Sound Blaster X7 Review

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Sound design is responsible for nearly half of the gaming experience, so it’s surprising that debates pertaining to audio performance and hardware aren’t as prevalent as arguments over resolution and frame rate. Maybe it’s because quality audio equipment is harder to acquire, and the options are more divergent. Budget headphones and soundbars may have come a long way over the years, but if you want to fully appreciate first-rate sound, you can easily spend a fortune on high-end hardware. 

Luckily, the brilliant minds at Creative Labs have conjured up a remarkable piece of tech that sits somewhere between luxury and affordability. At $399, the Sound Blaster X7 isn’t cheap, but its quality and features rival equipment that generally retails at well over a thousand bucks. This gorgeously-designed tiny amp is loaded with options that will impress even the pickiest audio connoisseurs. The Sound Blaster X7 is a high performance USB DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) with Dolby Digital decoding built in that allows your PC, mobile, TV and console devices to offer incomparable listening experiences.


"Luckily, the brilliant minds at Creative Labs have conjured up a remarkable piece of tech that sits somewhere between luxury and affordability."

The Sound Blaster X7’s uniquely-shaped pyramid body looks stunning whether it sits on a desk next to the PC or an entertainment center in the living room. The matte dark-gray exterior combined with the silvery volume knob and golden highlights is a headturner, especially when paired with a set of Creative Labs’ E-MU XM7 speakers. Flexibility is Creative Labs’ motto here, and when it comes to connectivity options, the X7 goes above and beyond what you’d expect from such a small box.
Inputs:
One 3.5 mm (1/8") Microphone-In jack
Built-In Microphone Array l Two RCA Line-In jacks
One Optical S/PDIF-In jack l One USB port
One USB Host port l One DC-In port
Outputs:
One 6.3 mm (1/4") Headphone 1 jack
One 3.5 mm (1/8") Headphone 2 jack
Two RCA Line-Out jacks for Front L/R
One 3.5mm (1/8-inch) Line-Out jack for Rear L/R
One 3.5mm (1/8-inch) Line-Out jack for Center/Subwoofer
One Optical S/PDIF-Out jack
Four Speaker Output terminals for connecting to the Left and Right inputs of passive speakers 
The Sound Blaster X7 supports most contemporary connections, including bluetooth and NFC. The elaborate backside is designed for quick and easy installation, allowing users to effortlessly switch between devices on the fly. For my first round of testing, I used Creative Lab’s newly released E-MU XM7 speakers. They’re a set of passive bookshelf speakers that connect to X7’s backside via the speaker output terminal. The X7 has an impedance switch on the back (between 4Ω and 8Ω) so make sure you select the correct option for your speakers. I connected the Sound Blaster X7 to my Samsung Smart TV using an optical cable (not included) in order to test audio across multiple consoles without having to switch between them independently.


"When sneaking around in the Afghani desert in Metal Gear Solid V, I’ve been able to hear dust particles brush against Snake’s uniform, the sand’s crunchiness underneath his feet, and even the vegetation swaying in the wind."

The audio performance with the E-MU XM7 speakers is phenomenal. The Sound Blaster X7 brings out every minor detail, including sounds that previously went completely unnoticed when using my standard setup. When sneaking around in the Afghani desert in Metal Gear Solid V, I’ve been able to hear dust particles brush against Snake’s uniform, the sand’s crunchiness underneath his feet, and even the vegetation swaying in the wind. Action sequences are particularly breathtaking. Explosions roar with lifelike authenticity, and the overall transitioning between highs and lows is exceptionally well balanced. Music and movies are just as impressive. I’ve always been annoyed by how dialogue tracks are handled in movies and TV shows featuring 5.1 audio, but the Sound Blaster X7 ensures all sounds are delivered evenly without drastic jumps in volume. This is especially useful when evening hours near. You can hear everything clearly at even the lowest levels.

Similar to the recently reviewed Recon 3D Omega Wireless Headset, the Sound Blaster X7 features robust software for fine tuning various EQ settings, including the signature SBX mode. SBX delivers enhanced surround sound, giving movies and games a level of depth unattainable from basic audio devices. If you’re listening to uncompressed audio, keeping SBX off ensures none of the frequencies are exaggerated, however, things like video games and movies with compressed sound undoubtedly benefit from the mode’s enhancements. The front panel of the Sound Blaster X7 also has a SBX button, letting users  toggle the mode on and off without having to access the software.   

Audio Performance:
Signal-to-Noise Ratio (DAC): 127 dB
Signal-to-Noise Ratio (ADC): 123 dB
24-bit Analog-to-Digital conversion of analog inputs at up to 96 kHz sample rate
24-bit Digital-to-Analog conversion of digital sources at up to 192 kHz sample rate o 24-bit recording sampling rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz, 192 kHz
24-bit playback sampling rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192 kHz
Stereo Direct Playback at 24-bit / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192 kHz
Surround Playback (Dolby Digital) at 24-bit / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz
Frequency Response (24-bit / 192 kHz): 20 Hz - 90 kHz 

For the second round of testing, I cycled through a series of high-end and low-end headphones. I used Creative Labs’ Recon 3D Omega Wireless and the cheaper Draco HS880, as well as SteelSeries’ Siberia Elite Prism and Siberia V3 Prism. The purpose was to test how the X7 impacts sound quality across expensive and budget-priced headsets. The results varied between models, but overall, there were remarkable differences between using the headphones solo and feeding them through the X7.


"The Sound Blaster X7 brings out every minor detail, including sounds that previously went completely unnoticed when using my standard setup."

SteelSeries’ Siberia Elite Prism already features impressive sound drivers, so the most notable improvements were within high frequency sounds. There was added clarity to low frequency sounds too, but the volume needed to be increased in order to hear finer details from the bass. The Recon 3D Omega Wireless headphones, which are also in the higher-end pricing spectrum, sounded fantastic, but the cheaper Draco HS880 exhibited only subtle improvements. It seems the performance depends on what type of audio device is fed through the X7, and how the external drivers correlate with the amp’s hardware. In general, using passive speakers and letting the Sound Blaster X7 do all the work is the way to go. It’s also worth mentioning that the X7 comes with a nifty headphone stand that attaches to the unit’s rear.  

Amplifier:
Maximum Power Output
50W+50W(4ohm,1kHz,10%THD)*
38W+38W(4ohm,1kHz,10%THD)**
27W+27W(8ohm,1kHz,10%THD)**
Rated Power Output
37W+37W(4ohm,1kHz,1%THD)*
35W+35W(4ohm,1kHz,1%THD)**
20W+20W(8ohm,1kHz,1%THD)**
Total Harmonic Distortion
0.05% (1 kHz, 4 ohm, 33 W)*
0.05% (1 kHz, 4 ohm, 30 W)** 
* Requires upgrade to high power AC/DC adapter (24V 6A) ** Using bundled AC/DC adapter (24V 2.91A) 
The X7’s front panel has two headphone jacks (6.3mm and 3.5mm), giving users the option to share audio with a friend while watching movies or gaming. You can even connect multiple speakers to achieve 5.1 surround sound, as long as an active subwoofer is used in the setup. And for those who really want to take things further, you can even swap out the op-amps by accessing the bottom panel.


"If you’re an audio enthusiast who isn’t quite willing to spend nearly two grand on something like the NAD Masters Series M51, then this may be everything you’ve ever wanted."

The Sound Blaster X7’s flexibility is profound, but not everything is perfect. For a $399 device, excluding a remote seems a little odd. You can use a mobile device to control the volume and EQ settings by downloading the app, but if you don’t want to use a mobile device and you don’t use the X7 right next to your PC, then you’ll have to do some legwork each time you want make adjustments. It’s also strange that the package comes with several power plugs for different voltages, but not a single optical cable (an essential part if you want to use the Sound Blaster X7 with consoles). Also, when watching movies or TV shows for extended periods of time without touching anything, the X7 turns itself off. This may be due to the X7’s power-saving feature, but it should recognize active usage when the audio plays alone. (Update: The latest firmware update corrects this issue, so just make sure to download it first before connecting the unit to other devices). This may be just nitpicking, but when you’re departing with so much money, every little nuance becomes apparent. 

Overall, the Sound Blaster X7 has no equal. It provides audiophile-quality features and sound without completely breaking your bank. I’m not going to pretend like it’s something everyone can afford, but if you’re an audio enthusiast who isn’t quite willing to spend nearly two grand on something like the NAD Masters Series M51, then this may be everything you’ve ever wanted. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic

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