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Evshrug's "If I knew then what I know now" discussion journal.

Discussion in 'Video Games Discussion' started by evshrug, Jan 17, 2013.
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  1. Evshrug
    Oh, I strongly feel that personal preference ultimately rules the day, and affect people differently. For me, 67% sounded almost flat with the Recon3D and Q701, but I've found it to work ok with my newer/nicer setups with good amping... but for me, 100% has always sounded better, always helped rear cues. Your mileage may vary.
     
  2. Fegefeuer
    I moved from 67% to 100% finally as pure immersion over slight loss of fidelity. 
     
  3. Evshrug

    •The E5 is $200 (though sometimes on sale), the G5 is adding at least one feature to this, so we'll see about price.
    •If the G5 truly is based on the E5, then the noise floor is inaudible on 32 ohm and up headphones, so that'll be quite good, though the noise floor is audible on my IEMs. The E1 is silent with my IEMs and has a much longer battery life, buuuuuuut it doesn't do justice with harder to drive headphones, like the E5 can. Optimized gear selection! Btw the E1 is still stronger than the PS4 controller jack's amp :wink:
    •the E5's mic works flawlessly with the PS4, in fact with it's noise-canceling and smart volume it's actually more convenient than the Snowball USB mic I usually use.

    Right now I usually use my X7 at my computer/console gaming station, but the E5 goes with me between bed and living room TV if I want to use headphones, and was a real boon when I took a vacation to RMAF in Denver. When the G5 comes out, I'll probably use that at my gaming station and put the X7 with the TV (tv shows beg for the smart-volume feature!), and, ah, maybe put the E5 up for a tour with thread regulars.
     
  4. Evshrug
    Forgot to mention, Creative E5 review is up!
    http://www.head-fi.org/products/sound-blaster-e5-24-bit-192khz-high-resolution-usb-dac-portable-headphone-amplifier/reviews/14251

    Sound Blaster E5 to the Rescue!
    One device to hook up your headphones to... Basically anything.

    In the 1980's, there was a Man. So manly was this Man, he could fix or fashion any tool from materials on hand, his name became a verb for finding unusual uses for paper clips, chewing gum, and battery acid, and earned a capital M in Man from me for being so clever and self-reliant. A combination of handyman and Sherlock. Most of you already know, I'm thinking about MacGyver. Now, Creative Labs have cooked up a pretty clever little portable product in the Sound Blaster E5 that is festooned with so many input and output options, and accomplished it in such a capable manner, that I can MacGyver myself into virtually any audio setup to complete the chain between audio and headphones, and I can feel just a little bit as cool as he.

    Full disclosure, I knew about the E5 and wanted one, so I jumped at the opportunity when Creative posted on Head-Fi that they were looking for reviewers for this and a few of their other new items. I figured, I've tried so many other surround-processor devices and most of Creative's products of this type, I should apply and let you guys know how the E5 stacks up. Neither Creative or MacGyver have paid me for this review.

    image.jpg


    Stats N'at
    Before MacGyver could deactivate the laser beam grid blocking his progress, he had to understand the constituent parts and nature of the gear he had on him or around him, so let's start with what you get with the E5 and it's various features and connections.

    image.jpg image.jpg


    In the box, you get the E5 itself, which is a DSP, DAC (Cirrus Logic CS4398), dual headphone amp (Texas Instruments TI6120A2), and mic (with ADC), but also you get a bold red micro USB cable (the new ones like on android smartphones and Playstation 4 controllers), a 1m optical cable (yeah I used metric, and it's a Toslink to Mini-Toslink connector cable), a stout 45° angle stand and screw mount, some attachment rubber bands, a map of various setup/cable wiring options and instructions, two warranty papers, and something in Singaporean which I also assume is a warranty/thank you card.

    The power aspects of the E5 are kinda balanced between a portable and desktop amp. Battery on the E5 lasts up to about 8 hours, basically I can use it for two or three days if away from power. That's not as great efficiency as an amp specifically made for sensitive portables, but it does have enough power for my AKG K612 to sound linear and full... Which, by the way, requires a higher volume setting than the 600 ohm DT880 for the same apparent loudness. Output impedance on the headphone jacks is between 2.2 and 2.4 ohms, pretty ideal for most headphones except the most sensitive IEMs. Speaking of IEMs, my Custom Art CIEMs and entry-level RHA IEMs pick up a little background hiss that is easy to ignore once the audio starts, with no hiss for my 32 ohm Oppo PM-3 or V-MODA M-100.

    image.jpg image.jpg

    The ports really help to define what you can do with this magic black box. Looking at the pictures, I'd just like to clarify what some of the ports are/do. There's two headphone jacks by the protected volume dial, the side to the right of that has the power button which also can be held to activate Bluetooth pairing, then the SBX activation button which can answer Bluetooth calls, a gain switch. Design wise, the two buttons and switch are contained in a trapezoid-shaped flat panel, which fits neatly with the shape of one side of the desk stand. Then there's three LEDs indicating battery level. The next face around the right is the wide picture above. The two ports on the left are combination 3.5mm and mini-Toslink ports, though the input is a TRRS 3.5mm port and the output is a TRS 3.5mm. Then, the USB host port is for connecting to a smartphone or tablet source... I can plug in my iPhone 5S with just the charging cable that came with it and get digital sound output. No CCK required! It doesn't charge my iPhone, but it charges Androids for a bit... Greatly sacrificing the E5's battery life. The furthest right micro-USB port is for charging the E5 and PC/Mac connection. The E5 is pretty fat for a portable, but I was surprised how well it fit into my cargo shorts pocket and strapped to my iPhone without being as tall as my FiiO E12. I'd call it a "full-sized portable."

    image.jpg image.jpg image.jpg


    Sound
    I played some high-rez FLACs of music using VLC (and some fun stuff from iTunes), with SBX and any EQ off the sound is pretty good: it's overall pretty clean, though maybe a slight upper mids emphasis which makes vocals and guitars sound a tad more romantic. This is all so slight and close to flat, that you have to be really used to your headphone on another amp to hear the difference; without A/B testing this will sound like a nice flat amp. Plugging in my headphones to the E5 wired to my iPhone 5S was an immediate improvement compared to iPhone alone; every note more crisp, nuances revealed so the playing stage is more transparent (and thus relative depth of a great recording is easier to sense). My next description will be familiar to most people who have owned a nice amp: audio is a bit more engaging, like as if you can feel the artist's emotion or the music is "full of life" rather than dull or a soda-gone-flat. Compared to Creative's older Sound Blaster Z or Recon3D USB, I prefer this E5, and I prefer it over gaming DSPs such as the Turtle Beach DSS (crisper and more powerful) and Astro Mixamp (crisper, smoother, more powerful, and less hissy).


    What Makes It Cool?
    How have I MacGyvered the E5 to my uses? Weeeeell, of course I played Battlefield 3 and Starcraft II on PC, and SBX was particularly awesome with Borderlands 2 with the OpenAL "Hack" to enable true 3D surround. I can use the PC/Mac software suite or the mobile app to tweak SBX and EQ. My Fiancé and I were watching a TV show off my AppleTV which had really bad volume jumps between music and dialogue, and SBX's smart volume feature saved me from having to change the volume all the time (and save my sanity). I took the E5 with me to RMAF, where it became PARTICULARLY cool and useful beyond just a portable DAC/Amp. I could A/B headphones of nearly the same sensitivity rapidly using the two headphone jacks... I couldn't plug in the HiFiman HE-1000 at the same time as the HiFiman Edition X, but high gain did quite good with the HE-1000 (that headphone has marble-like solid bass!), and then a quick flick of the gains switch to low and I could listen to the Ed X with the same song file, DAC, and Amp. Doing that made it really easy to set a baseline for comparing ALL the variety of headphones at RMAF (except the Stax... Heh). And if I wanted to test out an amp, I could use the E5's line-out, if I wanted to use a DAC I could just use the E5 as a transport to bridge the songs on my phone to the optical input of a DAC!

    image.jpg
    Hifiman Edition X, Sound Blaster E5, and my iPhone, playing a Mirror's Edge video with surround processing baked in.
    And I look COOOOOL!


    The E5 is pretty complete, in the sense that it can be a part of pretty much any audio setup. The only glaring omission is that it can only connect to game consoles with stereo audio. To do that, the E5 would have to be able to decode at least Dolby, but ideally would be able to decode Dolby Atmos or DTS X for surround with height channels. This is no problem with PC games because the surround isn't encoded over USB and some games even support full 3D surround with above and below cues. C'mon, surround gaming is where Creative shines (in my opinion), and yet the E5 can only play stereo with the largest user base of gamers (console)! Let's make this happen, but keep the ability to take the processed audio and pass it along digitally to another DAC like the E5 currently can on PC. Ironically, the E5 has the best microphone integration and easiest setup I've ever had on PS4... Just unplug the USB charge cable from my controller, plug that into the E5, and Voilá! You get (stereo) sound, dual microphones with noise canceling (I had to turn up the gain, but this was Creative's best sounding mic I've heard yet), and your volume dial right there. With nearly full gain, I could talk with a keyboard behind the E5 and CrystalVoice to focus the direction of mic pickup (part of the SBX features) and the mic silenced the key clicks. If you like stereo gaming, it's a killer setup.

    Conclusion
    When Creative made the E5, they concentrated first on sound quality, then portable design with lots of connection options, and lastly tacked-on the existing SBX suite. The result is more audiophile than gamerphile. It has great sound, a thoughtful design that is very useful to the adroit, and full-featured for PC/Mac and mobile devices, but I really miss the accurate SBX surround while console gaming. If I really was MacGyver, I would kludge together Dolby or DTS decoding into the E5 to perfect it, but as-is I use the E5 everyday in all sorts of ways.
     
  5. Evshrug
    Opinion: How Do I Pick The Parts of an Audio System?
    Article writing/editing in-progress...

    When I first started using portable headphones (before finding Head-Fi), I used to think that all I needed was a headphone that sounded great right out of my iPod. That was it. I'd heard about amplifiers (had not heard about DACs), but I thought "These headphones I read about on Macworld magazine already can get too loud to listen to with my iPod... Why would I want something to make music even louder?" Flash forward to now – where I've got over 15 things with built-in or separate DSPs, DACs, and amps – and I have a decent handle on how all the gear upstream of a headphone can affect the sound and unlock far more potential of a headphone than just make it louder.

    Here's how I'll break it down:

    What is it (definition)?
    What stage of audio reproduction is it used?
    What effect would an upgrade to this component have?
    At what point is something not worth listening to and at what point have you reached diminishing returns?
    Closing opinions.

    Pretty straight-forward. I haven't listened to nearly everything, so this will be mainly opinions based on the perspective of gaming-suitable (with music/movies on the side) which will hopefully guide your thinking as you read Head-Fi gear reviews.


    Source/File
    Ok, I'm stretching my breakdown categories a little bit, but this is where I/we should start. I'm talking about MP3 files here, FLAC, movie files, the audio resources in a game.

    This is the beginning of the audio chain, the recordings and samples that contain the sound info for reproduction. These days, it's usually digital unless you're using a vinyl record or a cassette tape, in which case the next step of the audio chain skips straight to the amplifier. Analogue sounds are expressed in chart-form by waves curving up and down and up and down, sine waves from school if you remember. Digital tries to recreate these wave shapes with something like a bar graph: at this moment the bar is this tall, next moment the bar graph would be a bit taller representing the wave going up, next bar a bit smaller, next bar smaller again, next bar a bit taller, and so on.

    Upgrading this with more bars closer together equalling more accuracy to the original analog and a file with a higher sampling rate, and finer steps the bars can be measured in equals a truer tone to the original analogue tone and higher bit-depth. At the end of the day, digital is always going to look like stair-steps instead of a smooth analogue line, but with high enough sampling rates and bit depth it can seem smooth like a curve illustrated on a high-def computer monitor.

    I'm pretty happy with 320kbps MP3s or 256 AAC, but I prefer 16/44.1kHz (that's bit-depth/sample-rate) CD quality or similar FLAC/Lossless quality when I can get it. I don't hear much difference beyond that, the biggest difference once you reach "lossless" and higher is how well a song is recorded or mastered. Anyhow, the audio source quality in games is usually compressed less than CD-quality anyway, so that will bottleneck the realism for gear down the line anyway.


    DSP
    Digital Signal Processor, something that processes the surround sound into a stereo mix for headphones that still sounds like it comes from surround directions. It can also do EQ, volume range compression, encoding and decoding sound channel mixes like Dolby and DTS, and other effects.

    This effect has to happen while the signal is digital, so this comes before a DAC. DSP processing can be done with software running on your computer or in an external sound card-esq device, which may also have a DAC and amp built-in.

    A system doesn't need to have a DSP to just make stereo sound, but it's really handy for gamers. So, the first upgrade is just having a DSP :wink: Modern gaming consoles actually have a DSP built-in to take all the live gaming sound info, separate positional info to 5.1 or 7.1 channels for different speakers in a home theater, and finally compress that data so it can be sent over Optical (which really only has enough bandwidth for two lossless audio channels, Dolby and DTS are encoding algorithms to compress 6 or 8 separate audio streams/channels into a stereo-sized pipeline). If a signal is encoded, you need a DSP on the other receiving end of the cable, to make it back into PCM digital audio. Now, I strongly feel that it's worth it for gamers to have a DSP to calculate what a surround setup would sound like once it reaches your two ears, and make headphones recreate that sensation. Check out my Virtual Surround article (2nd Post of this thread) if you don't already know about that.


    DAC
    Digital to Analogue Converter, turns digital 1's & 0's into the electric pulses that make headphones or speakers work.

    All digital systems (CD's, DVD's, games, mp3's, etc) require a DAC before an amp.

    Nicer DACs resolve finer details and nuance. It can't bring back data missing from the original file, but accuracy in creating the analogue sine waves at this point is crucial. Going from a cheap DAC (like one built into a laptop, desktop motherboard, smartphone, or game controller) to a nice ($$$) stand-alone DAC can increase the perception of details distinct from each other (we call this separation), depth of soundstage, less bloom or metallic harshness in bass and treble.

    Feed it a good sound file, and a good DAC can amaze you by revealing more insight to songs you might've been listening to all your life. You don't need to buy a million dollar statement product by Light Harmonic to get this kind of experience, but I say there are garbage DACs that fatigue and bore the listener, then a bunch of DACs between $60 and $150 that are largely similar and side grades from each other, some mid-fi DACS about $250 and up to get a noticeable upgrade, and there are people that will spend $1k plus on a DAC because many feel that a DAC upgrade provides the second biggest benefit after all your gear is at least mid-fi.


    Amp
    Amplifier, drives analogue pulses to the appropriate strength and gain (volume) for headphones and speakers, also allows adjustment of volume.

    An amplifier comes after the DAC in an audio system, right before the headphone. Sometimes you'll have a unit that is both a DAC and a pre-amp, where you are intended to connect a "power" amp after that (double amping isn't bad so long as you don't have a low-quality component dragging down the whole audio chain).

    Nicer ones aren't primarily about "louder," they are for better control to present tones more accurately and provide a solid feeling to bass (and bass extension to really really low notes) and treble, lowering distortion across the whole music spectrum.

    Best place to ask about "which amp" would be in the support & review threads about the headphone you have/want.

    What is it (definition)?
    What stage of audio reproduction is it used?
    What effect would an upgrade to this component have?
    At what point is something not worth listening to and at what point have you reached diminishing returns?
    Closing opinions.


    Cables?
    What is it (definition)?
    What stage of audio reproduction is it used?
    What effect would an upgrade to this component have?
    At what point is something not worth listening to and at what point have you reached diminishing returns?
    Closing opinions.

    Cables?

    Order of importance
    Stereophile musing on how to "design" a music system:
    http://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/system_building_rules151and_how_to_break_them/index.html
     
  6. Evshrug

    [insert colorful language] the XBone!
    Seriously, I would like to finish the Halo series and play the new Tomb Raider without waiting, but there's less reason than ever before to own both systems, and I have no problem not supporting the Xbox division executives' choices to chop off features supported in the 360 and generally making it hard to have a good audio setup. It's like they think all their customers live in the suburbs, with a stereo or surround speaker system, and use either the Kinect mic or a Microsoft chat headset. Not in the city, because speakers would cause noise complaints. Ditto for university students. Speaking of students, they usually can't afford speakers anyway, except for PC desktop speakers. What are tournament players supposed to do? And people in rural environments, yeah they wouldn't have audio problems, but they have to get internet for a day1 console patch.
    So overall, there ARE headphone chat solutions. You have to have an even more complicated setup if you want to use better-sounding headphones, or sacrifice quality and get something like the Astro A50 which is boomy and not so great (take sound quality budget, subtract Microsoft chat support tax, gaming brand tax, wireless components tax, integrated amp/DAC tax, and profit tax... Now how much budget is left for the headphone's audio quality?) or the slightly better Skullcandy wireless (I've read poor things about Turtle Beach's elite series, I'd have to hear them but I don't have too much faith). Literally the only thing that only the XBOne exclusively has to offer me is the controller and Halo.
     
  7. Evshrug
    It's supposed to decode Dolby.


    Huh, trying to reach them through Twitter? I haven't tried that avenue. Makes me wonder what the best way to contact PR & marketing actually is... But regardless, sounds like they're following the X7 release schedule then. We'll see what features/polish the delay allows them to have.


    The X7 was slated for November but got pushed to the second week of December too. If you think Feburary, at least you won't be disappointed. I'm expecting it out sooner an Feburary :wink:


    +1


    Guilty till proven innocent, eh?
    Lack of microphone use with consoles I noticed straight away, but I didn't notice any other issues till I started mucking about on PC. And sorry PC master race, but I assumed that most of those issues could have been PC issues at first. So beyond day-1 mic issues, I enjoyed it right away with my console. And since the G5 is an evolution of the existing E5 with only a little added complexity, I'm thinking it should work pretty great. The E5 has something about adjusting settings while on a Bluetooth call or something which I haven't really tested out yet (I rarely use Bluetooth), but other than that it's worked very well.


    Where'd you see the coupon? That's a pretty significant sale!
     
    SaLX likes this.
  8. Fegefeuer
    Can't we depart from AC3 only finally and be offered DTS as well. What a joke.

    30% Coupon was offered through subscribing
     
  9. Evshrug
    Ah, thanks.

    Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing raw 7.1 LPCM through HDMI, without any need for encoding(compression) at all.
     
  10. fishyee
     
    Ah, welcome to the journey towards audio nirvana.  If I follow your mantra of "if I knew then what I know now," I would do it all over again starting with two foundations: Psychology and Science.  Why? 
     
    1.  Humans are mentally flawed ...  just look at the insanity in Paris and around the world right now.  F'ing ISIS.
    2.  Because humans are flawed, Marketing works.  If a company can sell $1000 power cords and win awards doing it, man, does Marketing work.
    3.  Science taught us that the Earth is round when everyone thought it was flat.  We can use Science to bypass our flaws, see through the Marketing, and filter out the truth.
     
    Think of Psychology and Science as tools to sniff out the BS in this hobby.  It will save you a lot of money down the line.  A few references to get you started:
     
    A.  Know your biases
                   - http://www.businessinsider.com/cognitive-biases-that-affect-decisions-2015-8
    B.  Dr. Toole is the man.  Read his book.
                   - http://www.amazon.com/Sound-Reproduction-Psychoacoustics-Loudspeakers-Engineering/dp/0240520092
    C.  Read this book to see how you justify bad audio purchases - Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
                   - http://www.amazon.com/Mistakes-Were-Made-but-Not/dp/0544574788/ref=mt_paperback?_encoding=UTF8&me=
    D.  Audio concepts simplified for us by Mr. Burnett
                   - http://education.lenardaudio.com/en/
     
    Ok, off the soapbox for me!  Just my opinion, guys.  Hope it helps ..
     
  11. Evshrug
    Hey, I like positive opinions and constructive advice here! Thank you for the references!
     
  12. mgsvr
    Hello Evshrug,
     
    I'm not sure if you remember me, but I asked for your advice on the X7 and Apple TV in Mad Lust Envy's thread. Well, after waiting months for the G5 news, it is so disappointed that it does not support console decoding. I gave up. I bought the Creative X7 for $299 the other day. I did read your review on Amazon too!
     
    I can get the Mixamp Pro TR, but based on your review I went with the X7. The components and everything seem better the way you described it.
     
    The X7 will be used for my PS4 console gaming and watching movie through Apple TV's bluetooth connectivity
     
    Thank you!.
     
  13. Evshrug
    Congrats on catching the sale price! So, you got the new Apple TV with Bluetooth output? I'm jealous! When you got the X7 on sale, did you pick up the Bluetooth dongle or anything for chat?
     
  14. mgsvr
    I'm not sure of what you mean by the Bluetooth dongle. Do I need to get it for streaming?
     
    The new Apple TV (4th gen) has the built in bluetooth that can stream to bluetooth headphones. The X7 also has the built-in bluetooth to receive the stream. I thought I can just have the Apple TV stream to the X7. I have yet turn on the X7 yet so I cannot confirm. I only routed and connected the cables inside my entertainment cabinet last night . Tonight I will update to the latest firmware and then I will play around with it.
     
    No, I only play single player games so I don't get anything for chat.
     
    Also, can you please share the settings for SBX and Headphone configuration on the Creative Control Panel? I am not sure what is best since this is my first time into the headphone play ground. I notice from the other topic that you leave the SBX at 67%. I know I will turn off Crytalizer and Scout Mode..etc. I just don't know the settings for SBX to get a fully immerse surround with the PS4.
     
    Thanks Evshrug!
     
  15. TenMoonsNorth
     
    The coupon is BLASTG5 on the Creative Store and isn't user specific. G5 is now available for sale there.
     
    I don't think the G5 can decode Dolby Digital.
     
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