Headphone vs. Speaker Output
This switch will let you output the audio to either the analog headphone output or the Line-Out. The X5 will automatically switch from headphone to speaker if the headphone ports are not connected.
Regardless of selecting Speaker or Headphone modes, the Optical-Out will be unaffected and always stream all audio signals unless you choose the option to only allow SPDIF passthrough under the Mixer-Device setting. And if you need more headphone port, you can actually connect another headphones to the USB-A audio port via a USB-to-audio adapter or your headphone with USB audio, like the Focal Bathys.
Microphone – Analog and USB
There are three ways to connect the microphone: the dedicated 3.5mm microphone port, the 3.5mm headphone/headset port, and the USB-A port. The microphone recording level for all these inputs are adjusted with the dedicated input knob and a mute button. When you turn the knob dial to the minimum, the mute button will light up. When the mic is muted and you turn the knob, it will unmute automatically. To adjust the mic monitoring level to your headphones or speaker, you need to adjust from the Creative App.
Remember to switch to “DSP” for the mic inputs to work. There is an option under the Mixer-Volume-Recording-Microphone option to select your preferred priority if you connect multiple mics. I’ve tested with the Creative Live! M3 USB mic and it works with the SBX5, including the headphone jack on the mic itself.
It is very uncommon for an audio amplifier to support Bluetooth audio input. And it is because of the built-in Bluetooth radio that Creative has to encase the X5 in plastic instead of metal housing. Once you pair your smartphone or other audio player to the X5, you can stream audio to the X5 where it can output the smartphone audio to the speaker or the headphones. Although it only supports SBC codec, there is no audible compression artifacts. To pair the first time, press-hold the Bluetooth button. Once paired, you just turn on Bluetooth by pressing the button and it will light up and connect to your last paired device. The device name will also appear on the LCD display.
You can also transmit Bluetooth audio from the X5 to other Bluetooth headphones or speakers, but you need to get a Bluetooth USB dongle like the Creative BT-W3 or BT-W4. There is a very slight lag, naturally, since it’s via Bluetooth.
The most important aspect of the Sound Blaster X5 must be the audio performance. With so much features packed in it and a technical spec that looks very promising, the X5 is exceedingly value for money. Contrast this with the Astell&Kern HC2 USB-C Dual DAC Dongle that uses the same CS43198 dual DAC but only comes with a single 4.4mm connection and retails at S$269.
So what is the characteristic sound of the Sound Blaster X5? I would say that it delivers clean, precise sound with impressions of emphasized airy treble staging while maintaining sonic integrity without sounding too pushy or harsh. In other words, the treble sounds a little more articulated, comfortably sparkling and not too fatiguing. It definitely sounds more refined, more open, treble is less brittle than the SXFI Amp.
When you plug a high-power headphones like the Sennheiser HD 800S and turn up the volume, the X5 will perform confidently without a hint of driver struggle. I also enjoy listening with the Hifiman HE400se planar headphones that while it is cheaper than the X5, translates the audio details very well.
The Creative Sound Blaster X5 is an extremely versatile USB amplifier with an overload of features and capabilities at an unbelievable price. It is my hi-res audio player, my work-from-home headset tele-conversation enhancer (CrystalVoice), a recording mixer, an occasional gaming audio booster (Scout Mode). I connect the Sound Blaster X5 to my Audio-Technica turntable (RCA Line-In), KEF LSX speakers (Optical-Out), my choice of balanced and single-ended headphones, my smartphone (Bluetooth receiver), and of course, my laptop via USB-C, which also acts as my audio output for my music collection.
I am always amazed at how Creative is able to pack so many functions in a product powered by USB without breaking the bank. There are some operation hiccups, for instance, sometimes the Bluetooth receiver or mic input did not play any audio unless I cycle through the DIRECT and DSP modes. Frankly, with the number of use cases possible on the X5, I am not surprised to find bugs which could potentially be addressed with firmware updates. Should I expect a more operationally perfect product but at a higher cost? My answer is that with this current product iteration, I am already getting more value than the price. The audio quality and the multiple input-output options more than make up for the occasional hiccups.
If you don’t need so many features and just need a portable headphone amp, there are certainly many options out there below S$400. If you want an all-in-one amp with many of the connectivity capabilities found in the Sound Blaster X5, buy it! It is by far the best-sounding, most versatile, USB audio interface and balanced headphone amplifier at S$369. Find out more at https://sg.creative.com/p/sound-blaster/sound-blaster-x5
Creative Sound Blaster X5
Creative Sound Blaster X5