Creative Introduces Sound Blaster E5 Portable USB DAC and Headphone Amp

Subject: General Tech | August 30, 2014 - 08:44 AM |
Tagged: usb, Portable Audio, headphones, Headphone Amp, DAC, D/A Converter, Cirrus Logic

Creative has added a new member to their portable Sound Blaster "E" series lineup with the E5. 

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This new multi-function DAC and headphone amp features a reference-grade D/A converter chip from Cirrus Logic, the CS4398, which supports up to 24-bit/192kHz PCM audio (and technically DSD 2.8MHz/5.6MHz, though this does not seem to be implemented here). In addition to the realistic analog reproduction possible from a high quality chip like the CS4398, the Sound Blaster E5 provides amplification via a Texas Instruments TI6120A2, which Creative says gives the E5 a "best-in-class 600 ohm headphone amplifier".

Another aspect of the E5 that sets it apart from the previous E1 and E3 models is the inclusion of optical digital input/output, to go along with USB and dual 3.5mm headphone jacks. The two 3.5mm jacks can simultaniously drive two pairs of headphones, and on the back of the unit there are additional 3.5mm jacks for microphone input, line input/output, and these double as optical input/output via mini TOSLINK. (This might be geared for portable use, but would serve as a fine external sound solution for desktops as well!)

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The input stage of the E5 uses another Cirrus Logic chip, the CS5361, enabling high quality recording options from various sources at up to same 24-bit/192kHz. While supporting external microphones (as well as line/optical input) the E5 also has "built-in beamforming CrystalVoice microphones for audio recording and calls". And while the E5 is employing Creative's SBX sound processing chip, this DSP can be switched off with a button on the side of the device - a welcome option for serious music listening from high-resolution source material.

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The Sound Blaster E5 also supports digital input from iPhone and "select" Android phones (listed compatible devices include the Samsung Galaxy S4/S5, Galaxy Note 2/3, and Nexus 5/7). For portable use the E5 has a built-in rechargeable 3200mAh lithium polymer battery, which Creative says will provide up to 8 hours of playback per charge.

The Sound Blaster E5 will be available in October for $199 at Creative's online store (and likely various other retail outlets).

Source: Creative

Diamond's Xtreme Sound XS71HDU looks good but how does it sound?

Subject: General Tech | August 14, 2014 - 12:00 PM |
Tagged: audio, diamond multimedia, Xtreme Sound XS71HDU, usb sound card, DAC

The Diamond Xtreme Sound XS71HDU could be a versitile $60 solution for those with high end audio equipment that would benefit from a proper DAC.  With both optical in and out it is capable of more than an onboard solution, not to mention the six 3.5-mm jacks for stereo headphones, 7.1 surround support with rear, sub, side, mic, and line in.  The design and features are impressive however the performance failed to please The Tech Report who felt that there were similar solutions with much higher quality sound reproduction.

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"We love sound cards here at TR, but they don't fit in every kind of PC. Diamond's Xtreme Sound XS71HDU serves up the same kinds of features in a tiny USB package suitable for mini-PCs and ultrabooks. We took it for a spin to see if it's as good as it looks."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Audio Corner

The sweet sound of Silverstone's Op-Amps

Subject: General Tech | May 5, 2014 - 03:45 PM |
Tagged: DAC, op-amps, Silverstone, EB01–E DAC, audio

If you go out and buy a high end pair of headphones and plug them into your onboard audio you are essentially doing the same thing as buying a 4K monitor and plugging it into onboard video; sure it will work but you certainly won't get the full experience.  For audiophiles a Digital Analog Converter, specifically a headphone amp is required to actually hear what your earphones are capable of.  Using the XMOS XS1 TQ128 USB decoder, a TI PCM1798 Digital/Analog Converter and the famous TI NE5532 Op-Amps the specifications of this headphone amp are quite impressive as is output impedence of less than 1 ohm on a connection rated to handle up to a 600 ohm load.  If you recognize any of those components then head to Benchmark Reviews for the full article.

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"The Silverstone EB01–E DAC is the companion product in both form and function to the SilverStone EB-03 headphone amplifier. Together, these two components make up the current SilverStone Ensemble Series audiophile grade audio components."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Audio Corner

ASUS Xonar Essence STU USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier Launched

Subject: General Tech | October 23, 2013 - 03:44 PM |
Tagged: Xonar Essence STU USB, xonar, op-amps, headphone amplifier, DAC, audio, asus

Fremont, CA (October 22nd, 2013) - ASUS today announced the Xonar Essence STU USB external digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and headphone amplifier, based on the acclaimed design and quality of Xonar Essence ST/STX internal sound cards and going beyond their already high standards. Offering audiophile-grade performance, Xonar Essence STU delivers USB connectivity and accessible external controls.

It offers clear sound with a 120dB signal to noise ratio (SNR), strong 600ohm headphone amplifier, asynchronous USB audio and swappable Op-Amps for DIY sound modification. Precision clock tuning technology further enhances audio fidelity, making Xonar Essence STU a great choice for discerning music lovers who need a quality DAC and headphone amplifier to drive the full capabilities of high-end headphones.

"We received considerable positive feedback from customers regarding the excellent sound quality of Xonar Essence ST/STX sound cards, which led us to develop Xonar Essence STU as a USB device that offers even more premium audio quality plus easy controls and connectivity to notebooks. This is another example of ASUS listening to the community and acting on consumer demand”, said Ives Chiu, Audiovisual Product Manager at the ASUS Multimedia Business Unit.

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High quality precision audio
Xonar Essence STU delivers clean, clear, and low distortion sound with 120dB SNR. It achieves this thanks to exacting hardware design, which includes balanced (or mirrored) PCB layout for accurate reproduction of all sound sources and minimal component crosstalk, or interference.

ASUS uses audio industry-leading components such as the Texas Instruments PCM1792A DAC and TPA6120A2 headphone amplifier, which supports up to 600ohm impedance. Also included are audiophile-approved WIMA FKP2 and Nichicon Finegold capacitors for balanced and rich sound.

To satisfy the most demanding users, Xonar Essence STU features precision clock tuning technology and asynchronous audio transfer. Both ensure accurate and jitter-free sound fidelity, allowing customers to enjoy music in its purest form. Bit-perfect playback is aided by support for ASIO audio drivers.

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Complete ease of use
As an external device, Xonar Essence STU offers readily-accessible controls with no need to go into software menus. Customers can switch between low and high gain settings, accommodating better listening experiences across a wide range of headphones, from in-ear headsets (typically 16ohm-32ohm) to premium full-size headphones (up to 600ohm). This is especially useful with the increasing popularity of mobile devices, which normally ship with low impedance/high sensitivity headsets.

Dual volume controls help users change speaker and headphone sound levels simultaneously, similar to features offered by dedicated audio decks. The USB interface means connectivity with USB-compliant devices, while I/O ports include stereo RCA out, a 6.3mm headphone jack, two digital inputs, and auxiliary in.

Xonar Essence STU can be placed horizontally and vertically with a bundled stand, giving customers more space-saving flexibility for different locations and situations.

Tonal tuning and advanced controls
Texas Instruments NS-LME49720 and NS-LM4562NA Op-Amps (or operational amplifiers) deliver acoustics fine-tuned by audio engineers to support livelier and more detailed spacious sound.

Xonar Essence STU has room for three swappable Op-Amps, which can be replaced by users to adjust tonal performance based on personal taste. This open-ended and customizable design is inherited from previous Xonar Essence audio products, and remains true to the series’ commitment to accommodating as many customer preferences as possible.

Additional advanced features are a jumper switch that re-routes sound via Xonar Essence STU, allowing it to be used as a pre-amplifier in conjunction with a dedicated power amplifier. Customers can opt to adjust master volume directly on the power amplifier without having to reach Xonar Essence STU controls. Also, a selectable DC servo headphone output can be activated to minimize pop noise which may occur when powering on.

AVAILABILITY & PRICING
The ASUS Xonar Essence STU will be available from late October worldwide with an MSRP of US$399.

Source: ASUS