Sound Blaster E5 - 24-bit/192kHz High-Resolution USB DAC & Portable Headphone Amplifier

Average User Rating:
3.53571/5,

Recent User Reviews

  1. chihwahli
    2.5/5,
    "Prize is too high for it's quality"
    Pros - DAC performance, connect options
    Cons - Amplifier quality questionable
    Prize: 189 Euro.
     
    DAC performance is less good as you can read in many other reviews. Personally I find the DAC good enough. But then again, I do not have another to compare.
    Connectivity is just good. Able to power 600 ohm DT880 without problems.
     
    Bluetooth connectivity is not recommended, it raises the noise a lot. Bluetooth operates around the same frequencies as WIFI , Microwave, etc, etc.
    But USB connectivity is very good. There is hardly any noise then.
     
    The amplifier itself. First I thought it was medium good quality. But after comparing the same setup with my new Schiit Valhalla 2 I can only say that the E5 does not amplify the sounds good enough
    to justify this premium prize of 189 euro. Voices sound airy, Bass less present, High sounds less sharp, Guitar strings sound if they are not tightened well. And I hear an echo in some cases.
    Overall it's not worth the prize and purchase. Really an disappointment as I have bought Soundblaster since I used a 386 computer sound-card. But then sound quality was not an issue for me. Nowadays I focus more on quality
     
    What is the reason to buy this DAC if the improvement is little? Not recommended.
  2. Ghost Pack
    2.5/5,
    "A few notes for people looking to use this as an audiophile DAC/Amp"
    Pros - Amazing mic quality and mic effects, Wide variety of I/O, Ability to be used as a wireless mixer
    Cons - Terrible software, Inconsistent to lackluser performance as headphone amp / source
    This is less of a review and more of a collection of thoughts I've had after owning the E5 for about a year. I won't go into sound quality in any detail as I don't think it's particularity noteworthy for a device of this caliber.
     
    1. The amplifier stage is crap for the price. It’s noisy enough to be noticeable with moderate to high sensitivity headphones and it produces varying amounts of distortion depending on the settings, but distortion is definitely high enough to be noticeable even at minimum.
     
    2. DAC section is actually very good but do note that the line out is not fixed and can output more than the 1-2V rms that most consumer and audiophile devices expect as a line input (i.e. be careful of clipping with external amplifiers).
     
    3. The DSP and crap ton of inputs are super useful for people who often work with multiple inputs and outputs. I actually work as a sound engineer and use this guy as a pocket mixer, interface, and test bench. However, it takes quite a while to get used to all the idiosyncrasies and nuances of this device. If you don't know what you're doing in settings you can easily get inconsistent or incorrect results.
     
    4. The software... Holy crap the software… It’s terrible. Highly confusing. Prone to screwing up inputs and outputs and distorting signals without you noticing. Very difficult to save and recall settings, and it can change settings depending on what you’re plugged in to (or if you’re using it stand alone) which gets quite confusing. I find myself resetting to factory default quite often, usually to fix distortion coming from some random setting I forgot. However, the settings are SUPER comprehensive and allow you to manipulate the I/O in almost any way you can imagine, once you get used to using them.
     
    5. THD+noise measurements of this device can change dramatically based on the settings of the software, strength of the I/O, battery charge, whether it’s plugged in or not, what it's plugged into, temperature, weather, orientation, alignments of the stars, how many human sacrifices you preformed earlier that day, and any other form of voodoo magic. Factory default settings get you fairly close to optimal measurements, however. just be careful when managing the mixer settings.
     
    6. Effects are meh. EQ is half decent, but is far from linear (I can do much better with a decent software plugin). Surround sound is good, but adds distortion. Any other sound output effects are garbage.
     
    7. Bluetooth connectivity is a great feature, and is very reliable even at longer distances. I often find myself using this to watch videos on my tablet in the kitchen. It basically allows me to Bluetooth enable any pair of headphones, and is great for general semi-portable home use.

     

    8. As a music professional, this device is a godsend. I can setup simple PA performances entirely using a device I can fit in my pocket and take anywhere. The inbuilt mixer can take inputs from the analog/mic/optical input and mix them with both the USB and Bluetooth inputs without any external software (all firmware). The USB input not only functions as a way to record or play music but also as a digital interface and pass-through, allowing me to use additional software effects on my computer. Possibly the best feature is the ability to change any firmware settings over Bluetooth, allowing me to mix inputs on the fly from anywhere on the stage, even while the E5 is buried in a rats nest of stage cables and equipment.

     
    9. Mic input is where this guy really shines. The 3 internal mics sound crystal clear. Stereo effect is great. The noise and echo rejection are wonderful. Built in mic effects work well. External mic and inputs work well (assuming you have a mic preamp) and are easily integrated. This is a streamer's dream device.
     
    TL;DR
     
    -If you’re a gamer who does streaming and is looking for an all in one solution, this is an AMAZING value for your money
    -If you’re a musician or audio professional who’s willing to learn a somewhat confusing interface, this will surprise and reward you with a great multi-purpose tool
    -If you’re an audiophile looking for a portable DAC/Amp, this is ok, but far from the best value
    -If you’re an audiophile looking for an all in one desktop setup, look elsewhere.
  3. PDC3
    3.0/5,
    "Music from iPhone: Soundblaster e5 vs HA-2 vs iPure-20 initial impressions"
    Pros - e5 for features, tinkering; Oppo HA-2 for sound quality with Oppo PM-3
    Cons - HA-2 has no Bluetooth or phone-talk capabilities; Soundblaster e5 without its DSP is sonically congested by comparison to HA-2.
    My recent audio hunt has been about getting the best possible sound out of my iPhone 5s (or 3s for 30 pin use).  Being very much in the Mac world with all kinds of devices, I’m eager to use my iPhone(s) as transports for music, rather than buy a dedicated player.
     
    I’m rushing to post these impressions because Massdrop is featuring the portable DAC/amp/bluetooth-capable Soundblaster e5 on a drop as of today’s email (6/8/16). The Oppo HA-2 is similarly Apple MFi certified, portable DAC/amp.  The iPure-20 is a (now old) desktop DAC/pre-amp providing 30-pin Apple to line-out.  The e5 and HA-2 can optical out the iPhone’s digital, so you could choose to use any of them on the desktop as simply the “chain” from iPhone to your own desktop DAC/amp setup (since the iPure has coaxial digital out).  All have other features, the e5 a ton, but let’s focus on sound.
     
    Topline:  There’s no losers among the three options.  On the desktop as line-out, the iPure-20 offers the most spacious, uncongested sound, followed closely by the HA-2, more distantly by the e5.  As a portable rig, the HA-2 clearly bests the e5 when the e5 DSP is not engaged.  
     
    The HA-2 is my most recent, month-old acquisition.  The other two DAC/amps I’ve owned for many months.  The e5 has been my walk-about portable and, based on mood and need, I’ve used its Bluetooth (too flabby in the bass for reference but better than lower-cost portable bluetooth DAC/amps I’ve owned) and its iPhone-lightning-e5 configurations. 
     
    DESKTOP USE:  I was considering letting go of the iPure-20-Schiit Magni-2 desktop setup in favor of using the line-out capability of the e5.  I tested all three DAC/amp/line-out capabilities with Al Jarreau’s Churchyheart (Backyard Ritual) (feat. Marcus Miller) because the soundstage ought to be huge, the Miller bass runs deep, there’s a low woodwind and tinkling cymbals all at once.  For this line-out to Adam Audio Artist 3 & Velodyne subwoofer setup, all three DACs sent their line-out to the Schiit Magni acting as preamp.  If time were not of the essence I’d listen to more tunes back-to-back, but I wouldn’t expect my impressions to change much.  The iPure-20 earns its keep with a wide, spacious and precise soundstage while clearly distinguishing among the bass rumbles of a variety of bass-heavy instruments.  Without DSP help, the e5 could not keep up.  (Dang!  So much for down-sizing.)  Interestingly, the HA-2 was close to the iPure but its “line out” was much lower in volume and I had to compensate by ear as best I could.
     
    OK, since my goal was to justify letting go of the iPure/iphone 3s combo, could I “cheat” with the e5 DSP engaged in order to increase the sense of spaciousness?  Mostly, yes.  The equalizer and “spaciousness” sliders really do work and have a pleasing range from subtle to bold, so finding a sweet spot is possible.  In the time I had, I didn’t find a “match” to the iPure, but the early indication is that I should try more.
     
    PORTABLE USE:  I bought the HA-2 because I 99% love my fairly new Oppo PM-3 planar headphones, but to achieve the sound I like I often want to boost the treble at about 4k Hz a couple of decibels.  Yet people here on Head-Fi and over a InnerFidelity owning the PM-3 and HA-2 didn’t seem to need such a boost.  
     
    Well, I was immediately impressed and pleased with the HA-2 & PM-3 combo out of my iPhone 5s.  The treble’s “presence” was now in appropriate proportion, without becoming sibilant or harsh.  (I tried going immediately to HA-2 & Grado RS-1 and it was a mistaken pairing.  The Grado tends towards brightness and sounded harsh, rather than my more usual impression, which is one of clarity and detail.  I’ll have to try again without such a direct comparison, and by engaging the bass boost on the HA-2 when using the Grado.)
     
    With the PM-3, the HA-2 to unvarnished e5 is no contest, the HA-2 wins.  It provides more authority up and down the frequency spectrum, all sounds in their place, properly proportioned and uncongested.  
     
    RECCOMENDATIONS:  If your budget-conscious side sees the difference between the $199 e5 (and even better MassDrop pricing) and the $299 HA-2 as huge, then the Soundblaster e5 provides worthy improvement over an unadorned iPhone even before you tinker with EQ and sound space settings.  If you enjoy tinkering with such settings, the e5 will please you.  If you worry that the next generation of iPhones will dispense with a headphone jack, the e5 MFi certification and state-of-the-art Bluetooth connectivity will do right by you, allowing any of your headphones and earphones to be future-proofed.
     
    However, if you’re a purist/minimalist and/or you are exacting in sound quality requirements, I’d recommend the Oppo HA-2 above the e5, even if, like me, it required waiting to save up.  Like the alternative, the HA-2 future-proofs all your current headphones against a next generation iPhone which may have no headphone out, since the HA-2 will take directly from the lighting connector (but not Bluetooth).  The sound the HA-2 provides my Oppo PM-3 takes me from gold card to platinum card level of sonic luxury.  
     
    There’s more to learn about the features of both these portable DAC/amps, so read other Head-fi reviews, which have been very helpful to me.  Happy listening!  
     
    EARLIER COMPARISON LATE 2015
     
    Creative SoundBlaster e5 vs Schiit Asgard 2 + Modi Optical

    Topline:  the e5 is distinguishable from the desktop system but is emotionally satisfying, delivering great value for its intended purposes.

    Background

    Having recently acquired the Creative SoundBlaster e6 portable dac/amp/eq/effects processor, I wanted to see whether & how much I'd be giving up versus my desktop Schist Asgard 2 coupled to the Schiit Modi optical dac (from an iMac 2008).  I jumped on a Massdrop deal on the e5 instead of continuing to save towards the Oppo HA-2.  Should I be restless or content with that impulsive buy?

    The e5 analog line-in would allow me to compare amp to amp, but that's not my goal.  I'm interested in one system versus another.

    I used my AKG Quincy Jones 701 over-ear headphones because of all my 'phones they are the hardest to drive (although not truly "hard" at 62 ohms) and also the most neutral - and consequently, I tend to turn up the juice to get the full effect of my tunes.  (Whereas my Grado RS-1 and, in a different way, my Sennheiser Momentum On-ear both tend to lend their own distinctive sparkle & rumble even at lower gain.) 

    The good part of this test is that I could level match, because the optical out to the Modi is fixed, with volume controlled solely by the Asgard 2.  So by ear I could level-match to the USB-volume-controlled e5.  Admittedly, "by ear" assumes a lot but I did my best, folks.

    I kept all the "fancy" Soundblaster EQ/processing software off (but will affirm that it is capable of very subtle adjustments that have helped my NAD Viso HP50 respond in just the way I would like in portable use).

    Distinctions

    Treble "sparkle" - The e5 offered a bit more snap to percussive stings compared to a smoother presentation from the Schiit system.  The opening phrases of Jazz Crusaders/Joe Sample's "Soul Shadows" and the horns in the Telarc recording of Joe Williams "Alright, OK, You Win" suggested this.  But the slightly lower tone of the metallic item (a key?) dropped on the floor at the start of The Who's "Music Must Change" with its accompanying mid-treble guitar strum seems livelier on the Schiit system, perhaps due to a more true presentation of the slight echo surrounding the drop's bouncing waveform..  

    Bass rumble and thump - On Stanley Clarke's growling opening to "I Wanna Tell You 'Bout That" the difference is subtle, but a sense of depth and, for lack of a better term, "authority" definitely went to the Schiit system. Ditto on Ahmad Jamal's "Poinciana" from "Digital Works" where Larry Ball's bass goes crazy low.  But the Frederic Fennel hi-rez of Movement 3 of "Suite for Military Band #1 in E-flat" features a bass drum window-rattler with an immediate follow-up low rumble that thumps and murmurs more convincingly on the e5.  So I feel I'm hearing very subtle shifts from one system to another in frequency presentation and hang time between the systems.

    Vocals, Male - Couldn't tell any difference on Bill Withers soul, Joe Walsh's whine, Joe Williams' growl.

    Vocals, Female - Mike Manieri produced Carly Simon's "Torch" with a great deal of echo on "I've Got it Bad..." and when she levitates her voice that treble snap on the e5 gives it more presence than the Schiit system - not to its advantage, IMHO.  Diana Krall's voice on "Willow Weep for Me" is produced to be more forward and intimate, and the differences between the systems fade.

    Clarity vs Congestion & Soundstage - To me, this was the most telling distinction.  The Schiit system effortlessly maintained a clear presentation of all instruments/vocals when the electric guitars layered over drums/bass and background "oooh" vocals on Joe Walsh/Barnstorm's "I'll Tell the World About You"; and again at the 30-second mark on Chicago's "Question 67 & 68" when guitar rips over horns that are already blaring.  Most tellingly, the Eric Kunzel/Telarc recording of Albeniz's "Fete Dieu A Seville" goes from sleepy streets to riotous celebration starting at 1:06, and it seems every orchestral instrument ever played is weighing in. The e5 wasn't jarring or disappointing, just a bit less able to keep every tone clear and in its place.  The soundstage seemed wider with the Schiit system as well.

    Conclusions

    Soundblaster Creative has nothing to apologize for in its e5, but I wouldn't call it a "reference" system.  I'm happy to own it for exactly my intended purposes - a nighttime EQ-able companion to my NAD that, IMHO, needs a bit more treble; and as a very portable, high-quality dac/amp.

    At under $200, the e5 was compared to my roughly $350 Schiit desktop system and, unsurprisingly, does not match it.  But 200/350 = 57% the budget and the Soundblaster Creative e5 surely gets the budget-conscious consumer more than three-quarters of the way up my best-yet personal audio ladder. 
     
    Furthermore, in terms of convenience, space-saving, sonic flexibility, combined line-out pre-amp and more, the e5 is probably an ideal for many a listener.  I sure as heck would have loved it in my dorm room back in the day (not that we knew what an "audio file" was back then).  Here's a clue:  listening to "Poinciana" again as I'm focused on writing this, and I had to glance down to remember which system was producing this pleasing sound - the e5. 
     

    trellus likes this.

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