I use audio amplifiers religiously. Whether I’m listening to music, gaming or editing sound, I consider a proper amp/headphone combo an absolute necessity for anyone who wants to maximize their media consumption experience. But it hasn’t always been this way. Growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s wasn’t the best period for tech enthusiasts. I’ve always struggled with tech pricing between consumer grade, enthusiast and professional-grade products.
Fortunately, those lines are blurring today and audio tech has come such a long way that pretty much anyone can afford an audiophile-grade AMP with a little bit of shopping around. There are a handful of manufacturers that have contributed to these industry shifts, but Creative Sound Blaster still remains one of the most noteworthy names in the business. They’ve been at the forefront of audio engineering for decades, and their micro-sized Sound Blaster E3 AMP serves as a great reminder of the company's longstanding excellence in pushing technological boundaries.
"Creative's micro-sized Sound Blaster E3 AMP serves as a great reminder of the company's longstanding excellence in pushing technological boundaries."
The Sound Blaster E3 is a slightly larger and more powerful version of the Sound Blaster E1. It’s not as small as the Sound BlasterX G1, which is practically a USB-sized AMP, but it’s significantly more powerful and offers Apt-X technology for minimal compression when using Bluetooth. It’s unquestionably the most attractive offer out of Creative’s mini-AMP lineup, but it also doesn’t come very cheap at $99.99 ($129.99 was the original retail price).
The Sound Blaster E5 and Sound BlasterX G5 have been my go to desktop amps between work and gaming, but despite their small size, I’ve never been able to use them while going for a walk or taking the train. This is where the Sound Blaster E3 comes into play. If you’re looking for greater portability than the E5 and BlasterX G5 and don’t want to sacrifice much of the amplification quality, this matchbook-sized AMP has it all!
"If you’re looking for greater portability than the E5 and BlasterX G5 and don’t want to sacrifice much of the amplification quality, this matchbook-sized AMP has it all!"
The Sound Blaster E3 boasts a clean and simple aesthetic that I would describe as stealthy. This conservative, yet effective, approach makes the E3 an unassuming addition to your mobile phone. I kept the E3 clipped to my belt when on the road, and it never got in the way and stayed neatly tucked away.
The audio performance is very impressive considering the AMP’s size. Thanks to its Apt-X technology implementation, you can easily go wireless without losing much of the streaming quality. This makes the E3 very versatile and easy to accommodate with your other equipment. You can even have two headphones plugged into a single E3 device, which makes it great when traveling with a partner and want to share music.
Sound Blaster E3 Highlights:
Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR): 112dB
Audio Fidelity: Up to 24-bit / 96kHz
Headphone Out: 1 x 3.5mm jack
Line In: 1 x 3.5mm jack (4-pole)
Headphone Out / Mic In: 1 x 3.5mm jack/microUSB
Max Channel Output: Stereo
Audio Technologies: SBX Pro Studio, CrystalVoice, Scout Mode
Microphone Type: Built-in mono microphone
Platform: USB 2.0, Bluetooth, USB 1.1, USB 3.0
Much like its larger and more expensive versions, the Sound Blaster E3 comes jam packed with customization features that are accessible via Sound Blaster’s SBX Pro Studio software. Here you can change everything from surround sound and equalizer tweaks to Scout Mode and mixer options.
The E3 adds a substantial audio boost regardless of your headphones. But if you’re lucky enough to own a high-end pair, the E3 supports up to 600ohm so you don’t have to worry about running out of power. I tested the Sound Blaster E3 with a pair of V-MODA Crossfade 2 for wireless performance and the Audio Technica ATH-M70x for wired testing.
Wireless performance is outstanding. The Sound Blaster E3 does a phenomenal job of enriching the already punchy bass of V-MODA’s Crossfade 2. The heavy thud you hear when explosion are going off in COD WWII sounds eerily realistic. This tiny device is deceptively strong, and I’m blown away by how well the SBX features perform wirelessly.
"On the contrary, the separate surround mode isn’t as effective. It suffers from slight echoing and doesn’t always yield the most accurate spatial positioning."
The ATH-M70x are a pair of studio monitor headphones and I used them specifically to gauge sound accuracy when engaging the various enhancements. Scout Mode remains my favorite feature when gaming competitively as it delivers the most balanced channel frequencies when compared to similar modes from competing manufacturers. Despite greater environmental detail amplification, Creative’s Scout Mode provides enough kick to lows and mids so the sound profile never sounds unnatural.
On the contrary, the separate surround mode isn’t as effective. It suffers from slight echoing and doesn’t always yield the most accurate spatial positioning. The other settings are exactly what they sound like, so if you want even stronger bass, the SBX Pro Studio has you covered.
Personally, I always opt for the Smart Volume feature as it helps balance the extreme volumetric shifts in shooters. I love using a full, wide dynamic range when playing atmospheric titles, but shooters can be jarring at times. If you feel the shifts between quiet and loud moments are too much, the Smart Volume should definitely be taken for a spin.
Conclusion: My experience using the Sound Blaster E3 was similar to my time with the Sound Blaster E5 and Sound BlasterX G5. This is great news, because the E3 is basically a miniature version of the two devices at half the price and with most of its features. Sure, it’s not exactly the same beast, but if you’re looking for a genuinely compact AMP, the Sound Blaster E3 is an absolute powerhouse at this size.
Final Score: A-