The Sound BlasterX AE-5 is a sound card meant for the modern gamer. It has a few missteps, but it attempts to be a consumer card that is efficient, flashy and great sounding. It succeeds for the most part, but there are a few small hindrances that keep it just short of reaching true excellence. That being said, it’s a high-quality card that will leave most users beyond satisfied as long as you know exactly what’s required to reach its full potential.
The AE-5 is set at around $150. It features a built-in discrete headphone amplifier, hi-res 32bit/384 kHz sound, 5.1 surround/7.1 virtual surround, and a number of other extras tailored towards discerning gamers and audiophiles alike. If that wasn’t enough, it includes Creative’s aurora architecture, a feature I was fairly impressed with when I reviewed the Kratos S5 speakers a few months ago—assuming you have a rig that can support it.
Installation was a breeze. The card itself installs in any PCIe port and fits nicely in medium/large size cases. Cases with less room should probably beware, this card isn’t exactly small. After the hardware installation was complete the rest of the process was as easy as installing drivers and updating the BlasterX Acoustic Engine, a suite I already had installed from my experience with the Kratos S5.
Users familiar with the engine will find they’re able to tweak any number of available options from sound levels to color outputs with Aurora Reactive. My one issue with the installation was the fact that the card requires a Molex connector in order to run RGB. I had some extra connectors available due to the size of my rig, but I can imagine this will pose a problem for many especially when people tend to save those connectors for fans.
"Gaming sessions, especially when playing first-person shooters, were fantastic. The amplified sound quality gave me an edge in titles like Counter-Strike: Global Assault, Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 4."
The AE-5 has an amplifier built-in for out-of-the-box headphone quality. Creative recognizes the fact that most gamers these days aren’t using speakers, they’re using headphones to get the most out of their gaming experiences. The AE-5 is ready to drive headphones with high resistances up to 600 Ohms.
What do headphones sound like with this card installed? The simple answer is less compressed, but the real answer is more complicated. I opted to experience the card with a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-AG1Xs, some excellent gaming headphones, over studio ‘phones and the results were immediately noticeable. FLAC files sounded much clearer with highs and lows coming through with less tin, especially when compared to my MOBO sound drivers, but don’t buy this card thinking you’re going to be getting studio quality sound at a bargain price. Gaming is where this thing really shines, not music. That being said, this is a high-quality consumer card, and the only one to my knowledge that features 32-bit sound. So, if you’re looking for an extra boost for your tunes this is actually a very good option. I should also warn you that Creative does note that in order to experience this hi-res sound users MUST be running a Windows 10 machine, unfortunately users that haven’t upgraded to the latest Windows OS will find themselves left in the cold.
"My one issue with the installation was the fact that the card requires a Molex connector in order to run RGB...I can imagine this will pose a problem for many, especially when people tend to save those connectors for fans."
Gaming sessions, especially when playing first-person shooters, were fantastic. The amplified sound quality gave me an edge in titles like Counter-Strike: Global Assault, Titanfall 2, and Battlefield 4. Any pair of headphones will let you hear footsteps coming, but when combined with this sound card I could easily tell which direction and how far, allowing me to have the one-up during my online fragging sessions. Even with RTS and MOBA titles I found it helped. These games have unique sound banks that warn players with a keen ear what abilities are being used, being able to hear it all in such good quality offered me a slight advantage as well.
Overall, the card is a worthy addition for people that have the space, money and are running on Windows 10. I think the Molex connector is an oversight that will see a lot of adopters scratching their heads, especially in these modern times, but if you’re not looking to take advantage of the digital lighting than this won’t be too much of an issue for you. Setbacks aside, this card created a noticeable difference in sound quality, especially when it comes to gaming. If you meet the requirements, you won’t be disappointed.
Review by: Palmer Sturman