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Sound Blaster X7 review: Audiophile performance without the audiophile price

Michael Brown | Nov. 27, 2014
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.

Gamers, meanwhile, will appreciate some of the other SBX Pro Studio effects. If you like to play stealth games and first-person shooters, enabling Scout Mode will give you an edge by amplifying certain audio events to help you detect an approaching enemy. And if you play multiplayer games that support voice chat, Creative's CrystalVoice FX enables you to modulate your voice in all sorts of ways. You could sound like a 12-foot giant or a web-footed alien.

The apps also provide mixers, equalizers, speaker calibrators, and other tools. A button on the front panel enables or disables all the SBX effects you've activated using the control software.

Worthy of your attention

I evaluated the Sound Blaster X7 with both headphones (Bowers & Wilkins' P5 and Ultrasone's HFI-2400) and a pair of Chane A1rx-c loudspeakers that Creative product manager Ryan Schlieper introduced me to. Both experiences were exceptional. None of the headphones I own are particularly difficult to drive, so I couldn't evaluate Creative's claim to be able drive up to 600-ohm headphones. But my experience with the phones I do have was exceptionally good.

When connected to the 8-ohm loudspeakers, the SB X7's amplifier had no problem filling my small home theater (12 feet wide, 16 feet deep, with a 9-foot ceiling) with sound. And unlike the $1300 Eclipse TD-M1 speaker system I reviewed last week, the combination of the SB X7 and the Chane speakers had no problem delivering the quieter passages in recordings of classical music.

I'm not a big fan of the Sound Blaster X7's form factor. The trapezoidal shape is fine if you're using it on top of your desk, on a table next to your easy chair, or even if you want to set it on top of your tower PC, but it just doesn't look at home in a rack filled with other audio components.

I'll also lament once more that it doesn't support HDMI, but including that would have driven up its cost. Apart from that, Creative selected exactly the right components to stuff inside this little box, and they didn't waste a dime on fancy materials or anything else that doesn't contribute to its sterling price/performance ratio. Highly recommended.


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