Creative Sound Blaster X7 - Detailed Review & Impressions
Jan 10, 2017 at 11:42 AM Post #2,176 of 3,535

kellte2

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They both have their pluses. The MZ2 is a perfect balance of tube and SS. It's fast, while still maintaining a lovely musical attitude. It plays well with many headphones, but some I prefer straight through the X7.

Did some comparisons, short answer is the Sparkos make a tremendous difference imo. Each set stepped it up a good notch. I hope to start the review tonight with more details.

If you are looking to take your music to another level, the complete swap is highly recommended.


Thanks for the insight. I'm just wondering if putting more money into the X7 might not be wise as compared to saving up for a substantial amp upgrade with a balanced out for my headphones (if something like the Jotunheim is, in fact, a substantial upgrade over the X7)
 
Jan 10, 2017 at 2:17 PM Post #2,177 of 3,535

mbyrnes

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Thanks for the insight. I'm just wondering if putting more money into the X7 might not be wise as compared to saving up for a substantial amp upgrade with a balanced out for my headphones (if something like the Jotunheim is, in fact, a substantial upgrade over the X7)


That is the million dollar question. I have no desire to go balanced. There are obvious benefits, like more power at the same impedance versus SE. Then, you start getting into the debate of the sonic benefits of balanced vs SE that I'm not a believer in, but many are.

Amps do sound different, changing the OP Amps in the X7 proved that to me. Through other means, I've found that DACs all sound different as well. It's a really cool hobby from that standpoint. Thousands of options and combos to dial in your perfect sound.

The MZ2 is my perfect amp. It just sounds so unbelievably good. I can't recommend it enough. My next purchase will be a multibit DAC, as I'm curious to hear one done correctly. Hopefully within the next few months I'll obtain a Gumby or equivalent. I'm looking used when I'm ready. Plenty of Gumby owners upgrade to Yggy, so I'll hopefully get one discounted nicely.

The X7 was and is great. It really got me interested in music again, and now i want to go all in. I'll be keeping the X7 until something comes along to dethrone it as the best gamers DAC/DSP. i want HDMI inputs and outputs. DSD, DXD, and whatever else they come up with.

I'm really hoping with Project Scorpio that Microsoft either does 3D audio internally, or they release a stand alone processor that does all i want. Someone has to be brewing Something!
 
Jan 10, 2017 at 2:36 PM Post #2,178 of 3,535

kellte2

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That is the million dollar question. I have no desire to go balanced. There are obvious benefits, like more power at the same impedance versus SE. Then, you start getting into the debate of the sonic benefits of balanced vs SE that I'm not a believer in, but many are.

Amps do sound different, changing the OP Amps in the X7 proved that to me. Through other means, I've found that DACs all sound different as well. It's a really cool hobby from that standpoint. Thousands of options and combos to dial in your perfect sound.

The MZ2 is my perfect amp. It just sounds so unbelievably good. I can't recommend it enough. My next purchase will be a multibit DAC, as I'm curious to hear one done correctly. Hopefully within the next few months I'll obtain a Gumby or equivalent. I'm looking used when I'm ready. Plenty of Gumby owners upgrade to Yggy, so I'll hopefully get one discounted nicely.

The X7 was and is great. It really got me interested in music again, and now i want to go all in. I'll be keeping the X7 until something comes along to dethrone it as the best gamers DAC/DSP. i want HDMI inputs and outputs. DSD, DXD, and whatever else they come up with.

I'm really hoping with Project Scorpio that Microsoft either does 3D audio internally, or they release a stand alone processor that does all i want. Someone has to be brewing Something!


I'd love a hdmi-in capable surround sound decoder for consoles. The X7 seems to wring as much as it can out of the bandwidth supported by the compressed surround sound formats. Compression free listening would be best, but even that would be limited by the compression which is necessarily involved with shipping games on a disk. Titanfall 2 is particularly egregious and you can clearly hear a high pitches artifact when action heats up. Revealing gear has its drawbacks, I guess.

That said, PS4 does have the capacity to output 3D audio and certain titles like Uncharted 4 will allow it (but only using Sony's own Platinum Wireless headset at this time). Of course, the PSVR does the same, but you can use any headphones via the 3.5 mm jack on the VR unit cable.

Time will tell, but I'd love the additional sound verticality that 3D audio supposedly provides through headphones. The good thing is that the big players seem to be taking headphone gaming seriously at last. Only good can come of it!
 
Jan 10, 2017 at 3:01 PM Post #2,179 of 3,535

mbyrnes

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I'd love a hdmi-in capable surround sound decoder for consoles. The X7 seems to wring as much as it can out of the bandwidth supported by the compressed surround sound formats. Compression free listening would be best, but even that would be limited by the compression which is necessarily involved with shipping games on a disk. Titanfall 2 is particularly egregious and you can clearly hear a high pitches artifact when action heats up. Revealing gear has its drawbacks, I guess.

That said, PS4 does have the capacity to output 3D audio and certain titles like Uncharted 4 will allow it (but only using Sony's own Platinum Wireless headset at this time). Of course, the PSVR does the same, but you can use any headphones via the 3.5 mm jack on the VR unit cable.

Time will tell, but I'd love the additional sound verticality that 3D audio supposedly provides through headphones. The good thing is that the big players seem to be taking headphone gaming seriously at last. Only good can come of it!

I am hoping 3D audio becomes the next arms race in consoles. Obviously Sony has it in limited form, so it is out there on consoles. I am praying Microsoft takes it where it needs to go next. A separate box for HDMI audio is needed. No compression, and I imagine the headphone algorithms can only get far better using a top notch signal like Dolby Digital HD or DTS Master Audio HD. Even better would be Atmos , Auro, DTS:X, as movies are using this all the time now. As gamers, we are relegated to a 25+ year old technology for our gaming immersion. It is insane that with the Headphone BOOM of the past 5-7 years that someone hasn't tried to make a modern kit for us, and the huge headphone group. Someone be Apple, create something people didn't know they couldn't live without. 
 
Jan 10, 2017 at 5:11 PM Post #2,180 of 3,535
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Thanks for the insight. I'm just wondering if putting more money into the X7 might not be wise as compared to saving up for a substantial amp upgrade with a balanced out for my headphones (if something like the Jotunheim is, in fact, a substantial upgrade over the X7)

I love my balanced amp, but there's advantages to both SE or Balanced. Some heady reading, but very good reading:
http://www.head-fi.org/t/831345/chord-electronics-hugo-2-the-official-thread/180_30#post_13155751

I am hoping 3D audio becomes the next arms race in consoles. Obviously Sony has it in limited form, so it is out there on consoles. I am praying Microsoft takes it where it needs to go next. A separate box for HDMI audio is needed. No compression, and I imagine the headphone algorithms can only get far better using a top notch signal like Dolby Digital HD or DTS Master Audio HD. Even better would be Atmos , Auro, DTS:X, as movies are using this all the time now. As gamers, we are relegated to a 25+ year old technology for our gaming immersion. It is insane that with the Headphone BOOM of the past 5-7 years that someone hasn't tried to make a modern kit for us, and the huge headphone group. Someone be Apple, create something people didn't know they couldn't live without. 

EDIT: ok short version. PlayStation and Xbox both put dedicated sound processors into their current-gen consoles. the PS4 has at least a derivative of AMD's TrueAudio processor that technically can support many many "voices" at once and object-oriented sound positioning, instead of funneling directions down into speaker channels as we know them today. Microsoft put an audio DSP in the XBOne called "Sphere" that is also technologically capable. So, basically, the consoles could do 3D surround instead of 2D rings of sound funneled into speaker channels. It's just that basically no games have been coded to unlock full binaural 3D headphone surround... except maybe VR games.

That said, Smyth Research is coming out with a new processor (DSP) called the Realiser A16, which will basically be summit-fi for headphone surround. Multiple HDMI inputs, other inputs, customized surround based off of measuring how sound reaches your ears, head tracking, and more. For a cool $2k. Now, that's half the price of the last Realiser A8 while also being an upgrade, and a bargain compared to having expensive Atmos/DTS-X/Ambisonics speaker setups and proper room treatments, but even the $1700 pre-order units are priced beyond what many gamers are willing to save up for. The Kickstarter early bird price was something I could and did decide to put on my credit card and pay off... definitely at lot of money, but nothing else competes for legacy sound setups or new Surround setups.

I've got more to say about this, but basically you should check out the Headphone Surround post linked in my signature.
 
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Jan 10, 2017 at 5:41 PM Post #2,181 of 3,535

VeerK

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I guess my hope is to come as close as possible to Jotunheim SE performance with the X7, even though I doubt an op amp swap would accomplish that. I have too many hobbies to invest in something like the Gumby, but I am going to do an X7 DAC vs Momby/Bimby volume matched ABX. Ultimately, I'd love to test how much better a BimbyJot combo sounds than the X7 Sparkos. If only I could trial the B-stock at Schiit lol.
 
Jan 10, 2017 at 6:01 PM Post #2,182 of 3,535

lenroot77

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I'm using the line out from my X7 to the Jot! Sounds great. I haven't been a big fan of some of schiits products but the Jot is pretty awesome. The amp just sounds fuller, quicker and has more slam to it compared the X7 amp.

If you're dead set on a multibit Dac you may consider a Modi MB so many people have told me it sounds just as good as the bimby. Bimby is in a strange spot at the moment it's several hundred dollars more than the mimby with very similar performance. Many people seem to think a refresh could be coming soon.

I personally prefer the MB sound to DS dacs for music, but with gaming and movies my preference isn't as strong.
 
Jan 10, 2017 at 7:08 PM Post #2,183 of 3,535

VeerK

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I'm using the line out from my X7 to the Jot! Sounds great. I haven't been a big fan of some of schiits products but the Jot is pretty awesome. The amp just sounds fuller, quicker and has more slam to it compared the X7 amp.

If you're dead set on a multibit Dac you may consider a Modi MB so many people have told me it sounds just as good as the bimby. Bimby is in a strange spot at the moment it's several hundred dollars more than the mimby with very similar performance. Many people seem to think a refresh could be coming soon.

I personally prefer the MB sound to DS dacs for music, but with gaming and movies my preference isn't as strong.

 I'm gonna need you to swap the opamps on your X7 to the Sparkos ones and compare it to the Jot ASAP
tongue.gif

 
I've heard mixed impressions on the MB vs DS debate, figured the one person I can trust 100% to address my questions and concerns is myself. The one thing about the X7 I can never sacrifice is the clean convenience, having a DAC, headphone amp, and speaker amp in one clean little box is invaluable to me.
 
Jan 10, 2017 at 7:15 PM Post #2,184 of 3,535

lenroot77

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 I'm gonna need you to swap the opamps on your X7 to the Sparkos ones and compare it to the Jot ASAP :p

I've heard mixed impressions on the MB vs DS debate, figured the one person I can trust 100% to address my questions and concerns is myself. The one thing about the X7 I can never sacrifice is the clean convenience, having a DAC, headphone amp, and speaker amp in one clean little box is invaluable to me.


Unfortunately I don't have either of those. I've been thinking about it then for a while.

I agree the X7 if a nifty all in one package!
 
Jan 10, 2017 at 7:23 PM Post #2,185 of 3,535

VeerK

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Unfortunately I don't have either of those. I've been thinking about it then for a while.

I agree the X7 if a nifty all in one package!

 
If Schiit had a C-stock program where you can purchase amps and then return them within 30 days (like many speaker manufacturers) I'd test the Jot myself. Time will tell I suppose.
 
Jan 11, 2017 at 10:35 PM Post #2,186 of 3,535

mbyrnes

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Sparkos SS3601 and SS3602 OP amp upgrade:
 
Equipment: I7 laptop running Foobar with the latest updates, WASAPI, Samsung EVO 850 500GB SSD, , all music files FLAC, connected to the Creative X7 via USB
MicroZOTL2 with LPS connected via RCA outs of the X7
 
Headphones: Fostex TH-X00 Ebony, Sennheiser HD6XX, AKG K702 65th Anniversary
 
Songs:
 
Nirvana-Remastered Nevermind/In Utero/MTV Live/etc. I own a lot of their albums!
Eagles-Tequila Sunrise & Hotel California/Hell Freezes Over
Lumineers- Ho Hey & Stubborn Love/The Lumineers
Lorde-Tennis Court/Pure Heroine
Silversun Pickups- The Royal We/Swoon
The Beatles-I Want You (She'sSo Heavy)/Abbey Road
Warren Zevon-Lawyers,Guns, and Money/Excitable Boy
Elton John-Tiny Dancer/Madman Across the Water
Led Zepplin- Babe I'm Going to Leave You/Led Zepplin II (remastered)
Counting Crows-Mr. Jones/August and Everything After
Arcade Fire-Reflektor/Reflektor
Adele-Hello/25. 
 
Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Sparkos Labs, I purchased the SS3601 and SS3602 directly from Andrew. The price for all 4 was $199 shipped. I did ask Andrew for a discount on the 4, and the price I paid is not full retail. I also have written this review to the best of my abilities, giving my honest feedback. We all hear things differently, and your results may vary. 
 
My Personal Background:
 
I have been a Head-Fi member for about 6 years, initially joining to follow the goodness that is Mad Lust Envy's Headphone Gaming Guide. I was a regular at AVSforums, and still am to this day (I use the same screen name, Mbyrnes). Mad Lust Envy had basically a copy of the Head-Fi thread there, but he couldn't retrieve his lost password, and shifted the entire thing to Head-Fi. Head-fi was far more active, with more contributors than AVS. I immediately joined and started commenting. 
 
I am a 39 year old man, I am divorced, and have no children (Yay!), and have been exposed to great music and systems my entire life. My father was a huge music enthusiast, and I became one early. At 10 years old (1987), I had an Onkyo head unit, Sony CD player, TEAC tape deck, and Bose 301s as speakers (these actually weren't that bad). At 12, I received Infinity SM122s for Christmas, the baby brothers of my fathers SM152s. I had a system that  destroyed anyone that I knew, except my father. My father and I adjusted to the times, added Surround Sound, Laser Disc players, and speakers when it became available. I have advanced my system as time has gone on, and watched the entire industry change so drastically. I did not own a proper headphone until 2011, When I had the Tritton AX720, and purchased the Sennheiser PC360 headset. Even with my surround sound setup, it seemed people were preferring headphones with DDH over a 5.1 proper system.  So the madness started, I eventually bought an Astro Mixamp 2011, AKG K702 65th Anniversary, Antlion Microphone, and a Schiit Magni, with help from the guide. That served me well for years, but once I bought a house and installed a theater on the lower level, headphone gaming was done. 
 
Due to an back injury in August 2015, I eventually lost my beautiful house, and sold off my beloved theater equipment. I am extremely fortunate to have Long Term Disability Insurance and everyone should have it.  Living in a 2600 sq ft house on a heavily wooded lot, driving a Mercedes Benz E350 4matic, and fixing up my house DID NOT make me happy. I chased the American dream, and did what I thought I was supposed to do. It sucked, so I did something I had always wanted to do, move into Philadelphia, PA. I sold off the majority of my possessions, and kept the things that really mattered to me (A/V equipment mostly). I had lived the majority of my life 20-25 minutes from downtown Philly, and it is amazing how little I went into the city, for various reasons. Drinking and driving, parking, and not knowing all of the great spots to go. February 1, 2016, I became a Philly resident, an apartment dweller once again, and a headphone enthusiast, more than I ever have been in my life. I was excited to be in the local music scene again, hearing acts live is my favorite way to consume music. There is almost always live music of all types playing every night. I have no plans to ever leave Philly, as I love it that much. Headphone equipment became a very good investment for gaming, movie, music playback.  I game a lot on my Xbox One, and the Astro Mixamp always just didn't feel right. It was good, but there had to be better. I found the Creative Sound Blaster X7 here at Head-Fi, and began reading the huge thread from start to finish. I purchased my Creative Sound Blaster X7 LE from Amazon for $349, and received it November 10, 2016. 
 
Receiving the X7:
 
My initial impressions of the X7 were fantastic! For gaming the sound was much clearer, and the ability to alter the sound to my liking was a HUGE bonus. I felt like I finally had options, and the $349 was easily the best money I had spent in my search for gaming/movie/music nirvana. Now to be honest with everyone, I have a mental condition called 'Borderline Personality Disorder'. Essentially, my emotions swing much further than the average person, so depression/anxiety hit me far harder. I can go from fine to enraged so quickly that it scares the living $h!t out of my friends/family. Another issue it causes is I try to buy happiness, and in a venture that I love, I will go crazy spending money. From November 2016 to today, I have bought the X7 ($349), Sparkos OP amps ($199), DT990 ($129), Sennheiser HD6XX ($199), Fostex TH-X00 Ebony ($499), CD ripping software (DB Poweramp, $90), and last but not least, the MicroZOTL2 headphone amp with original and upgraded LPS, and a bunch of Tubes ($950) used from a fellow Head-Fier. that's $2415 in less than 3 months, which is as I imagine, far beyond what the average Head-Fi member can spend. The important thing with all that spending is, did the money spent = value and happiness. 
 
Sound Blaster X7 Reviews: 
 
While reading all of the reviews, and I suggest you do if you aren't familiar with the X7, OP amp rolling was touched on. Here is Earphonia's Fantastic Review, a must read, along with Evshrug's excellent review, 
 
Sparkos SS3601 and SS3602:
 
Andrew Sparks is the owner of Sparkos Labs. I contacted him through his website's email. For all of the amazing details of these OP Amps, please check out the SparkosLabs website here! I emailed Andrew at 10:30 EST on a Friday night. I was expecting it to sit until Monday, but I had made up my mind that I wanted to try his OP amps, and didn't want to forget. I was blown away as he answered my email within 10 minutes, we went back and forth a few times, but buy 11:30 pm, I had paid for the OP amps, and he would ship them out first thing Monday morning. Monday came and my tracking info was sent to me. The important part of the email conversation was Andrew STRONGLY recommended swapping all 4 OP Amps. Essentially, Swapping one set only gets you half way there if you are lucky. The SS3602 would make a larger difference than the SS3601 if you were to swap only one set. Andrew knows his business, his products, and enough of the X7's build to know what would be best. I honestly trusted him with our emails. Just came off as an awesome guy, someone I would like to meet one day. 
 
The Sparkos came in simple packing. A bubble wrapped envelope, with each OP Amp in its own anti-static bag. 
 
The OP Amps also had extenders on them. Andrew does this to protect the pins underneath during shipping. I removed the extenders for a closer fit in the X7. I still cannot get the lid back on, the SS3602s are just too tall. This does not bother me in the slightest, because the X7 when upright makes it difficult for dust to settle inside. Honestly it will gather the same amount of dust with or without the cover on. Wanted to let others know though as this may be more of an issue for them. The OP Amps are much, much larger than the original OP amps. It is a tight fit along the one side, but honestly I had no issues installing them. The Sparkos are built like tanks compared to the stock OP Amps. Installing and removing the Sparkos was cake. The stock OP Amps not so much. I used pliers to remove the stock OP Amps, and no matter how hard I tried, the pins always bent when removing them. This was a major pain in the @ss, and each swap really became a battle of controlling my anger. 
 
I initially installed all 4 OP Amps, and let them burn in for 25-30 hours playing music or gaming, the X7 remained on for 5 days before any comparison was done.. I am not much of a believer in this, and have no idea if this is even necessary with OP Amps. Maybe someone can chime in on this. 
 

 
The large L shaped Copper mark is where Pin 1 is. The Original OP Amps use tiny impressed circles to indicate pin 1.
 

 
 
DO NOT mix this up!!!!! I fried one of my stock amps by inserting it incorrectly. Essentially, when I was straightening out the pins for the 10th time, it got reversed and I didn't check myself before powering on. Took maybe 2 seconds to send up smoke and me racing to unplug it. This was the only time I didn't check myself, because my patience was about gone. Those stupid pins are so weak, they literally bend if you breath wrong. Thinking back, I should have installed them on the extensions that came with the Sparkos. The extension pins are more durable and would have made the swaps easier. Live and learn. 
 
I did a few different setups: They consisted of swapping just the SS3601 in, Swapping the SS3602 by itself, and of course, both SS3601 and SS3602 complete swap. For a little fun, I changed just one side of the OP amp section, so SS3601 and SS3602 on one channel, while leaving the stock OP Amps on the other channel. I did this for the Left only, and the right only, and honestly I felt this was the best way to compare the swap. 
 
Sound Impressions: 
 
Ah the part everyone has been waiting for!
 

(Picture from Sparkoslabs.com)
 
SS3601 with Stock Duals- This combo I tried first, as others have also swapped just the SS3601. At first it was difficult to hear any differences. I honestly didn't know what I was looking for, as this is the first time I have ever tried something like this. I was also very skeptical to say the least. I started out with my favorite group of all time, Nirvana. I have heard the Nevermind album literally thousands of times. I own it on almost every format, I have bought it for every girlfriend I have ever had, and it changed my life when it was released. It is as much about the music, as it is about the time when it released, and the memories I have from it. What I noticed was that everything was cleaner. Background noise on the recording was more quiet, the snap of the snare drum ring taps on Lithium (when Dave is hitting the rim, not the drum itself), the symbol taps during the quiet, just sounded more realistic. It sounded less like a recording, and more like I was actually there. This was slight, and something I can easily see someone missing if you weren't looking for it. Overall the SS3601 cleaned up the music, making it more realistic sounding. As others have said, I find that it is an increase of about 20-30%. 
 
SS3602 with Stock Singles- Now this is where I found a difference in sound almost immediately. This was a major upgrade, and one I wasn't going to live without. While listening to The Eagles- Hotel California (live) from Hell Freezes Over, the performance went from listening to a CD, to literally being there. Background noise once again was much lower, bass was tighter while remaining prominent, the ring of the guitar strings, the bongos, drums, all became lifelike. Most importantly, when the chorus came in with Don Henley and company singing in harmony, their voices were clearer, the distortion was gone, with each voice being easily clearly produced. I found with the stock OP Amps, their voices were muddled, scratchy, and I didn't like it. Very obvious change to me with this song, I listened to a bunch of music with this setup, and everything just sounded more accurate. This was an upgrade for sure, that I found immediately on my setup. 
 
SS3601 and SS3602- Now if you take the sum of the two thoughts above, you essentially get the complete swap here. Combined they lower the noise floor, clear up the overall sound, and it is very noticeable on complex music, where several instruments are all playing loudly. When it gets loud, they hold up and deliver a really impressive signal. I love Silversun Pickups, and on The Royal We, it gets a little crazy. The drums are upfront with electric guitar and bass. the violin drops up and down in the mix, and when it gets loud and crazy with everyone jamming, every single instrument is easily heard. Brian Aubert has a very unique voice, and when he screams he still maintains distinct notes. Before the swap, it would kinda fall apart during the loud sections. Some things would get screechy and become fatiguing. Again, distortion was greatly improved, and this really has a major affect. 
 
Hotel California from Hell Freezes Over, became 3D, with each each instrument just sounding perfect. I love live music, and this was like being there. With the TH-X00 Ebony, I felt like I was on the stage with them, being able to walk around them. The Ebony's more closed sound stage really does live music well. Very different headphone for me compared to the others, but a fantastic buy. Of all the songs I listened to, this song was by far the most revealing for me. It's a wonderful track that contains great deep bass, multiple instruments that all add something special to such a great song. It is very well recorded, and when the crowd cheers loudly, you can still hear every single instrument perfectly. The Sparkos reduce the distortion across the frequency range, and it is particularly noticeable in the bass and vocals. 
 
Another of my favorite singers is Bob Dylan. Everyone should own his greatest hits, he did win a Nobel Prize after all, and he is the first Singer/Songwriter to ever do that. One of the toughest songs to reproduce accurately is 'Like a Rolling Stone'. There are so many instruments, and on a poor recording or poor system, it sounds like trash. The organ, piano, bass, guitar, harmonica, tambourine, drums all have very detailed parts that can be easily distinguished. With the double swap, this is the best I have ever heard this song sound. 
 
Over the course of a week, with hours and hours of listening time, I am very happy with the upgrade. As far as a DAC/Amp goes, I don't know how much I would have to spend to improve over the X7 with Sparkos, but I imagine it will not be cheap. I found a clear difference, with the SS3602 making a larger difference over just swapping the SS3601.
 
SS3601 and SS3602, One channel- After frying one of the stock amps, I was pulling the other stock amp from the same channel, and had the thought to change just those back to the Sparkos. I don't know why, but it seemed like a great idea at the time. I was actually shocked at the difference between the the two. Again listening to songs I listened to with the other variations, it was very obvious which side had the Sparkos. It was a very big difference between the two. I would swap the arrangement to give the other channel a try. Same thing. Really weird how easy it was to tell something was off, one ear was hearing something more distorted and wrong. What started out as a weird science experiment that I thought would fail, ended up being an eye opening experience. Maybe I am weird, but it gave me a different perspective.  
 
Secondary Benefits 
 
1) While I was performing all of the OP Amp changes with the X7, I was only listening out of the headphone jack of the X7. I did notice that I would have to adjust the volume of the X7 once the Sparkos were in. It was much louder than with the stock amps. I have no way to measure how much of a difference, but it is there. You will gain more amplifier power with the Sparkos. It isn't a crazy amount, so don't get excited about driving an HE-6 or anything, lol. 
 
2) Once hooking my MicroZOTL2 back up to the X7, it was very apparent that the OP amp swaps also affected the RCA outputs. Now I thought that this might be an added benefit (I was begging it to be true!!), as the RCA jacks are driven from the volume knob on the X7 (I put it at 100% when using the MZ2). I looked for the answer online and came up with nothing. Asked Andrew Sparks, and he said he wouldn't know without looking at the X7 design, but he thought that the SS3601 would most likely be a part of the RCA output. I ended up contacting Creative directly, and I was told that BOTH the Single and Dual channel OP Amps drive the Headphone and RCA outputs. This is a huge thing if you are trying to improve the DAC quality, while still using a separate amplifier. This is a tremendous bonus for me, as I will be using a tube amp 90% of the time with my X7.  
 
Wrap-up:
 
The X7 is a wonderful all in one box, and even stock it's a heck of a music player. If you are a gamer, or watch a lot of movies, and listen to good quality audio files, the X7 is such a great device. I came into the OP Amp swap idea thinking it wouldn't make much of a difference. Well I was wrong, and now I have some doubts about a few other things in the audiophile world that I have always thought crazy. The SS3601 swap was subtle, but noticeable. The SS3602 swap was easily more obvious. The complete swap is definitely worth it if you are trying to reach another level with your music. I initially ordered the Sparkos because I was trying get every last ounce of performance out of the X7. I am truly blown away with the sound I have now, and upgrading is going to take a different path. I have recently been looking into a stand alone DAC, thinking the Sparkos wouldn't help my MZ2. Since they obviously are, and the music sounds this wonderful, I may start looking into the Smyth Realizer, to take surround gaming/movies to the level I have been hoping to reach the past 5-7 years. Music right now is sublime. 
 
Things I have noticed: Blacker background/noise, tighter bass, overall a clearer presentation, less distortion. These attributes help to make the music seem more realistic, less like a recording and more like a live performance you are attending. The difference with my MZ2 as the amp is just special. Recordings I thought were bad actually sound much better, like a whole new album. I am literally hearing things I have never heard before, in songs I have heard hundreds of times. 
 
Should you swap to the Sparkos? That depends on what you want, budget, current gear, etc. $200 isn't a terrible amount of money to me, but may be for you. Are you blown away with your music as is? if not the Sparkos may reach that next level that you are trying to reach. I know a lot of people have the X7 and a dedicated DAC as well. There are a lot of ways to spend $200 in this hobby, and IMO this is one of the better ways to spend it. I wanted to buy the best OP Amps I could find, and I have no doubt that the Sparkos cannot be beat. If I was going to do a swap, I would swap all 4. There was enough of a difference to say stopping short doesn't make sense. I am hoping someone else jumps on the wagon, and confirms what I am hearing. 
 
Jan 12, 2017 at 12:21 AM Post #2,187 of 3,535

Yethal

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mbyrnes great write up sir! Now You made me want to buy the duals too.

From my experience, the speaker taps are also affected by the op amps (the hiss created by the burson duals is audible through the speakers.

Also, it should be possible to make the SS3602 under the lid by removing the second set of extenders.
 
Jan 12, 2017 at 12:32 AM Post #2,188 of 3,535

VeerK

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Excellent write up, glad I waited for it.

Two things I hope you can share:

Is Yethal correct that removing the extenders will make the 3602s fit with the cover?

Have you experienced the Sennheiser "veil" with the 6XX and how does the Sparkos Upgrade affect it?
 
Jan 12, 2017 at 12:41 AM Post #2,189 of 3,535

mbyrnes

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@mbyrnes great write up sir! Now You made me want to buy the duals too.

From my experience, the speaker taps are also affected by the op amps (the hiss created by the burson duals is audible through the speakers.

Also, it should be possible to make the SS3602 under the lid by removing the second set of extenders.

 
Yes the speakers taps are also affected, basically any output is affected. Pretty cool, as the X7 gets a pretty substantial upgrade from the op amp swap if you use it fully.
 
I know there is a second set of extenders, but they are much more difficult to get off then the first set. I honestly wasn't comfortable even attempting that, and I am sure others would worry as well. After the debacle I had with the stock op amps and bending pins, I was done playing around with them. If I would have broke the Sparkos, I would have destroyed my house. It amazes me how perfect the pins need to be to go in correctly. I basically ended up lining up the bottom row, then guiding in each of the top 4 pins of the stock op amps with fine tweezers. I also swapped a bunch of times, far more than most ever would, so the pins were getting a work out.
 
Yes you should order the SS3602s, as I would be shocked if you didn't hear a larger upgrade than the SS3601 swap. I was trying to find your post for my review, but couldn't locate it. Just tried to throw a bunch of info into it to give new guys a one stop shop.  
 
Jan 12, 2017 at 1:16 AM Post #2,190 of 3,535

mbyrnes

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If you look at the pictures here, this is the second set of extenders that can also be removed. The first set is a solid piece of plastic that covers all 8 pins, and is super easy to remove. This second set only covers 4 pins. I did not attempt to remove the second set. I was worried about screwing it up honestly. If those pins were removed, it would fit inside the case with the lid. It barely doesn't fit now, so that little extra bit should fit nicely. 
 
As far as the infamous Sennheiser veil, no, I don't find it an issue. From what I have read, the older drivers used in the HD650 had this veil. They eventually changed to a white driver, and this newer driver did not have the famous veil. If it did, it was nowhere near as bad. My opinion of the matter is you have a mid forward headphone, with decent bass extension. Well if the mids and bass are good/present, treble has to be pulling up the rear. This is not your typical sounding headphone, as most favor a V or U shape. You gain fantastic vocals, acoustic guitar, snare drums, etc, one of the best I have ever heard. You lose the super details of the upper and lower ends. The mids overpower the rest. I have found so far, that the HD6XX is a fantastic headphone for live recordings, acoustic, and jazz (imagine classical as well). I don't have a ton of time on them yet, and I am still breaking them in really. They are truly an easy listen, when you just want to put on music and enjoy it. Unfortunately, you can't have it all in audio. There are always compromises, but headphones are fairly cheap, and having 2-3 different ones around can cover almost all bases for listening. 
 

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