Out of all the accessories available for the Nintendo Switch, I would never have thought for a second about getting a digital-to-analogue amplifier. As far as I was concerned, DAC amps were for the hardcore gaming PC crowd who would snigger amongst themselves at the restrictions and inferiorities of console gaming. Be it as it may, the team down at Creative Technology has been kind enough to send me their own Sound Blaster G3 DAC amp, which happens to be specifically tailored for the console gamer in mind.
Now there are plenty of experts out there that can intricately compare one DAC amp to another with a world of knowledge and experience in crunching numbers and measuring ohms, decibels and kilohertz. I, on the other hand, don’t know, nor really care for such technicalities. Sure, I could probably wing my way through this review to vaguely sound like I know what I’m talking about. But honestly, I would much rather unashamedly expose my ignorance to express how I am just as stupid as the next person who asks “what the hell is a DAC amp?”
For anyone who is more tech-savvy than I am, you can make your own judgement by analysing the specs on the Sound Blaster G3 website here. For everyone else, just think of it as an aid to improve and customise the performance of sound quality to your preferred wired headgear that may not quite reach its full potential when jammed directly into your console. I’m not talking about improving those dodgy Dr Dru’s Beets you got from Conran Street Market, but rather getting the most out of a pair with a bit of oomph like the SteelSeries Arctis 3 headset that I’ve been using to try this thing out with.
Where my main priority lies, is to see whether or not this small portable product is both useful and practical for anyone who owns a Nintendo Switch. After all, the Sound Blaster G3 is a multi-platform peripheral that can benefit those who also own a PC, Mac or PlayStation 4. In fact, the only way to really get the most out of the Sound Blaster G3 is to attach it to any of the above products thanks mainly to the duel mic and sound mixer that is in no way compatible with the Nintendo Switch.
This is by no means Creative Technology’s fault, but rather down to Nintendo Switch’s current inability to provide a dedicated voice channel within its system. Not only that but the box that packages the Sound Blaster G3 also has an audio optic cable that fits directly into the back of a PlayStation 4, whereas the Nintendo Switch dock has no such orifice to plug.
Yet, if you consider that the volume of both the Nintendo Switch and party chat through your preferred phone app can be adjusted independently to suit your social-distancing multiplayer needs, then the lack of volume mix becomes somewhat less of a big deal as long as you’re one of the few who has a splitter or a pair of headphones that can sync both Bluetooth and wired connection simultaneously. Furthermore, any sound quality improvements that can be made through an optic cable are subtle enough not to really be missed in this case, unless you are an absolute audiophile.
Where the Sound Blaster G3 starts to become a convenient tool for Nintendo Switch players is how the head of the lead is a USB-C that can slot straight into the system, along with an added traditional USB-A adapter packed in to connect to both the dock or another preferred console of your choice. In simply plugging the device into the bottom of your Nintendo Switch with your headphone jack hanging off the other end of it, the improvements only begin to flirt around its potential. However, give the button on the face of the device a press and suddenly you’re in the default “footstep enhancing” preset mode which actually dulls out the overall quality of sound in favour of audibly pinpointing the directional whereabouts of an enemy in a first-person shooter or Battle Royale game.
The game of choice I used to test this particular feature out on was in DOOM (2016) online deathmatches, as it fits as one of the more traditional first-person shooter multiplayer modes on the system. As it turns out, the results happen to be incredibly helpful at providing me with a clear audio location of scuttering enemies that are out for my blood. I often felt like I could sense the distance and angle from my opponents fairly clearly, which provided me with the edge that I needed to either take my shot or run away and hide.
Where things became really interesting though, was when wirelessly pairing the Sound Blaster G3 to a phone to utilise the remote control companion app. It’s here where you can begin to fine-tune and save your own equalizer settings to adjust the bass, treble and preamp to the desired level. Furthermore, there are dozens of presets already available to choose from to cater towards various genres, as well as a gang of title-specific modes for games such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Complete Edition and Overwatch Legendary Edition. There’s also a PC program that can customise the Sound Blaster G3 far more than the app can, with a shed load of extra settings including a mic test function to help tweak the reduction of background noise and voice clarity.
With a little bit of experimenting, the difference in sound quality and volume tearing through the headphone’s speakers became night and day to what they were before. The single-player mode in DOOM instantly became even more atmospheric and exciting, and the world around me in games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey even denser.
I sat in a dark room playing Ikaruga and, as the ship engine roared, the feedback of the HD rumble kicked in and the blaring iconic music duped my brain into believing that I was in a sensory-enhancing isolation pod playing on a 50-inch screen. In reality, I was awkwardly leant forward cross-legged in my kecks in bed, tied up in wires with a rotated 6.2-inch screen resting on a third-party kick-stand that was unsteadily balancing on a pillow.
As for the DAC amp itself, it’s small enough to fit in a palm with a closed fist and only weighs 32 grams. The plastic shell that wraps around the tech inside seems pretty cheap and cheerful to keep the price range much lower than most other competing DAC amps out there. Each side of the device has two volume wheels and at the bottom lies three ports where the headset, optic cable and even a dedicated microphone can plug into. Like I mentioned before, the optic cable and dedicated microphone port are pretty useless if your only console of choice is a Nintendo Switch. The 3.5mm headphone jack can connect to any headset that has a microphone built-in, which can still be used for dedicated server-based voice chat for games like Fortnite and Paladins.
The hard-wired USB-C lead to the device is only 105mm from neck to tip which is very much on the short side if you’re planning on sitting back on the couch a distance away from the TV. It’s hard to understand why Creative Technology didn’t simply provide a longer, USB-C to type-C cable that could be detached from the DAC amp unit itself. Not only would it help for convenience sake, but it may also help increase the overall longevity of the product. After all, this is a device marketed specifically towards console gamers, so most people who play on a home console usually aren’t sat with their face several inches away from a monitor.
The hurdles of buying extra lead extensions for TV play maybe a little undesirable, but the convenience of simply being able to attach the Sound Blaster G3 to an undocked Nintendo Switch does entail an almost hassle-free experience that provides a sense of immersion far greater than simply strapping on a decent pair of headphones. Regardless of how good your headset may be, the benefit of being able to easily adjust settings through the phone app provides audio customisation that just isn’t possible within the console’s operating system. It may not be perfect for TV play, but the immersion and intimacy of improving handheld gaming will see to it that this little box of tricks will not be left neglected during my future ventures.