DAC/Amplifier Sound Blaster X7

 It's amazing how much interesting things managed to fit into the unusual case of the Sound Blaster X7. The digital-to-analog converter/amplifier has a built-in Dolby Digital decoder. Take a closer look at the X7 and it's clear that with its focus on making games sound richer and easier to interact with players, it's aimed primarily at gamers.

DAC/Amplifier Sound  Blaster X7

Price $600

Decoding limits

We were not quite satisfied with the Dolby Digital decoder. It manages well with simple soundtracks like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on DVD - but home theater fans will find Creative's approach somewhat half-hearted. X7 is not able to decode tracks in DTS, HD soundtrack formats from Blu-Gau discs are also not included in the program.

For multi-channel audio, you need an additional power amplifier or powered speakers; the line outputs are an odd mix of RCA (front channels) and 3.5mm (rear, center and subwoofer) connectors. For those who care about the quality of the surround sound, it is better to choose an AV receiver (for example, the Yamaha RX-V377 for $390).

The stereo quality of the Sound Blaster is also mixed. Our test unit came with an upgraded power supply. The standard version of the X7 will cost you $100 less, but it will be much more difficult for it to “pump” capricious speakers. Oddly enough, the difference in power between the two versions is small: in the standard it is only a couple of units less than the 22 watts per channel declared here.

All the features you need

The built-in DAC supports formats up to 24 bit/192 kHz. To feed a signal from a computer, you need a microUSB port, and from a game console or DVD player - an optical input. Full size USB 2.0 port for connecting Android and iOS devices; for its smooth operation, it is worth downloading the application for X7. Owners of analog equipment will have to limit themselves to one RCA stereo input. For wireless transmission, there is Bluetooth with NFC support.

Sound Blaster X7's connections are all right, but I would like to hear better sound from it. It has no serious flaws, but you will not get the pleasure that the price and the name of the manufacturer promise. The excellent NAD D3020 is comparable to the Creative in terms of features, minus Dolby Digital decoding, and costs the same.

We start testing with the editorial MacBook and Sennheiser Momentum headphones. The sound has tonal balance and a proper measure of sophistication. Detail is not bad, but in such parameters as elaboration, expressiveness of dynamics and rhythmic drive, Creative is inferior, for example, to AudioQuest Dragonfly for $350. We also tried more sophisticated headphones - the $700 Grado PS500 - to see how the Sound Blaster handled them; however, he is not talented enough to make a difference.

DAC/Amplifier Sound  Blaster X7

Various artists

The X7 is not too capricious when it comes to music of different genres, as evidenced by both Eminem's Mockingbird with 192 kbps and Hans Zimmer's The Dark Knight Rises soundtrack in 24-bit/192 kHz. The sound is quite pleasant and legible, but not quite developed.

The X7 app for iOS and Android gives you access to many useful features, but some of them enhance one aspect of the sound at the expense of another. The SBX switch on the front panel increases clarity and energy, but distorts the tonal balance, increasing the bass level to an unnatural level.

When connecting a variety of speakers - from the Wharfedale Diamond 220 and B&W 685 S2 to the PBX SCM11 - the character of the X7 sound did not change. It is not so bad, but it is not very transparent and meticulous. Even the version with a powerful power supply falls short of the price range standard in terms of dynamics and drive.

The equipment of Creative inspired hopes, but the sound quality did not justify them. If you can't get a big discount, it's better to choose another model.

Equipment; Bluetooth support; moving and tonally balanced sound; unusual appearance

Strong competitors in price category; lack of meticulousness and dynamic power

VERDICT Not bad, but inferior to competitors - for example, NAD D3020

DAC/Amplifier Sound  Blaster X7

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