Creative ride the digital audio superhighway with their new Sound Blaster X7
The computer has changed the way we listen to music and no one has been involved in PC audio for as long as Creative.
Since the 1980s they have been finding ways to get better and better sound out of your computer. At first it was difficult because storage was at a premium and thus audio was heavily compressed. However the precipitous decline in the cost of storage means that higher resolution audio is possible and the company feels that now is the time for a complimentary audiophile product - the Creative Sound Blaster X7.
This is a combined DAC (Digital-to-Analogue Converter) and two-channel amplifier that has been designed to provide an audiophile upgrade for pro-gamers. The Sound Blaster X7 incorporates Creative's proprietary audio processing technologies with a slew of advanced features designed to cover all aspects of usage on different platforms, from PCs, laptops and smart devices to TVs and games consoles.
“The world has changed and so must the Sound Blaster. The answer is the Sound Blaster X7. Audio content for games, music and movies has changed so incredibly in detail and complexity in this day and age, and consumed on so many platforms - PCs, laptops, smart devices, TVs and games consoles to name a few - and by many different generations of users. Our goal is to allow all these users of all these platforms to enjoy the best audio in the way it’s meant to be heard, and in the way they want to hear it,” says Sim Wong Hoo, CEO of Creative.
The X7 is designed to connect to a whole range of gaming and entertainment systems and function as a high-end external Sound Blaster with a 24-bit/192kHz high-resolution 127dB digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) and a two-channel 100W amplifier (2 x 50W into 4 Ohms). Although to take advantage of the full 100W speaker output, you will need a higher power adapter because the one supplied with the X7 can only deliver 38W into 4 Ohms for each channel.
The Sound Blaster X7 has been designed to deliver audiophile performance to pro-gamers.
The Sound Blaster X7 provides access to Creative’s extensive suite of advanced real-time audio enhancement technologies through the built-in SB-Axx1 multi-core digital signal processor (DSP). This functionality is designed to deliver all the detail in high-resolution audio and restore the highs and lows lost in compression. It also provides access to Sound Blaster’s intelligent processing capabilities via the SBX Pro Studio suite of technologies.
Within this suite of features you’ll find SBX Crystalliser which emphasises subtle audio details, while SBX Bass enhances low frequency audio for a more impactful experience. However, there is also SBX Smart Volume which intelligently minimises abrupt volume level changes during playback and between commercials. Finally there is the built-in CrystalVoice microphone array, which allows the Sound Blaster X7 to become a speakerphone when connected to PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets. Users can even record their conversations when connected to a PC or Mac.
In terms of its components, the Sound Blaster X7 uses a Burr-Brown (PCM1794) 127dB digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) which supports high-resolution audio playback up to 24-bit/192kHz. There is also a Texas Instruments (TPA6120A2) 600 Ohm headphone amplifier that is capable of driving audiophile grade headphones. There’s a high efficiency Texas Instruments Class D amplifier, along with Nichicon “Fine Gold” capacitors for deeper bass register and clearer highs.
The Sound Blaster X7 uses a host of connections including USB, optical digital and Bluetooth.
The Sound Blaster X7 includes a USB 2.0 host connectivity, allowing direct streaming of high quality, lossless audio from iOS and Android devices. In addition there’s an asynchronous USB port to reduce jitter and allow accurate high-resolution audio data transfer from your computer. There are also swappable op-amps for customisable tonality, ASIO support for reduced latency and gold-plated audio connectors. Finally there is a built-in Dolby Digital decoder for delivering full 5.1 discrete audio to supporting speaker systems.
The Sound Blaster X7 has a unique design and although it looks a bit like a headless black K9 from Doctor Who, it will help the amplifier stand out in a crowded market place. At the front there is a volume dial and three connectors - a 3.5mm audio out jack, a 6.3mm headphone jack and a 3.5mm microphone in jack. There is also Bluetooth 4.1 Low Energy connectivity with NFC (Near Field Communication) for one-touch Bluetooth pairing. It also supports aptX Low Latency and AAC, along with Creative Multipoint for two simultaneous Bluetooth connections.
At the rear there’s the previously mention USB port, an optical digital input for connection to TVs and games consoles and left and right RCA inputs for analogue connectivity to other various audio devices. There’s also a left and right RCA analogue output and an optical digital output; as well as 5.1 analogue connectivity for surround sound. Finally the Sound Blaster X7 uses gold-plated two-way binding post terminal connectors that support bare wires and banana plugs.
The Sound Blaster X7 offers total audio control over any platform - PC, Mac, iOS or Android. There’s the Sound Blaster X7 Control Panel for PC/Mac users, while the Sound Blaster Central mobile application for iOS and Android devices gives users full access to customise their audio settings, essentially creating a full remote control on your smart device.
The Sound Blaster X7 delivered an impressive performance with two-channel music.Creative held a press demonstration of the Sound Blaster X7 at the swanky Sanderson Hotel in London's West End and they invited AVForums members along as well. The Sound Blaster X7 was connected to a pair of Canton floor standing speakers and the first demo used a recording of Desperado by Susan Wong. The piano and vocals were very well rendered and the combination of audiophile components and digital amplification really shoned through. The sound was clear and precise and surprisingly powerful from such a small device.
The demo began to take on an Eagles theme as Creative played the band's live recording of Hotel California from their Hell Freezes Over album and whilst this particular track has been used in a million demos, at least it meant we were very familiar with it. Again the Sound Blaster X7 impressed and everyone agreed that the DACs and amps really worked well in producing an impressive performance with two-channel music.
Next we moved on to a clip from the film Cowboys and Aliens and whilst there was no surround with this particular demo, the two channel performance was good with clear dialogue and plenty of effects. Creative demonstrated their SBX Bass feature, which clearly emphasised the bass but at the expense of detail; so as always we preferred the unadulterated audio. Then Creative showed a trailer for World of Warcraft in order to give a feel for how the Sound Blaster X7 would sound with gaming. Again the processing emphasised the bass but it suited the gaming environment better and resulted in a visceral audio experience.
If you're a pro-gamer or even a music fan who listens from their computer a lot, then the Sound Blaster X7 might be for you. It certainly has a unique design, plenty of connections and a great sound, helping to boost your system's performance regardless of the source. If you are interested, the Creative Sound Blaster X7 will be available in December and will retail online for £329.99.
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