Creative sounds off on the Sound BlasterX AE-5

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.

Comments closed
    • Dr_Gigolo
    • 2 years ago

    I paid 30 dollars used for my Xonar STX 5 years ago. It has 124 dB SNR and also a dedicated headphone amp. No ES9018 DAC, but it still sounds awesome with my Beyer T70’s.

    Why oh why would I get this sound card? The Xonar is still supported by Asus.

      • ronch
      • 2 years ago

      It’s for those who still use onboard audio and want to step up.

      • strangerguy
      • 2 years ago

      Your Xonar SNR numbers are absolutely false-advertisement grade nonsense. Something like the Benchmark’s DAC2 *only* specs 126dB SNR at the outputs, but that is actually tested and verified by industrial audio analyzers like a dScope series. But of course virtually all the target audience will never bother doing any real measurements at all, let alone have an industrial audio analyzer, and the true believers will never entertain the thought that a $20 16-year old Behringer UCA202 measures better than their uber expensive magic DAC.

    • LoneWolf15
    • 2 years ago

    I always bought a sound card because of what it could do in hardware. In the early days, that was speech synthesis (SoundBlaster 1.5, my first sound card). That progressed through better sound quality to wavetable lookup (SoundBlaster AWE32). And so on.

    As far as I know, the SoundBlaster X-Fi (with the true X-Fi chip) was the last card that did things in hardware that others couldn’t. Now I’m just buying a codec and maybe a DAC. When my X-Fi Titanium loses driver support, I’m not sure I can justify anything higher than onboard Realtek 1150.

      • ronch
      • 2 years ago

      Yeah, IIRC the Recon3D PCIe was the first Sound Blaster card that used the SoundCore3D chip and it was pretty lackluster and at that time the chip seemed like a cheap gimmick. The Z series made much better use of the chip but I can’t help but think that the EMU20K chip was a more serious audio chip than the Core3D.

      • DoomGuy64
      • 2 years ago

      What irritates me is that we know next to nothing about the SoundCore3D’s actual capabilities. Is it capable of hardware features, or not? If not and everything is done in software, how does the software perform in comparison? How good are creative’s new drivers compared to the old ones, or compared to competitors? Windows 10 was supposed to bring some level of hardware sound support back to the OS. Is it supported in win32 or in the hardware/driver?

      The modern soundcard ecosystem is so muddy that you can’t make heads or tails out of it, and nobody attempts to clear it up either. Terrible. That’s why soundcards are now selling wood knob features like 32-bit, and bling like led strips, because buying the hardware based on real functionality no longer exists, and the community is as much to blame for this as the hardware makers.
      [url<]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8Ne9sRcSrM[/url<]

        • ronch
        • 2 years ago

        I think the Core3D chip falls somewhere between the X-Fi and your typical Cmedia chip. Creative just throws in a boatload of capacitors around it, like how Asus does with their Cmedia-based sound cards. Given how they likely don’t sell a lot of sound cards anymore it makes sense (at least to them) to minimize R&D costs as much as possible and just sell sound cards swimming in a lot of hype (quad core sound processor!). Throw in some TI Burr-Brown op-amps, said capacitors, and a fancy shroud and it’s good to go.

          • strangerguy
          • 2 years ago

          It’s easy to fool the crowd who wants to be fooled aka audiophiles. Throw in some of the “highly-praised” audio components and even if the resulting end product measures horribly, the target audience will still praise it with meaningless weasel words just because it sounds “different = must be better” from their current gear. Rinse and repeat.

            • ronch
            • 2 years ago

            Well, maybe that applies to Neil Young and his Ponofans but not everyone.

            • Ifalna
            • 2 years ago

            Erm.. no.
            Audiophiles are VERY technical and quite picky. They know what is good and stick to that, no matter the brand or anything. It’s results that are interesting.

            Wannabe-audiophiles w/o technical expertise are the ones that fall for Pono, 192KHz playback and 1000$+ speaker cables.

        • Airmantharp
        • 2 years ago

        Measuring the delta of CPU usage between hardware and software could be enlightening, but could we additionally expect that measurement to matter in terms of performance? Would it vary much between two channels, headphones with HRTF, and surround variations with increasing numbers of speakers?

        I think that it might, perhaps with CPUs that have fewer cores and/or lack SMT, but with increasing availability in modern computers- especially gaming-focused builds- of discrete thread resources, whatever the measurable impact is it is likely to make far less difference in the user experience than the potential hardware upgrade.

        Here it looks like Creative is going as much for a ‘total solution’ for audio as they can, favoring discrete headphone components over >5.1 analog output (but supporting 7.1 digitally).

        If you’re going to make a sound card today, this is how it should be made, supposing this Creative part performs as advertised.

          • Krogoth
          • 2 years ago

          Modern sound cards are just glorified DAC on a separate PCB with output ports. The traditional hardware-based sound card as know it died when multi-core CPUs became ubiquitous and CPU overhead became trivial.

            • ronch
            • 2 years ago

            I think the CPU utilization argument that people used back 10 or 15 years ago is largely put to rest today unless you’re doing pro work. The argument for sound cards today is largely the analog quality that is determined by the DAC and filters which is pretty basic on most motherboards. And no, fancy audio circuitry lighting doesn’t really help at all.

    • ChicagoDave
    • 2 years ago

    I haven’t bought a discreet audio card since the Turtle Beach days of the early-mid 90’s.

    However, I just built a nice HTPC that’s connected to my 5.1 receiver (will be upgraded in a year or two once HDMI 2.1 is available on several ports). Currently the video and audio are sent from my dGPU (GTX 1060) to the receiver via HDMI.

    I’m looking to possibly upgrade the audio, but am not sure what direction I should go. I’ll admit I’m totally out of my league when it comes to current PC audio solutions. I should note that I have no interest in headphone features on this card – this is purely for sending audio from my HTPC to my receiver.

    My first question is whether discrete sound cards are pretty much only used for headphones due to the DAC they contain? Would it be pointless to use a sound card to simply forward a digital signal from my PC to the receiver? I can’t imagine using the soundcard’s DAC and sending an analog signal to the receiver will result in better sound quality.

    Second, if I were to use a sound card and send a digital signal to my receiver, what kind of cables are used (for 5.1 or 7.1)? Seems like TOSLINK only handles 2.0 uncompressed and honestly I’ve never been a big fan of TOSLINK. Do sound cards use other digital outputs?

    Third, if I have my video coming from the GPU via HDMI to the receiver, and the audio coming from my sound card via ??, how are the two combined and synced? I assume it’s not a problem, but then again HDMI can be very picky when things don’t sync and HDCP may throw a fit if the audio is “stripped” from the video.

    Sorry for the post not being specific to this card, but if anyone has experience with a setup like I’m describing, I’d be happy to learn more so I know what to look for (if anything).

    Edited to add: Also in case anyone is wondering, my motherboard’s DAC is an 8-Channel Realtek ALC887 chip.

    Edited again to add: The majority of my audio usage on this computer is listening to lossless music in FLAC (generally 2 channel). Second use case is streaming Netflix or OTA broadcast TV (5.1/7.1 likely). Third is gaming (5.1/7.1 likely). Fourth is watching downloaded video content (5.1/7.1 likely).

      • Ifalna
      • 2 years ago

      Tried HDMI once.
      It sucks that it cuts off the signal if I turn off the screen. Meeh.

      1) Yes.These days, soundcards only make sense if you use the ANALOG output. Digital is digital. It doesn’t matter whether it comes from your onboard junk or a highend GPU or a super expensive discrete soundcard. Same signal.

      2) Uncompressed multichannel? HDMI. No alternative. SPDIF is only stereo when transmitting uncompressed PCM. For 5.1 you need to use lossy Dolby Digital or DTS.

      3) Not a problem at all, do it all the time, never noticed any delays. Signal delays are probably way below what human senses can detect.

      If you want to upgrade your audio, better speakers / headphones is pretty much always the way to go unless you have a really old and crappy amp.

      System, just for reference:
      Titanium HD -> analog -> Beyerdynamic DT880 (250 Ω)
      Titanium HD -> SPDIF -> Yamaha RX-V377 -> Pair of Ancient JBL MX1000s.
      Yup I use SPDIF for 2 channel too, because that way I never have to change plugs ^^.

    • psuedonymous
    • 2 years ago

    You know what’s even more idiotic than putting an RGB lighting controller in a [i<]sound card[/i<]? Putting an RGB lighting in a sound card and [i<]not adding a sound-reactive mode[/i<]. The ONE THING it might even be able to pretend is a reason for this thing to exist, and they can't be bothered to implement it.

      • Airmantharp
      • 2 years ago

      …and then being able to feed its output to all of the other RGB lighting controllers in your system…

      Well, not me- I’d prefer my computer be neither seen nor heard- but the effect would be impressive if it all came together properly.

    • strangerguy
    • 2 years ago

    Let’s still make internal sound cards when everyone else interested in PC sound quality had long made the move to external USB solutions.

    Let’s also quote the raw specs of the DAC chip and not the actual card outputs, we certainly aren’t doing any false advertising here.

    And RGB leds, just because.

    • Chrispy_
    • 2 years ago

    Whenever I want to enable advanced features such as headphone positional audio, Virtual surround or any funky effects handled by the game engine, I have to disable anything extra my soundcard does and run through the default windows audio drivers and then output to stereo, either via a DAC or headphones.

    I could be wrong, but I’d actively AVOID a soundcard for games since the majority of games I play will be hindered by anything other than the default Microsoft drivers designed for DirectX’s Directsound.

      • Ifalna
      • 2 years ago

      Yep. I also have any post processing disabled.
      Bought my Titanium HD back in the day for top sound quality.

      These days? I doubt that I would buy another card. I’d probably just plug the HPs into my Receiver that has the same great DACs as my soundcard.

    • Krogoth
    • 2 years ago

    I’m kinda surprised that Creative hasn’t filed for Chapter 9 or 11 bankruptcy yet. They haven’t been doing so well in the past few years.

    • reckless76
    • 2 years ago

    From what I understand, Creative refuses to support this Core3D chip on Linux. So this card would be Windows only, which I find pretty frustrating as I’ve loyally bought Creative sound cards for over 20 years. And now I have to look elsewhere.

      • DancinJack
      • 2 years ago

      Shocking! /s

        • reckless76
        • 2 years ago

        Why the sarcasm? Creative has provided some level of Linux support for every chip prior to this one. Even going so far as to open source the X-Fi drivers. [url<]https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2008/11/creative-releases-linux-x-fi-driver-under-the-gpl/[/url<] But starting with the Z line, nothing. As far as I'm aware, there's not even an official statement on the matter.

          • CheetoPet
          • 2 years ago

          Some unofficial patches – [url<]http://forums.creative.com/showthread.php?t=741501[/url<] I get that Linux users aren't their focus & that's fine. But lack of any effort and complete radio silence on the issue is crap.

    • firewired
    • 2 years ago

    I ‘member the old days. You ‘member the old days?

    The best sound card I ever owned was the M-Audio Revolution 7.1.

    [url<]https://techreport.com/review/4941/m-audio-revolution-7-1-sound-card[/url<] I would still be using it today if M-Audio maintained drivers, but alas they did not after WinXP. They had a beta Vista (eww) driver that sort-of worked in Win7 but mostly just crashed. Shame really. The golden age of gaming audio ended when Aureal died and Realtek HD Audio undercut everything else. Even those so-called high-end onboard audio chips are still Realtek but with fancied-up names from motherboard vendors. As for Creative Labs or whatever they call themselves these days, I never bothered with any of their gear after the Audigy garbage - endless system crashes ruined their once-valued reputation for me.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 2 years ago

      M-Audio has changed hands a couple of times since the Revolution 7.1 came out. I mean, nobody expects a 15-year-old card to get new drivers, but especially so when the parent company dumped the brand.

      • titan
      • 2 years ago

      It’s still supported under Linux.

      And, now I think I may have tossed my Revolution 7.1 in the recycling several months ago…I forgot all about it! And now I have a PCI slot to put it in!

      When I get home, I’m going to see if I remembered to grab it or not.

      • null0byte
      • 2 years ago

      My favorite sound card ever was my original Turtle Beach Multisound, back when Turtle Beach actually made good sound cards.

      While it’s original purpose was for music production with the Proteus 1/XR synth, it became a surprisingly capable sound card quality-wise for games in Windows first with 3.1, and then with 95/98. It just didn’t have a joystick port muxed in with the MIDI like more mainstream cards did.

      Alas, it was an ISA card, and a full-length ISA card at that, about 12-13″ total in length.

      [url<]http://alasir.com/software/multisound/#msnd_classic[/url<] Man, I still wish I had that thing as it's so rare now, and it sounds great.

    • Sargent Duck
    • 2 years ago

    $150 USD for a sound card?

      • Waco
      • 2 years ago

      Yeah. This is insanity for gaming.

      • slowriot
      • 2 years ago

      $150 for the amount of features this has seems completely fair to me. Obviously final judgement would require use and a review but yeah. Compared to on-board yes that’s expensive. Compared to even basic DAC+headamp setups its incredibly feature rich and cost effective. Whether a person needs it or not is entirely up to them.

      • brucethemoose
      • 2 years ago

      ES9018 kits are like $50, I bet the DAC by itself is like $30 or $40.

      Maybe the headphone amp is the same. Then you have to pay some engineer to write and maintain drivers, put components on the rest of the PCB…

      It’s not cheap, no, but I don’t think there’s a ridiculous markup on Creative’s end.

        • Ifalna
        • 2 years ago

        “Then you have to pay some engineer to write and maintain drivers”
        *looks at brand name*

        *chuckles*

        Good one.

          • DoomGuy64
          • 2 years ago

          I don’t see the punchline, as creative has been supporting hardware well past it’s expiration date. They’re still supporting PCI soundcards. PCI. Who even has a PCI slot left on their motherboard nowadays?

          The “competition” hasn’t even been supporting their pcie cards, so you either get onboard that lasts the life of the motherboard/current OS, or creative. They’re the only ones left offering real long term driver support.

          The only caveat is features stay the same. You don’t get new features, same as video cards. SHOCK.

            • Ifalna
            • 2 years ago

            Creative was pretty well known for having messy drivers back in the day.
            Guess they changed that when people no longer remember it.

      • Krogoth
      • 2 years ago

      That’s nothing. I used to remember that fancy discrete “gaming” audio cards going north of $299 back in the day.

        • DoomGuy64
        • 2 years ago

        Which the vast majority were pro-sumer level hardware, including extension bays and high end outputs. The reason why cost was so high back then is those extra components were expensive. 3dfx is a perfect example of how consumer hardware was made possible from cheaper components. The voodoo could not have been made without price drops to ram.

        This card could have been $50 cheaper without the LED strips though. Creative should just offer that for people who don’t want it. It’ll happen eventually, but they’re obviously leading this because the profit margin and hype factor is higher. It’s all about the marketing. Most of us don’t even need new cards. Creative made this all shiny to market bling to people who will upgrade for bling. Regular cards come after.

    • Prestige Worldwide
    • 2 years ago

    Just when you we’ve hit Peak RGB, this happens.

    • ronch
    • 2 years ago

    Just a thought. Instead of those LED lights why don’t they come out with those vertical bar graph EQ light shows that were popular in the 90’s? Put it on a control panel along with some audio jacks for headphones (and maybe some USB ports too) that fits in a 5.25″ drive bay.

    • DPete27
    • 2 years ago

    No tempered glass though? Darn

      • Wirko
      • 2 years ago

      Shooting at the soundcard when you don’t like the music?

    • ronch
    • 2 years ago

    I appreciate my Realtek ALC889 given how it manages to put out decent sound quality especially given its tiny hardware footprint and almost negligible cost but I don’t like seeing sound cards becoming less and less popular. The difference between a Realtek and an X-Fi or SB-Z is quite noticeable even if you have halfway decent speakers. I hope sound card makers continue to find customers even as Realtek keeps closing the gap, although I’m willing to bet they’ll only come close to sound cards but not really match them.

      • blazer_123
      • 2 years ago

      For 2.1 setups the difference is very small. I’ve seen some empirical benchmarks of sound quality and Realtek and Asus/Creative are about the same. However, once you go beyond 2.1, say 5.1 or 7.1, then all of the onboard Realtek solutions are utterly terrible. The Realtek chip focuses everything on the L-R channels and provides almost nothing to anything else.

      I’ve been using Asus sound cards for the last ten years (and a Creative and Cloud USB solutions for two headsets). The sound cards make a difference but I feel like it doesn’t mean as much as it did a 10-15 years ago. Realtek has come a long way. A sound card is mostly a luxury. Along the lines of a nice 2.1 or better setup or $50+ headsets.

      Almost as important, the software for Realtek has really improved. Being able to mess with a built in equalizer (and decent presets) really improves the subjective impression of how they sound.

        • ronch
        • 2 years ago

        I won’t say the difference is very small. Even listening to MP3s at 160kbps I can say my X-Fi is punchier, clearer, richer, has better separation and cleaner. It’s just there. By contrast my ALC889 just seems muffled​ and not as lively. Even sound effects in games sound clearer and crisper. Of course these sound quality tests can be subjective but even with measuring equipment you can’t deny that your ears are still different. This is why audiophiles, at least many of them, spend $200 or more on sound cards.

          • YukaKun
          • 2 years ago

          [url<]http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/high-end-pc-audio,3733.html[/url<] Cheers!

            • ronch
            • 2 years ago

            I already saw that years ago. I actually think about that article when I wanna convince myself that the Realtek is no worse than my X-Fi, but I just can’t say the Realtek is as good. Maybe it’s my speakers.

    • Mr Bill
    • 2 years ago

    It could run a Disco ball!
    [quote<]The PCB has a front panel connector and headers for controlling up to four RGB LED strips.[/quote<]

      • Redocbew
      • 2 years ago

      I guess we need a version of “I will survive” for sound cards now also.

    • Topinio
    • 2 years ago

    Not bad, seems to compare reasonably well to the STRIX RAID PRO … but as the video linked from the official site [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEL6RQBl3Zs<]shows[/url<], this thing needs a "molex" connector :-/

      • chuckula
      • 2 years ago

      Holy Carp Batman!

      It’s like the coelacanth… you think it’s extinct, but then it shows up where you don’t want it.

      • whm1974
      • 2 years ago

      A Molex connector on a freaking sound card?

        • slowriot
        • 2 years ago

        You’re all right. Why in the world didn’t they use SATA? Now a person has to run a molex cable off their PSU when nothing else uses it these days.

          • ronch
          • 2 years ago

          Well, Creative saw that most PSUs still come with Molex connectors and realized most people weren’t using them, so they thought of using those idle connectors. Waste not want not. 😀

            • Voldenuit
            • 2 years ago

            Modular PSU owner here.

            I’m not plugging in a molex cord with like 6 connectors dangling off it just to accommodate one card.

            I’d be more likely to use a SATA to molex adapter, or even more likely, just not getting this card.

            • ronch
            • 2 years ago

            Well, modular or not, you paid for that Molly. Might as well use it. :o)

            • Voldenuit
            • 2 years ago

            Actually, I paid *not* to use it by going modular so I could get a cleaner build and routing.

      • ronch
      • 2 years ago

      It’s probably needed to drive the headphone amps. And the disco ball, of course.

        • Voldenuit
        • 2 years ago

        Aren’t PCIE 1x slots able to provide 25W of power?

        If I’m pumping 25W into my headphones, my hair would probably be on fire. And my cans.

          • ronch
          • 2 years ago

          Well, we’re talking P.M.P.O here! /s

      • DoomGuy64
      • 2 years ago

      For the LEDs, and the specs say 32-bit not 24.

      I’ll stick with my pcie x-fi with maybe the exception of a cheaper model without leds, because it works and I have no problems with it.

      I’m sure the new card sounds fine, but the specs have broken into wood knob audiophile territory. Much rather Creative do some work with OpenAL and sponsor game developers to use it. That, and improve their headphone positioning at least to the level that razer is purported to have. Maybe wishful thinking. I’m still happy having drivers that work, and don’t bork my OS. *cough* Asus *cough*

    • terranup16
    • 2 years ago

    I don’t have much RGB lighting in my rig currently and I definitely don’t have a current need for something with a control header for them…

    But I gotta give Creative credit here. My girlfriend would love some RGB strips and components in her case, and comboing header and control functionality for that onto a sound card she might otherwise not be interested in… sounds like a pretty decent use of space.

    Whether the sound card itself is worth its price or not will be the bigger obstacle to whether she and I would consider it, but if it proved itself worthy of consideration, I’ve gotta say the RGB controller bit improves the level of consideration it would get. Nice add imo.

      • slowriot
      • 2 years ago

      I like this comment because it actually speaks to one of the reasons why PC customization, which RGB LEDs make easier, is such a key feature in any new enthusiast product.

    • FakeAlGore
    • 2 years ago

    They still don’t support 7.1 channel speaker systems?! That’s unbelievable. It’s what their users have been clamoring for.

      • DancinJack
      • 2 years ago

      [url<]https://us.creative.com/p/sound-cards/sound-blaster-audigy-rx#specs[/url<]

      • Prion
      • 2 years ago

      Since when has Creative Labs ever bothered to listen to what their users had to say.

        • slowriot
        • 2 years ago

        Since when in the world has anyone been clamoring for 7.1? Creative’s main market here is headphone wearing gamers in the first place.

          • moose17145
          • 2 years ago

          I have a 7.1 Asus Xonar DX… and I am using all of it’s 7.1 audio channels… So there IS a market out there for 7.1, even if it is smaller…

          Even their X-Fi cards supported 7.1, and almost all onboard motherboard audio even supports it…

      • dyrdak
      • 2 years ago

      I had my Audigy’s hooked up to 5.1 receiver but – with that receiver having overheating (?) issues – I could not find any reasonably priced new receiver (that supported new standards as well) with multichannel analog. It’s either analog stereo or digital input (and what’s the point to invest in sound card with great DAC and use digital connection).
      OTOH, it’s a shame how noisy is the front audio out on my XFi – one can hear scrolling down the webpage or other system load/activity (rear outs are ok but less convenient to plug headphones into).

      • Bensam123
      • 2 years ago

      My X-Fi Forte does. Not many people with 7.1 systems compared to say 5.1. There aren’t many other options out there for 7.1 in general though.

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