Curator: Marco De Plato

We are now used to the idea that purchasing Creative Sound Blaster branded audio equipment is always synonymous with reliability, product quality and satisfaction guaranteed. Are you looking for a sound card, maybe 5.1, which can also drive audiophile headphones with difficult specifications and why not, also a good microphone? Let’s see if these creations can be right for you. The model we are going to test is the AE-5 PLUS which differs from the AE-5 by the possibility of using Dolby Digital Live / DTS encoding. It is available in two variants, AE5-PLUS and AE-5 Plus Pure Edition. The latter is characterized by the white color of the top cover, and the presence in the kit of four magnetic RGB led strips, unlike the AE5-PLUS model which has only one RGB led strip supplied.

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The heart of this card remains the Sound Core3D processor (DSP) which had already been used in previous versions like the Recon3D or the Z series and continues to be present even in the most powerful models, like the Sound Blaster AE-7 and the flagship model AE-9. Certainly, compared to previous versions, the qualitative leap is clear given the support for reproduction of 44.1Khz and 88.2Khz in “direct” mode, in addition to support for Dolby 7.1. The combination of this audio processor with the ESS ES9016K2M Saber digital-to-analog converter (DAC) allows pushing at very high sample rates, such as 32-bit 384Khz in “direct” mode, excluding the passage of DSP.

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The maximum sampling rate of the DSP therefore remains at 96Khz. Another technical detail that takes this board to the next level is the use of the Xamp amplification module, which differs from common headphone amplifiers in that it is able to separate left and right channels and amplify them individually. This particularity, associated with the use of audiophile transistors and WIMA capacitors (the most passionate will surely recognize the quality of these components) make it possible to drive all types of headphones on the market, from 16 to 600 ohms, from the cheapest to the most. research. by audiophiles.

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The sleek yet aggressive design of the Sound BlasterX AE-5 Plus

The card, a PCI-Express 4x, is wrapped in a black cover that has the SoundBlasterX Pro Gaming logo imprinted on and on which there are two transparent streaks that hide the RGB LEDs, while the back is screen printed in black and white, with here also part of the transparent card which hides the RGB led system. In terms of audio connections, we find a TOSLINK optical output, three 3.5mm 5.1 outputs, a 3.5mm headphone output and a 3.5mm microphone / line input. On one side there is the MOLEX connector for powering all the LEDs and immediately next to the Intel HD connector to be able to connect the front panel of the case to the sound card in addition to the four pin connector for the LED strips RGB. And the RGB system is the gem that sets this card apart from others on the market. In addition to the LEDs soldered directly to the board, it is possible to manage up to four LED strips connected together and connected to the housing both magnetically and with the 3M double-sided tape.

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Initially, we wanted to test the power management qualities of the card, using it with headphones that are quite expensive in terms of demand: Sennheiser HD 600, BeyerDynamic DT770 Pro 250ohm, BeyerDynamic DT990 Pro 250ohm and now obsolete Philips Fidelio. These are all headphones that to express their true potential necessarily require a dedicated amplifier and for comparison we have chosen a Schiit Magni 3. The power of the Creative Xamp and the two individually amplified channels comes out immediately. Detailed, crystal-clear sound from low to high frequencies, with virtually no distortion even at very high volumes. We were interested in audiophile qualities, also taking advantage of the titles made available by Tidal, in particular the “master editions”.

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The sharpness of the details when listening is sometimes annoying, the spatiality of the instruments is well rendered, coupled with a rich, decisive and rapid punch. That shot of battery box that sometimes makes you seem like you have it in front of you and can touch it. Remember that the card has the option of running in direct mode, disabling any kind of software tampering, like EQs, boost, scouts, clear vocals, etc. In this pure and simple mode, this SoundBlasterX Gaming AE-5 Plus brings out the best in audio quality, also thanks to the 32bit 384Khz. By disabling “Direct” mode using the appropriate Sound Blaster Command software, it is therefore possible to fine-tune any calibration to your personal taste, choosing between predefined profiles, very specific playing profiles, etc. Activation or not of the scouts, a clear voice and a parametric graphic equalizer. We believe that these fine adjustments should be used under specific conditions, or with rather inexpensive headphones, in which it is necessary to correct certain shortcomings.

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A detail of the connections on the back and the RGB LED connector.

Compared to the Schiit Magni 3, listening at low volume struck us. Normally, to concentrate more on listening, you are required to turn up the volume to be able to steal all the details, but perhaps thanks to the Xamp, even at low volume, all the details are balanced, well present, never invasive or boring. This means that even when using open headphones, you won’t disturb those near you. After positively surprised us by listening to various songs, it was a bit traumatic to go back to listening to Spotify or Youtube and to realize that in the same songs that you have listened to before, now something is “missing”.

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As for the gaming part, managed by the excellent Sound Blaster Command, an unlimited world of customization opens up. It is possible to activate the SBX functionality which, thanks to predefined profiles, optimizes the listening experience of the headphones in the case of a game, rather than watching a movie, concert or documentary. In this menu you will also find the controls for “surround” volume, bass, dialogue, crystallizer and smart volume (very useful when used at night), which normalizes the listening volume without having to major differences between very low speech and a thunderous explosion. In Call Of Duty, we wanted to try out “scout” mode which focuses on noises coming from nearby opponents, their footsteps or reloading a weapon. In other titles like Ride or Assetto Corsa, we did not perceive any sensational distortions and in the various tests we again preferred to deactivate all the customizations and return to “direct” mode.

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Thanks to the SPDIF digital output and the choice of the encoder, a gem present only in this version of the AE-5 and not in the previous ones, you can then select the “Dolby Audio” or “DTS Connect” encoder and connect your home theater, sound bar, etc. for an even more realistic immersion. Some will turn their noses, while someone else will rejoice at this choice of Creative, but being a card geared towards the gaming audience, they couldn’t miss the LEDs galore, effects of all kinds, to edge and externally with LED strips. Again, the bundled software, although feature-rich, has always proven to be stable and lightweight, it gives the option to choose the LED effects applicable on the board itself and visible from the side of the case, if it is visible inside.

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The power supply necessary for the operation of all the RGB LED part and the connector for the front audio. The molex left us a little confused, but that’s the only aspect that didn’t convince us about the map.

An RGB LED strip is also provided which becomes four in case you decide to purchase the “Pure Edition” model. The bands are well made, coated with silicone and incorporate good magnets into the silicone, making them magnetizable to the sides of the case itself, without having to secure them with double-sided tape, which we remember from be of excellent quality, marked 3M. The only downside is the position where the strips connector plug has been placed on the board itself: making it virtually impossible to hide that extra cable. In this regard, we also wondered why still use a molex connector for powering the LEDs? Uncomfortable, disaffected and bulky: why not use a SATA or USB power connector?

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This is a small note which, however, from our point of view is absolutely negligible considering the overall value of this item which we believe is of a high standard and the price of 149.99 is justified by the performance that this sound card offers. Its wide field of use, although linked to the use of a stationary PC, is its strength. Whether you are passionate about games or movies, or just love listening to great quality music, you can find everything you are looking for in this tab and in the fast and easy Sound Blaster Command software, not to mention the wide customization offered by RGB Light sets.

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Source : Reddit