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Sound Blaster E5 Review

Sound Blaster E5 Review

Motherboard manufacturers have made great strides in recent years with regard to audio quality. Better controllers, better capacitors, shielding, separate PCB areas, amps. It could have significantly impacted Creatives business however they have been smart about the whole situation, working with some manufacturers to build their hardware onto boards, and with others to implement software based solutions that enhance the audio experience. The laptop market has some way to go though in sound quality and of course more and more people are using smartphones for their audio needs. Today we take a look at a product which is designed to enhance all of these (Desktop, Laptop and Smartphone) in our Sound Blaster E5 Review.

Sound Blaster E5 Review – Packaging and Bundle

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The Sound Blaster E5 arrives in a fairly compact box which shows a nice clear image of the device as well as noting a number of the key features. Inside we get the product documentation as well as a stand for the unit which allow us to position it tilted on our desk (or mount on a stand) and then we get 2 cables. One is an optical cable and the other a mini USB to USB which can be used for connecting to a desktop/laptop or flipped round for smartphone use.

Sound Blaster E5 Review – The E5


The E5 is shown above and overall it is a nice looking device. We get brushed metal effect in some areas, matt in others with angled edges that look great and overall we have a device which measures approximately 11cm long, 7.5cm wide and 2.2cm thick. On the top surface we can see a logo for NFC, more on that later, and we also have holes for the microphone (stereo) which is built in. At the closest end of the device are dual 3.5mm headphone outputs so that we can share our audio and between them a volume dial which has press to mute functionality.


Flipping the Sound Blaster E5 over we see that the base has a rubber pad which helps keep it in place on our desk while providing overall grip in the hand and at the end are our micro USB, USB (USB is asynchronous, pulling data rather than having it pushed from the PC for smooth playback) and 3.5mm connectors, one a Line-In and the other Line-Out (with optical capability). Looking down the side we have three LEDs for the inbuilt battery (3200mAh, 8hr rating) which can also charge our phone if needed and there are three buttons. One for on/off and bluetooth pairing (BT4.1. aptX low latency, AAC, SBC), another for enabling the Sound Blaster tech and a third for Gain. We can switch between low gain (2.2-120Ohms with gain up to 5dB) or high gain (120-600Ohms with gain up to 15dB).

So we have hinted at a few features above, such as battery operation, smartphone charging, support for headphones from cheap in-ears to broadcast quality and inbuilt microphones which allow us to record mono or stereo (sensing orientation as required) but what are the key functions of the Sound Blaster E5?

First and foremost this is a USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier. The digital to analogue converter used here is from Cirrus Logic (CS4398) with 120dB signal to noise ratio (SNR) and samplerate support of 24bit/192kHz, often known as High-Resolution Audio. The headphone amp is a Texas Instrument TI6120A2. It has a total harmonic distortion value (plus noise) of <0.005% and it employs a current on demand design which monitors the audio and reacts to power requirements, minimising (unwanted) noise during less demanding times. Also included in the E5 is a Cirrus Logic CS5361 Analog to Digital converter (ADC, 114dB, 192kHz) which allows audio recordings from our PC, Mac or smartphone.

Sound Blaster E5 Review – Software

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Creative have installed a SB-AXX1 multi-core processor in the Sound Blaster E5 and we get access to its features through the Sound Blaster E5 control panel. Settings are stored on the device and looking through the software we start on the SBX Pro Studio section which allows us to add virtual surround, enhance detail/bass and improve vocal quality of recordings. Next up is the CrystalVoice tab which allows us to tweak how we sound from basics such as volume through enhanced vocal effects (make yourself sound like a robot, demon, etc) and enable noise reduction, echo cancellation and so on. We can tweak our speaker/headphone mode in the next screen and then  move on to a mixer before getting in depth with equaliser settings.

Using the E5 on an Android or iOS device? There’s an app for that…

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The Sound Blaster Central app essentially allows us the same control as we get in the desktop app, but from our phone.

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It is also worth noting that as with other Creative products, once we install the desktop control panel the Auto-Update program gives us access to some free extras, Creative Wave Studio and Smart Recorder which allow us to create high quality audio recordings, or fix/enhance older audio files.

Sound Blaster E5 Review – User Experience and Conclusion

Starting with the build quality and design of the Sound Blaster E5 we have a device which looks and feels great. There is a little bit of weight to it, which initially is a disappointment, however it actually assists in keeping it stable on any desk we place it on. When in a pocket it is barely noticeable and in a bag, easy to transport. The rubber base is handy, at home and one the move for providing grip and the angled design helps in this aspect too. At first it felt like the volume dial would be awkward to use however the recessed design helps stop us from knocking it easily which is ideal. The E5 also feels fairly solid in construction and we noted no issues with stability of the ports. Would we change anything? Maybe re-locate the battery LEDs to the same surface as the mic’s as that is most visible, maybe some sort of rubber edges because this is the type of device which could be dropped, or thrown about in bags but overall a well set out device.

Setup of the Sound Blaster E5 is super easy. If you have a phone which supports NFC, simply touch it on the top surface of the E5 and the two pair. Music can be played back instantly or we can install the app and gain more control. On desktop we plug in via USB and the card is ready to use, again with enhanced features through software. Or we could of course connect via line-in. There is of course the option to connect (and charge) Android devices by USB.

Creative have spent some considerable time developing their software control panel and the one used by the E5 is very similar to their other desktop parts which is great to see. It is easy to use and all changes are applied instantly. Something which can also be said of the Android app. We didn’t expect much more than a basic panel on our phone but Creative have implemented as much of the functionality as possible which is great.

So what about the listening experience? Overall, hugely impressive. If you have a high end sound card in your PC, the E5 will compete fairly well however it really comes into its own for those on standard audio, and those who use their systems on the move. Whether that be laptop or smartphone. Laptop users get what is essentially a high end audio experience in a device which is barely bigger than a phone and only takes up a single USB port (dual headphone outputs is a real bonus for those who want to share audio while travelling). Smartphone users will find themselves in a different audio world using the E5 and any sort of half decent headphones. The E5 pumps out a nice neutral, warm sound which leans a little towards the bass end of the spectrum when we use it without any of the enhanced audio features. With the Sound Blaster Tech enabled, even at a basic level Bass becomes more prominent but not to the detriment of the mids and highs. There is a lot of detail present in our audio, regardless of the profile and we noted no significant distortion or electrical noise, regardless of the in-ears or headphones used.

As far as the value goes, the E5 sits at £160/$199 or so and some may be surprised that we considered awarding it our Value Award, even at that price level. Why? It is one of the most feature packed USB DAC/Amp’s at that price level, and even quite a bit higher. You get all of the above, and thats before we start to think out of the box and consider using the inbuilt mic as an upgrade in the car… great stuff.

Summary: Good design, solid construction, easy setup,absolutely packed with features with great sound quality across a range of sources and outputs.

Gold Award

Available from Amazon.

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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