The PC sound card has become something of an endangered species as more machines have limited upgrade options and onboard sound improves. Creative thinks there's life left in the gaming sound card market, though. The company just launched the Sound BlasterX AE-5, packing what it calls "the world's best PC headphone amp." This is a computer part aimed at gamers in the year 2017, so of course the sound card is festooned with programmable RGB LED illumination.
The Sound BlasterX AE-5 is based on a Sound Core3D 24-bit audio DSP and an ESS Sabre32 DAC with a 116 dB signal-to-noise ratio. The card has analog outputs for a 5.1-channel setup and support for 7.1 headphone surround virtualization. Creative is especially proud of the Xamp discrete headphone amplifier capable of driving headphones impedance from 16 Ω to 600 Ω. The company says that the Xamp has individually-amplified left and right channels, too.
The rear panel is studded with three 3.5-mm jacks for front, rear, and center+sub outputs, a TOSLINK optical output, and another pair of mini-jacks for headphones and a microphone. The PCB has a front panel connector and headers for controlling up to four RGB LED strips. Combined with Creative's Aurora software, those headers allows the card to serve double duty as an RGB LED controller.
The standard Sound BlasterX AE-5 has a black finish and a single strip of 10 RGB LEDs. A white-painted Pure Edition, available exclusively through Creative's online store, comes with four 10-LED strips. The standard card will ship in July for $150. The Pure Edition will go on sale in August for $180.