sound to your taste. There’s the Super X-Fi “headphone holography” that is Creative’s most advanced surround virtualization. It allows for accurate 3D sound placement, as if you were sitting in a room equipped with a sophisticated multi-speaker surround system.

You also get the “classic” suite of Sound Blaster audio enhancements like “Crystalizer, Smart Volume and Dialog Plus”. These functions work with speakers and headphones.

Furthermore, the GC7 has Creative’s gameplay-enhancing “Scout Mode” that lets you amplify and zero in on audio cues, so you hear telltale sounds that would otherwise be missed. The Sound Blaster GC7 also offers SXFI Battle Mode, which incorporates virtualized distance, not just direction, thus providing a tactical advantage to players who know how to use sound cues to uncover enemies and other hidden game elements.

An entire oversize knob is dedicated to the GameVoice Mix feature. It is as described, allowing you to rotate a knob to change the balance between chat and in-game sound effects. It is a key aspect of this unit’s design and a feature that makes it dead-simple to bounce between chat and focusing on sound effects.

In order to use the Super X-Fi function, which creates virtualized headphone surround and takes the shape of your ears into account, for a more precise and convincing effect, you’ll need to run the SXFI app (on mobile) or the Creative app (on PC/Mac) and create a profile. For an even more optimal experience Creative has profiles for a variety of headphones, of course including its Aurvana Live! products but also other brands and models. However, choosing a headphones model is optional, if you have a high quality pair and create the personalized profile, you’ll be able to enjoy Super X-Fi sound. You also have the option of using “traditional” 5.1 or 7.1 virtual surround, which includes Dolby Digital decoding support.

Audio Specifications
  • PCM Stereo Output @ 24-Bit / 192kHz
  • 32–300Ω headphone support
  • < 2Ω headphone output impedance
  • Dolby Audio 5.1 channels to virtualized 2 channel decoding
  • Playback frequencies in DSP mode up to 24-Bits: PCM 44.1, 48.0, 96.0, 192.0 kHz
  • Noise floor of < -120 dB

System Requirements

Windows® OS

  • Intel® Core™i3 or AMD® Ryzen equivalent processor
  • Intel, AMD or 100% compatible motherboard
  • Microsoft® Windows 10 32 / 64 bit
  • 1 GB RAM
  • >600 MB of free hard disk space
  • USB 2.0 / USB 3.0 port
Mac® OS
  • Mac OS X® 10.13 or higher
  • 1 GB RAM
  • USB 2.0 / USB 3.0 port
PS4
  • Firmware Ver 5.0 or later
  • Available USB port
Nintendo Switch
  • Switch OS 5.0 or later
  • Available 3.5 mm headphone port on console
  • Available USB port (in docking mode)
Voice communications supported when connected via 3.5 mm port and with Bluetooth to Android and iOS Nintendo Switch Online app or VOIP client


Pros/Cons

Pros

  • Super X-Fi surround-sound virtualization
  • USB C connection
  • Works with PC/Mac, consoles and mobile devices
  • Quality DAC and headphone amp
  • Easy to use controls
  • Gaming-centric features
  • Includes USB, 3.5mm and optical-digital cables
  • Dual DSP engines
  • Flexible connectivity
Cons
  • Only 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Requires additional configuration to use all features
  • All-plastic construction
  • USB C to USB C cable not included


Review Methodology

This is a hands-on, subjective review of the actual product. The Creative Sound Blaster GC7 was provided on loan by the manufacturer for the purpose of this review, and arrived in a factory-sealed package. The hands-on consists of using the GC7 in conjunction with a gaming laptop and also a desktop PC system, and also with a PlayStation 4 Pro. I used the GC7 in conjunction with several different headphones, from Creative’s own SXFI Theater to a pair of Sony WH-1000XM4. For a “high quality” option, I also auditioned the Creative with Audeze LCD-2 closed-back headphones, in conjunction with a Marantz Pro M4U microphone (swapping out the Marantz USB dongle with the GC7).

This is not a technical review, the aim is not to attempt laboratory measurements to see how they compare to published specs. It is an experiential review, a subjective experience where I use it like any consumer would. The review is based on impressions gained from the hands-on experience. Upon completion of the review, the product is returned to the manufacturer.

Who should get a GC7 USB DAC/Amp?

This USB DAC/amp is clearly aimed at gamers who want an audio interface that’s robust, easy to use, works with multiple devices, sits well on a desktop or coffee table, and can deliver an immersive surround-sound experience tailored to their own ears. But it also has features that make it attractive for content creators and anyone who’s into live streaming. Creative calls it their “most comprehensive external soundcard yet” which is a significant statement considering how long the company has been in the soundcard business (over three decades, the first Sound Blaster card came out in 1989). What it does not do is cover the same ground as audio interfaces aimed at musicians, which have XLR inputs, phantom power and typically possess no gamer-friendly features.

This GC7 is an excellent choice for gamers who want something more robust than the built-in sound on their PC, or who game on consoles or mobile but want great sound (and the ability to drive audiophile-quality headphones). It’s for users who appreciate advanced surround-sound virtualization, be it for games or movies or music. It’s for PC/Mac users who appreciate a solid audio interface with an oversized volume knob. And it’s for anyone who wants to easily manage voice chat while being able to magnify the audio cues found in games.

On the rear of the unit is a small switch labeled “mobile, console, PC” and that’s all it takes to put the GC7 in a mode where it’ll communicate with the selected device type via USB. This degree of multi-platform compatibility is very “Creative” and broadens the usage scenarios that apply to this handy device. Even if your sole interest was for a headphone DAC/amp that is fully powered by your mobile device, including smartphones, the GC7 is a solid choice.

What to look for when shopping for a Gaming USB DAC/Amp

  • What inputs and outputs does it offer, beyond USB?
  • What size is the headphone jack? (3.5mm or 1/4")
  • Does it work with PC and consoles and mobile devices?
  • Does it offer virtual surround-sound?
  • Is it able to enhance game audio for better tactical gameplay?
  • Are the physical controls (buttons & knobs) easy to identify and adjust?
  • Is it self-powered via USB or does it require a wall-wart?
  • Is the sound quality audiophile grade?
  • Can it drive low sensitivity and high impedance headphones?

How to use the Creative Sound Blaster GC7

The basic features of the GC7 are plug-and play, but to get the most out of it, you’ll need use additional apps for setup and to have full functionality. The type of connection depends on the usage, but in most cases I’d anticipate USB. Creative does not pack a big manual with the GC7, instead it guides you to Android/iOS app stores, so you can download the Super X-Fi app and create a personal profile. Creating the profile is a matter of taking several photos of your ears, and once that’s completed you upload that profile to the GC7. For mobile users, this can be done with Bluetooth. If you are using a PC, you’ll retrieve the profile by using the Creative app and logging into your account. What’s key is once the profile is loaded, it’ll work without that connection, so for example you can leverage it to virtualize surround-sound from a gaming console.

Nothing says you must use the Sound Blaster or Super X-Fi functions. Turn it all off, and you’ve got a powerful, competent, audiophile-quality headphone DAC/amp to work with. Enjoying this aspect of its performance is as simple as plugging in some quality cans and queuing some good music. But once you get into gaming, you’ll surely want to experiment with using the sonic holography function and Sound Blaster enhancements, to see how they benefit your gameplay. Plus, there are the fully programmable buttons that are clearly market and easy to access. How you use them, is up to you.

Thanks to its flexible connectivity options, you can use the GC7 with “traditional” wired gaming headsets that have separate mic and headphone jacks. Or you can use it with 4-pole 3.5mm jacks that have the mic integrated (your typical smartphone headphone). You can also use it with separate headphones and mic, which is appealing to podcasters. And you can use it with a speaker system by leveraging the 3.5mm analog stereo line out, or even with a soundbar or AVR using the optical-digital output.

Connecting to PC was nice and smooth, with plug-and-play installation. Just remember to flick the switch on the back to PC mode, and LED on the front shows which which one is selected. Once you do that, the volume knob gets linked to the system volume and you are in charge. Time to set up the GC7, which you can accomplish quickly and easily in the control panel/settings screen. But the real key to the GC7 experience is to install the Creative app (for PC). I'm happy to report that the app immediately recognized the GC7 and offered up a GUI to customize its operation.

Within the Creative app is a button for Super X-Fi settings. Pressing that produced a prompt to download the Super X-Fi app for PC. One I did that, and logged in, I was able to choose my most recent head map (I've already tried Super X-Fi in the past, so I have an account and profile already). The next step is to check and see if your headphones are in the "Headphone Selection" list. This list does include Apple's Airpods and AirPods Pro, fwiw. Once you do this, the settings will remain in the GC7 even after you disconnect from the PC, allowing you to use SXFI in any application (PC/mobile/console).

Hands-on Experience

Aside from loading the SXFI profile (a “one and done” task), and choosing the right audio setting on my PS4 Pro, the Sound Blaster GC7 was indeed “plug-and-play” on my various devices. It worked great with my iPad Pro 12.9” (I did have to dig up a USB C to USB C cable). I loved how the volume know sync’d up with the volume in the iPad, and when I spun it, I could see the iPad responding. I had the same experience with my Galaxy S20 Ultra phone, via USB C, it can fully power the GC7, the result is a highly capable listening station for listening to, or creating music, as well as a robust podcasting and mobile gaming setup.

The amp clearly has enough power to drive even challenging headphones to high output levels. For example, the Audeze LCD-2 Closed Back that are my reference for full-size cans. The GC7 drove them beautifully, with absolute clarity and zero distortion and at high output levels. It transforms my phone into an audio powerhouse and what’s more if you put your phone on a wireless charger you’ll basically never run out of power while enjoying access to an unimaginably vast array of musical content.

Next up is PC use, a realm where Creative enjoys vast experience dealing with sound. Now, I don’t have a hardcore gaming PC to try the GC7, but I do have a Gigabyte gaming laptop with GXT1060 graphics and Core(TM) i7-7700HQ processor, plus 32GB of RAM. As usual, GTA 5 Online exerts its gravitational pull on me, so that’s how I checked out the in-game sound features of the GC7. So, let’s cut to the chase… the interface works great, it utterly intuitive and lets you have the exact mix of dialog and sound effects that you want or need at any give moment.

The lighting and the knobs are highly ergonomic so you can easily adjust the GC7, even in the dark and even when paying attention to a game. You won’t be fumbling for settings or mistaking one button for another, and you most certainly won’t need to open any control panels on your PC to make adjustments. So, from an ergonomics and usability perspective, within the context of gaming, the whole design makes a ton of sense.

I’ve followed SXFI technology since Creative introduces it a few years back, and find highly effective for surround virtualization. The benefit of SXFI is the customization to the shape of your ears, because this impacts how you hear height effects. Making the profile allows SXFI to fine-tune the virtualized surround for maximum envelopment and precision in locating individual sounds, for an uncanny "you are there" effect that puts you inside the game environment and is a legit enhancement to the listening experience.

OK, so my personal experience withthe GC7 while playing GTA 5 Online is extremely positive. The main thing I love about it, is how well it drives all my headphones. The sound is super clear, full range, tight, and free of distortion. This acts as a "quality multiplier" for the Super X-Fi processing, which is absolutely preferable to have turned on when gaming. Without Super X-Fi the sound is "flat" and stuck inside your head. But with it, the sound is fully enveloping, with directional cues that are as precise as I'm used to hearing from high-performance, full-size, multi-speaker sound systems.

Conclusion

Until you plug in and use the GC7, you might not appreciate what a fine piece of audio hardware Creative has created. The ease of use, audio fidelity, rich feature set, and flexible connectivity combine to make it much more than your typical DAC-amp or external soundcard... and that's before you get into what Super X-Fi has to offer in terms of sonic holography.

It is an incredibly capable, adaptable, and crucially... easy to use accessory that won't just improve your gaming experience, it'll likely become your go-to interface for anything audio related you do on your desk (or floor, or living room coffee table, or kitchen counter). It does not matter if you are working with a PC, smartphone, tablet or gaming console, you'll enjoy great sound and a richfeature set with the Sound Blaster GC7.

Ultimately, this is a "Scorching" new USB DAC/amp from Creative, one that needs to be on the short list of anyone who wants an all-in-one desktop solution for their headphone DAC/amp needs.

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