Tonality

Without messing with any sound effects the Sound Blaster E5 is a relatively cleaning sounding amp/dac with good detail and a relatively neutral tonality with a hint of bass warmth. The E5 does possess a more forward bass reproduction but doesn’t sound overpowering even with EDM genres. It does exhibit a slight glare in lower treble reproduction that gave a somewhat tizzy response on cymbal work that could at times feel overly distracting on some IEM’s or headphones that didn’t match well with this signature. The E5 tonally is no slouch though conveying decent speed right across the spectrum with above average articulation and a decent balance between attack and decay overall. This is a huge step up from the E1 and E3 audio performance in every respect.

Bass

Whilst the overall presentation is weighted to the bottom end I didn’t find the bass signature to be sluggish or boomy with relatively little bleeding into the mids. It is not an overly aggressive bass response but it does feel firmly planted when called upon. Bass texture and definition is about average for a portable amp. It doesn’t convey the same level of detail or texture of the Cayin C5 but slams a little harder and feels more planted than the FiiO E18’s bass performance.

Treble and Mids

The treble performance is where things got a bit uneven. I would not call the treble on the E5 to be bright by any means. It has good extension, doesn’t sound in anyway rolled off and doesn’t lack air or headroom but it is slightly forward and slightly harsh with a definitive emphasis on cymbal work that drew my ear to it on a number of occasions. With more forgiving earphones like the W4 it is noticeable but acceptable but with the wrong match, say an IEM with a preponderance to take a treble glare and amplify it such as the IE800 it can sound a bit unnatural and overly digitized. Howard Jones” What is Love” is a tour de force of synths 80’s pomp and incredibly well mixed and mastered for a track of this age but combined with the IE800 and the E5 it felt thin and harsh which is what I am not used to. Switch over to the RHA T10i (treble filter) though and instantly Howard’s tour de force sounded richer and more balanced. That natural roll off in the treble of the T10i was a far better match for the E5’s treble sheen.

Vocal presence was more intimate than grand but tended to just drop back a tiny margin in relation to the bass performance. Sibilance control was impressive with very few instances. Used in optical mode with the AK120 Diana Krall’s husky performance on “When or where” sounded smooth and controlled on the E5, even compared to the stock AK120 jack performance on the Westone W4. It did exhibit a little dryness and a touch more grain than the lusher and richer stock AK120 but nothing I would overly complain about given the price gap of the two devices.

Bluetooth Performance

Bluetooth has come a long way in the last few years and with aptX in both my Z Ultra and the Sound Blaster E5 I have to say performance was really excellent if not quite on the same levels as the optical input used for the core review. There were a few differences I noticed using BT with the E5 and the Z Ultra. The first was the bass seems to be a bit boomier and more present. It didn’t quite have the same tightness or detail as the optical equivalent and vocals sounded a bit more recessed and lacking the same level of presence.

However the treble glare was toned down considerably compared to the AK120 optical performance. For on the go listening I can see myself actually take the BT performance over the optical performance if I wasn’t aiming for any critical listening on account of the smoother, if less resolving, treble performance and lack of emphasis on cymbal work.

Power & Efficiency

The Sound Blaster E5 is rated up to 600ohms so in theory it should be able to drive plenty of demanding headphones. To a certain extent that description is pretty accurate but does ultimately depend on the tonal matching and whether it is being driven properly or merely sounds loud enough. For efficient headphones such as a Sony MA900 or the Oppo PM-1 no such issues with the E5 and as an added bonus the PM-1 did an admirable job smoothing out the treble glare of the E5 (optical/Ak120). Much like the T10i IEM, rolled off treble in an earphone or headphone maybe the best match for the E5 for long term listening without that glare.

Planers

The “loud enough” statement applied though to the Alpha Primes which the E5 had no issues getting enough volume out of it in either low or high gain but it sounded really thin, recessed and tinny. All that wow factor in imaging was lost and instead you got a rather dull one dimensional performance with plenty of treble glare. The Primes are not the easiest to drive so this might be a bit unfair given its need for plenty of voltage. The E5 did perform with much more authority with the Hifiman HE400i. Again the pattern felt pretty clear at this point as the HE400i is also a headphone with a laid back treble performance and also much more forgiving of treble glare than other cans. Paring the HE400i in BT mode with the Z Ultra further smoothed out the top end and gave presented no discernible efficiency issues but at the cost of a much boomier bass response that tended to dull out the rest of the presentation.

IEM’s

I ran the E5 though about 4 IEM’s of varying sensitivity just to see how it would handle noise on low gain. The results overall were good and not something I was expecting. I somehow got in my mind that this would be a pretty good “do it all” amp but the subtleties of an audiophile needs might get lost like it did on the E1 and E3 but not so on the E5. Using an AK120 Titan and the optical connection with the Sound Blaster E5 I detected very low noise or hiss issues on the quad BA Westone W4, the single dynamic T10i from RHA as well as the high end Dita The Answer “The Truth” edition and Sennheiser’s flagship IE800. I cannot discount the possibility you have an uber sensitive IEM that wont detect noise, I have read reports that the DUNO DN2000 is one such IEM that will present a bit of noise or hiss but again your mileage may vary.

 

Page 3: Final Thoughts

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About The Author

Editor

Founder & Owner of headfonics.com. I first started reviewing in the late 80s (ouch!). Back then it was albums, rock concerts and interviews with a typewriter for the local rag. Now its desktop/portable and digital 2.1 audio on a rather nice laptop. How time flies.

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  • Excellent review. Extremely detailed and even with the extensive list of features for the E5, you didn’t miss a beat.. pun intended.

    • headfonics

      Thanks! πŸ™‚ any more features and I think I could have outdone war and peace!

      • lol. I just received my unit from Creative for a Youtube review and I was getting dizzy with all the features. Reading through your review made it easier to put everything into perspective in a concise manner. I think I have a better grasp on things now as to how I should approach this device.

        • headfonics

          Glad I could help buddy and best of luck with the review! πŸ™‚

          • JD

            Got my E5 a few weeks ago and still cant get the EQ or SBX to work!
            Playing music from my Mac into the E5 and have the SB software installed. But although I can move the EQ and SBX sliders about it makes no difference to the output!
            What am I missing?

          • headfonics

            I actually do not have a Mac to be able to anaswer that, have you tried with a PC with the software loaded to see if it will work to narrow down the issue?

          • JD

            I don’t have a PC, but ran some more tests, and this is what I got.

            2 alternative music sources, both using Spotify music.
            Source 1 – Mac PC running OS 10.10.2 Yosemite
            Source 2 -iphone 6 running IOS 8.1.3

            All results tested using Shure earphones. Phones
            connected to E5 for all tests.

            Connected by Bluetooth – Mac to E5 – SBX works on E5 button (but SB
            control panel on Mac not active as doesn’t see the E5). EQ not available.
            Connected by Bluetooth – iPhone to E5 – SBX and EQ work using SB app on
            iPhone
            Connected by Host USB – iphone to E5 – SBX and EQ work using SB app on
            iPhone
            Connected by mini USB – Mac to E5 – SBX and EQ not effective using SB
            control panel, or SBX button on E5

            Conclusion – SB control panel SBX and EQ controls do not work when
            connecting to E5 using mini USB.

          • JD

            Solved it!
            Contrary to Creative’s support desk advice, the only way that the SBX and EQ features will work when the E5 is connected to my Mac using the mini USB is to select the Bluetooth source as well!
            So Mac to E5 using BT AND mini USB. Everything then works as it should, which is bizarre.
            If I unplug the mini USB whilst BT is connected then the SB control panel closes itself, so the slider controls for SBX and EQ are not available, however SBX still works on the toggle button on the E5.

  • Shallow Then Halo

    Great review!Any chance you could test the analog line in quality? I am looking for something portable and inexpensive like this.Ideally for vinyl rips and low latency(asio) home multitrack recording. I know sites like this focus more on the dac than adc, but thought it might not hurt to ask. Hardly any reviews of this little multitool and to be honest,doubtful the recording musician sites will bother taking a look because of the brand. I am also interested in the h2 miyo and pairing it with a usb battery.

    • headfonics

      Thanks for the feedback, I can tinker with that at the weekend and let you know.

      How will you be recording? – straight from source or using the mic?

      • Shallow Then Halo

        I will be using a Marantz 2220b phono for vinyl rips and more importantly, a batttery operated mxb1002 mixer with various mics, guitars etc. Only occasionally will I utilize the onboard mics. All to a windows tablet or desktop for more critical applications and potentially a Galaxy Tab for simpler things like straight up stereo recording. Hoping the adc is low latency for 2496 multitrack with my desktop. Creative seems to have done nicely with the other features of the E5, so maybe…I currently have a Zoom h2, unused m-audio 24/96, and onboard Realtek . Which all seem to be a wee bit long in the tooth. Hoping for something a little,or a lot, closer to my friends Apogee Duo, but in a more portable format. Have we got there at this price point? H2 seems to make that claim and more with their Miyo kickstarter. Perhaps the E5 can do some heavier lifting with it’s asio driver. I do apreciate the extra portable features. Onboard battery, bluetooth,dual analog out. As far as I understand, they are not independantly adjustable but perhaps my attenuator thrown from my old Shure iem’s will help. Which reminds me, most monitoring will be done from two pairs of T50RP’s(one Mayflower modded,one not) ,T1E’s and Paradigm bookshelf’s .Thank you so much for your effort and interest in this little device. Very intriguing!

        • Shallow Then Halo

          Have you had a chance to look at the line in feature?

          • Not yet my apologies.. Will try my best by the weekend

          • headfonics

            Not yet my apologies.. Will try my best by the weekend

          • Shallow Then Halo

            Thank you kindly!

  • arcwindz

    Great review! There’re so little proper review on e5 out there.
    How does this pair with phillips fidelio x2/x1? Since to my ear they don’t have rolled off treble and i am pretty concerned with upper range harshness

    • headfonics

      Thanks! πŸ™‚

      Sadly I do not have the X1 or X2 to test with the E5 so my X1 comments come from my archive of memories when I reviews it a year ago. I dont think it should be an issue especially if you are using bluetooth. I tended to get hyper critical when matched with cans or iem’s that do nothing but amplify the 5-7k range in a harsh way. I cant remember the X1 doing that in general even if it is not tapered or attenuated.

      Thats aural memory for you.

      The thing is though the impedance of the E5 currently is just over 2ohms output so I trust you have ditched that stock cable the X1 comes with? That might be the best way to negate any negative experience using the X1.

      • arcwindz

        Well, i got x2 which i believe doesn’t have that cable problem.
        Thx for answering πŸ™‚

  • Great review and great site btw, making me want to buy everything! I’ve been looking for a device like this and your review did enough to suggest this was the right bit of kit. I have to say it’s a great little gadget, just probably not worth the price. Few things to mention, firstly the bluetooth connectivity (S5 to E5) isn’t as solid as I’d like it to be, on the tube for example it constantly drops out when in a tunnel. The other issue is that there is no software support for Linux. This is a massive shame as I’d pretty much bought this to act as an improved DAC for my laptop. I think it says a lot about the versitilty of the E5 that I’m not that bothered

    • headfonics

      Hi Toby!

      Sadly I do not have a tube on our city, thats is an interesting side effect though given BT is a proximity related tool and if your source is close it shouldnt do that, very interesting report.

      Linux.. ahhh.. had that, stopped it after a year due to driver complexities. Creative are always known for heavily modding their hardware with software so I am not surprised you had issues with it.

      That being said glad you like it for the billion other things it can do. I believe it can also walk the dog if so inclined πŸ™‚

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  • Which one is better Creative Sound Blaster E5 or Fiio E18?

    • headfonics

      E18 for sound, E5 for functionality