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Creative Sound Blaster X1

Minature USB DAC and headphone amplifier

With the Creative Sound Blaster X1, the multimedia manufacturer from Singapore are offering a powerful miniature DAC and headphone amplifier that supports impedances between 16 and 600 ohms. The listening experience on the PC or Mac can also be customised via an app using the “Acoustic Engine” and numerous EQ settings, while the “SmartComms Kit” and CrystalVoice functions are supposed to enable optimal communication via headset.

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On the outside, the Creative Sound Blaster X1 looks like a new edition of the SXFI Amp that Creative launched some time ago. The low weight of 15 grams, the button arrangement and the connections with a USB-C input and a 3.5 mm output are identical. The aluminium housing with its anodised, matt black surface look the same and signal conversion is also done by the AKM 4377. However, there are new features; as well as the Super X-FI technology there is a lavish software package via the app and the price has been reduced from 139.99 euros for the SXFI Amp to 69.99 euros for the Sound Blaster X1. The package is limited to the small amplifier in a dongle format and a USB-C cable, which is quite short at 70 millimetres. A USB-A adapter is not supplied.

In practice

The Creative Sound Blaster X1 is primarily intended for use on a PC or Mac in combination with the app. In addition to stereo playback, the surround formats 5.1 and 7.1 with a resolution of up to 24Bit/96kHz are available. Playstation consoles (PS4/PS5) and the Nintendo Switch are also officially supported. Mobile Android and iOS devices, on the other hand, are not supported, although the headphone amplifier ran without problems on an iPad with the help of an Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter. There are no software options apart from the SXFI function, but this is also the case on the gaming platforms.

If you want to operate the Sound Blaster X1 on a Mac, you currently have to download a version of the app from the manufacturer’s homepage. The Creative app for macOS from the App Store does not (yet) support the amp. The Sound Blaster X1 can be used without drivers and is recognised immediately by macOS. However, a driver is required to use the Acoustic Engine and other app functions, and this is currently available as a beta version. Unfortunately, it is not clear from the Quick Start Guide that a manual driver and app installation must be carried out. However, a helpful installation guide can be found on the (support page). You will need calmness and patience for this, as it can take some time to install all the modules of the software. Especially since the beta driver is not (yet) stable, which can lead to dropouts, crashes or overmodulation.

Operation

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Creative’s Sound Blaster X1 features a 3-button remote on the top for device control, with the centre multi-function button protruding slightly for intuitive operation. A single tap controls playback, while a double-tap advances to the next track and a triple tap skips back. In addition, when using a (gaming) headset, it should be possible to mute and reactivate the microphone at the touch of a button, although this has not (yet) worked using macOS. In addition, the volume can be controlled directly on the amp using the plus and minus buttons, while another separate button is available for activating and deactivating the SXFI effect. A small green LED indicates that the Super X-FI technology is active.

App

The Creative App (Windows and macOS) has an EQ section with a total of 43 pre-configured presets to adjust the sound. You can choose from settings for “Movies”, various music styles from “Hip-Hop” to “Jazz”, individual classic games such as the “Call of Duty Series”, “Fortnite” or “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” and settings for genres such as “Real-Time Strategy” or “RPG”. If you wish, you can also create and save your own presets, and an EQ with ten bands is available for this. The Acoustic Engine offers further sound-relevant functions with the options “Surround”, “Crystalizer”, “Bass”, Smart Volume” and “Dialog +”. This has been well implemented, and all effects can be adjusted very precisely over a range of values from zero to 100 and can be freely combined. If, for example, “Dialog +” is set to 30 and “Bass” to 35, you can improve the intelligibility of voices in action-packed games and films without sacrificing the fun factor.

In addition to sound control, the Creative Sound Blaster X1 app focuses on headset communication. The SmartComms Kit concentrates on improving the quality of conversations during video conferences by automatically muting the microphone during pauses in speech and reducing background noise. It is interesting to note that the filtering can be used not only for one’s own voice (NoiseClean-out) but also for the other person’s voice (NoiseClean-in). However, the intensity of the attenuation is not particularly high in either case. The CrystalVoice module offers a fun feature with its morph function, which manipulates the user’s own voice, sometimes drastically, and includes a number of quite amusing presets such as “demon”, “hamster”, “grandmother”, etc. “Smart Volume”, on the other hand, automatically adjusts the speech level if desired, while the microphone equalizer aims for increased speech intelligibility with eleven settings, which allow for more subtle adjustments.

Super X-FI Technology

Independent of the app, Creative’s audio holography can be used for headphones, so the Acoustic Engine has no impact on the sound when the effect is switched on. The advantage, however, is that this function, which is supposed to enable spatial listening like with multiple speaker systems, is also available on the Switch or Playstation. In addition, an individual SXFI profile can be generated, and this is calculated based on photos taken of the face and both ears. However, the implementation is quite cumbersome, as the hearing profile cannot be created on a PC or Mac but instead requires a smartphone with a corresponding app. The SXFI profile is then transferred and loaded onto the Sound Blaster X1, which requires an SXFI account. But the sound effect can be used without an account or profile.

The SXFI technology achieves the best results for films and gaming. Spherical soundscapes can also benefit from spatial representation when the virtual stage is shifted away from the head and into the room. For the most part, however, the effect is not suitable for modern styles of music, as the bass reproduction noticeably loses substance and ends up sounding strange and rather alienating.

Sound

Compared to common audio solutions found on computers, laptops or consoles, the Creative Sound Blaster X1 offers a more spacious presentation that succeeds better in revealing details. By providing more precise separation and allowing more space between individual signals, localisation is simplified, encouraging more conscious music listening and offering advantages in many video games. Bass-emphasised headphones and (gaming) headsets with a rich, full-bodied reproduction, in particular, become positively transparent with the amp as the sound image is opened up, becoming noticeably brighter and fresher. Even models that are more neutrally tuned sound crisper and reproduce with more spaciousness. On the other hand, treble-heavy headphone users will notice that sibilants, for example, can appear even more pronounced. However, the Sound Blaster X1 not only affects the sound quality but also offers a more powerful output than conventional headphone outputs. This is noticeable with low impedance headphones and headsets as well as with higher impedance models, as higher volume reserves are available. In this respect, the amp makes it possible to power more demanding hi-fi or studio headphones.

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2 months ago by Maike Paeßens
  • Rating: 4
  • Sound
  • Handling
  • Price/Quality
  • Function

Even if the manufacturer has not done all their homework, the Creative Sound Blaster X1 is a good choice for upgrading the audio output on a computer, laptop or Playstation and Switch. On a PC or Mac, the EQ section and Acoustic Engine also provide extensive options for sound adjustment using the app. Communication via (gaming) headset can also benefit from the functions of the CrystalVoice module and SmartComms kit. It is a pity, however, that no mobile Android and iOS devices are officially supported, as this would significantly increase the application range of this portable USB DAC and headphone amplifier.

  • Lightweight, handy format
  • Aluminium housing
  • Drives headphones and headsets with impedances from 16 to 600 ohms
  • Extensive app connection (PC and Mac)
  • No official support for mobile devices (Android and iOS)
  • No USB-A adapter included
  • (Still) unstable beta driver under macOS

Technical specifications

  • Ear couplingAmplifier
  • Frequency response (headphones)10 - 20.000 Hz
  • Impedance16 - 600 ohms
  • Weight with cable22 g
  • Weight without cable15 g
  • Cable length8 cm

What's in the box

  • USB-C connection cable

Special features

  • Playback resolution: PCM 16-bit, 44.1, 48.0, 96.0 kHz, PCM 24-bit, 44.1, 48.0, 96.0 kHz

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