Creative SoundBlaster Play 4

Creative SoundBlaster Play 4 – a DAC for work and play (review)

The Creative SoundBlaster Play 4 is a great way to fix up poor sound on your video calls, web meetings and online conferences. With features like two-way noise cancellation, it’s especially helpful for the work from home brigade who have to deal with noisy environments. The Play 4 takes the shape of a pocket-sized dongle with a Digital-to-Analogue-Converter (DAC) chip inside. It plugs into your USB connector on one side and has a 3.5mm audio jack on the other. Combined with the included Windows SmartComms app, it can clean up background noise, auto-mute when you stop talking, make your music sound better, and much more.

The Creative SoundBlaster Play 4 works with any USB-C (or USB-A adapter provided) device and on Windows, macOS, PS4/5, Android, Nintendo Switch, and iOS devices with USB-C. The SmartComms app only works on Windows.

SoundBlaster Play 4

WebsiteCreative Labs
Price$44.95 plus $6 post – exceptional value for a DAC and app
Warranty1-year ACL worldwide
 Portable Plug-and-play Hi-Res USB DAC with Auto Mute and Two-way Noise Cancellation via SmartComms Kit for Conference Calls
AboutSingapore based Creative Labs (Est 1981) is famed for its PC soundcards and, more recently, speakers, headsets and webcams
MoreGadgetGuy Creative news and reviews here

What is a DAC?

The DAC takes USB sound (digital) and converts it to headphones/speakers (analogue). The better the DAC, the better the sound. This handles from 16-bit/44.1kHz (CD quality) right up to 24-bit/192kHz 110dB – impressive although Creative has professional DACs costing many times more.

What that means is that you hear things you have never heard before. The left/right separation is more distinct, and the sound stage is wider. You could use this DAC with any cabled headphones and be extremely pleased with the quality, especially for the price.

Similarly, the DAC has a reverse function (ADC) – to take a cabled analogue mic (your voice) and convert it to digital. That is where the ‘magic’ starts because you can do so much more in software.

Some of the things it can do:

  • Under Sound Mode, you can select from a range of pre-sets (like an Equaliser or EQ), which cover movies and music and a range of games.
  • In Acoustic Engine (another type of EQ), you can expand the sound stage (surround), make the music as natural as the artist intended (Crystaliser), blow out the bass (at the expense of mid and treble), select day or night smart volume and focus on Dialogue+ (clear voice).
  • Inline button for Bass Boost, Dynamic (spatial) EQ and off

Admittedly it is what Creative sound engineers think you want – a huge range of synthetic sound options.

SmartComms app for Windows

Under the recording tab, you can get it to Voice Detect – automatically mutes and unmutes the mic as you talk. You can play with sensitivity settings to detect anything from a whisper to a shout.

You can also:

  • Compensate for a noisy environment like a fan or air conditioner. Basically, it removes that noise from the voice data stream.
  • Noise Clean out – Reduce static background noise at your end (ADC)
  • Noise Clean in – Reduce static background noise from the other person end (DAC)

If that sounds hard to set up (Advanced), select Auto, and it does a very good job. Over two weeks of use, Auto works very well.

But there is more – Crystal Voice

The ADC can remove voice echo (hear your voice through the speakers) and voice morph – you can change gender, be a robot, Orc and many more. A bit of fun.

GadgetGuy’s take

Remember that this is a DAC and an ADC – that means it can process sound both ways. Creative has taken the most common issues for video conference sound and made it extremely easy to find a cure. At the price, this is a great DAC, and a SmartComms app is a huge asset for working from home, online schooling, entertainment and more. If you don’t have Windows, it is still an excellent DAC that will improve how you sound.

Creative SoundBlaster Play 4
The Creative SoundBlaster Play 4 can help improve poor video conference sound for the Work from home brigade. It is a USB to 3.5mm digital analogue converter (DAC and vice versa) combined with a Windows SmartComms app better sound both ways on video calls.
Value for money
Ease of use
Improves any cabled headset and mic – sounds better both ways
Very low cost for a very high spec
Great, flexible, Windows app with lots of sound features
Auto mute enables more natural two-way communication
Works equally well on USB-C 3.1 and USB-A 3.0
None really