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We get hands-on with Creative Labs’ new­est au­dio­phile sound card: The Sound Blasterx AE-9.

PCWorld (USA) - - Contents - BY GOR­DON MAH UNG

High-end au­dio lovers fi­nally got the at­ten­tion they craved when Creative Labs showed off its up­com­ing $300 Sound Blasterx AE-9 sound card.

Aimed at a more dis­crim­i­nat­ing class of au­dio lis­ten­ers, the AE-9 fea­tures such au­dio­phile fea­tures as re­place­able op­er­a­tional amplifiers, or opamps, to tune the fla­vor of sound from the card.

Fol­low­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of the gam­ing­fo­cused Sound Blasterx AE-5 ( go.pcworld. com/xae5) and Sound Blasterx AE-5 Pure ( go.pcworld.com/ae5p) last year, the AE-9 kicks it up a notch or two.

Although still based on the same Sound Core 3D chip as the AE-5 and AE-5 Pure, the AE-9 jet­ti­sons the on-chip dig­i­tal ana­log con­verter, or DAC, in fa­vor of an ex­ter­nal DAC. The premise be­ing that a high-end DAC will make the sound even more pris­tine.

Creative of­fi­cials said the card is rated at a 129db sig­nal-to-noise ra­tio and uses an ESS Sabre 32 dig­i­tal ana­log con­verter. Since the AE-5 and AE-5 Pure both use an ESS ES9016 DAC, we fig­ure the AE-9 is a step up to per­haps a Pro ESS DAC.

Au­dio-fidelity folks will ap­pre­ci­ate how the AE-9 gives them con­trol over the op­er­a­tional amplifiers, which can be mixed and matched for de­sired tun­ing.

Like the AE-5 cards, the AE-9 fea­tures XAMP, which am­pli­fies each stereo chan­nel of head­phones out separately as well.

In a first for a sound card—the AE-9 re­lies on a 6-pin PCIE con­nec­tor for power. That’s up to

75 watts of power for the AE-9. Be­sides di­rect power be­ing cleaner, the added power for the card is to help run the ports on the new break­out box.

The new break­out box fea­tures a single

combo jack that sup­ports both TRS and XLR con­nec­tors for mi­cro­phones and 48-volt phan­tom power. The mic jack is a nod to mu­si­cians and likely Youtu­bers who pre­fer very high-end mi­cro­phones.

The front fea­tures a 3.5mm mic and head­phone port along with a quar­ter-inch head­phone jack. There’s a but­ton to en­able 48-volt phan­tom power and what looks to be a switch for high-im­ped­ance head­phones. The SBX lets you con­trol the 3D

vir­tu­al­iza­tion tech­nol­ogy with­out go­ing into soft­ware. The knob, ob­vi­ously, is for vol­ume.

The back of the break­out box fea­tures a pair of Rca-style con­nec­tions that we’d guess are ana­log-in for those times when you want to record au­dio from, say, FM ra­dio, which is how peo­ple used to do it.

The ca­ble that con­nects the break­out box to the sound card looks like it ap­pro­pri­ated a mini-hdmi con­nec­tor. We sus­pect it’s not elec­tri­cally the same (since it doesn’t carry video) but it’s not un­com­mon for com­pa­nies to use ex­ist­ing parts as a short­cut to avoid cre­at­ing some­thing new. Since mini-hdmi pretty much went nowhere, it’s un­likely to ever get mixed up.

At $299, the AE-9 is a pricey sound card. With a de­cent video card sell­ing for the same or less, this card isn’t for the typ­i­cal gamer. Of­fi­cials said to ex­pect the card on store shelves by the end of De­cem­ber.

The card ap­pears to have stan­dard 3.5mm jacks for rear, cen­ter, and sub, as well as RCA stereo-out and op­ti­cal-in and -out ports.

The Sound Blasterx AE-9 will fea­ture re­place­able opamps so con­sumers can tai­lor the au­dio if they so wish. We’re not sure if these are fi­nal ship­ping opamps or not.

The AE-9 gets the bulk of its power through a 6-pin PCIE con­nec­tor. That means the AE-9 can draw up to 75 watts of juice.

The break­out box for the new Sound Blaster AE-9 fea­tures 45volt phan­tom power sup­port for mi­cro­phones us­ing XLR and TRS con­nec­tions. And yes, this card is so new that the pro­tec­tive plas­tic has not been peeled from it yet.

A single ca­ble that con­nects the Sound Blaster AE-9 to the break­out box looks aw­fully sim­i­lar to a miniHDMI con­nec­tor.

The rear of the new AE-9 break­out box likely fea­tures two RCA ana­log ports.

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