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Creative Sound Blaster X5 Interface Review

Rate this audio interface

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 19 10.7%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 78 44.1%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 73 41.2%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 7 4.0%

  • Total voters
    177

amirm

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This is a review, listening tests and detailed measurements of the Creative Labs Sound Blaster X5 audio interface (DAC, ADC, Mic input) plus DSP and headphone amplifier. It was sent to me by the company and sells direct for US $270.
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface DAC headphone amplifier bluetooth review.jpg

As you see, the X5 is a good sized box allowing for a large volume control which I appreciated. Overall look is very nice with a number of hard buttons and switches with positive action. Alas, the package is plastic so doesn't weigh like it should. A bit of lead on the bottom would have helped. Back panel is kind of bare:

Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface DAC headphone amplifier bluetooth back pane...jpg


As you see, the device is powered through its UBC-port (a cable from that to USB-A is provided). Being consumer oriented, there is no balanced input or output. There is a toslink optical input and output. Alas, there is no way to select that on the device itself. I could not get it to do anything with that port until I read on a forum post that said you have to be in DSP mode for it to work! As you see later, this comes with a compromise in performance. A day after testing, I tried to get Toslink to work again but could not. I swear I saw an icon in the control app that no longer appears there.

Speaking of the app, it puts itself in the start up menu which I don't like (but you can disable). It seems to be cleaner and less of a bloated app of the previous Creative products. It is there that you manipulate DSP parameters. I was very interested in the EQ but sadly, it is a graphic, not parametric. This is the default for "music:"
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface DAC EQ measurements.png


I have no idea why that is a desirable curve. But you can select one of many profiles or make your own using above controls. There is also bass management in the form of delay, level (and I think,) frequency. Not sure how to drive the subwoofer though as there is no extra output for it.

Dual ASIO drivers are provided, one of which is for playback and the other, for recording (took me a while to figure this out as there is no documentation on this, or the above app). The recording sample rate though is set through the app and not through ASIO driver.

It took me two full days to test all of the X5 functionality. I was tired when I got to the microphone input and got frustrated that no matter what I did, I could not get anything to come through there. The only adapter I have for 3.5mm is stereo so maybe that was the issue. So please don't ask for Mic tests.

Creative SoundBlaster X5 DAC Measurements
Let's start with USB input, volume set to max and in direct (non-DSP) mode:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface DAC measurements.png


The crystal DAC in there is doing a good job of producing low distortion and noise, landing the X5 squarely in the middle of our "excellent" category:

Best audio interface review budget 2023.png


Switching to DSP mode with either USB or Toslink sharply reduces performance:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio Toslink ADC interface DAC measurements.png


Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface DAC dynamic range measurements.png


I don't know if this is due to headroom allowance or what. 17 dB of noise performance is a lot to lose.

Whether it is true jitter or distortions created by the DSP, performance with Toslink suffers there as well (although USB also has issues):
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface DAC Jitter measurements.png


Multitone shows some strange noise floor modulation:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface DAC Multitone measurements.png


Just testing dual tones in IMD test we do get good results though:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface DAC IMD measurements.png


Linearity was excellent:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio Toslink ADC interface DAC Linearity measurements.png


Filter performance is generally good but has a spike:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface DAC Filter measurements.png


The wideband THD+N measurement vs frequency show much elevated noise+distortion:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface DAC THD vs Frequency measurements.png

We can see the cause by running an FFT using the same bandwidth of 90 kHz:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface DAC FFT measurements.png

We have a component spike like our dashboard but near the sampling rate now.

Finally here is our frequency response:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface DAC frequency response measurements.png


Creative Sound Blaster X5 ADC Measurements
As usual we start with our dashboard:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface measurements.png


I was surprised to see the channel mismatch as far as timing. Performance as is (just below clipping) is kind of average:
best ADC PC audio interface review 2023.png


Frequency response is flat enough:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface frequency response measurements.png


I am getting inconsistent THD+N vs level compared to IMD+N vs Level:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface THD vs Level measurements.png

Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface IMD vs Level measurements.png


The former is not great but the latter is.

Wideband THD+N vs frequency shows rising distortion at low levels:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface THD vs Frequency measurements.png


Low level linearity is poor due to mains hum/power supply noise:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface Linearity measurements.png


Creative Sound Blaster X5 Headphone Amplifier Measurements
With some exception, headphone output on audio interfaces is more of a checklist item than a performant one. I was pleased to see that the X5 lands in the latter for high impedance loads:

Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface Headphone Output 300 ohm balanced measureme...png


The balanced output really helps get more power out with a small noise penalty vs unbalanced:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface Headphone Output 300 ohm unbalanced measure...png


X5 shuts down though when pushed much with 32 ohm load:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface Headphone Output 32 ohm balanced measurements.png


You actually get more power out of unbalanced output:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface Headphone Output 32 ohm unbalanced measurem...png


Noise performance is not great at 50 mv but comes to life at full output:
Sound Blaster X5 PC Stereo Audio USB ADC interface Headphone 50mv dynamic range unbalanced mea...png

Best headphone output audio interface review 2023.png


Creative Sound Blaster X5 Headphone Listening Tests
I started with my everyday Dan Clark Stealth headphone which is a very insensitive headphone with impedance of 32 ohm. I made a mistake of trying to crank up the volume as soon as I plugged it, causing the X5 to produce some nasty static and shut down. This was using the balanced output which as I reported, will do this (due to being self-powered over USB). Keeping levels low produced a decent performance. I then switched to high impedance Sennheiser HD650. Here, the X5 drove it with authority, producing strong bass notes with excellent fidelity even at max volume. This test was also with balanced output.

Conclusions
The X5 is not a direct competitor to many of the products we test. It is more of a PC peripheral with a lot of functionality. Inclusion of DSP makes it more powerful than many of those products as well. I expected lackluster performance but in many cases, the X5 produces very competent performance. I like the use of large volume control and physical switches. There are a few performance and functionality issues that keep the X5 from rising to the top of the heap. What is there though satisfies with both looks, functionality and performance.

I am going to recommend the Creative Labs Sound Blaster X5.

SPECIFICATIONS: (Copied from Manufacturer’s Website)​

Headphone Output Power (Unbalanced)​

0.98 Vrms (60 mW) @ 16Ω, 1.47 Vrms (65 mW) @ 33Ω, 4.11 Vrms (112 mW) @ 150Ω, 4.14 Vrms (52 mW) @ 330Ω, 4.15 Vrms (29 mW) @ 600Ω

Headphone Output Power (Balanced)​

1.18 Vrms (86 mW) @ 16Ω, 1.90 Vrms (109 mW) @ 33Ω, 5.86 Vrms (313 mW) @ 150Ω, 8.25 Vrms (206 mW) @ 330Ω, 8.28 Vrms (114 mW) @ 600Ω

Remote Control (BLE)​

Android devices, iOS devices

Headphone Amp​

16–600Ω

Dynamic Range (DNR)​

130 dB

Audio Technology​

Sound Blaster Acoustic Engine

Connectivity Options (Main)​

1 x TOSLINK Optical In, 1 x TOSLINK Optical Out, 1 x RCA Line-in, 1 x RCA Line-out, 1 x 3.5 mm Headphones-out (Unbalanced), 1 x 4.4 mm Headphones-out (Balanced), 1 x 3.5 mm Mic-in, 1 x USB-C port of PC/Mac/PS4/PS5, 1 x USB-A Host Audio-out port

Headphone Amp​

16–600Ω

Max Channel Output​

Stereo

Audio Technologies​

CrystalVoice
Scout Mode

Supported Operating Systems​

Mac OS X v10.5 and above, Windows® 10 Ver 1703, Windows® 11

DAC​

2 x Cirrus Logic CS43198 high-resolution DAC, PCM 32-bit / 384 kHz playback, DoP 64, 128 support, DSD 64, 128, 256 support, THD: -115 dB, DNR: 130 dB

ADC​

DNR: 114 dB, THD+N: -105 dB

Power​

USB-C

Recommended Usage​

Gaming
Home Entertainment

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS​

Windows
  • Intel® Core™i3 or AMD® equivalent processor
  • Microsoft® Windows 11, 10 32 / 64-bit Ver 1703 or later
  • > 4 GB RAM
  • > 4 GB of free hard disk space
  • Available USB 2.0 / 3.0 port
Macintosh
  • Macintosh running macOS 10.15 or later
  • > 4 GB RAM
  • > 4 GB of free hard disk space
  • Available USB 2.0 / 3.0 port
PS4
  • Firmware Ver 5.0 or later
  • Available USB port
PS5
  • Firmware Ver 20.02-2.26.00.00-00.00.00.0.1 or later
  • Available USB port
Software Remote Control
  • Android OS Ver 8.0 or later
  • iOS Ver 12.0 or later
  • Built-in Bluetooth Low Energy support

PACKAGE CONTENTS​

  • 1 x Sound Blaster X5
  • 1 x USB-C to USB-A Cable (1.5m / 4.9 ft)
  • 1 x Optical Cable (1.5m / 4.9 ft)
  • 1 x 3.5 mm to RCA Stereo Cable (2m / 6.6 ft)
  • 1 x Quick Start Guide
  • 1 x Warranty and Compliance Leaflet

WARRANTY​

1-year Limited Hardware Warranty


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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome. Click here if you have some audio gear you want me to test.

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kind of an allegory for Creaf today

at $270 what does it do that justifies its price?

i also think it looks like its from another decade:

Sound_Blaster_X5_lifestyle-1080x608.jpg


its a weird one... decades ago Creative was an industry standard and today they are trying to maintain any market at all
 
you'll find also that Creative are less than stellar when it comes to software support

some day far in future... say in 36 months time you'll find they'll EOL this

and their devices are heavily reliant on software for the more advanced features
 
nice. my first ever outboard DAC (outboard soundcard) was a soundblaster. used it for about a year and then i discovered the ifi micro idsd and as soon as i hooked it up. it made the soundblaster sounds like crap in comparison. and so its great to see that creative have catch'd up with the competition.
 
IMG_8675.jpeg
How does the virtual surround perform? Creative had some of the deepest IP in this space from acquisitions and in-house R&D back 20 years ago which is in the “Acoustic Engine”

The DSP seems to have a major role for the microphone.
 
you'll find also that Creative are less than stellar when it comes to software support

some day far in future... say in 36 months time you'll find they'll EOL this

and their devices are heavily reliant on software for the more advanced features
I've had very little trouble with their drivers. The worst was when Vista was released and the x64 drivers were bugged. But that was ages ago.
 
The line in and ADC feature set does make it interesting consumer device, but then 270USD also gets you the Motu M2...

A novelty for sure but just not objectively good enough.
 
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Creative got all the knowledge when acquired (and shut down) E-MU but it seems it stayed there,15 years ago.
I have no sympathy for them.
Device seems decent in areas I guess and can get better but after lots of scrutiny.
Someone can get the same in a nicer packet and cheaper.

Thanks Amir!
 
Creative got all the knowledge when acquired (and shut down) E-MU but it seems it stayed there,15 years ago.

They also acquired Sensaura, Aureal, and Ensoniq. They invested in VOIP in the 90's. Had one of the first MP3 players and even got Apple to pay $100M in licensing fees for the iPod. They had 3D Labs and even their own CPU design which ended up being sold to Intel.

Looking at Wikipedia, they had 1.6 billion dollars in revenue in 1996 (which is like 3 billion today adjusted for inflatio). Meanwhile, their 2021 revenue was just 85 million. It shows how hard the industry can be.
 
Performance has improved though sadly the name has not changed... :p
 
I owned one, but sold it not long after due to the many various issues... The analog knob is very glitchy when used with IOS devices, it seems to want to control both my ipad volume as well as it's own. It also couldn't go to high gain mode when plugged straight into my ipad without turning off immediately, forcing me to use it in bluetooth mode if I wanted high gain. It also feels really cheap, and you can't plug in any cables without it shifting around.

The software is absolutely atrocious, you're not able to navigate through the app without it crashing every 5 mins.

But, it's good that it supports atmos, and the surround thing it has going for it is pretty fun to play with.
 
I'd say that considering the plethora of features, reasonable measurements, and the price - this is a fair offering, but I think that they needed more aggressive pricing to make a dent in the market or give better quality for low-impedance headphones.
 
Am I reading this right?

This would not work better than the G6 in my situation, as a dsp/eq fed via toslink into a dac? I use a profile for my headphones, which I disable when using speakers.
 
LOL
Usb very good
Toslink very bad

Another miracle of Creative...
1 time mistake with those guys...
Drivers right out of Hell.
Microphone inputs that are self destructing in various products.
No real warranty
No way again...
 
Is there any chance that the use of the DSP creates similar behavior we saw here and suffers the same problem? :

 
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