How to Get Sound Blaster Cards Running With VR and Digital Outputs – TEXT GUIDE

By April 22, 2020Editorial

Creative Labs Sound Blaster AE-5Last week, we ran a special episode of Neil’s Messy Basement to share findings on how to get a Creative Labs Sound Blaster Card to work through digital outputs like HDMI, DisplayPort, and Bluetooth. The viewing time was understandably a big ask for would-be audiophiles, so this guide hopes to rectify that!

Creative Labs has a long history for putting out sound cards that deliver superior audio to what you would normally find on a computer motherboard. More than improved audio quality, it also comes with all kinds of enhancement tools that make the experience that much better for gamers.

How Sound Blaster Worked With VR BEFORE

How Sound Blaster worked with VR BEFORE!

Unfortunately, this special audio support has been limited to wired headphones and analog surround sound speakers. It’s a missed opportunity because Bluetooth headphones and full-fledged 5.1 surround sound systems connected with HDMI or DisplayPort are equally deserving of better audio – and they’ve been left out in the cold.  PC VR gamers are also disadvantaged because they too are limited to what their computer motherboard can deliver.  The only solution available was to run headphones on a separate wire from the HMD, or worse, drag an extra 25’ cable alongside whatever the HMD is wired with. This just wasn’t conducive for a practical VR experience!

This is how it SHOULD be!

This is how it SHOULD be!

Another challenge is that because the Sound Blaster card is running in parallel and separately from the standard audio that our VR and gaming solutions are running, a convenient method was needed to be able to adjust volume; even in VR mode if we can’t see our keyboard!

We’ve discovered a method to achieve all the above, and gamers can now benefit from the Sound Blaster series of cards on all kinds of digitally connected devices including surround sound systems, Bluetooth headphones, and PC-based VR head mounted displays.

HERE WE GO!

Step 1: Get Your System Ready

1. In bios, turn off your audio controller (likely Realtek).
2. Uninstall all your motherboard audio drivers (likely Realtek).
3. Install the latest Creative Labs Sound Blaster drivers.

Step 2: Configure Your Physical Audio Device

1. Right click on the volume icon (bottom right of desktop).
2. Choose “Open Sound Settings”.

Open Sound Settings

3. Choose “Sound Control Panel”.

Open Sound Control Panel
4. Select the “Playback” tab at the top of the window.
5. Right click on your physical audio solution (e.g. 5.1 speakers, VR Device)
6. Choose “Configure Speakers
7. Choose speaker setup (e.g. Stereo, 5.1 Speakers, etc.).
8. Complete configuration according to abilities of your speakers or headphones.

Configure Speakers

Step 3: Channel Your Audio to Your Favorite Device

1. In the “Sound Control Panel”, choose “Recording” at the top of the window.
2. Right click on “What U Hear”.

Choose What U Hear

3. Choose “Set as Default Device
4. AGAIN, right click on “What U Hear
5. Choose “Properties”.
6. Choose the “Listen” tab at the top of the window and tick the “Listen to this device” box.
7. Under “Playback through this device”, choose your physical audio solution.

Choose Audio Device

8. Choose the “Levels” tab at the top, and maximize the level for now.
9. Choose “Advanced” tab at the top of the Window.
10. Under “Default Format”, choose “6 channel, 48000 Hz”.

Choose number of channels and bitrate

Step 4: Configure Sound Blaster For Your Audio System

1. Open the Creative Labs “Command” interface.
2. Select the “Playback” Tab.
3. Choose your headphones or speaker profile. Make sure it is identical to how you set it up in the Windows Playback tab.

Choose Audio Output in Creative Labs Command Software

Step 5: Proof of Life

1. Left click on the volume icon.
2. Choose “Speakers (your Sound Blaster model)” as your playback device.

Sound Blaster Speakers Selected
3. When you move the volume scrollbar, you should hear a Windows ding.|

Step 6: Get That Volume Control!

1. Download and run the free Volume2 softwareGet version dated 04/21/20 or later!
2. In the primary audio devices setup, choose “Sound Blaster Speakers”.
3. In the secondary audio devices setup, choose “What U Hear“.
4. Make sure the “lock” option is selected (the graphic could be reversed, you may have to toggle).

4. When you adjust the volume with your keyboard or volume scrollbar, it will work and behave like a normal audio device!

Step 7: Enjoy That Audio Goodness!

Things to know:

1. All the Sound Blaster Command profiles and settings will work now.
2. You can change the listening device to anything you want in the “What U Hear” app; just be sure to match it in the Creative Labs “Command” interface.  For example, if you are using headphones, make sure the Sound Blaster Command software is also configured for headphones.

Sound Blaster Headphones Config

3. This has been tested with 5.1 on HDMI, HTC Vive on PC, and Bluetooth headphones.

Special Considerations For VR

How to Choose HTC Vive
In the case of the HTC Vive, it may only appear as an audio output option in “What U Hear” when the HMD is turned on.  Activate SteamVR FIRST, then choose the HTC Vive as a listening device in the “What U Hear” app. Also be sure to have “Speakers (your Sound Blaster Model)” as the audio listening choice for your VR device. The audio will be directly channeled to your headphones through your VR device.

Choose Correct VR Audio Settings

With the latest versions of Volume2, you will be able to use the VR audio scroll bars as you would normally.  Just make sure your audio output is set to Speakers / Sound Blaster Audio and your recording device is the microphone built into your HMD device.

YOU’RE ALL SET!  Enjoy your new audio experience.

DISCLAIMER: We are treating Creative Labs’ What U Hear recording device as a playback resource for PCM-compatible outputs like digitally connected surround sound speakers, Bluetooth headphones, and USB-connected audio solutions.  There isn’t anything unnatural about this and it should work for everyone.  Still, it’s a bit of a hack, so we can’t make any guarantees.  Experiment for yourself!  So far, reports back have all been positive.

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