The sound card is pretty much dead, but the high-end PC audio market is thriving. Most of the action is in USB DACs coupled with headphone amps, and Creative's new Sound Blaster X7 can fill that role. But this device can do much more, and its application isn't limited to personal computers. This Sound Blaster can also be used with gaming consoles, smartphones, tablets, DVD players... just about anything with an audio input or output.
The Sound Blaster X7 an affordable audio powerhouse with just two intertwined shortcomings: There's no HDMI in or out, so there's no support for high-resolution movie soundtracks on Blu-ray discs.
The SB X7 has an integrated Texas Instruments TPA3116D2 Class D digital amplifier that can drive a pair of either 4- or 8-ohm speakers. Flip a switch on the back panel to correspond to the speakers you're connecting to it. Gold-plated binding posts support bare-wire, spade, or banana-plug connections.
Creative rates the amp to deliver 38 watts per channel to 4-ohm speakers with the included 24-volt, 2.91-amp power supply. Upgrade to Creative's optional 24-volt, 6-amp power supply and you can drive 4-ohm speakers at up to 50 watts per channel. Using 8-ohm speakers? Creative rates the amp at 27 watts per channel with the stock amp, but it doesn't provide numbers for the optional PSU.
If you'd prefer to use self-powered speakers, you can bypass the internal amp and connect up to six powered speakers (front stereo, rear surrounds, a center channel, and a subwoofer) using its line-level outputs. You can also deploy passive stereo speakers and a powered subwoofer, because all of its inputs and outputs can be used simultaneously.
The box also has a microphone array built into its front panel for gaming, VoIP calls, video conferencing, and speaker calibration. If you have your own favorite mic, a front-panel 1/8-inch connector can accommodate it.
If you'd like to customize the SB X7's sound, opening a trap door on the bottom of the box exposes socketed operational amps that you can replace. A Texas Instruments TPA6120A2 headphone amp can drive two sets of headphones that present up to 600 ohms of impedance (there's one 1/8-inch and one 1/4-inch headphone jack on its front panel).
Connect almost anything
You can connect both analog and digital audio sources using stereo RCA jacks and TOSLink optical inputs. There's a TOSLink output, too. The SB X7 has a micro USB connector (with asynchronous mode and ASIO support to reduce jitter and latency respectively) for streaming digital audio from a Mac or PC, and a USB Type A receptacle that can host a tablet or smartphone if you want to stream audio from those devices.
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