Several years ago, sound cards where a thing and most of the time a requirement, specially when a motherboard doesn’t have an on-board audio component. After a while, motherboards are now built with audio (in/out) components. But most of them doesn’t offer good or great sound quality; doesn’t support high resolution audio formats or multiple channel / surround systems. Then we see the rise of Sound Blaster sound cards (and other competing brands) that offers better audio quality than the built-in ones; and other features that were not available on the motherboard’s built-in component. However, as on-board audio components are getting better and motherboard integration are refined, we see less and less of these sound cards. More people, specially the audiophiles, would prefer an external DAC or DAC with AMP solution as it provides better and cleaner signal. Fast forward today, Creative released the Sound BlasterX AE-5, a PCIe DAC with discrete headphone amplifier. Creative is marketing the AE-5 as a high-resolution PCIe Gaming Sound Card with RGB Aurora Lightning System. Of course, what is a gaming system nowadays without RGB right? But the real questions are: does it sound (really) good compared to built-in audio components? And do you (really) need one? Whether you’re strictly a gamer, or a music lover, or both; please continue reading our Sound BlasterX AE-5 review below and let’s find out.
Sound BlasterX AE-5 PCIe Sound Card Review
Creative’s Sound BlasterX AE-5, just like most of the sound cards in the market, have two main components: the DAC section and the AMP section. The Sound BlasterX AE-5 features a 122dB Sabre-Class DAC chip that is capable of delivering up to 32-bit / 384kHz playback with a 122dB DNR, ultra-low distortion and jitter elimination. It also provides a very clean signal, eliminating unwanted background noise or distortion. Although this sound card is geared towards gamers, music lovers would also benefit from the AE-5 since the DAC chip supports high resolution audio; meaning it can support lossless audio formats like the popular FLAC or WAV.
The DAC section on the AE-5 is paired with Xamp – Creative’s custom-designed discrete headphone amplifier capable of driving a wide range of headphones up to 600 Ohms. Most headphones today, gaming or not, have an impedance of around 32 Ohms. But there are some professional or audiophile headphones, like the Sennheiser HD600 (300 Ohms) or Beyerdynamic DT series (600 Ohms), that come with a high impedance rating. These headphones are hard to drive due to their high impedance rating and would require an amplifier just to bring out their sound. The AE-5 should be able to handle these kind of headphones thanks to its Xamp. With the Xamp, each audio channel is individually amplified to deliver pristine audio in an unaltered lossless mode. Creative also used WIMA capacitors, a German-made high heat resistance capacitor, that greatly reduces noise and audio interference.
The Sound BlasterX AE-5 also features industry leading audio processing with its quad-core Sound Core3D audio DSP combined with Sound Blaster technologies. The Sound Core3D provides fully customizable DSP-powered audio enhancements, crystal-clear vocal reproduction, in-game voice communication enhancements, 7.1 virtual surround sound and other technologies that improves the music, movie and gaming experience.
And let’s not forget RGB, since it’s basically the craze nowadays. To add aesthetics to the AE-5, the sound card features Aurora Reactive Lightning system. The side of the AE-5 has RGB lighting and it includes an RGB strip that can be customized and sync with the system. Well, the RGB doesn’t improve your listening experience, but it does improve your system’s aesthetics and lighting.
Finally, aside from all the audio enhancement and customization, the AE-5 features an all new Scout 2.0. It’s basically an app used with your mobile device to give you a visual location of your enemies. In other words, it’s a radar for any first person shooter game. There’s also a Scout Mode that “let’s you hear your enemies before you see them”. Hmmm, that sounds like an unfair advantage if you ask me.
Below is the rest of the specification of the Sound BlasterX AE-5 and on the next page let’s take a closer look on the sound card itself.
Sound BlasterX AE-5 Specifications
|Audio/DSP Processor||Sound Core3D|
|Channels||5.1 discrete speaker out
7.1 virtual headphone surround
|DAC||ESS ES9016K2M SABRE32 Ultra DAC|
|Max. Playback Resolution||32-bit/384kHz|
|Sampling Rate (DSP Playback)||16-bit / 16.0, 44.1, 48.0, 88.2, 96.0kHz
24-bit / 44.1, 48.0, 88.2, 96.0kHz
32-bit / 44.1, 48.0, 88.2, 96.0kHz
|Sampling Rate (Direct Mode Playback)||16-bit / 48.0, 96.0, 192, 384kHz
24-bit / 48.0, 96.0, 192, 384kHz
32-bit / 48.0, 96.0, 192, 384kHz
|Max. Recording Resolution||24-bit/96kHz|
|Sampling Rate (Recording)||16-bit / 16.0, 44.1, 48.0, 88.2, 96.0kHz
24-bit / 44.1, 48.0, 88.2, 96.0kHz
|Headphone Amp||600 Ohms
Custom-designed discrete headphome amp (Xamp)
|Output Impedance||1 Ohm|
|Headphone Impedance Rage||16-600 Ohms|
|Connectivity||1x 3.5mm Mic In/Line In (Software selectable, default as Mic In)
1x 3.5mm Headphone/Headset Out (default as Headphone)
1x 3.5mm Front Out
1x 3.5mm Rear Out
1x 3.5mm Center/Sub Out
1x TOSLINK Optical Out
1x Front Panel Header
1x RGB LED Header (support 5V RGB strips)
|Power||PCIe bus power
+5V for Aurora lighting (requires 4-pin molex peripheral connector from PC power supply)
|Product Dimensions||145mm x 20mm x 128mm (LxWxH)|
|Product Weight||215 grams|
For US: B&H Photo here or Newegg.com here
For UK: available at Amazon UK here