First Looks: Creative Sound Blaster X7
Hot on the heels of the portable Creative Sound Blaster E5 comes the Sound Blaster X7, a high-end 24-bit /192kHz, 127dB desktop USB DAC and audio amplifier that features a Dolby certified decoder (Dolby Digital 5.1) and a powerful Class D amplifier that delivers a maximum of 80W of power with the provided adapter (40W + 40W @ 4Ω), and goes up to 100W (50W + 50W @4Ω) with a high-power AC-DC adapter (sold separately).
Built more like a desktop amp and DAC (digital audio converter) the Sound Blaster X7 features Creative’s own SB-Axx1 multi-core audio processor (the same processor used in some of their popular external audio products), and features no less than 4 Op-Amps that are easily accessible (and hence swappable) via a hatch on the base of the Sound Blaster X7, allowing you to customize your sound before fine tuning it to perfection via the equalizer options in SBX Pro Studio app.
Audiophiles will be keen to note that the Sound Blaster X7 uses the Burr-Brown 127dB DAC (PCM1794A) with "current -drive design" for front-out path to achieve high performance SNR, and ships with the following Op-Amps: two New Japan Radio High-performance low-noise Dual OpAmps (NJM2114D) and two TI ultra-low distortion, low voltage-noise density Op-Amp (LME49710) to achieve high performance SNR.
Nichicon "Fine Gold" capacitors offers rich sound in the bass register and clearer highs, while USB 2.0 Host connectivity allows direct streaming of high quality, lossless audio from your Android and iOS devices. Meanwhile, Asynchronous mode USB audio reduces jitter and allows for accurate high-resolution audio data transfer from your computer, with ASIO support to allow for reduced latency, all ensuring that you get the best audio experience possible.
Like the Sound Blaster E series (including the E5), the Sound Blaster X7 can connect to your devices by Bluetooth 4.1 Low Energy connectivity with NFC for quick one-touch pairing, but it also features a pair of speaker binding posts for bookshelf/floor-standing speakers, optical inputs for connection with televisions and other digital input sources, and a full set of line-out jacks with ports for a subwoofer and an additional set of rear speakers. HD codecs like apt X Low Latency and AAC are supported for quality wireless connections, while there is also support for up to two simultaneous Bluetooth connections via Creative Multipoint technology.
It seems like Creative has designed the Sound Blaster X7 to be the audio hub for all sources, so you can simply place it in a central location, and switch the sources via Sound Blaster Central, Creative’s smart device audio app. If multiple sources start playing together though, all the music feeds will play at the same time, so someone has to manually pick which source to keep through the app.
Creative treated us to a performance of a 24bit/176kHz version of Ave Maria as rendered by the Sound Blaster X7 and we must say there was more fullness in the bass notes of the performance, and details like the reverberations of the drum sections immediately became more evident. For movies, we thought the Sound Blaster X7 improved the imaging of the track played (a scene from Cowboys and Aliens), as we could pick out the crunch of boots on rubble as the cowboys shuffled their feet while they talked, and overall we’d say that vocals were clear, with sound effects much better resolved, thanks to the SBX Crystalizer function. Purists might wish to tune down the effect, and that's again very much possible through the SBX Pro Studio app controls.
Creative has packed in some rather intelligent technology in the Sound Blaster X7, as the X7 knows to down-mix multi-channel audio to stereo if only two speakers are plugged in, and can automatically adjust the feed if you switch to headphones for example, thus ensuring an optimum listening experience no matter your set-up. The Sound Blaster X7 has gold-plated 2-Way binding post terminal connectors for passive bookshelf and tower speakers (allowing for both bare wire and banana plug connectivity), a switch for impedance selection.
As with the E series, the Sound Blaster X7 features an in-built microphone with beamforming noise-cancellation technology, and a Texas Instruments (TPA6120A2) 600 Ω headphone amplifier to support even the most demanding studio-grade headphones. Overall, this seems like a great option not only for audio enthusiasts who want quality audio that they can easily tweak and customize themselves, but also for someone looking for a simple unified solution for all their home/room entertainment needs.
One thing that really surprised us though, is how light and portable the set-up is. It's barely larger than a dictionary, and a whole lot lighter too (it's just under 1kg). We could easily pick it up with one hand, so this is definitely something that can travel with you - be it from room to room, or even if you're heading over to a friend's place for a party and you want to crank up the quality of the audio played back.
The Creative Sound Blaster X7 is available in December 2014 through sg.creative.com/store and all authorized Creative retailers for S$499.
For more information, do head to Creative's dedicated Sound Blaster X7 page.