Pros: Tons of features, excellent bluetooth, good sound quality, and very versatile
Cons: A little on the bulky side for portable use.
Creative Sound Blaster E5 Review
Disclaimer: This is a review unit I received from Creative Technology Ltd.
The Creative E5 is a portable DAC/AMP with tons of connectivity. I mainly used the device as a portable device with my iPad Air 2 connected via bluetooth, connected to my Lenovo Y50 laptop via USB or Bluetooth, or to my desktop connected via optical being used as a DAC for the Schiit Lyr 2. The device was mainly used with the Audioquest Nighthawk, but I also used the Beyerdynamic DT 150 and AKG K712 Pro extensively on the unit.
Features and Connectivity
This device has a crazy amount of features and connectivity, making it the most versatile portable audio device I've come across. It can be used as an USB DAC/AMP on a wide variety of devices from computers, phones, tablets, etc. It can connect to pretty much any device that has bluetooth. It can be used purely as a portable amp or a portable DAC. It can be used as an optical amp/dac, etc. The Creative Sound Blaster Control Panel has a lot of features such as EQ, various sound processing effects such as virtual surround, bass boost, crossover, crystallizer, etc. I mainly ended up using the virtual surround for gaming and the EQ for certain headphones. The mic sounds quite good in my testing and the various processing effects that change your voice have been quite fun to experiment with. The ability to connect two headphones at once has proved useful for comparisons of headphones. This is an excellent all-in-one device based on connectivity alone, so how does it sound?
In the review I will drawing comparisons of the E5's DAC with the HRT Music Streamer HD and comparisons of the amp compared to the FiiO E11 and the Schiit Lyr 2. I'm not really comparing them, but rather using them as references for drawing impressions and conclusions about the E5's sound. I will also be commenting on bluetooth performance as a AMP/DAC combo. Crisp, clean, snappy, and impactful is a good way to describe the devices overall sound.
Desktop DAC(optical/USB): Note with optical there is no use of the Sound Blaster Control Panel. The Optical and USB setting sounds quite similar to each other but optical sounds cleaner and smoother. I found the USB to sound a bit fuller and warmer but also a bit rougher in the treble. Though with the Schiit Wyrd and Audioquest Jitterbug USB may actually sound better. Compared to the more expensive HRT MS HD I find the two devices to sound a bit different as DACs. The E5 has a snappier and somewhat leaner presentation while the MS HD has a more tubey/thick sound and has more solidity to the sound, though the E5 becomes a bit more like the HRT HD sonically via USB. The imaging of the E5's DAC is good and I find it quite 3-dimensional but doesn't quite have the sense of scale and size of the HRT HD. I would say the Music Streamer HD is the better and more refined DAC overall but not necessarily worth near double the price. Connected to my iPad Air 2 through USB it doesn't seem to have the same amount of fullness and dynamics compared to my desktop computer likely due to USB power differences.
Amp: The amp has a lot of power for a portable amp, reminds me of the FiiO E12 in terms of power but doesn't have that slight abrasiveness the E12(and E11) has in the upper midrange. The amp on the E5 sounds notably better than that on the FiiO E11. The E11 sounds mushy, soft, lacking dynamics, and lacking accurate imaging in comparison to the Creative E5. I find the amp to sound quite linear and neutral, it has good imaging and a good amount of heft and impact, especially for a portable amp. The amp compared to my desktop amp the Lyr 2 the E5 shows a bit of a lack of soundscape and image size as well as fullness and solidity to the sound.
Bluetooth: I mainly used the bluetooth function with my iPad Air 2. The bluetooth sounds better than I thought it would. It takes on a slightly warmer, softer, and less defined sound than when connected via USB or optical. I got a whole lot more use out of the bluetooth than expected as it sounded better than I expected. I haven't really compared different bluetooth devices before but I am quite impressed by my experience with the E5.
The E5 is an extremely versatile device and can be used in numerous different applications. For $200 I find it sounds great and should satisfy most people looking for an all-in-one portable audiophile package. For gaming audiophiles, college students, audiophiles on the go, and audiophiles on a budget I would recommend this device without hesitation. I found while this device doesn't sound quite as good as my desktop setup it's convenience, good sound, and versatility took a lot of time from my main desktop setup. I used it heavily on my iPad Air 2 and my Lenovo Y50 gaming laptop on the go, being a college student I actually found this device much more useful than I even expected it to be. For the price I think people will be hard pressed to find something better sound quality wise let alone with even near the same amount of features.