My favorite sound clip for analyzing headset performance is the Virtual Barbershop, a five minute YouTube video that simulates realistic spatial awareness. I usually use this clip as a starting point to test a headset’s ability to pick up minute details as your character (the person getting the haircut) becomes enveloped by increasingly complex shifts in frequency. I’m bringing this up because Creative’s new Sound BlasterX H5 stands as a perfect example of why a proper stereo headset can still compete with most modern 7.1 and 5.1 virtual surround sound models.
The virtual simulation of many new surround sound headphones (with a few exceptions) tends to do a lot of guesswork when it comes to splitting channels, and as a result, you oftentimes hear audio cues coming from wrong directions. For multiplayer gaming, this can be more harmful than beneficial, and unless you have a top of the line model, you’re better off with high-end stereo for the most accurate experience.
"Creative’s new Sound BlasterX H5 stands as a perfect example of why a proper stereo headset can still compete with most modern 7.1 and 5.1 virtual surround sound models."
Creative’s new Sound BlasterX H5 is remarkable in just about every way. From its sturdy build and sleek design, to its crisp sound and deep bass, the BlasterX H5 is one of Creative’s best stereo models to date. The last Creative Sound Blaster headset I tested was the Recon 3D Omega Wireless, and while I absolutely adored its audio, the construction was rather flimsy and cheap. With the BlasterX H5, Creative has delivered a headset that feels as strong as it sounds.
The H5’s steel headband frame is a stark contrast to the plastic material used in the Omega. The earcups are firmly attached to the body, and even though the overall headset has a more industrial feel, the cushioning encasing the steel makes the H5 incomparably comfortable during prolonged use. The entire headset has been treated with a matte coating, including the brushed steel framing. There are no shiny surfaces like in many of Creative’s previous builds, which ensures fingerprints and dust are kept to a minimum. It’s a beautiful looking piece of tech, and I really hope Creative continues to push this aesthetic with their future models.
"Being able to gauge the precise distance and location of enemy footsteps, while surrounded by gunfire and other environmental sounds, is imperative when playing on hardcore mode and the BlasterX H5 brings an unquestionable advantage to the playing field."
When it comes to raw sound quality across different media (movies, music and games), the BlasterX H5 impresses through and through. Regardless of what type of content I feed through the headset, the sound is delivered very naturally without overemphasizing any particular frequency. This is particularly noticeable when experiencing sudden volumetric shifts in games or action-packed films. At no point do the drivers go overboard on the bass or treble, instead the heavier sounds are slightly subdued in order to keep the details as prevalent and clear.
The H5 comes with the Sound BlasterX Acoustic Engine Lite Software, a program similar to Sound Blaster’s E-Series Control Panel. Here you can further tweak audio settings by choosing from five different presets: Adventure and Action, Driving Simulation, First Person Shooter, Real Time Strategy and Effects off. You can also adjust the Surround, Crystalizer, Bass Mgmt, SVM and Dialog Plus dials to further fine-tune the H5 to your liking. The software does a good job of adjusting frequencies according to the kind of game you’re playing, but personally, I still prefer the classic Sound Blaster Control Panel as it provides more detailed EQ settings. Since I almost always use a DAC for all my audio equipment, I ended up using the Control Panel that came with my previously reviewed Sound Blaster E5 AMP.
"Creative’s Sound BlasterX H5 is currently my favorite stereo headset. Period. It looks great, performs beyond expectations and it’s the most comfortable headset I’ve tested all year."
Most of my testing consisted of multiplayer sessions in Black Ops III, Halo 5 and a few hours of Forza 6. Since the H5 are advertised as competitive gaming headphones, I wanted to see whether there’s an advantage to using this over other models when gaming online. To get the most accurate results, I focused on the hardcore team deathmatch mode in Black Ops III as it removes all HUD elements and forces you to rely on sound for pinpointing enemies. Within the first two hours, My K/D ratio improved tremendously. Being able to gauge the precise distance and location of enemy footsteps, while surrounded by gunfire and other environmental sounds, is imperative when playing on hardcore mode and the BlasterX H5 brings an unquestionable advantage to the playing field. Even when you’re not playing competitively, the H5 manages to outmuscle even some of the higher-end models. The roaring engine sounds in Forza 6 are more realistic than ever, and playing more atmospheric titles, like Outlast, just goes to show how well the H5 handles more serene moments in gaming.
Creative’s Sound BlasterX H5 is currently my favorite stereo headset. Period. It looks great, performs beyond expectations and it’s the most comfortable headset I’ve tested all year. If you don’t care for surround sound support, you aren't likely to find a better stereo headset that’s so well designed in both its acoustics and build quality. And if you’re lucky enough to have a DAC like the Sound Blaster E5 or the Sound Blaster X7, then you’re in for an unparalleled auditory experience.
Review by: Tin Salamunic