Hands-on: Creative Labs’ Sound BlasterX AE-5 ups the audio for gamers

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Creative Labs’ Sound BlasterX AE-5 has a message for PC gamers: The sound card isn’t dead. Unveiled on Monday morning, this is the company’s first discrete product in more than five years, made especially for the audio needs of the gaming community.

The PCIe sound card brings new features and a new level of specsmanship. The most attention-grabbing part is the 32-bit, 384KHz ESS ES9016K2M Sabre 32 Ultra DAC (digital audio converter). Looking at ESS’ lineup, it’s basically just a notch down from the DACs used for professional studio equipment. It’s certainly a big step up from all previous consumer sound cards’ 24-bit/192KHz DACs, and it’s likely the first (consumer card, anyway) with a 32-bit DAC.

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Creative’s new Sound BlasterX AE-5 with its ports, from left to right: line-in/mic-in, headphone (with support for both 3-pole and 4-pole), front out, rear out, center/sub, and optical out.

32-bit: Better than a five-blade razer!

Of course, there’s a healthy debate in audio circles as to the merits of 32-bit. One side cynically says it’s a waste of money and space, and well beyond what humans can hear. The other side argues what are ye, deaf?

There is a clear difference, especially when lower-resolution audio is upsampled and resampled. CreativeLabs , in fact, says the 32-bit DAC gives the AE-5 “extra headroom” for upsampling and resampling multi-channel audio sources in gaming.

The AE-5 supports 5.1 analog surround audio, but Creative Labs knows the vast majority of gamers use headphones these days. It built a new Xamp just for big-can use.

Besides being able to drive up to 600-Ohm headphones, the Xamp uses a dual amp to drive each of the channels of the headphone.

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Creative Lab’s new Sound BlasterX AE-5 features user-controllable LED lights on the sound card, and comes with digital LED strips, too.

It has purty lights

We’re in a multi-colored peacock phase with PC gaming fashions, and Creative Labs obliges with its Aurora Reactive Lighting. As you can see from the photo, each LED can be programmed independently. Creative Labs has a dizzying set of patterns and up to 16.8 million colors consumers can pick from.

The card comes with one LED strip, and up to four can be driven by it. For those trying to help a 787 land, Creative Labs said it will sell a “pure” version with four LED light strips in the box. Both the sound card and the LED can be programmed separately. For those who hate case lighting: Both can be turned off, too.

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