Creative Sound Blaster E5 review

Sounds like super-versatile audio fun to us…

TODO alt text

Our Verdict

This versatile mini-amp is just as at home wirelessly chatting with your phone as it is plugged into your gaming PC.

For

  • Compact, Well-built, Great sound, Good software, Incredibly versatile

Against

  • Seriously pricey

The words 'Sound' and 'Blaster' are as indelibly etched into our old-school PC gaming psyche as 'autoexec.bat' and 'config.sys'. We spent unknowable hours configuring DOS-based games to make sure we got compatible audio out of them.

Sound Blaster basically became synonymous with PC gaming audio right from the outset.

And then onboard motherboard sound got good enough that we stopped buying discrete soundcards, plus USB headsets now bypass them both.

Chances are then that you don't have a Sound Blaster in your PC any more.

And that's a shame because Creative still make outstanding PC audio devices and this USB-based portable headphone amp is testament to that fact.

The Sound Blaster E5 is an HDD caddy-sized lump of audio loveliness, packing the excellent SB-Axx1 audio processor and a hi-res digital to analogue converter (DAC) into its unassuming package.

That sound silicon is the same as in Creative's Sound Blaster EVO headsets and with the controller software you can tweak away to your heart's content. From the equaliser to the Crystaliser, you can tailor the audio to suit whatever you're doing with your machine at that moment.

Want super-clear dialogue? Tweak this. Want eardrum-shattering bass? Go ahead, tweak that.

At £145 / $200 it's a lot of money to spend on your PC's audio, especially considering you can pick up a decent Asus Xonar or Creative Sound Blaster PCIe soundcard for less than half the price. But bear in mind that this thing is seriously powerful and a hell of a lot more versatile than a single slab of audiophile PCB.

Audio all-star

Sat on your desktop though you can have it USB'd into your machine, cleaning up the audio and boosting it with Creative's years of audio processing know-how.

The comprehensive software controller suite is excellent and easy to use and with a good set of analogue headphones attached you can really hear the improved aural quality the E5 provides.

And that's where this Sound Blaster is at its best, when it's attached to some quality cans.

The Bluetooth NFC-able connectivity means you can wirelessly connect to your phone while it's running your PC's audio. So if you don't want to miss an important call, or you're happy chatting to your mum via your headset while you gad about the galaxy in your souped-up Sidewinder, it'll work seamlessly.

It doesn't necessarily need to be plugged into your PC either.

There are Android and iOS apps available for it, too, and the 3,200mAh battery will keep it going for hours. And, if you're into sharing, there's a pair of headphone outputs to share an audio stream between a couple of connected cans.

See, versatile, innit?

But you do have to really care about your audio to spend the big bucks on it. And if you don't have a decent non-USB headset you're not going to get the full audiophile benefits of the SB-Axx1 processor.

But the Sound Blaster E5 is a neat, compact and versatile mini amp that defies its scale with some seriously big sound.

We liked

The sound quality that comes out of this diminutive device is outstanding. Creative's SB-Axx1 audio silicon has shown its worth in things like the EVO headsets and the mega-amp, the Creative Sound Blaster X7, and even in this little chassis it packs a punch.

The E5 is also incredibly versatile too. As happy sat on your desktop plugged into your gaming headset as it is in your pocket, throwing around audio from your phone.


That built-in microphone is darned impressive too, combined with the excellent Creative software it isolates the vocals for clear recording.

We disliked

Genuinely it's only the price that really stands in the way of the E5 being a must-have item. At nigh-on £150 / $200 it's an awful lot of money.

But then it's an awful lot of mini-amp for that price too.

Verdict

The Creative Sound Blaster E5 is an excellent little amplifier, that can make your gaming audio, your music listening and your movie watching life better. We love having a bit of Sound Blaster audio back with our PCs.

------------------------------

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Components Editor

Dave (Twitter) is the components editor for TechRadar and has been professionally testing, tweaking, overclocking and b0rking all kinds of computer-related gubbins since 2006. Dave is also an avid gamer, with a love of Football Manager that borders on the obsessive. Dave is also the deputy editor of TechRadar's older sibling, PC Format.

Tags