Creative Labs Sound BlasterX AE-5

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by CrimsonKnight13, Jun 13, 2017.

  1. Ocellaris

    Ocellaris Ginger @le, an alcoholic's best friend.

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    I adopted a kitten on Saturday and it's currently occupying all of my time :(
     
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  2. Evil Scooter

    Evil Scooter [H]ard|Gawd

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    I pre ordered thru the egg a few weeks back... wonder when mine will arrive? I'll check the status when I get home.
     
  3. RogueTadhg

    RogueTadhg [H]ard|Gawd

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    Worth it.
     
  4. RPGWiZaRD

    RPGWiZaRD Gawd

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    Well at least it's good they added graphical parametric EQ to the cards now for those a little more precise EQ configurations if you happen to need that (with my current headphones not but in the past I've always needed to do adjustments and then a parametric EQ will usually do the best job, albeit takes a little bit longer to dial in the perfect config too).

    I've got quite some experience with Creative cards but I've typically been pretty reserved when it came to Creative's softare development skills. The cards I've used or tried are: SoundBlaster Live, SoundBlaster Audigy, Audigy 2 ZS, Titanium HD, ZxR and SoundBlaster G5.

    Wonder if it's perhaps worth giving this one a try as well just to keep the tradition going hehe.
     
  5. Nenu

    Nenu Pick your own.....you deserve it.

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    Go full hog on a quality external DAC, you clearly are enthusiastic about audio.
    You'll wonder why you didnt do it years earlier!
    You cant get close to the same experience with a PC sound card, the noise floor is too high which masks detail.
     
  6. Ocellaris

    Ocellaris Ginger @le, an alcoholic's best friend.

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    I don't get this. This card has the same DAC used in some highly regarded USB DACs like the AudioQuest Dragonfly. Now I didn't want something sticking out of my PC however I did want a better headphone amp and DAC so I got a soundcard instead. Why is the noise floor inherently worse with the card inside the PC?
     
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  7. RPGWiZaRD

    RPGWiZaRD Gawd

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    But give me an example of a quality external headphone DAC which supports 5.1 channels and I'll buy it! ;) On PC, I only care for sources which support 5.1 channel mixing for that proper surround sound cues / improved soundstaging. I don't need 5.1 analog outputs as I'm a headphone-only user but I need the source to support 5.1 channels within Windows but I don't know of any headphone usb DACs which do this, other than the Creative/ASUS products.

    On top of this, many people doesn't even know that using 5.1 speaker setting and NOT enabling "Direct Drive" (HQ/Hifi mode, bitperfect mode, various names from various manufacturers that disables any kind of DSP effects or whatever taking place) mode even affects the soundstaging / HRTF how stereo music (or any other stereo sources) is being played when using Direct Sound output (doesn't apply to WASAPI unfortunately) and I love the expanded stage and how it feels like I'm in middle of the music or movies or whatever, using "stereo" channels it feels a lot less lively in the staging and imaging. Mostly because most audiophiles are too stuck up in theoretical correctness instead of letting the (trained) ears decide what he/she likes the most.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2017
  8. Nenu

    Nenu Pick your own.....you deserve it.

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    For 5.1 its not as easy, I didnt know if that was your criteria.
    I use the Oppo 205 BD player which accepts HDMI in to give extremely hi def 7.1 from PC.
    But that costs a lot.
    The Oppo 203 is the goto 7.1 DAC otherwise. Its less than half the price (in the UK) and is reported to be better sound quality than the last gen Oppo 105.
    I had the 105 and 105D for 5 years, they are superb. I havent heard a 203 to compare but have no reason to doubt the reports.
    You might even get an Oppo 105 cheap as people sell them to get the newest Oppo.

    All of them have a quality headphone amp with separate volume control.
    They support downmixing to stereo, you tell the PC to output surround through HDMI and the Oppo does the rest.
     
  9. RPGWiZaRD

    RPGWiZaRD Gawd

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    Do the Oppo also support 5.1 as opposed to 7.1 mixing? I personally think 5.1 sounds a little better than 7.1 with headphones, guess clamping too many (virtual) channels into a limited space just gets more confusing for the ear. (I get that impression with ASUS Essence STX II SoundBlaster G5 and Realtek onboard for instance)

    I don't think they were too expensive, is the 205 only $549 ? Is that correct, doesn't sound too bad. I do have somewhat limited deskspace though, it might fit in front of the TV though that's next to my monitor.
     
  10. Nenu

    Nenu Pick your own.....you deserve it.

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    Its not that good a DAC chip.
    Its max DNR is 122dB. The SNR when used in a circuit will be a fair bit lower.

    The noise floor helps define the SNR directly and affects the ability to extract finer detail.
    Very fine detail gets lost among the noise.
    PCs are extremely noisy internally with EM and electrical noise.
    Because of this there isnt much point using a better DAC chip on a PC sound card.
    You need to go external.

    Well designed external DACs using the same DAC chip as the new sound blaster will be better than the soundblaster.
     
  11. Nenu

    Nenu Pick your own.....you deserve it.

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    Yes it supports any combination of speakers up to 7.1 and has specific downmix modes for 7.1 and 5.1 configs.
    My speakers are good enough to disable the centre channel so both the fronts output the centre.
    This blends better imo still with a pin sharp centre image, you might find it works better with headphones too.

    My 205 cost £1400 inc VAT.
    The 203 is £649
    I think both are cheaper in the US but not that much ;)
     
  12. RPGWiZaRD

    RPGWiZaRD Gawd

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    Oh yea, I just realized I was looking at the 203 lol. That's quite a price gap. :p So which of them do you recommend price/performance wise, I don't think 1500 EUR or so might be what I want to ditch out blindly (there's no place to try such gear out around here). I didn't think such external DAC existed TBH, got me very curious now, seems like they are full-fledged with features and really high quality stuff all round.

    I personally wish there was something out there without a Bluray player in it though as that's nothing I personally need.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2017
  13. Nenu

    Nenu Pick your own.....you deserve it.

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    Oh for sure the 203.
    You gotta be serious about your hifi to want to pay that much for a 205.
    The 203 will still be phenomenal given its supposed to be better than the old 105, and that was good.

    fyi
    I dont use earphones and dont use the downmixing (ie the specific downmixing modes of 5.1 and 7.1. I only downmix the centre to my fronts by disabing the centre).
    I cannot tell you how it will work for your purpose.
    You might be wise to find a way to audition before plonking that much cash.
    Or find a place willing to let you test and return if not happy.

    ps I dont use the Blu Ray player either.
    Think of it as a freebee.
    It also plays SACDs and DVDA which I do use.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2017
  14. RPGWiZaRD

    RPGWiZaRD Gawd

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    Yea I see a potential problem, it doesn't even seem to have a headphone out why I think the channel mixing won't work properly with headphone, it's targeted for 5.1/7.1 speaker use.
     
  15. Nenu

    Nenu Pick your own.....you deserve it.

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    They all have a high quality built in headphone amp, separate headphone volume level control and a 6mm headphone socket on the front.
    The downmixing modes are specifically for mixing 5.1 and 7.1 down to stereo.
    It is a headphone users dream as well supposedly.
    Perhaps find reviews on the older ones to get the overall experience.
    Reviews for the newer models are thin on the ground at the moment.
     
  16. RPGWiZaRD

    RPGWiZaRD Gawd

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    Unfortunately at least the 203 doesn't have a headphone jack but 205 and 105/105D model does
     
  17. Nenu

    Nenu Pick your own.....you deserve it.

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    Oh wow, didnt realise that, thanks for the update.
    An Oppo 105 or 105D would be a good all in one solution if you can get one at the right price.
    Or you can get the 203 and a good headphone amp.
    Or a 205 if you put your brave head on :)

    ps
    My 105D sounded slightly better than my older 105, only slightly, a tiny bit more detailed.
    The 105D also handles DSD128 either directly (via USB drive, disc) or PC USB.
    But it cost £100 more because of the image processing tech (which I miss on my projector :( The 2xx series arent getting it)
    The 105D is in higher demand and may cost more.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2017
  18. B00nie

    B00nie [H]ardness Supreme

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    Good for you! We're going to do the same after the month of beach time.
     
  19. Ocellaris

    Ocellaris Ginger @le, an alcoholic's best friend.

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    Ok I have the card in and pretty much nothing but gripes already:

    • No front headphone jack detection(?!?)
    • It appears to be nearly impossible to shut off anything from a huge list of sound profiles.
    • Multiple times when messing with the sound profiles, the sound got completely and utterly fucked like someone cranked up every audio setting to the max. This even happened when I made my own sound profile and everything was off.
    • There really needs to be a "turn all this bullshit off" option.
    Good stuff from the land of "things that aren't sound related:
    • LED strip looks decently made and has strong magnets
    • Holy shit are these LEDs brighter than I expected.
    • The new software and driver package is nice from a UI perspective.
     
  20. Ocellaris

    Ocellaris Ginger @le, an alcoholic's best friend.

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    Been playing with this for two hours now...

    First up, the card CAN sound great when it decides to play along. But why does Creative Labs have to absolutely fuck up everything software related? The software package doesn't work 90% of the time. Yet again the card is too fucking loud regardless of the headphone ohms setting. I just gave up and tried to just adjust everything down on the EQ. The EQ doesn't work. It is almost always grayed out and when it does "work", the adjustments don't do anything. Changing from one sound profile to another doesn't do anything. I've removed the drivers and tried reinstalling them, same issues. I honestly don't get why the simple stuff is often fucked up from them.

    Dead EQ page (even when it does work, the adjustments don't do anything):
    upload_2017-7-23_2-19-4.png
    Useless "BlasterX Experience" page. This is supposed to be useful presets, however eveything is set to 0 and doesn't work:
    upload_2017-7-23_2-20-9.png

    Headphone setup where every god damn option is "too loud" and reduced the useful volume adjustments to about 0 through 24 again.
    upload_2017-7-23_2-21-30.png
     
  21. RPGWiZaRD

    RPGWiZaRD Gawd

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    Doesn't sound very promissing at all, but I'm not suprised, I always faulted Creative for their piss poor software engineering, seems like the trend continues.
     
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  22. Tup3x

    Tup3x [H]ard|Gawd

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    I truly wonder why every freaking thing must always be so ridiculous loud... Why can't they give us choice? 0-24 % sounds like improvement since currently I can only do 0-4 %. I guess that's personal and headphone dependant though...
     
  23. Ocellaris

    Ocellaris Ginger @le, an alcoholic's best friend.

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    I would love to see what headphones they set the default gain levels with. The Z was too loud for me with multiple headphones and this card has the same issue. Even though they added headphone ohm level settings, it just makes loud shit even louder. Also fun, at one point during messing with this card, it played some insanely loud shit through my headphone at volume 14...

    The LED controls work fine though :(

    I don't know how Creative Labs tries to get away with such poor software :( I'd be happy with the card if it had only basic adjustments (and those adjustments actually worked). All I wanted was the damn DAC and amp.

    I tried checking the Creative Labs forums and they don't even have a thread for this card, maybe I bought the only one :eek:

    I am going to send this junk back for a refund unless a miracle happens tonight.
     
  24. Brahmzy

    Brahmzy [H]ardness Supreme

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    I've had a SB-Z since release. How does the audio on, say, a ASUS Max IX Hero compare? Could I get HDMI out of the mono just for the audio portion?
     
  25. Ocellaris

    Ocellaris Ginger @le, an alcoholic's best friend.

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    So it looks like many of the issues may have been caused by using "Direct HP" (HeadPhones?) as the output settin setting. Switching to "7.1 Headphones" appears to have quieted down the output. The profiles and EQ are working as well. If I go back to Direct HP everything is fucked again. And I probably have hearing damage from Direct HP kicking in at insane volumes.

    Direct HP isn't documents in the manual...
     
  26. Ocellaris

    Ocellaris Ginger @le, an alcoholic's best friend.

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    Card is back in the box now. First i tried to figure out why the LEDs were always disabled after a reboot. Eventually I gave up and click the "Reset all settings" options in the driver. Then my sound went back to super loud and I could never get it working at sane volume levels again. Going back to my onboard sound, it is noticeably worse compared to the card :( I am going to keep the card for another couple weeks and see if Creative updates the drivers before my return period is over.

    • Good hardware
    • Terrible and aggravating software that is incomprehensibly bad
    • RIP July 22 through 24th
     
  27. Brahmzy

    Brahmzy [H]ardness Supreme

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    ^^ So the card sounds quite a bit better than your mobo's ALC1150?

    Wonder how much better a Z270's ALC1220 would sound?

    Wonder how much better the X sounds vs the Z I currently run?
     
  28. Ocellaris

    Ocellaris Ginger @le, an alcoholic's best friend.

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    Definitely sounds better than the onboard 1150. My sample game was pretty much just World of Warcraft. I heard tons of effects and background noises very clearly with the AE5. It was good enough that I actually played the game without also streaming music in the background.

    Also with my onboard, it picks up a lot of electrical noise if I use the rear ports. I have to use the front headphone jack which is noise free but sounds a lot weaker than the rear ports.
     
  29. RPGWiZaRD

    RPGWiZaRD Gawd

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    I'm personally very positively suprised by ALC1150 on my Asrock Z87 board. Kinda going to go Asrock also with Z270/370 as I know this combo works for me (as in their onboard headphone amps working well for my tastes/headphones). It does have slight bit of electronical noise but nothing major and I expect the newer ones to be better in this regard with dedicated "layers" in the PCB only for audio.

    As weird as it may sound, with my setup, the onboard ASRock is still the most preferable sounding source out of the PC geared soundcards I've tested.... I've also tested an ASUS board with Realtek ALC1150 and to me it was quite a bit worse (the most bloated bass I've ever heard in my case, it even made SoundBlaster ZxR seem "bass natural" despite that card IMO also emphasises bass a bit). The ASRock in comparison for example has less percieved audible bass but better bass impact/punch and tightness than both of them, which is a good thing for me.

    Kinda curious how ALC1150 vs 1220 compares like subjectively (objectively measured there's quite a difference from what I've seen) when comparing for example ASRock ALC1150 vs ALC1220 (same manufacturer with the same headphone amp config).
     
  30. Brahmzy

    Brahmzy [H]ardness Supreme

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    We need an in depth review of Z vs X. Really in depth.

    We also need an in depth review of ALC1150 vs ALC1220 across multiple mobo manu's implementations.

    I saw a review of ALC1220 vs ALC1220 between 2 different mobo manus and there was quite a difference.
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2017
  31. trentchau

    trentchau [H]ard|Gawd

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    I'm also interested in this since I owned a few Z's and I'm interested in the X. The only issue is it's so subjective. I tried using onboard sound on my current rigs and it just sounds so bleh/meh to me. My gigabyte x99 gaming 5 matx and Asus Rampage V Extreme both what's considered decently high quality sound for a motherboard, but my Z still just sounds so much better to me subjectively.
     
  32. RPGWiZaRD

    RPGWiZaRD Gawd

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    ^ Well that motherboard uses a Sound Core3D based Creative solution, think Creative Soundblaster "lite" solution which can only be similar but worse than a expensier Creative own product so I'm not suprised.

    BUT when you compare against Realtek, that's using a whole different driver architecture, then the end result can be subjectively percieved very different even if objective measurement might not be "amazing" so to speak. There's one particular thing I like about Realtek, it's how the HRTF of even stereo material is greatly enhanced when you select 5.1 speakers with headphones ("Disable all sound effects" in the enhancements tab must NOT be checked or it won't work). Z-series Creative cards wasn't able to do this HRTF correctly, ie. I'm talking the 5.1 to stereo downmixing, you only were able to get stereo<->stereo when using headphones so music or games had this more "closed in sound/inside your head sound" as a result, see it as a virtual surround technique but without the typical processed sound. They fixed this in the USB based E5/G5 cards where it's named "virtual surround 5.1" or 7.1) which is probably a glorified way of naming that 5.1 to stereo downmixing but I had a problem with how it sounded like the G5 card still did some DSP processing of its own even when disabling everything which lead to when I listened to some brickwalled mastered music, it tended to sound like it was clipping, when on my Realtek it would be perfectly clean, also I found it balance-wise a bit too smooth for my equipment (smoother than the ZxR card) which didn't work well for me.

    In this day and age, I'd rather take a Realtek ALC1150 or 1220 over any "Creative Legacy Sound Core3D" onboard buggy software implementation, I know have for quite a while now. Motherboard makers aren't audiophiles, they don't spend a lot of time auditioning the sound cards of their boards, especially if they license them from a 3rd party, then the marketing alone speaks they must have a better solution on their hands. That it also measures better doesn't have to necessarily translate to subjectively percieved better sound either, especially with all that DSP "SBX" processing today which affects audio quality greatly.
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2017
  33. Tup3x

    Tup3x [H]ard|Gawd

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    Direct HP is probably equal to stereo direct but just through headphone out. That would mean full blast when using WASAPI exclusive mode for example.

    Stereo direct mode (for Zx) bypasses SoundCore3D chip completely so EQ or any other setting doesn't work. Also in exclusive mode it will blast at full volume unless you use apps own volume control. If it goes through Windows' mixer volume is going to be fine.

    Also I think the stereo direct mode sound definitely sounds better (it sound fecking good). It could be that Windows' mixer actually does better job at digital volume control than the SoundCore3d chip.



    There's also one thing to note... If people have the speaker config/setup thingy installed, it might really hurt the audio quality. Especially if you use headphones through the line out. I always keep it uninstalled.
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2017
  34. Ocellaris

    Ocellaris Ginger @le, an alcoholic's best friend.

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    I have things working great now! I pulled an old Sound Blaster Z out of a drawer and installed it. Drivers work fine, I don't lose my settings, games sound better than onboard, and this one setting lets me just lower the insane volume levels coming out of the card:

    upload_2017-7-24_23-21-44.png
     
  35. Tup3x

    Tup3x [H]ard|Gawd

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    At this point the drivers are really mature for Z/Zx/ZxR and things work really well. I'd really like to have a feature for headphone HRTF mix through the line out.

    Since my Zx came with volume pot, I don't have to use EQ for that. Windows volume to 10 %, volume pot around 66% (it lowers the volume even at 100%).
     
  36. Nebulous

    Nebulous [H]ard|Gawd

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    I was wondering why certain games (FC4) volume was so low while evrything else was normal. Me thinks FC4 wasn't supported in ALchemy and I didn't know how to raise the volume for that particular game without blasting out my eardrums on everything else. I might give mt SBZ another shot.
     
  37. Ocellaris

    Ocellaris Ginger @le, an alcoholic's best friend.

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    Don't use ALchemy and avoid some of those issues.
     
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  38. Nebulous

    Nebulous [H]ard|Gawd

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    Fark. The reason why I went back to my XFi was because the Z wouldn't play nice with 1 single game. Everything works peachy, but when I tried to play with FC4, dam sound was so low it barely audible, but evrything else was loud as fuck. I tried eveything from swapping drivers to trying to play with the EQ to no avail, so i went back to the XFi.

    A shame too as i really like the Z, but if doesn't play nice with my favorite games, then it's fuckin useless. Much like your new AE5 :(

    Anything I can try that I overlooked to make the Z work?

    *Edit*

    Finally found a fix fix here

    Music and now my games sound fantastic!
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2017
  39. zerogg

    zerogg Limp Gawd

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    not surprising that after all these years creative's drivers and software can still be so bad they are dealbreakers. Sounds like external dacs are the way to go now anyway