A while back I had the chance to check out the E1 from Sound Blaster. This was a small portable headphone amp that also doubled as a portable USB sound card. You could hook it up to our phone or portable gaming devices to increase the audio quality or if you wanted you could plug into your laptop or PC. Well Sound Blaster has been busy, after the introduction of the E1 they went on to introduce a Bluetooth version (the E3) and also the E5. What’s the E5? Well the E5 takes the same idea but rather than a sound card you get a full DAC (Digital Audio Converter). You get the same features of the E1 and the E3 but they really stepped things up even more on the audio quality side of things. Of course we can’t take their word for it, let’s dig in and see what the E5 is all about.

Product Name: Sound Blaster E5

Review Sample Provided by: Sound Blaster

Written by: Wes

Pictures by: Wes

 

Specifications

Output

Stereo

Audio Processor

SB-Axx1

Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR)

120dB (DAC)

Max. Playback Quality

Stereo Direct playback/recording sampling rates:

24-bit / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 and 192kHz

DSP playback/recording sampling rates:

24-bit / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz

Mic recording:

24-bit / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz

Optical In:

24-bit / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96kHz

USB Audio Streaming from Mobile Devices

iOS Playback/recording:

24-bit / 44.1, 48 kHz

Android Playback:

16-bit / 44.1 kHz

Max. Recording Quality

24-bit / 96kHz

Max. Headphone Output

High Gain - 120-600Ω (Gain: up to 15 dB)

Low Gain - 32-120Ω (Gain: up to 5 dB)

Battery Life

Up to 8 hours

Connectivity Options (Main)

microUSB

Line / Mic / Optical In: 1 x 3.5mm jack

Headphone Out : 2 x 3.5mm jacks

Line / Optical Out : 1 x 3.5mm jack

USB Host Streaming: 1 x Type-A USB Port

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 4.1

Bluetooth Multipoint

Two Devices

Bluetooth Profiles

A2DP (Wireless stereo Bluetooth)

AVRCP (Bluetooth remote control)

HFP (Handsfree Profile)

Max Channel Output

Stereo

Audio Technologies

SBX Pro Studio, CrystalVoice

System Requirements

Windows

Intel® Core™2 Duo or AMD® equivalent processor (2.8 GHz or faster recommended)

Intel, AMD or 100% compatible motherboard

Microsoft® Windows® 8.1/8.0 32/64-bit, Windows 7 32/64-bit, Windows Vista® 32/64-bit SP1 or higher

1GB RAM

>600 MB of free hard disk space

Available USB 2.0/3.0 port (High Speed recommended with driver)

Macintosh

Macintosh running Mac® OS X® 10.6.8 or higher

1GB RAM

>600 MB of free hard disk space

Available USB 2.0/3.0 port (High Speed recommended with software)

iOS

iPhones/iPads running iOS 6.0 or higher for Bluetooth^

iPhones/iPads running iOS 6.0 or higher for USB Host Audio streaming via Lightning port

^ Devices must support Bluetooth 4.1 (Low Energy) or higher

Android

Phones/Tablets running Android 2.3 or higher for Bluetooth

Phones/Tablets running Android 4.1 or higher for USB Host Streaming

Package Contents

Sound Blaster E5

Quick Start Leaflet

Warranty Leaflet

microUSB Cable

Desk Stand

2x Elastic Band

Mini TOSLINK cable

Warranty

1-year limited hardware warranty

 

 


Packaging

Right off the bat I was shocked at the size of the box for the E5. When I took a look at the E1 the box was tiny in comparison to the E5. The space did give Sound Blaster plenty of room to put a large photo of the e5 on the cover along with a large E5 on the cover. Down along the bottom we have a whole list of small badges that highlight the E5’s features. On the back of the packaging there is another photo of the E5 but trhis time with lines pointing out some of its features and a few images that help show how you use the E5. Down along the bottom of the back they also include a picture of the other end of the E5 as well as a list of all of the connection options.

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Sound Blaster hast a few stickers that keep the top flapped closed. Once you cut them the cover is kept closed by magnets. When you open everything up the E5 sits in a formed tray with a soft velvet coating. Up under the tray you can also find a warranty page and a user guide.

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Photos and Features

So the E5 looks a lot like the E1 and the photos don’t really show it but it is at least twice the size. It is still pocketable but a little less so for people with smaller pockets now though. The E5 has a lot more style than the E1 though. Across the top they split things up with a strip of aluminum with the Sound Blaster logo on it where the E1 just had it printed on the plastic. Also on the top of the E5 is a small NFC logo where you can sit your phone on the E5 and sync the Bluetooth. The top of the E5 does have a few small microphone holes up top. The two closest to the end with the volume control are considered the internal microphone on the E5 when you have it hooked up via USB. The third hole works with their  CrystalVoice Technology as an orientation sensor helps the E5 figure out what is left and right when recording in stereo.

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Down on the end the E5 has a huge volume control knob that you can access from the end and also the top and bottom. Also on the same end are two headphone out 3.5mm jacks.

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On the sides one side doesn’t have anything at all going on. The other side though we have the controls. The first button is the power button and is also the Bluetooth button. The other button turns on their SBX ProStudio mode that enhances surround effects when watching movies and playing games. Next to that you have a switch that turns the gain from low to high. The two buttons both have LED rings around them that light up. The first one lights up white when powered on and blue when in Bluetooth mode and the SBX button lights up white when SBX mode is turned on. Sound Blaster also slipped in three tiny dots farther over on the side. These are additional LEDs that light up and show how much power the built in battery has.

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Down on the other end of the E5, we have a few additional plugs. Here we have a micro USB plug that we use with the included cable to hook up the E5 to a PC. Then we have a full sized USB port that allows USB 2.0 Host connectivity. What that means is you can plug in your iOS or Android phone and stream audio from them. Then we have two more 3.5mm plugs. One plug is a line in and the other is an out. Both support both traditional 3.5mm plugs as well as an optical connection.

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For accessories Sound Blaster bundled a few cool things with the E5. For starters, you get this table stand that also has a screw mount on the bottom. They also include two rubber arm band straps so that you can use the E5 when running. You also get a bright red USB cable and then an optical cable. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t also include a 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable as well though just to round everything off.

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Performance

When I took a look at the E1 I impressed with its audio performance and its portability but there were a few audio issues that I ran into. So going into my E5 testing I expected it to perform better but when I hooked it up I was taken back. The E5 sounds amazing right out of the hole when hooked up as a DAC through USB. My initial testing was using a high quality set of earbuds hooked up to my main PC. I enjoyed the audio quality so much that I actually kept it hooked up to my main PC and hooked my speakers up to it. The audio quality in both situations was noticeably crisper across the board. Additionally the audio output with the built in amp was MUCH louder at the same volume levels than my SR-X’s onboard was capable of. Beyond the audio performance there were a few things that really stood out to me when testing.

One of the coolest features that Sound Blaster/Creative doesn’t mention about the E5 is that when you are running it as a DAC you have an option in your recording settings to rebroadcast what is playing over your speakers directly as a microphone. In the past to do this you typically have to turn on a desktop microphone and pick up your mechanical keyboard clacking or use software that tricks your PC into doing this.

The built in microphones do a good job of picking this up as well. Especially if you are looking to record in stereo. You have additional connection options to hook up other inputs as well right on the E5. It doesn’t have all of the connection options that you would get with an internal solution but this is damn close and easier to get at when its sitting on your desk.

I enjoyed having the E5 running all of the audio on my main PC so much that I had to force myself to unhook it to get mobile testing done. So I busted out my Android phone and started by syncing via Bluetooth using the NFC pad on top of the E5. Basically as long as you have NFC turned on, you touch your phone to the top of the E5 and it automatically syncs. With the E5 synced I turned on Pandora and plugged my earbuds in and enjoyed a little music. No surprises here, the E5 sounded great this way as well and you really can’t get much easier for a wireless connection. You can hook your phone up wired two ways as well though. For starters you can just use the standard line in and a double male 3.5mm audio cord. The much easier and more interesting way is to use your charging cable. This will run the audio right through the USB and even charge your phone slightly from what I can see. You do need to have the Creative app installed to get this to work from what I have seen though.

This is actually where I discovered the Sound Blaster Central app. Talk about an eye opener. With this app you can actually tune and tweak the E5’s settings. Hell I was happy with its performance hooked up to my PC without any of this and here we can dive in and tweak the equalizer and change settings in SBX Pro Studio. You can even get into CrystalVoice and turn things like Noise Reduction on and off, change the microphones focus, and change the microphone EQ as well. When you have your phone synced to the E5 you also get a quick access on and off panel on your notifications page to quickly turn features on and off. When using your E5 in Windows Creative does have a similar program although they don’t mention that at all on the product page.

software 1 software 2

software 3 software 4

software 5 software 6

 


Overall and Final Verdict

Much like the Sound Blaster E1, I feel like the E5 come into the market as something a little bit different, basically creating its own market. There are a few portable DACs on the market and I think two of them even include battery power like the E5. But Sound Blaster has taken that even farther with things like easy to use Bluetooth support. On top of that none of the other options have anything like the mobile app and Windows software that lets you log into the E5 and change pages and pages of settings. What they have done with the E5 is bring the idea of a portable DAC to an all new level and made it friendly for everyone to use. I mean just look at all of the connection options you have. On top of being able to hook up to a PC or laptop via USB. You can also hook up to any device using a 3.5mm audio cable or if you want an optical cable. When it comes to hooking up to a phone you have the 3.5mm audio cable option like the E1, but then you also have a few different Bluetooth audio options as well as the ability to hook your devices charging cable right into the USB port on the E5 and have it play audio through that. It is almost too versatile, I’m not sure if I want to set the E5 up on my main PC, pack it up with my laptop, or take it along with me with my phone/tablet. Using this with my main PC really came in handy when I was streaming music from my phone but had it plugged into the PC. It mixed the audio for me so I could hear my music but my in game audio was still playing through as well.

Really I only found one potential downside to the E5. The price is without a doubt going to be an issue for mobile audiophiles who don’t have the deepest of pockets. That isn’t to say that the E5 isn’t priced well, frankly it is spot on with the other competing portable DACs and the E5 has a whole bunch more features. With that in mind it is actually a good value compared to the competition, I just worry that it might out of reach for some of the people who would use it the most (younger active techie audiophiles). That said I don’t think I could go back to the E1 after listening to the E5. In fact I might have to look at a stationary DAC for my main PC while I pack this along with me when on the go. I think that X7 is calling my name.

fv4tophonorseditorschoice

Author Bio
garfi3ld
Author: garfi3ldWebsite: http://lanoc.org
Editor-in-chief
You might call him obsessed or just a hardcore geek. Wes's obsession with gaming hardware and gadgets isn't anything new, he could be found taking things apart even as a child. When not poking around in PC's he can be found playing League of Legends, Awesomenauts, or Civilization 5 or watching a wide variety of TV shows and Movies. A car guy at heart, the same things that draw him into tweaking cars apply when building good looking fast computers. If you are interested in writing for Wes here at LanOC you can reach out to him directly using our contact form.

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garfi3ld's Avatar
garfi3ld replied the topic: #36205 28 Jan 2015 19:52
Hey everyone, today I take a look at a portable Digital Audio Converter from Sound Blaster called the E5.

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