Advise if you can: Soundblaster E5 vs iCan Nano vs ????
Oct 29, 2016 at 3:18 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 5

misteral201103

500+ Head-Fier
Joined
May 21, 2016
Posts
715
Likes
647
Location
Shanghai, China (originally from UK)
Hi All,

I currently use a Cayin C5 with Audioquest Nighthawks, source is a Fiio X5.
Happy with the sound for portable but I'd like to increase the soundstage/look at 'virtual surround' or similar.

Once, in Hong Kong airport, I listened to a pair of Sony closed back headphones running from an amp with a beautiful classical recording (vague in terms of information, I know, but that's all I remember about the gear and the music) I was genuinely transported to the concert hall, the illusion of space was so perfectly recreated. That's kind of the effect I am chasing, hence the interest in 3D processing and virtual surround.

With the E5 I am concerned that though the effect might be well implemented, the overall sound quality might not be up to the clarity/accuracy of the C5. With the Nano I have no doubts about the sound quality, but instead am not sure about the 3D effect. They are a similar price, and that is my rough budget. I will be passing the C5 to my wife, so whatever I buy has to at least equal that little powerhouse. I am not in a position to demo any of the gear, hence the request for advice. I've listened to examples of the Soundblaster virtual surround (on YouTube) and was impressed with the spatial imagery. The degree of control over sound is also very tempting. But with all effects turned off, does it actually deliver in terms of quality?

Has anyone heard all three and would be able to give a brief comparison of SQ/Soundstage/3Dness? Is there another battery powered amp I should be looking at in the same area of price?

Many thanks in advance, as always
 
Oct 29, 2016 at 3:42 AM Post #2 of 5

ProtegeManiac

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Oct 29, 2009
Posts
16,228
Likes
3,045
Location
Manila
With the E5 I am concerned that though the effect might be well implemented, the overall sound quality might not be up to the clarity/accuracy of the C5. 

 
You can always use the line out from the E5 into the C5, although that enlarges your stack. Alternately you can just use an easier to drive headphone or IEM on the go then at home plug the E5's line out into the C5 or whatever amp you want to use.
 
Oct 29, 2016 at 5:59 AM Post #3 of 5

misteral201103

500+ Head-Fier
Joined
May 21, 2016
Posts
715
Likes
647
Location
Shanghai, China (originally from UK)
   
You can always use the line out from the E5 into the C5, although that enlarges your stack. Alternately you can just use an easier to drive headphone or IEM on the go then at home plug the E5's line out into the C5 or whatever amp you want to use.


Thanks for replying, ProtegeManiac - however, the C5 will be handed off to my wife, so whichever amp I choose will be my sole portable. For desktop use I have the Little Dot MkIII - I may well take a feed out of a 'holographic' amp into there. And the Nighthawks are non-negotiable!!!
 
My concern is less with driving power and more with clarity/quality. With the 'hawks I typically listen at a relatively low/mid volume (because they are such generous headphones and share my music with those around me!)
 
Have you heard the E5? Was it good enough for you in terms of detail, response and clarity?
 
Oct 29, 2016 at 2:24 PM Post #4 of 5

ProtegeManiac

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Oct 29, 2009
Posts
16,228
Likes
3,045
Location
Manila
 
Have you heard the E5? Was it good enough for you in terms of detail, response and clarity?

 
I haven't tried it, I only suggested it because you're looking for virtual surround. That said, there might be a problem if you're using it with a portable source and not a desktop computer - the DSP chip might only be accessible if you're using a computer since the DSP software suite is on there, and I'm not aware of equivalent mobile apps. You could email Creative and ask though, AFAIK it has some hardware buttons in there.
 
Nov 8, 2016 at 10:47 PM Post #5 of 5

misteral201103

500+ Head-Fier
Joined
May 21, 2016
Posts
715
Likes
647
Location
Shanghai, China (originally from UK)
Ok, so I took the plunge and bought the E5. I could write a review, but since my original point was 'how does it hold up against a Cayin C5' I'll keep it in here - anyone who wants a similar comparison will happen upon this thread, so it may help others.....
 
I'll keep things brief and I'll try to sound objective, but it will be a struggle.
All listening was using the E5 purely as an amp, no DAC function involved.
 
My concern was that despite the attractive additional features, the E5 might not have as good a basic sound quality as the C5.
I was right.
 
Turning all the effects off (and from what I've read here, there is still some processing of the signal going on) and running from a Fiio X5 into Nighthawks, I was treated to a presentation considerably worse than if I'd just gone straight into the X5.
 
I find it hard to put into words and I'm afraid I didn't spend even an hour listening to it. Thin, I guess would be a good start. Lacking detail in the top, lacking everything in the bass and mids were somewhat veiled. I am well aware that if the low, mid and high end were subdued, surely turning the volume up would result in a flat signature....but honestly, it was just a very lo-fi sound. Soundstage was non-existent, everything placed securely between the ears and nothing outside.
 
Ok, so a failure without the processing, but what if the effects are turned on? 
 
XBass (or whatever name they gave it) - Better, definitely better. Lacking in definition but at least bass was present.
 
Crystal Voice - better compared to not having it, but it results in the higher frequencies sounding very 'processed'. Perhaps with a better/purer input stage (within the E5), the Crystal Voice would add sparkle, but as it was I was hearing distortion at low volume levels (didn't bother going very high) which is a very bad sign.
 
EQ - Not bad. Using EQ alone brought better results than XBass and Crystal Voice. So EQ at least gets a pass grade from me. There's a change I would love to see made to the UI, but it will take me too long to describe it and it wouldn't save this machine, so I won't bother. Why did I even write this?
 
SBX Surround - this was why I'd bought the E5, to try to achieve the much sought-after 'holographic' effect. Wow...no, not at all. Simply put, the Cayin C5 has a wider, more three dimensional soundstage without needing a button to turn it on and off.
 
If I were cynical, I would say that the E5 initially removes clarity, low end resonance and soundstaging in an attempt to impress the listener when the effects are engaged.
 
In terms of resolution, musicality, imaging and soundstage, detail and naturalness, the Cayin C5 is in another league. Here in China, the C5 is also about 2/3 the price.
 
I was lucky that I could return the E5 and instead bought a C5 and a 2Tb harddrive for my wife (same price for the two of them compared to the E5) I could have tried the iCan Nano but felt pretty burned from the E5 and was left with the impression that I might already own the best portable amp in my budget range.
 
I did not run the E5 out of my computer as a soundcard - perhaps it performs better there? I'm trying to be reasonable here. I can think of nothing at all to recommend it, I'm sorry.
 
 
tl;dr : I hated the sound of the Soundblaster E5 and consider the Cayin C5 vastly superior in every way.
 
Final Note - This thread was up for a little while, and the only head-fier who posted had not heard the E5 and was offering useful suggestions to make the most of a potential purchase. Nobody from Head-Fi popped in to say 'Oh yes, it's a lovely little amp' Before the purchase I wondered if this was because the E5 was....how do I put this....sub-par in terms of what the average HFer is looking for. I think I was right. It's not a question of price or brand, it's a simple matter of quality of sound.
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top