Creative Sound Blaster X5 Review (Page 2 of 5)

Page 2 - A Closer Look - Hardware

The entire Creative Sound Blaster X5 is clean in its looks. With a dark gray exterior that has tinges of blue, it does not draw much attention to itself. All of the buttons and user inputs are black, while the text that denote their function has a gold finish. While this is pretty easy to see in the photo, this is under more ideal lighting circumstances. In any darker lighting, the font becomes quite a bit harder to read. I would have preferred a lighter color for the labels. In the middle, we have a display that glows white and is generally bright enough to view. It shows different statuses based on the last pressed button. Otherwise, most of these buttons and knobs are still large and easy to press. They offer a decently satisfying click, but the best one is the power button, which is a low-profile push button. The large volume knob offers a decent amount of resistance. In appearances, I feel like the Creative Sound Blaster X5 is a nice balance between clean and retro.

On the other hand, if it were not clear by the pictures, the Creative Sound Blaster X5 is made out of plastic. Unfortunately, it does not match an aluminum shell that I have seen on other audio equipment like the SilverStone EB01-E and EB03. Even if this does look a bit more updated in terms of design, I really wish Creative used a metal exterior to make the whole item a bit more premium in feel and in build. The build materials chosen translates to the mismatch between the dimensions and weight. The Sound Blaster X5 actually has a pretty big footprint for a desktop device. With a width of 218mm, a depth of 149mm, and a height of 72mm, the body of the external sound card and headphone amplifier takes up a bit of room on your desk. The two knobs at the front extend past this area to increase the depth by a bit more. Despite its large footprint, we have a relatively light enclosure at 869g. It is a bit odd to have such a large box feel so light at the same time. It is not as if the plastic feels poorly made, but I still think the metal shell would add some durability to its construction.

The front shows off a whole lineup of inputs, so I will go through each in detail. Starting from left to right, we have a low-profile push power button with just enough travel to make it still feel satisfying to push in. This contains a translucent power logo that glows white when the Creative Sound Blaster X5 is powered on. The rest of the buttons are flat buttons with a decent enough click. The top two are for Bluetooth and cycling through displaying different active settings, respectively. The internal Bluetooth is 5.0, but it only supports the standard SBC codec, which is rather unfortunate as it lacks Qualcomm's aptX or its variants, Sony's LDAC, or Apple's AAC. When the Sound Blaster X5 is connected to a device, the Bluetooth button will glow blue, which is a nice way to identify the connection. The Display button cycles through different statuses including its equalizer, headphone/speaker mode, microphone status, volume levels, and playback format. Holding the button will also change the display brightness, cycling between automatic, full brightness, medium brightness, and off. In automatic mode, the display will automatically turn off after a few seconds of inactivity, but the rest of the Creative Sound Blaster X5 will continue to function as expected.

Underneath, we have two controls for the microphone. The single button is used for microphone mute, which is pretty straightforward. The knob on this side changes the microphone gain level. This is a centralized knob for microphones, as it works for both the front input and if you plug a USB one at the back. If you turn the gain to zero or mute the microphone, the mute button will glow red. Subsequently, pressing the button again or changing the gain knob will unmute the microphone. Finally, there is a switch to toggle the headphone gain to help power higher impedance headphones. This high-gain mode is meant for planar-magnetic headphones or ones with an impedance of greater than 150Ω. According to Creative, the headphone amplifier in here can support headphone impedances of 16 to 600Ω, which is quite the range.

Moving on, we have a few more buttons and inputs to speak of. First here is the headphone/speaker button, which changes whether or not you want to output to your headphones on the front, or any speakers plugged into the back. It should be noted, the optical out will always output sound regardless of this mode, unless you change the optical out to work as a passthrough S/PDIF. Next, we have a button labeled "Direct/DSP". In Direct mode, the audio will go directly from the input to the output without any audio processing or effects and removing any equalizer settings. The next button is the equalizer button to cycle through three preset equalizers or turn it off. You can also make your own equalizer settings in the software utility. Finally, we have a PC/Console switch that you can change depending on what the source of the Sound Blaster X5 is.

Underneath, we have three inputs to all of the buttons. The two left ones are 3.5mm audio jacks, with the Mic one for input and the headphone output for output. As you can see, this is an unbalanced output. However, one plug you may not recognize is the 4.4mm audio jack, which is also labeled similarly to the previous plug, but with a "Balanced" marking underneath. Other than the obvious size difference, the change is a bit more internal with the number of connections involved. During transmission of audio, wires often pick up electrical noise, which end up being outputted with the source. An unbalanced connection involves one positive signal and a ground and it happily transmits the electrical noise without thought. On the other hand, a balanced connection includes both a positive and negative signal along with the ground wire for each side. During transmission, the noise will be picked up on both the positive and negative signals. At the output, the negative signal is inverted and both positive and negative are added together. This will cancel out the additional noise picked up and leave the intended signal only. On the other hand, there are downsides to a balanced output, but most of it revolves around the facts it can be trickier to drive these headphones and can be more complicated to implement. As such, it is impressive to see this.

Finally, we have one large knob on the right side, which is the volume knob. This is not too surprising and its large size makes it easy to grab. The volume knob has a translucent notch that glows when it is turned on to visually show where the knob is turned towards. It also flashes white if the input volume is muted. As such, there is a set range for its rotation. Just to note, when it is connected to your computer, this knob will change your system volume.

Moving to the back, we have a large list of certifications and regulatory information. Otherwise, the main thing to look at here is the set of connections. From the left, we have two RCA connection pairs for output and input. An RCA-to-3.5mm audio cable is included in the box to be used here if you are so interested. Finally, at the bottom, you can see a protruding leg on one side with rubber lining the bottom. There is another bar on the other side and these rubber feet really keep the Creative Sound Blaster X5 in place without easily moving about.

Internally, we have a pair of Cirrus Logic CS43198 DACs that support PCM, or pulse-code modulation, 32-bit, 384kHz playback. PCM is a standard It also supports DSD, or Direct Stream Digital, in 64, 128, and 256. These numbers come from the fact its sample rate is 64, 128, and 256 times that of CD at 44.1kHz. Finally, there is also DoP, which stands for DSD over PCM. This allows for DSD over USB ports that do not have a DSD driver. Otherwise, the DAC has a total harmonic distortion of -115dB and a dynamic range of 130dB. The headphone output power for both the balanced and unbalanced outputs can be found on the specifications chart.

On the right side, you can see a pair of TOSLINK optical ports for input and output. Next up, we have a USB Type-C port for powering the sound card and connecting the Creative Sound Blaster X5 to your computer or to a console. Creative says you can connect this external sound card to Windows and MacOS devices, as well as the Sony PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. You can also just connect the box to a USB AC adapter and use the other input connections at the back for the audio source. Finally, the last connection here is a USB Type-A port, which is used as a host audio streaming port. This lets users connect devices like USB headsets, microphones, speakers, or a Bluetooth audio transmitter, if you so desire. One should note this port is limited to 5V 100mA, so any device requiring more power will need to look elsewhere.

Page Index
1. Introduction, Specifications, Bundle
2. A Closer Look - Hardware
3. A Closer Look - Software
4. Subjective Audio Analysis
5. Conclusion