Sound Blaster AE-5 Review - Long read grab an snack

Discussion in 'Soundcards, Speakers HiFI & File formats' started by GenClaymore, Aug 8, 2017.

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  1. GenClaymore

    GenClaymore Ancient Guru

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    Due to the review being way over the max limit of characters on the new forum, I had to break it up into Two parts. Part 2 will be linked at the bottom.

    For a while before I heard of the AE-5, i was looking around for something that checked all of the boxes in regards of the features and support as well including usability that I was looking for to use as a source with my Jotunheim. The Dac module inside of my Jotunheim didn’t fit that bill, neither did the other external dac’s in the price range I had set. Now I not saying they was bad, they just didn’t offer what I wanted.

    AE-5 uses a Sabre dac which is the ES9016K2M model. This card is a 5.1 card so those who was expecting a 7.1 card will be disappointed. While the card does have optical, it only decodes and pass the DD and DTS to your receiver.
    [​IMG]

    The card it self uses WIMA for caps with some king of voltage regulars on the card, I don’t know which ones they are using. But the WIMA are some very good caps. Both the headphones and the speaker path ways are design using discrete components, which is a surprised to see them using discrete at all on the card. If your curious about the op-amps that are being used on the AE-5, creative decided to use LME4562 for all of the channels on the card. Usually sound card makers use a single good op-amp on the front channel, while placing jrcs on the rest of the channels, I glad they decided to put it on all of the channels. If you expected to be able to swap op-amps, unless your manually remove op-amps and put your own dip-8 in there place, Then it wont be possible. I don’t really see this as a downside but that's just me.

    The first thing when you notice when you take the AE-5 out of it’s packaging, is the molex connector and the 4 pin plug on the top of the card. The molex connector is not used to power the sound card it self, but the RGB lighting feature of the card. The molex sends power to the 4 pin connector on the top of the card where the RGB strip goes.
    [​IMG]

    Creative was nice enough to include one with the card which can be daisy chained with more strips. I do not know if any kind of 5V RGB stripes will work, as I haven’t tried. But creative does sell 3 more if you do not want to take the chance of using 3rd party strips. But they might be priced a little too much, but at around 30 dollars they give you 3 more. I haven’t taken the chance to use other rgb strips my self so I do not know what brands work or not work.

    The RGB Lights when in use are very bright which means they will lite up a dark room, If you have a case like mine the Air 540, you will realize the lighting cause your case exhaust holes and fan grills to be projected onto the wall. Some may find that interesting and others not so much. Sadly you can not change the brightness of the RGB lights which is a down side as that really should be a feature.

    ASIO

    Now asio support, before I got the AE-5, I was trying to use my jotunheim dac’s drivers for asio, that didn’t work as planned, never worked correctly either it glitches or don’t work like it should.. With the AE-5 that problem is gone, asio works perfectly fine. No issues with it glitching, failing to play or simply not work. I even don’t have under runs in FL studio in compared to the asio support of my Jotunheim dac. This is only a minor issue that I have with the AE-5, I don’t know if it’s because of Asio 2.2, or how its is coded. But with the jotunheim dac drivers, I was able to change the bit rate settings. With the AE-5’s asio the only thing I can change is the buffer settings. Its nothing major but minor really as some programs give you the option. FL studio case it doesn’t, I hoping they add the option in a future driver.

    DSD

    There is not dsd support even when you use one of the direct modes to by pass the dsp to use the dac directly. The support simply may not be in the drivers, or because the way it used on the card. What you can do, is use a program like foobar 2k or another media player and simply convert your DSD to PCM. But for native DSD playback the card does not support it. Now I do not know how it would sound when you do the DSD to PCM conversion but that is the only option for now.

    Software Suite/Driver
    [​IMG]
    In the main dashboard, this is where the basic settings are for the BlasterX acoustic engine, scout 2.0, voice clarity, voice morph, EQ and the option to turn off the lighting. Not all of the settings are shown here. You will need to go to there own sections for the lighting, EQ, Scout and Voice Morph which I will go more into.

    The audio presets are located in this section as well, they give you a wide range of options, including neutral which will turn off all of the settings. Each setting will bring up information telling what they are for to the right of them. My main issue with the presets comes from the fact, that you can not make more then one. Even though they made them for you, you should still have the option to make more then one.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    The sound section is where you can really configure the EQ to your liking including the separate bass and treble bars which lowers or raise them. The other option besides the BlasterX acoustic engine settings which are also here. Is the scout options that are not listed on the dashboard, the short cut option to set the off and on to your keyboard keys and the option to connect to another device in the network, to display the scout radar on another device. There is a second way to display the radar on your mobile device, creative has released a google play app allowing you’re phone to connect automatically after giving it the permission to connect with your computer.

    [​IMG]
    Here is where you have the option to morph your voice using many of the different voice presets, including being able to clean up your voice and block the background noise.

    [​IMG]


    The lighting section, here is where you are able to config the RGB with it different settings, It has 8 presets which when configured is saved as your personal preset. Solo displays a single color, Aurora moves through the section of colors in the way of an actual Aurora, Wave moves the RGB in a wave, which the direction can be set to left, right and Zig zag in either of those directions. You have Pulsate which glows like a heart beat, Mood which is like solo option with the only difference being that it’s more then one color. Then Cycle which goes thru all of the colors. You can also change the speed, which ranges from 10 BPM to a super fast 240 BPM. The motion modes that included works very well, Not really an issue but I do wish you had more options to custom and more then 6 motion choices.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    At the bottom of the panel, the setup section, this is where you can config your speaker configuration. You have the options for 5.1 Speakers, Stereo, Direct, Headphones 7.1 and Direct HP. When the Normal speaker modes are used, you are limited to 32bit/96khz due to the Core3D chip being used, But when you switch it to Direct mode, 32bit/384khz will be fully usable. Be warn when you use the Headphone Direct, the volume for the headphones will be loud at first, til you lower the volume bar down and up again. I don’t know if this intended or not.

    Next we have the Speaker type settings, they give you the option for Desktop, bookshelf, tower and custom. The custom lets you turn on bass redirection and change the cross over frequency for 5.1 speakers option.
    The mixer allows you to send stereo thru out the optical. In the same spot, you have multi-purpose recording, the drop down menu give you the option to record from Line-in, Front and rear microphone.

    Last on the list the headphone gain settings, The sound card uses a Discreet headphone amp design that they are calling the X-amp which each channel amps the channels separately. The gain settings are 16ohms(IEMs), 32ohms, 150ohms,330ohms and 600ohms. I have a pair of ATH-AVC400’s which works very well with the headphone jack. There is also a problem here too, there a glitch which stops the software suite from saving the gain settings. It always resets back to the default 16ohm when you reboot the computer, in fact closing the software suite in general causes it to happen including going to sleep. It doesn’t bother me that much, But I hope that get fixed in a future driver release and not go unnoticed by creative.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    The very last option settings, there nothing much here other then the language, distance units settings and the option to check for updates, starting up when windows starts and resetting to factory default.


    The suite is kind of chunky due to a lot of the settings being in more then one place. If they removed duplicate settings, the panel would slim down. Right now settings exist in two places.

    Blu ray Audio
    Sadly there is no blu ray audio support as all the blue ray movies I tried, the audio was down-mixed to 16bit/48khz LPCM. I tried both normal DSP mode and Direct. The results was the same. I don’t see why they didn’t try to get the support. Maybe that will change in a future driver release.

    PART 2 of Review
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2017
  2. Ieppo

    Ieppo New Member

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    Nice review and thx for your hard work. I am glad someone finally made one. Ordered this card last week so i hope i can get to play with it this week :)
     
  3. Hilbert Hagedoorn

    Hilbert Hagedoorn Don Vito Corleone Staff Member

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    Good read mate ;)
     
  4. Dragondale13

    Dragondale13 Maha Guru

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    Very good in-depth review, thank you! :thumbup:
     

  5. Mufflore

    Mufflore Ancient Guru

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    Nice review :)

    Its worth evaluating it again after a few hundred hours of use.
    This doesnt matter much for DACs that dont produce much detail but in this case it might.
    I find new high end DACs tend to sound a bit bright, tizzy and lack focus they later gain.
    It will be interesting to see if it does improve.

    If I were still using internal DACs I would probably get this card (and mod the voltage to the LEDs).
    They could have included a brightness switch at least.
    From what you have said it appears to be a step up for PC audio with internal cards.

    I've had to ditch using Oppo as my soundcard due to being treated badly by them. It has been returned.
    I'm on the prowl for my next stereo DAC :)
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2017
  6. GenClaymore

    GenClaymore Ancient Guru

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    Thanks, yea I do plan on evaluating it again after more usage to see how much it improved. I usually sabre based dacs to be more detailed an tad bright before they tone down.

    Maybe its possible for them to add it in an future update. Because it seems like you could, as there was another slider which made say the color green opacity, only that it made it darker, even tho the color box showed it doing something else. I curious if more lighting patterns will show up in the future.

    Also there is one thing I forgot to add about Direct/Direct HP modes, by default they are set to 24bit/192kkhz. I know doom doesn't like that, and will transform into chipmunk doom, with Fast music and game audio with the rest of the game going at normal speed. I did laugh a bit when I played it like that. due to the way the shotgun sound with it going pew. So if it happens to any one in the future,you will know the reason behind it.

    EDITI emailed creative about the headphone gain setting resetting and they said it was for safety reasons, for those who have more then one headphones. So they don't forget to set the gain back, when they decide to use an 32 gain headphone instead of the 600ohm gain one they was using.

    So I asked them if it was possible for them to make an option to make this safety feature optional for users of single headphones.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2017
  7. kx11

    kx11 Ancient Guru

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    than you for the review , i think i'll stick with my ZXR for now


    Q: is it ok to enable 32bit sound format all times or do you need to lower a bit for old games ... etc


    i have few albums in flac 24bit 192khz that my ZXR plays slow and weird when i chose to put the sound to ASIO via Musicbee however the sound is normal when using WASAPI
     
  8. GenClaymore

    GenClaymore Ancient Guru

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    I haven't had tried older games, but Doom(2016) was the only one to give any issues when the khz was set higher then 48khz.Besides that game, I haven't had any others give me any issues at all.

    I have tried Asio in music bee and it did not cause any issues for me as I used flac songs during the review.
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2017
  9. GenClaymore

    GenClaymore Ancient Guru

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    I found out how the 7.1 Virtual headphone surround mode work from the email with creative, it works automatically, But if one wishes to, they can enable SBX with it at there own discretion for more added effects.

    Also I explained to them the option of being able to turn off that headphone gain protection which will allow people to set the gain and not have the protection kick in and reset it on next boot. so maybe they take it into a account and give us an option to disable the gain protection.
     
  10. kx11

    kx11 Ancient Guru

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    well i have a Asus x99 mobo and man it sucks when we talk sound cards , this Mobo will shutdown the soundcard sometimes for no reason , ifeel it's a trick from Asus so i would be forced to use the Mobo's soundcard instead

    last night ZXR just stopped working and i restarted my PC ( a verified working solution ) at least 3 times and the zxr didn''t send any signal to my Headphones not even to my monitor's speakers

    even Asus sound cards like STX ii will get the same treatment by the mobo
     

  11. -Tj-

    -Tj- Ancient Guru

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    Issues like disappearing sound?

    I used 192/24 and had that but wasn't sure, atm at 96/24 and its ok. I think will need to test again.


    Btw great mini review! :)
     
  12. GenClaymore

    GenClaymore Ancient Guru

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    Chipmunk sound where every thing was high pitch and moving at warp speed while the game moved normally.
     
  13. drac

    drac Ancient Guru

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    Looking to swap out my STX II for another card with a more neutral and detailed sound but still musical. Also with a better head amp that has a lower output impedance than the STX II. The AE-5 is 1 ohm vs STX II at 10 ohm, so it's looking like a solid option. The problem with the 10 ohm output impedance of the STX II is I feel it smothers detail and adds more bass, which isn't ideal since I have 50 ohm and 12 ohm headphones. So following the 1/8th rule (output impedance should be less than 1/8th the headphone impedance), the AE-5 should be an improvement. :nerd:

    GenClaymore have you used the STX II before? Would be good to hear from someone who has compared the two...
     
  14. GenClaymore

    GenClaymore Ancient Guru

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    sadly i haven't only the original STX but that was years ago.
     
  15. drac

    drac Ancient Guru

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    Fair enough, thanks mate.

    I wonder if this is the new top end card or if another will be released with additional features, etc?
     

  16. Ieppo

    Ieppo New Member

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    Atleast for me they said that they do not have information about any plans to release another sound card in the future.

    But hey...it's customer service...what do they know anyway ;p
     
  17. drac

    drac Ancient Guru

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    Heh yeah, probably want people to buy this and not wait on other hardware too.
     
  18. BangTail

    BangTail Ancient Guru

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    Should be getting mine next week, thanks for the in depth review, very helpful and informative.

    :cheers:
     
  19. harkinsteven

    harkinsteven Ancient Guru

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    Let us know how it compares to the ZxR, I'm thinking of getting one too.
     
  20. BangTail

    BangTail Ancient Guru

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    Ok, nice card but it wont be replacing the ZxR, the lack of the desk pod annoys me and this f**king infuriating focus on RGB bullsh!t is equally ridiculous.

    The card sounds great but the software needs more time (fair enough with a new product).

    If you are on a Zx or a ZxR, I would stay where you are. I don't feel this brings anything dramatically better to the table.

    My ZxR is staying in my main box, this will either go in my Sim box or get returned, haven't decided yet.

    Again, not a bad card by any stretch but I wish these companies would focus more on features and polished software than on f**king RGB lighting.
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2017

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