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Portable headphone amplifiers are particular devices, especially when they’re designed for gaming. Gamers are not very familiar with audio devices, so they may not be aware of their existence. Even fewer people may understand the application of such things. Unless your gaming PC is equipped with a high-end sound card, you don’t know what the sounds, music and effects in the game are supposed to sound like, mainly because your computer can’t play them back properly.
A headphone amplifier is a device that powers your gaming headphones or speakers to get the most out of them, sometimes with plenty of adjustments (equalizer, bass boost, listening modes, etc.) to improve the sound quality
The Sound Blaster E5 is primarily a headphone amplifier for your iPod, but that’s just the beginning of its capabilities. The Sound Blaster E5 can also be used as an external sound card for computers running OS X or Windows. It can also be used as an external stereo microphone for your computer or smartphone.
Quality sound amplification, a portable analog to digital converter and digital to analog converter, an external sound card – it seems that all the sophisticated user needs can be provided by Creative Sound Blaster E5 – an impressive and versatile audio device that meets all the needs of demanding players.
E5’s qualities do not exhaust here because I have not mentioned, for example, the possibility of listening to music with two pairs of headphones at the same time. However, like any well-balanced device, the Soundblaster E5 has its shortcomings, which we will highlight in this review.
Sound Blaster E5 Bluetooth USB Gaming Headset Amplifier Review
Sound Blaster E5 Specifications
DAC: Cirrus Logic CS4398 | Audio Processor: Creative SB-Axx1 | AMP: Texas Instruments TPA6120A2 | Input connectors: optical (mini-TOSLINK), line-in jack (6.3mm), microphone jack (6.3mm) | Output connectors: Optical (mini-TOSLINK), line in (6.3mm), headphone jack (6.3mm x 2), USB Type A (5V, 500mA) | Output impedance: 2.2 Ohms | Signal-to-noise ratio (DAC): 120 dB | Supported systems: Windows x86/x64 (Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, 10), Mac OS (OS X 10.8 or later) | Interface: Micro USB, Bluetooth 4.1 (supports aptX / A2DP / AVRCP / HFP) | Wireless range: up to 10 meters | Battery: 3.7 V, 3200 mAh (11.84 W) – 8 hours | Weight: 5.7 ounces
- For 32Ω: ~1.84V, 105mW (low gain)
- For 300Ω: ~1.78V, 109mW (high gain)
- For 600Ω: ~5.72V, 54mW (high gain)
- Voltage gain mode. Low (+5dB), High (+15dB)
- Headphone resistance supported: 32 to 600Ω.
- Works with smartphones, TVs, PCs, consoles, etc.
- Has built-in stereo microphones with an orientation sensor
- Easy connectivity, compatible with NFC devices
- DAC, sound card, amplifier, and external battery in one package
- Plenty of space between the connectors, the cables do not interfere with each other
Creative Sound Blaster E-Series of external sound cards with headphone amplifier and microphone come in a cardboard box with a similar design. On the front, you’ll find the model name and a large photo, as well as a list of supported technologies, ranging from NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, aptX, SBX Pro Studio, Crystal Sound, 600-ohm amplifier, ASIO support, to compatibility with Sony PS4, Microsoft XBOX 360 and XBOX ONE.
On the right is a text with the minimum system requirements. The system requirements are no different from the E-series:
- A Core2DUO processor or higher
- 1 GB of RAM
- A modest desktop configuration running Microsoft Windows Vista and Mac OS X 10.6.8 or higher
It also supports Apple iOS version 6 and Android 2.3, making it compatible with most existing smartphones.
As for the package contents, the Creative Sound Blaster E5 headphone amplifier is close to the bare minimum and includes the following items.
- User manual and warranty card
- Vertical mounting support
- Two silicone rubber straps
- One Micro USB 2.0 cable
- One 3.5mm mini TOSLINK cable for optical connection to an audio source
The trapezoidal shape of the stand allows you to place the sound card on a table at an angle of about 45 degrees or attach it to a microphone stand using the threaded metal connector on the bottom. Elastic silicone straps are also helpful for securing the E5 to a smartphone.
Design & Ergonomy
The front panel is mainly used for decoration. In its center is a black aluminum bar with the Sound Blaster logo. At the bottom is the NFC sensor with an icon, and at the top is the Crystal Sound Technology logo.
You can clearly see two microphones at the top and one at the bottom right on the front. Depending on the orientation of the device, only two are in use at any given time.
On the front of the E5, there are two 3.5mm output jacks; both 3.5mm jacks can be used simultaneously, so two people can listen to the same music on both headphones at the same time.
The volume control is in the middle between the 3.5mm jacks on the left and right. You can rely on the volume indicator of the device to which the E5 is connected.
When the E5 is connected to a Windows computer, turning the volume knob displays a small volume indicator in the upper left corner of the screen. Pressing the volume control turns the unit off.
On the back of the Sound Blaster E5 are line/mic/optical inputs, line/optical outputs, USB and micro USB ports (which can also be used as charging ports), and the E5 has built-in Bluetooth for wireless connectivity.
It has a range of up to 10 meters and supports AAC, SBC, and aptX audio codecs. It also has Bluetooth profiles such as A2DP (stereo Bluetooth wireless), AVRCP (Bluetooth remote control), and HFP (hands-free profile).
To turn the E5 on, simply press and hold the power button for a few seconds; when the E5 is on, a white LED lights up to indicate that the device is active. Press and hold the power button for a few seconds to activate Bluetooth.
The white light turns into a flashing blue light. This indicates that the E5 is ready to pair with another Bluetooth device. To turn off the Sound Blaster E5, simply press and hold the power button until it turns off.
There’s also an SBX button; pressing this button activates the SBX effect and produces a virtual surround sound effect. It can also be adjusted manually using the software.
In addition, you can also set the gain switch to the L (low) position if you are using headphones with an impedance of less than 32 ohms and the H (high) position if you are using high-impedance headphones.
You should see three small white dots on the side of the card. This is a battery life indicator. The three white dots mean that the battery is fully charged. The Blaster E5 has a built-in 32,000 mAh battery that provides up to 8 hours of battery life, depending on usage.
The battery life isn’t the best, but it’s not bad either. In our tests, the battery lasted an average of five hours when using one headphone while streaming audio via Bluetooth.
Technology and Connectivity
The sound quality of the Creative Sound Blaster E5 external sound card is excellent: The Cirrus Logic CS4398 stereo digital-to-analog converter supports 24-bit audio at 192 kHz with a signal-to-noise ratio of 120 dB, while the Cirrus Logic CS5361 analog-to-digital converter supports up to 96 kHz with a signal-to-noise ratio of 114 dB.
The headphone amplifier is a Texas Instruments TPA6120A2, which is one of the best in its class and is compatible with all types of headphones, including monitors and hi-fi (impedance up to 600 Ω).
Lossless and even MP3 music formats sound fresh with the E5 Compared with the built-in solutions of mobile equipment and desktop PC.
Even for naive listeners without a musical ear, the difference is huge: the Creative Sound Blaster E5 has a slightly narrow but decent soundstage and good volume; with all SBX processing effects turned off, the sound has proper tonal balance and clarity.
To ensure that the sound quality is not compromised by the built-in audio circuits of mobile devices, the Sound Blaster E5 can be used directly as a sound card for Android and iOS. To do this, use the USB port on the Sound Blaster E5.
For Android, you can install the free “Sound Blaster Central” and “Sound Blaster Services” apps from the Google Play Market app store, which will work perfectly. In this case, the sound control is fully transferred to the E5. For any software player, this process is seamless and requires no additional configuration.
The SBC software interface is the same as the PC version but with some modifications for mobile use. Other features include:
- Integration with the Android OS dashboard for quick access to key modes.
- Setting the alarm with audio output to the E5.
- Support for connected audio inputs.
- Support for modes with connected headphones.
The whole thing is very convenient and intuitive, in the same style as the PC application.
Ultimately, you can use the Soundblaster E5 device as a DAC and A/D converter, as an external sound card for PCs and laptops, and as an amplifier for headphones up to 600 ohms.
There are several ways to connect the Creative Sound Blaster E5. In fact, you can use this sound card with most modern devices that have a standard audio jack, a mini-Toslink port, or a USB port. And with Crystal Voice microphones, you can take calls while your smartphone is connected.
To connect the E5 to an audio source via Bluetooth, put it into pairing mode by pressing and holding the power button for two seconds, after which the circular light around it flashes blue. The second method is even simpler: if your device supports NFC, simply bring it close to the NFC icon on the E5 itself.
The following profiles are supported in Bluetooth mode The following profiles are supported in Bluetooth mode: HSP/HFP for headphone mode, A2DP, and AVCRP for music playback; hardware support for the latest Bluetooth streaming codecs such as low-latency aptX, AAC, and SBC; Bluetooth multipoint technology lets you wirelessly connect two sources simultaneously.
The Sound Blaster E5 is powered by a 3200 mAh rechargeable battery. Charging the battery with a 1.5A power adapter takes about 3 hours. When connected via Bluetooth, the battery can last about 8 hours.
Despite Bluetooth technology and advanced codecs for wireless audio transmission, many people choose to transmit via cable. And here, there are many options for cable connections.
With a wired connection, you can expect twice the runtime. The Sound Blaster E5 can also be used as an external battery to charge your smartphone, player, or tablet.
In Windows 10, the Creative Sound Blaster E5 sound card can immediately use the default settings and basic functions after connecting the USB cable.
For stable and high-quality operation, we recommend using the USB 3.0 port on your computer. For detailed configuration and control of all functions, you need to install special drivers and utilities. These can be downloaded from the official product page at Creative.com.
If you own a Creative sound card, you may be familiar with the Sound Blaster E Series control panel. This design has been used in the manufacturer’s software interface for many years, with only the controls and functionality for some devices changing.
As usual, the first section is SBX Pro Studio, which focuses on basic sound enhancement settings. This includes the following
- Volume effect adjustment (Surround)
- Frequency spectrum optimization for better music and movie playback (Crystalizer)
- Bass amplifier with cut-off frequency adjustment
- Volume normalization (Smart Volume)
- Improved intelligibility of dialogs in games and movies (Dialog Plus).
You can instantly see the effect of each setting by playing a test video that includes the effects in their entirety.
The Crystal Sound tab is for monitoring recordings with a built-in or external microphone. The list of assistive technologies, including noise reduction, speech intelligibility enhancement, and recording volume normalization, is much longer than that of E1 or E3.
Note the switch for acoustic echo cancellation and audio focus during recording. The technology uses three Sound Blaster E5 microphones simultaneously, which work in pairs depending on the device’s orientation.
The company also hasn’t forgotten the entertainment mode, which changes the sound when recording with the microphone and offers dozens of effects to choose from.
The proprietary sound processing mode “Scout Mode,” which varies in performance depending on the game application, is also here.
In most cases, has a positive effect on the virtual positioning of the sound sources of steps and shots, giving you an advantage in encounters with enemies.
The audio output settings are defined in the Speakers/Headphones tab. You can choose to enable direct mode and virtual 7.1 multichannel audio. Audio channel mixing and matching options are grouped in tabs of the same name and divided into Playback and Recording.
The last tab contains a 10-band equalizer. Manual settings and presets for some popular music styles are available.
The settings in the tabs above the Sound Blaster E-Series control panel can be saved as a profile. In addition, the manufacturer offers seven presets for typical external sound card applications such as gaming, music, and movie playback.
Without the right software, the Sound Blaster E5 is not as effective. Audio customization is necessary for both mobile platforms and desktop uses. The software does a good job, with controls for processing and enhancing hardware audio, an ASIO interface, and a direct mode that disables all effects. Paired with quality headphones, you’ll be able to hear what the game developers intended you to hear.
The Sound Blaster E5 has the usual unremarkable sound and below-budget class sound. In games, it sounds fantastic and very exciting. Every detail and sound effect is perfectly reproduced.
Gunshots and explosions sound crisp; turn on the SBX and get an instant Surround sound effect. And when you’re watching a movie, the E5 doesn’t disappoint: paired with a good pair of headphones, you’ll have a more immersive and exciting movie experience than if you were using the internal card on your laptop or computer.
For the casual music listener or someone just entering this world (and not a die-hard audiophile), the Sound Blaster E5 is an excellent entry-level device. The sound quality is questionable, lacking detail in the highs, but the card can play music in high resolution.
The sound can be a bit too warm at times, and the mids are slightly exaggerated. Serious audiophiles won’t buy a device like the E5. And that’s because there are better external DACs + headphone amplifiers available at a much lower price.
But the Sound Blaster E is a useful solution for amplifying gaming headphones, not hi-fi headphones for careful listening. For now, it’s a decent option for casual listeners, but nothing amazing when you consider more dedicated desktop DAC/AMP options such as iFi nano iDSD AMP/DAC or FiiO K5 Pro.
When it comes to listening to music, the Sound Blaster E5 is disappointing. It lacks depth in the soundstage, which makes it feel narrow. Treble detail is poor, with a too warm sound for listening to music in high quality. The Sound Blaster E5 is an excellent DAC with a headphone amplifier for gamers.
However, I cannot recommend this device for music lovers whose main purpose is to listen to high-quality music. And if you are to purchase this device for its gaming features and competence in the gaming realm, make sure your headphones have a bright sound signature to neutralize the overly warm effect created by the E5.
The Creative Sound Blaster E5 is a versatile headphone amplifier for under $200. It has wired and wireless connections, line and optical inputs, the ability to connect two pairs of headphones, and a gain switch.
Various usage scenarios are added to the tool, including smartphones and tablets (as an amplifier, DAC, or external battery), PCs and laptops (as external sound cards), and TVs and set-top boxes (as DACs or analog-to-digital converters).
The device is very easy to use and does its job successfully. The Bluetooth module has been updated to version 4.1 from its predecessor;. At the same time, the audio codecs for wireless connection such as AAC and SBC remain the same, but aptX Low Latency is a massive upgrade that lowers latency for audio and video content to 20-30 ms.
The device handles popular audio formats with ease; thanks to the Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC, you can even use the device as an external sound card. In the end, we found the Creative Sound Blaster E5 headphone amplifier to be a very well-balanced and feature-rich product.