Amplifiers: they aren’t something most of us consider when planning our gaming setups but are one of the few items that can downright transformative to your gaming experience. I’ve spent the last month with the Creative Sound Blaster X7 Limited Edition, a premium amplifier made for gamers and audiophiles alike. Whether you’re driving a high-end set of headphones or a nice set of speakers, this is an accessory you should definitely be considering.
- MSRP: $399.99
- Audio Technology: SB-Axx1, SBX Pro Studio
- Audio Fidelity: Up to 24-bit / 192kHz
- Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR): 127dB (DAC)
- Connectivity Options: microUSB (main), USB 2.0, Bluetooth, USB 1.1, USB 3.0, Line-In, 1 x RCA Aux/Line In
- Max Channel Output: 5.1 Channels, Stereo Amplified
Line / Optical:
- 1 x TOSLINK Optical In
- 1 x TOSLINK Optical Out
- 2 x Binding Post Passive Speaker Out (L/R)
- 1 x 1/8" (3.5mm) Rear Speaker Out
- 1 x RCA Line/Front Speaker Out
- Headphone: 1 x 1/4" (6.3mm), Headphone Out
- 1 x 1/8" (3.5mm) Center/Sub Speaker Out
- 1 x 1/8" (3.5mm)Headphone Out
- 1 x Type A USB Host Port - Device Audio Stream & Charging
- ASIO: Playback & Recording
- Included Accessories: Headphone Stand
- Dimensions: 130.0 x 150.0 x 147.0 mm (5.1" x 5.9" x 5.8")
- Recommended Usage: Gaming
Two years ago, if you had told me I’d be writing a review recommending gamers look into gaming amplifiers when considering their next gaming setup, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. First off, a couple of years ago, I didn’t own any headphones I thought would benefit from an amp like the X7 (wrong, the first). Second, I didn’t think “a little extra volume” was worth paying for (wrong, the second).
This year, I’ve had the pleasure of trying out a selection of Creative’s products, including the smaller Sound Blaster E5 portable gaming amp and the excellent Sound BlasterX Katana soundbar. While the E5 is purely an amp, the Katana can act as an amp, delivering the same capabilities and enhancements. What I learned was simple: while some amps out there limit themselves to purely boosting a signal and nothing else, Creative takes things to the next level. The X7 Limited Edition, like the Katana and E5, packs a suite of features that take it well beyond “a little extra volume,” and beyond even what those two items had on offer.
Under the hood, it’s packing a Burr-Brown 127dB PCM1794 DAC with support for 24-bit/192kHz resolutions. The amplifier chip is a top-of-the-line Texas Instruments TPA6120A2 capable of powering headphones up to 600 ohms. The Limited Edition we had in for testing also delivers more power for larger speakers, upping the maximum power from 38W to 50W, cutting the headphone impedance by 55% down to 1 ohm, and bundling in the high power 6A adapter.
If all of that sounds like gibberish to you, what you need to know is this: the X7 Limited Edition is the best version of the X7 to get and is packed with high-quality, audiophile-grade components. It’s an amplifier that would be perfectly at home on the desk of a discerning gamer or discerning audiophile. The $399 MSRP may seem like a lot, but what’s on offer is extremely competitive and, in our opinion, presents an excellent compared to other amps in this category.
With the technical specs covered, let’s look at the features that set this apart. While it’s likely that many of us will be using the amp with a nice headset, it’s also capable of powering and decoding a full 5.1 Dolby speaker setup. It features bluetooth and NFC connectivity, replaceable op-amps to change the color of your sound, aptX Low Latency and AAC support (remember how your Xbox One doesn’t support bluetooth? Now it does), dual beamforming condenser mics designed to isolate your voice, and the full SBX software suite for extensive customization.
Out of the box, the X7 LE gives an excellent volume boost that pushed my Sennheiser GSP 600s to a whole new peak. They’re not a high impedance set of headphones, but the extra juice allowed the low end to fill out and sound much more full without taking away any of the clarity in the mids and highs. In games, it was as if I were wearing a whole other headset the sound was so full and rich. Loading into the software, the possibilities just abound.
While true audiophiles often opt for a “flat” EQ curve to remove any coloration from the sound, the X7 ships with a number of presets to suit exactly what you’re doing or listening to. You can also dial in your own by customizing one of these presets which can be saved for another time. The X7 sounds great without touching anything at all but can sound even better with some customization.
Swapping over to the SBX Pro Studio tab, you can adjust some of Creative’s own enhancements, including the level of digital 5.1 surround sound, bass and crossover frequency, Smart Volume automatic volume adjustment, and Dialog Plus to help you hear your teammates mid-match. My favorite effect, like on the Katana, is Creative’s Crystalizer which aims to clean up lower resolution audio and it really works. I keep Crystalizer on all the time because it really is that good.
For gaming, the X7 is better than any amp I’ve ever used, including the impressive Sennheiser GSX1000. The surround sound is surprisingly good. It not only widens the soundstage but also maintains positionality to keep you effective in games. Like the equalizer, the surround sound can actually be dialed in for the virtual distance of each of the five speakers and subwoofer. Scout Mode kicks up the mids, allowing footsteps and distant gunfire to shine through, and Crystal Voice works akin to Dialog Plus.
Streamers will also find a lot to love in the X7. Since it has multiple connectivity options, auxiliary line-in (say, for a smartphone or full-fledged mixer), and the ability to use built-in and secondary microphones, Creative has also built a channel mixer into the suite, allowing you to custom tune your levels with live feedback. There are also microphone presets to add more bass or treble to your voice, as well as a realtime voice changer.
The only downside to all of this is that there is so little on-board control. You’ll need this software suite to take advantage of the X7 LE’s functionality. One its face, have buttons to enable/disable SBX, pair with a bluetooth device, and adjust the volume. Around back, you can switch into high gain mode for higher impedance headphones. Apart from that, it’s software, so be sure to load it.
All of this adds up to an amplifier that is custom suited for gamers and streamers but fully capable of driving entire audio setups for demanding audiophiles. Creative pulled out all the stops on this one. For $399, it doesn’t come cheap, but neither do other brand name amplifiers at this level and none of them provide this level of additional functionality. If you’re in the market for a premium amplifier and don’t want to break the $500 mark, this is definitely the one to consider.
- Excellent audio enhancements
- Enough power for the most high-resistance headphones and full speaker systems
- Classy, elegant look
- Great onboard tools for gamers and streamers alike
- Few onboard controls
- Headphone stand is weak