OBS Recording and Stream ‘Desktop Audio’ is too low using Sound Blaster Play! 3

If you use a USB DAC with OBS, the ‘Desktop Audio’ capture in OBS comes through muffled, inaudible to too low in your recordings or to your stream audience. This article discusses the problem and offers a workaround.

More Info

The Sound Blaster Creative Play! 3 is an inexpensive USB Sound Card (Digital to Analogue Converter, DAC).

When used with OBS the monitoring levels will look fine, however viewers of your stream will comment that the levels are low. You can verify this through a test recording where you will find the ‘Desktop Audio’ channel to be poor quality.

The issue is caused by the design of the driver. The current version dates from 2017, so age may play a factor. However, the specific design is flawed as it is designed to be a monolithic master output device. Consequently, it does not correctly integrate into the current Windows 10 audio software mixing model.

To test this, disconnect your headphones or power off your speakers. Increase the master system audio to 100% (using the sound icon in the system tray on the taskbar) and repeat your test. At 100% master gain, the test recording/stream will have improved audio. It will however be too loud to safely use with your speakers/headphones.

The Fix

You can resolve the issue in Windows 10 21H1 using the following steps.

  1. Open device manager
  2. Expand Sound, video and game controller
  3. Right click on ‘Sound Blaster Play! 3’
  4. Select uninstall
  5. Tick to ‘Delete the driver software for this device’
  6. Do not reboot the computer if/when prompted
  7. Open Control Panel > Programs and Features
  8. Remove any Creative Labs / Sound Blaster Play! 3 entries from the programs list
  9. Reboot your computer

After rebooting, Windows will install a generic Microsoft driver for the dated 2021. If you repeat your test, the audio fidelity will be consistent.

It should be noted however that there are some limitations with this fix. Namely:

  1. You will lose the software features of the Sound Blaster Play! 3, such as the equalisation app, EAX features and headphone/speaker profiles.
  2. The normalised gain point on the generic driver is significantly lower than on the Creative Labs driver. This means that a volume level of 2 on the Windows Audio Mixer is approximately equivalent to ~18 using the Creative driver. So be careful if using headphones!