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Saturday | December 10, 2016
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Sound Blaster X7 Review

Sound Blaster X7 Review

A few weeks ago we reviewed an item which completely exceeded our expectations. The Sound Blaster E5 was an external sound card which could be used on PC, Console or smartphone… Bluetooth, NFC, headphone amp, dual outputs it had all that and more… including the ability to charge a smartphone from the internal battery if needed. For those who are a little more tied to the desk, and need something even higher spec Creative offer the X7. Today in our Sound Blaster X7 review we find out if it manages to match or surpass the experience we had with the E5.

Sound Blaster X7 Review – Packaging and Bundle

sound-blaster-x7-review-box sound-blaster-x7-review-bundle

The Sound Blaster X7 arrives in a fairly chunky box which gives us plenty of information about the product, pitching it at the audiophile market as well as noting the gaming functionality. We get a nice clear image of the shape on the front and plenty of specification/feature information on the other sides. Inside the box the X7 is well protected and bundled with it a range of items. Those start with the standard PSU (an enhanced PSU can be bought separately for advanced audio configurations requiring more power) and then we have a USB cable as well as optical/phono cables. The wire item you can see above is a stand which inserts into the back of the X7 giving us a place to hang headphones.

Sound Blaster X7 Review – The X7

sound-blaster-x7-review-front

Shown above we have the X7 in its standard angular black and gold design. A new white and gold special edition is also available. On the left side we have the product branding, the top is blank and then we have some items of note on the front. These start with a large volume dial, beneath that the Creative logo and then our dual mic beamforming panel. LED backlit sections are beneath this, one for power/bluetooth, another for Dolby status and one for SBX on/off. Then there are three ports. 3.5mm connectors for mic in and headphone out with a 6.3mm headphone out between them.

sound-blaster-x7-review-back-2

Turning to the back of the X7 we can see that the side has a NFC logo (supports aptX, CSR, AAC and two simultaneous Bluetooth 4.1 connections) letting us know the area we can touch our phone to pair. Then there is a perforated area for airflow at the back, the two holes to mount our headphone stand and beneath them our 4-8 Ohm selector switch, speaker outputs and power input. The bottom row of connectors start with Line Out for left/right, rear and centre/sub. Line in for right and left are next and then we have optical in and out. The final connector is a USB port which we use to connect to our PC/Mac (asynchronous mode, AISO support for reduced latency and jitter).

sound-blaster-x7-review-base sound-blaster-x7-review-internal

Flipping the X7 upside down we find that there are four rubber feet on the base to keep it steady on our desk, the USB Host port (High Def audio playback and charging) is on the side for easy access and there is a removable panel which allows us to access the Op-Amps for easy replacement.

As far as key features and specifications of the Sound Blaster X7 go we have…

  • 24-bit Sound Blaster SB-Axx1 multi core Digital Signal Processor (DSP) with Dolby Digital 5.1 decoder certification.
  • EMU32 bus (process 32 concurrent audio streams)
  • 127dB DAC with support for 24-bit 192kHz playback (Burr-Brown PCM1794 when paired with Axx1, 24/192 up to 5.1channels)
  • Burr-Brown PCM4220 123dB ADC capable of 24-bit, 96Khz on analog line in.
  • Nichicon Fine Gold capacitors.
  • 100w Class-D digital amplifier (TPA3116D2, 2x50w @ 4 Ohms)
  • TPA6120A2 Headphone amplifier

For those requiring the detailed specs:

X7specs

Sound Blaster X7 Review – Software

sb1 Screenshot_2015-04-20-12-08-56

We have two options as far as the X7 control panel goes. The first is a standard desktop option, and the second an Android or iOS app.

x7a x7b x7c x7d

For the desktop control panel we start our experience with a short wizard that walks us through basic settings, for the X7 such as selecting our headset type and explaining the use of the two power supply options.

x7e x7f x7g x7h  x7j x7k x7l x7m

We are then presented with the standard Sound Blaster control panel, branded and tweaked appropriately for the X7 functionality. The sections start with SBX Pro Studio which contains the options for key Sound Blaster tech such as Crystalizer which boosts quality of low bit rate files, smart volume to set profiles appropriate to our listening environment (e.g. Night mode) and Dialog Plus which enhances spoken tracks within videos etc. Crystal Voice is our next area and allows us to control the inbuilt mic array, or mic in port. We can set volume and boost as well as our monitor volume before moving in to Crystal Voice which allows us to apply effects to our voice (e.g. Robot, alien, etc). A mic EQ preset section is present as are noise reduction and echo cancellation. Scout mode is another one for the gamers, allowing us to emphasise the sound effects created by other players in game so that we can find or avoid them more easily. Next up is the speaker configuration with plenty of options not found on standard products such as direct mode or High Power Amplification (50w +50w when set to 4 ohm and with the enhanced PSU) before moving on to calibration and polarity checks. Headphones are the following panel, again offering direct mode, with quick selection options for normal and high gain headphones (32/300 and 600 Ohm). Cinematic settings gives 3 options for the Dolby Digital decoder, night normal and Maximum. Then Mixer and Equaliser let us tweak the sound to our needs, whether that is setting the bluetooth or USB host volume or selecting one of the EQ profiles such as Rock, Classical, Voice, etc.

Screenshot_2015-04-20-12-10-25 Screenshot_2015-04-20-12-10-31 Screenshot_2015-04-20-12-10-47 Screenshot_2015-04-20-12-10-54 Screenshot_2015-04-20-12-11-06 Screenshot_2015-04-20-12-11-17 Screenshot_2015-04-20-12-11-25 Screenshot_2015-04-20-12-11-32 Screenshot_2015-04-20-12-11-41 Screenshot_2015-04-20-12-11-51

For those who read our review of the excellent Sound Blaster E5 it should come as no surprise that the Smartphone app from Creative gives us the vast majority of the functionality available in the desktop application. We get a nice clear menu structure, control of all the key settings (even the gaming Scout Mode) and configuration of speakers.  The control panel activates when we are connected by Bluetooth/NFC or by USB cable which is a nice touch.

Sound Blaster X7 Review – User Experience and Conclusion

The design of the X7 will certainly stand out in any home entertainment or desktop environment and while it is a plastic body used here, the finish is of a high enough standard to fit in with expensive components. The gold and silver highlights help add a look of quality and the LEDs used are discrete enough. All of the key ports are gold plated and each feels solid enough. If there is one external aspect which lets the device down it is the headphone stand. It feel like a last minute thought rather than essential feature and does rock about a bit which is a shame. Back to the positives we have a selection of components inside from Creative as well as industry leaders in the form of Burr-Brown, Nichicon, Texas Instruments and New Japan Radio.

The X7 picks up where we left the E5 by including a great level of connectivity, in fact pretty much everything we could possibly need to connect PC, Mac, Console (PS4/Xbox One), Android/iOS phones/tablets and stand alone players. The one ommision is HDMI in/out which means 5.1 audio is our maximum level rather than 7.1/DTS-HD/Dolby TrueHD. Having said that, even when we think that Creative have offered a decent level of connectivity they go on to exceed the obvious, for example the X7 will drive two headsets at the same time, or allow two Bluetooth devices to connect at the same time. Flexibility is the order of the day here however that does come at a cost, £300 or so in the UK and $375 in the US.

On the performance front the X7 excels. The choice of components used by Creative is excellent with the pre-installed Op-Amps providing a clean, warm sound with exceptional detail. These can of course be easily swapped out by accessing the panel on the base and the experience tweaked for your needs. Outwith that the sound quality will be determined by the users audio devices. Be safe in the knowledge though that, especially in the gaming peripheral arena, the X7 will ensure that your audio experience is class leading. It is also worth noting nice little options like being able to game and then quickly tap the control panel on a tablet or phone to tweak settings without needing to exit what we are playing.

Summary: A hefty price tag for those who are gaming focused and the lack of HDMI is a minor disappointment. That said, for everyone else the X7 offers a hugely desirable package. Great feature support, a high level of connectivity options and exceptional audio quality.

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About Author

Stuart Davidson

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