The Sound Blaster X5 is a versatile, utilitarian workhorse for audiophiles, gamers, and office workers!
Have you ever wanted an all-in-one device, not just for pure music appreciation but perhaps for gaming and also for work? Can one universal gadget exist to rule them all? Well, the Soundblaster X5 seems to be such a mythical all-encompassing beast to make the clutter-free Marie Kondo blush.
Let’s find out if the X5 is the machine we need to save our tables, currently inundated with multiple appliances!
Creative is a Singaporean brand founded in 1981. The company’s vision is to produce equipment to innovate and improve how consumers interact with their computers.
It is estimated that there are about 400 million users of Creative devices worldwide, and the company is a bona fide industry behemoth.
- Form: DAC/amp
- DAC Chip: 2 x Cirrus Logic CS43198 chips
- Power: USB-C
- Connectivity options: TOSLINK Optical in, TOSLINK Optical out, RCA line-in, RCA line-out, 3.5mm output (single-ended), 4.4mm output (balanced), 3.5mm mic-in, USB-C port (for PC/Mac/PS4/PS5), USB-A host audio-out port
- 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
- THD+N: -115dB (~0.00018%)
- Dynamic range: 130dB
- Output Impedance: 1Ω
- Recommended transducer impedance: 16–600Ω
- Decoding Format: PCM 32-bit/384 kHz, DoP 64, 128 support; DSD 64, 128, 256 support
- Bluetooth: 5.0
- Bluetooth Codec: SBC
- Supported OS: Mac OS X v10.5 and above, Windows 10 Ver 1703, Windows 11
- Dimensions: 216mm x 72mm x 170mm
- Weight: ~900g
In the box
- Creative Sound Blaster X5 DAC/amp
- 1 x USB-C to USB-A Cable (1.5m)
- 1 x Optical Cable (1.5m)
- 1 x 3.5mm to RCA Stereo Cable (2m)
Measuring 216mm x 72mm x 170mm, the X5 is arguably not the smallest device – it comes close to a full-sized desktop amp in terms of proportions. Thankfully, its light weight – about 900g – makes up for the larger dimensions.
For a piece of kit retailing close to USD$300, the X5’s plastic chassis is a bit of a downer, and the build is not as solid as some full-metal desktop amps.
The entire appliance is sheathed in black, and this universal conservative color should ensure that it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb when placed on a work table.
On the front of the X5, we have various buttons, such as power, Bluetooth, mic, gain, direct/DSP, EQ, and console/PC controls. Additionally, there is an LED display screen with a volume knob on the right of the device; said knob is quite smooth during turning, with acceptable volume steps.
The three output jacks at the bottom are gold plated, a nice touch.
This DAC/amp’s posterior panel holds various connectors, such as TOSLINK optical in/out, RCA analog in/out, USB-C (a concurrent power supply and data port), and a USB-A host port.
This USB-A plug supports gear up to 5V/100mA and is compatible with speakers, microphones, and headsets. This port is also compatible with Creative’s in-house wireless audio transmitters, such as the Creative BT-W4 and BT-W3.
The X5 is compatible with most devices out there!
Some hard-core audiophiles might want a dedicated power supply for the X5. Still, this single USB-C solution is more convenient for most laypeople, likely the target market for this device.
Having said that, powering the X5 from USB-C ports on poorly implemented upstream sources might introduce noise. The power to the X5 may be diluted if powered from a USB hub with other devices plugged in or from a weaker source (e.g., a mobile phone).
When underpowered, the X5 sounds undynamic and flat.
The X5 houses a fully-balanced dual amplifier architecture, integrating two Cirrus Logic CS43198 DAC chips. This allows the X5 to amplify the signal transmission from these two independent DACs, theoretically lowering noise by minimizing crosstalk.
The X5 also diminishes lag through its ASIO 2.2 playback/recording over USB and S/PDIF, which is compatible across multiple devices.
Creative has published some specs which should make the measurement freaks salivate:
This source has a THD+N of -115dB (~0.00018%) and a dynamic range of 130dB.
The UI is quite intuitive. Just plug your transducer into the 3.5mm (single-ended) or 4.4mm (balanced) output, click the headphone button, load your music, and sit back and enjoy.
The Creative App is free to download and is available for Windows, Android, and MAC devices. The app is highly recommended to unlock the X5’s full potential.
A picture paints a thousand words, so it is easier to visualize the details with screenshots taken from the app’s desktop version (the mobile version sadly has some parameters omitted).
Alas, Creative’s lauded Super X-Fi technology is glaringly missing from the X5.
In a nutshell, this program utilizes computer-calculated data points to customize the sound for the user, thus building a top-end speaker-like playback – it would have been a thrill to have had this for the X5.
For HiFi fans, the X5 can decode music files up to PCM 32-bit/384 kHz playback, and DSD 256.
The volume on the X5 can be controlled from the device itself or from the upstream source (e.g., the computer it is connected to).
If the volume knob on the X5 is, for example, turned to 12 o’clock, and this corresponds to -11dB (and 10% volume on your laptop), if you leave the volume knob as it is and adjust the laptop’s volume, the 12 o’clock position of the X5 becomes the new zero point.
This may be a pro or con, and users best check and reset the computer’s volume to zero/mute whenever you plug in a pair of headphones of different sensitivity/impedance. If you forget to do so and maintain the same volume, you might damage the drivers or ears!
This device uses Bluetooth 5.0 and supports only SBC as a receiver.
Sadly, LDAC, aptX, AAC, aptX Adaptive, and aptX HD are not supported codecs, which may be a deal-breaker for some.
I had no issues pairing the X5 with various wireless gear. It just takes a few seconds to link up, and Bluetooth connectivity reaches about 10 meters with obstructions/walls. There’s minimal lag while on Bluetooth, and I didn’t encounter any drop-outs.
The X5’s microphone can be activated through the front panel female mic port or the rear USB-A port with a USB-compatible mic.
Based on feedback from video calls/meetings, there were no issues with intelligibility or latency.
The mic quality is top-notch.
Creative Sound Blaster X5 Sound
The X5 is marketed to have up to have these output specs:
- 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
While there are undoubtedly other dedicated desktop amps that provide more brute power, essentially, the X5 should be able to drive most audio gear out in the wild, perhaps other than power-hungry planar headphones.
[bq[The X5’s balanced output sounds better than the single-ended. [/bq]
The balanced output provides greater power, a more expansive soundstage, and improved dynamics. I strongly suggest consumers utilize this 4.4mm (balanced) port for optimal sound.
Technical chops are great – particularly with the 4.4mm balanced output – with imaging, micro-detailing, and soundstage well-rendered, especially when more resolving gear is paired with the X5.
Both outputs give a dead neutral sound signature with an organic and non-sterile timbre. This is typically what dyed-in-the-wool audiophiles prefer – a source that lets the transducer do the coloration.
Indeed, when putting the X5 through its paces, my daily drivers sound authentically recreated, with no embellishments. Edgy or harsh IEMs sounded as such, and smoother or laid-back earphones kept their innate signature.
My acid tests for drivability routinely incorporate the notorious Final E5000 (low sensitivity) and the venerable Sennheiser HD650 (high impedance), in addition to the Yinman 2.0 600 ohm earbuds (sensitivity 87dB/mW, impedance 600 ohms), which are one of the most tortuous transducers to drive.
Unfortunately, a hiss is noted on highly sensitive IEMs, especially on the single-ended output, but this is generally not noticeable once the music starts playing.
With a low output impedance of 1 ohm, the X5 synergizes well with fastidious low-impedance IEMs, thus not skewing their FR.
Where to Buy
The Creative Sound Blaster X5 is an instrument packed to the gills with features. It is suitable for various daily activities, from chilling to music, gaming, work calls, online meetings, and mixing.
The keyword to describe the X5 is “versatility.”
The X5 is compatible with a vast array of devices, and the mic and Bluetooth quality are no slouches, making it a perfect companion for working from home. The complimentary Creative app also unlocks many usable attributes, exponentially increasing its practicality.
In terms of sonics, this DAC/amp has decent driving power to juice most transducers (perhaps other than some extreme outliers), with both a single-ended and balanced output available. Its low output impedance also makes the X5 a great device to pair with fussy low-impedance IEMs.
There are some areas for improvement, though. The X5 has a cheapish plastic build, and the Bluetooth only supports SBC, which may result in a frown on the faces of discerning audiophiles. Ironically, despite being in the X series, the Super X-Fi technology is left out too.
Other bones of contention include an annoying “pop” when introducing transducers to the X5 and the 3.5mm (single-ended) output conspicuously playing second-fiddle to the better-sounding balanced counterpart.
These small foibles aside, while the X5 may not be the purest or most refined “audiophile” amplifier in the market, it is one of the most protean. It’s a multi-functional tool for aspects ranging from playtime to mundane work, making the X5 hard to beat as an all-around accessible utensil that operates at a high level across most departments.
Don’t leave home without it, or rather, don’t leave your desk empty without one!