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Creative SoundBlaster X5 - A Creative DAC/Amp for Audiophiles - Honest Audiophile Impressions

When I think about Creative SoundBlaster, the first thing that comes to mind is gaming gear. I don't really think of an audiophile experience when thinking about a Creative SoundBlaster product. But today we are reviewing an audiophile product from Creative SoundBlaster. But how audiophile is it? These are my Honest Audiophile impressions!

The X5 from Creative SoundBlaster will set you back $280 (currently on sale for $240) from the bank account.

You can purchase directly from Creative SoundBlaster (non-affiliate link):

The specs are loaded so take a peak for yourself.

Creative SoundBlaster has included pretty much anything that an audiophile would desire from a sub $300 DAC/Amp. They also included all the inputs and outputs that an audiophile would request.

The build of the X5 is plastic but amazingly doesn't feel overly cheap. The only visible metal are the ports and connections. All buttons and switches are plastic. The build feels durable enough for a desk but wouldn't handle being moved around a lot. The X5 is somewhat boring looking and just doesn't ooze a lot of premium vibes. All of the little lights on the knobs and switches are somewhat dull and don't cause fatigue.

The display has nice large texts and gives off enough light to be readable but not fatiguing. I like how the display shows a readout when headphones are plugged in. The volume knob moves extremely smooth and responsively and the display shows the volume level There is an audible click when switches are moved.

The layout on the back is good and doesn't feel overly snug and jumbled even when fully connected to all the inputs and outputs.

The rubber feet on the bottom add enough space to give some breathing room and they are grippy enough to hold the X5 in place on the desk.

On the front of the X5, you find a plethora of buttons and switches. Starting on the top left, there is a Bluetooth pairing button and a display button along with the display. At the bottom left, is the power button, microphone mute button, microphone gain adjustment knob, High/Low gain switch, headphone/speaker output button, Direct/DSP button, EQ button, PC/Console switch. Along the bottom, you have the 3.5mm microphone input, 3.5mm unbalanced headphone output and 4.4mm balanced headphone output. On the far right side, you have a massive volume knob which has a large white, thankfully dull not bright, led light.

On the back of the X5, starting on the left side, there is RCA line out and line in, optical line out and line in, UBS-C input and USB Host. The X5 is powered by the USB-C input so you can power it with your phone, tablet or laptop.

The Creative SoundBlaster app adds additional functions to the X5 like a 10 band equalizer, microphone options, mixing capabilities and scout mode for gaming. Oddly the Super X-Fi options aren't available. It's fun to explore but I only used it in limited gaming tests. I found that it didn't offer any advantages for my headphone listening experience.

One of the more surprising things that I discovered about the X5 as I went through my review process was the headphone output power. The specs don't seem too impressive, but as I always say the numbers don't tell the entire story.

  • Output:

    • single-ended: 0.98Vrms (60mW) @ 16Ω, 1.47Vrms (65mW) @ 33Ω, 4.11Vrms (112mW) @ 150Ω, 4.14Vrms (52mW) @ 330Ω, 4.15Vrms (29mW) @ 600Ω;

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

The X5 powered most of the headphones that I have on my review desk with relative ease, including some of the more demanding planar and dynamics. The X5 powered the Hifiman Sundara, Hifiman Arya Stealth, Moondrop Para, Sennheiser HD660s2, DROP Sennheiser HD8xx, Fiio FT5, Audeze LCD-5, Audeze LCD-2 Closed, Audio-Technica R70x and many others with headroom to spare even though most had to be on high gain. IEM's also faired very well, even though some super sensitive did have a slight hiss, but most of them were very content on the X5. When I first saw the output specs, I was worried that most headphones wouldn't be powered properly, but I am happy to report that I was rather impressed with the X5's power output.

The X5’s balanced output sounds better than the single-ended by a significant amount. The single-ended, unbalanced output significantly lacks punch, slam and clarity in comparison to the balanced output; even when using easier to drive IEM and headphones the differences were noticeable.

The X5 offers a few input options; optical, USB and Bluetooth.

One of the rare disappointments of the X5 is that Bluetooth only works with the SBC codec. Also the Bluetooth connectivity is a bit finicky and doesn't stay connected all the time and can be a frustration to connect/reconnect. This wasn't a major issue for me as I don't use Bluetooth often but it was worthy noting as some of you might be frequent Bluetooth users.

As for the other inputs, they both worked flawlessly. Optical was fantastic when I connected my Playstation PS4 Pro to the X5 and played some FIFA 24 and Asseta Corsa Compentzione.

The Direct and DSP modes are another added option that other DAC/Amp of similar price don't include. Direct Mode turns off all extra sonic effects. DSP Mode allows you to use the built-in EQ modes; music, movie, gaming. In DSP Mode, you can also use the Creative apps additional filters and 10 band eq. I found that the various EQ filters made adjustments that were all unique in their own ways, but I preferred the Direct Mode as it sounded the cleanest and most accurate.

USB Host connection was not something that I tested.

Another pleasant surprise was connecting the X5 preamp to speaker amps and external amps. I was impressed at how well it played all my various speakers when I connected it to my Schiit Vidar and Fosi V3 Mono. I also used the X5 with externals amps; DROP THX AAA One Linear, DROP SMSL HO150X and Aune S17 Pro.

The Creative SoundBlaster X5 includes two Cirrus Logic CS43198 DAC chips that can play 32-bit / 384 kHz over PCM and are capable of decoding DoP128 and DSD256.

So how does the Creative SoundBlaster X5 sound? Keep in mind that all sound impressions were done using Direct Mode and the balanced output as it sounds significantly better than the unbalanced output.

The Creative SoundBlaster X5 took me by surprise with it's sonic abilities. Going into the review I thought that the X5 would sound similar to other Creative products I have reviewed, especially when using the Music DSP. Boy was I surprised when I discovered that it sounds way better.

The bass of the X5, extends nicely into the sub-bass region and gives ample rumble and grumble when called upon. Mid bass has nice impact and energy. The upper bass has enough impact and energy without bleeding into the lower mid range. The texture of the bass is engaging and feels connected. Details in the bass are plentiful. Resolution is defined and focused. The tone and timbre is natural.

The mids of the X5, have an engaging, inviting presence about them. The vocalists seem to have a warm smile on their face and the instruments are being played with passion. Mids are balanced and cohesive and they have the right amount of presence without being dominant or recessed. When tracks have a lot of instruments or vocals going on with lots of varying degrees of dynamics and rhythm, the X5 portrays it all effortlessly. The details revealed are abundant and the resolution is defined and focused. The clarity of the X5 with the mids walks the line of just right without wavering into the too dark or too bright territories. Treble of the X5, is well extended but controlled. There is good air and space with a fine balance of energy. The treble keeps everything flowing without being hot or too aggressive. The moments in tracks that call for some bite, edge or crispness in the treble is done with precision. Tone and timbre is natural. The details revealed are on the same level of quantity as the bass and mids. Resolution also is defined and focused like the mids and bass.

The sound stage of the X5 is phenomenal. The X5 allows your brain to use it's imagination skills as you diagnose the music. The width is wide enough without sounding artificially enhanced and defines different sizes of venues.

The depth is deep enough to read a few rows in and to keep layers separated without cramping in on each others space.

The imaging is good as it latches on to a sound and tracks it all over the stage; it could be a bit more precise but you can still track easily. You can easily hear details as they enter and exit the stage and the placement is a tight area but not quite pin point.

Detail retrieval is excellent for the price point of the X5. Resolution is fantastic with no smearing, glaring or hazy moments except when present in the track.

The X5 has a natural tone and timbre.

So with all that said, how does the Creative SoundBlaster X5 compare to a few other products in its price point?

vs Fiio K11

The Fiio K11 comes in significantly cheaper at $130. The K11 looks a little more premium and a lot smaller than the X5. But the K11 lacks a lot of the extras that are included with the X5 for gaming, USB Host, microphones, etc. But what really matters is the comparison between them sonically. The Fiio K11 has a more analytical lean to the presentation and doesn't have quite as much warmth and inviting presence as the X5. The K11 is similar with detail retrieval but is slightly better resolving. The stage is slightly more defined on the X5 but the K11 is more precise and focused in it's approach. To summarize, the K11 has more of a passion for critical listening and the X5 is more for musical enjoyment.

vs Aune X1s GT

The Aune X1s GT is a touch more pricy at $320. The Aune lacks a majority of the extras the X5 offers, but does include a couple of filters. The X1s GT has a more premium build and feels more durable with its all metal body. The Aune has a little better detail retrieval and resolution and a tad more lushness in tone. The X5 has more accurate stage width, depth and they are similar with layering abilities. To summarize, the X1s GT is a touch more relaxed, cozy listen and the X5 adds some flair to the listening experience.

In conclusion, Creative SoundBlaster has created a very interesting device with the X5 that takes direct aim at the audiophiles. With an audiophile defined as someone who seeks an accurate, reproduction of real life instruments and vocals, enjoys critiquing each listening moment, dissecting the music through the gear, listening for naturalism and realism; does the X5 perform well as a DAC/Amp for an audiophile?

Yes, I do believe that Creative SoundBlaster have achieved what they attempted to do within a certain price range.

Audiophile products range from budget to mega-million. So staying with the thought that this is a $280 DAC/Amp targeting the budget audiophile; Creative SoundBlaster has knocked the X5 out of the park with it's performance. The X5 is a solid performer for a lot of budding audiophiles and those on limited budgets, but for the seasoned audiophile or bigger bank account audiophiles the X5 won't meet your expectations. But if you are seeking a DAC/Amp in the $300 price range, you should at least give the X5 a moment or two of consideration.

I am not a professional sound engineer, producer, musician, or vocalist, etc. I have not done any scientific research, measurements, or in-depth testing of any kind; just my own listening, comparing and internet reading/research.  I have limited, real-life experience with recording, mixing and mastering gear.  I have been involved since my teenage years with various churches as an amateur sound booth technician.

Please take these thoughts, opinions and reasonings as just that, my honest audiophile thoughts, opinions and reasonings.

Twitter: @TalkDbs

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