A few months ago I reviewed Creative’s E3 DAC. At that time, I was impressed by the features that the portable clip amp offered, but had little to compare it with. I feel much the same way about the E5. It’s packed full of features that include the DAC itself, an amp, 3 microphones, Bluetooth 4.1, optical in and out, line in and out, OTG, iOS, a dual gain switch, SBX Call button, and one-touch NFC pairing.
That’s a mouthful but if you’re still with me, these features provide an all-in-one solution for consumers wanting a high-fidelity audio experience. At the same time, Creative has a bit of a mountain to climb in terms of consumer education and an innovative product that relatively few know about.
Whereas the common audiophile might want to compare a product like this to a standard Digital-to-Analog converter in the $200 space, this would be like comparing apples to oranges. The product itself has unique features and portability that truly put it into a class of its own. To understand its value, we’ll analyze the DAC, AMP, and other features.
The Digital to analog conversions for the E5 are done by the Cirrus Logic CS4398. The CS4398 has up to 24-bit 192 kHz sample rates and a low-latency digital filter while sporting a high 120dB signal-to-noise ratio. For a full list of its features cirrus has a product data sheet where you can find additional information.
The Amp is a high fidelity Texas Instruments TPA6120A2 amp that drives up to two 1/8 inch headphone outputs. Also included is a switch on the side of the device that allows you to switch from low 32 to 120 ohm and up to 600 ohms. Creative also claims that the product itself has a low 2.2-ohm output impedance that minimizes distortion.
Specs and features aside it really all comes down to the sound when judging the pairing of these two. The device itself leads itself towards bass while slightly underperforming for mids and highs. It won’t compare with top tier $200 DAC Amp solutions but is a solid mid-level option that performs well when you customize the software. In addition, it has all the features I mentioned above.
While I didn’t list it in the features above compatibility is truly one of the bigger selling points of this device with PC, Android and even MFi-certification for Apple IOS. Unlike many products, this one will work with your iPod, iPhone, and iPad. In addition, the Sound Blaster Central app for iOS and Android allows you to have controls and enhancements for all your portable devices.
E1 vs E3 vs E5
From a starting point of under $40 to the E5 which costs around $200 Creative has made portable DACs for just about any budget. Features and sound quality ramp up as the price increases, but here’s a quick table comparing the 3 as well as a picture comparing the E3 to the E5.
For a product comparison I highly recommend you use Creative’s comparison feature. I’ve included a cut that includes the specifications of the E1, E3, and E5.
In addition to compatibility, the E5 offers Bluetooth 4.1 which improves connections and uses less power than previous generation options. While it’s not quite as good as the optical connection, it’s definitely worth it to use this in terms of wireless freedom.
The E5 also includes 3 microphones on the top panel. These are fine for talk and basic recording and are more of a convenience option than anything. They go well with the included clip which has a place for you to screw in a stand.
Battery and Portability:
While it’s not an option you’ll run with like the E3, the E5 is still portable enough for you to take with you on the go. The Battery lasts around 8 hours in total even when using Bluetooth. In addition, the E5 is a charge option for your Android smartphone while you are on the go and may offer Android users an alternative to carrying around a portable charger.
Like the software that you’ll find with the E3, the E5’s software package is extensive including a mixer, equalizer, SBX Pro Studio, CrystalVoice, and a speaker and headphone configuration that allows you to switch direct mode on and off without processing. It does not include the gaming scout mode present on the E3.
In The Box:
Box contents include the E5, Warranty information, an instruction pamphlet, 1 x micro USB cable, desk stand, 2 x elastic bands, and a mini TOSLINK cable.
Understanding what this product is and how you’d use it will help many to understand the creativity of the E5. Overall you’re getting a $125 to $150 DAC Amp combo that adds a ton of value through the multitude of features that Creative has added. If you’re on the go or want a portable all-in-one solution I’d highly recommend it; however, if you don’t leave your office PC much, it might not be the right fit for you. Overall, it’s a solid offering and because of it’s many features finds a place on our list of the best DAC and AMP solutions for gaming.