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Sound Blaster E5: This portable DAC and headphone amp is an audio powerhouse

Michael Brown | Oct. 8, 2014
Creative's Sound Blaster E5 pulls off the trick of being a jack of all trades with nary a significant compromise.

Sound Blaster Central
You'll need to pair the E5 with a device via Bluetooth before you can use Sound Blaster Central. This can be accomplished by pushing a button or using near-field communication if your device supports it. SBX Pro Studio is the most important element in the suite. By adjusting a series of sliders, you can defeat, boost, or cut the following DSP effects: SBX Surround, a faux surround-sound effect; SBX Crystalizer, an EQ effect ostensibly designed to restore life to lossy-compressed audio tracks (such as MP3s); and SBX Bass, a bass booster.

I consider myself an audio purist and generally regard such DSP trickery with disdain. But I actually like SBX Crystalizer--in moderate doses, at least--because of the way it increases frequency separation. I find it to be a pleasant effect that makes it easier for my ears to pick out individual instruments and voices.

I loathe SBX Surround, on the other hand, because it seems to simply boost reverb so so the musicians sound as though they're playing in a cave. And if you're listening with good headphones, you probably won't want to enable the bass booster, either. I found that it just muddies things up, although the software has a slider that lets you adjust the crossover frequency at which the bass boost cuts in (thresholds range from 10 to 300Hz).

Two other effects are designed more for video than music. SBX Smart Volume automatically flattens abrupt changes in volume levels, defeating that annoying technique advertisers use to catch your attention during commercial breaks. And SBX Dialog Plus is similar to SBX Bass, except that it boosts the frequencies in which voices reside. And if you find even those specialized effects to be still too blunt, there's a 10-band equalizer at your disposal. You can even save your EQ settings for different types of music and recall them for your different listening sessions. If you buy an E5, get your money's worth and at least check out the tools in Creative's kitbag. Try it, you'll like it! (Or not.)

Sound for games
It wouldn't be a Sound Blaster product without consideration for gaming. The E5 is compatible with OpenAL and EAX 5.0, and the Control Panel software for the PC and Mac adds a CrystalVoice feature that isn't included in the Android and iOS apps.

CrystalVoice FX lets you choose from 18 real-time effects that you can apply to your voice as you speak into the onboard mics (or the mic input, as the case may be). Tapping the Axx1 processor, CrystalVoice will modulate your voice so you can sound like a robot, a demon, or even someone of the opposite sex. You probably won't use it much, but it's good for a few laughs until the novelty wears off.


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