There was a time where soundcards made the difference in a gaming PC. Onboard motherboard sound was junk, or even at times non-existant, and when you installed a dedicated soundcard into your machine, your life pretty much changed. But, as the years went on, onboard audio got better, and soundcards pretty much died out. Well, until now, as Creative are bringing back soundcards in a big way.
The Creative AE-5 Plus Pure Edition (the white one) is the successor to the standad AE-5 soundcard, but sits below the more premium AE-7. The AE-5 Plus has retained its popular 122DB DNR Sabre-Class DAC which can deliver audio quality up to 32bit 384kHz audio fidelity. It’s also got a custom designed XAMP which essentially drives two channels of audio to your headphones, one for the left ear and one for the right. There’s also a microphone input for gaming headsets with split jack connections.
And as a comparison, motherboards generally send one source of audio to headphones and can achieve 24-bit/192kHz audio fidelity. So the audio quality on the Creative AE-5 Plus is certainly better, and it can be heard, even with lower quality audio from something like Spotify. Listening to the end section of Guns ‘N Roses’ November Rain was night and day difference between onboard motherboard audio and the AE-5. Audio just feels a lot more detailed, especially when it comes to the more subtle sounds.
So, what can you plug into the Creative AE-5 Plus? Well a lot, but let’s start with the internals. The card plugs into a PCI-Express slot, which is how it receives its power. There’s a port right on the front for the addressable RGB strips that are included, because of course soundcards need RGB in them, and if you use the RGB strips, you need to also connect Molex power due to the voltage required to power the strips. My soundcard LEDs though worked without Molex power.
On the back you can find several 3.5mm aux inputs. The first is for a center speaker which I’ve used with my Riva speaker on my desk. The second is for headphones, and the rest are for front left and right, and rear left and right speakers if you’re going for a 5.1 setup. There’s also an optical input too to run digital audio from a more traditional living room surround sound system.
The Creative AE-5 is controlled using Creative’s own propiratory software named the Sound Blaster Command, and has a whole host of features that should suit all gamers down to a tee. In terms of sound experience, the software breaks it up into various engines, and you can decide how much of each segment you want. First up is Surround, which heightens the feeling of surround sound. Particularly useful in games and placing distant shots. The Crystalizer makes higher frequencies more prominent for those pin-sharp footstep sounds. Bass is pretty self explanitory.
Smart Volume is a useful one, and will turn down different volumes so your gameplay experience doesn’t become too painful. Like if someone was on top of you with a machine gun in Call of Duty Warzone, it won’t burst your eardrums if you’re using a higher volume to listen out for footsteps. And finally is Dialogue+, which will detect any dialogue coming from a source on your PC, and heighten its volume, making it clearer amongst the action. If you didn’t want to mess around with these yourself, then you can choose from a huge number of preset profiles, which range from Cinema, Concert, First Person Shooters, Racing, and even individual titles like Overwatch and CS:GO.
Once you’ve selected your profile or fiddled about with the settings yourselves, you can then move onto the Equalizer, which again, can be manually adjusted to find the best audio experience or you can choose your own profile.
However, these sound modes can be completely bypassed, and you can turn on Direct Mode, which “gives you audio in its purest form, directly from the source”. And this is the mode I have had switched on 100% of my time with this product. It sounds so good, and saves me from fiddling around constantly with audio settings. I play a variety of games, but if you’re pretty dedicated to one or two games, this won’t be an issue with you. But the SBX Profile I set for Warzone, may not necessarily be decent for Death Stranding.
It’s on this Playback screen that you alse set your Audio Quality. Now, I said before the Creative AE-5 can hit a maximum of 32bit / 324kHz audio, but I have mine set on 32bit / 96kHz audio. And the reason for this is I’m a heavy Spotify user, and Spotify just wouldn’t work with the higher audio quality set. It just kept tellling me there was an issue playing tracks. Lower the quality inside the Sound Blaser Command software, and everything worked well. Was a strange issue to encounter. But of course with anything I’ve just explained above, it’s all about personal preference at the end of the day. I can’t tell you how your ears will resonate with the audio you listen to in games, music or movies.
If you plug a gaming headset into the Creative AE-5 then you will be greeted with a host of voice features, which aid in making your voice much clearer than if you plug directly into the motherboard. Unfortunately though, it doesn’t make a huge difference. There are also some fun vocal effects you can switch on to make your voice sound like an old person, or even a robot, which flattens out the tonality of your voice. They’re fun, but I can’t see you using them too often inside of games.
Scount Mode requires an external app, and it turns your phone into a radar and gives you an estimate of where enemy sounds are coming from. However, it doesn’t work too well, and feels a little gimmicky if I’m to be honest. Plus, it’s not the best feature as your eyes will have to leave your PC monitor to look at your phone, and the speed of which some games move, it’s far from ideal. A game overlay would have been the better option.
There is an encoder option too which you can choose between Dolby Audio or DTS Connect. But because I had set my audio to Direct Mode, these were switched off. Not a huge deal, as not a lot of movie content is consumed on my gaming rig, but it’s nice to know it’s there if this soundcard is going to go into some kind of living room media PC setup.
In reality with this soundcard though, everything sounded great. I spent a good amount of time switching my headphone jack to my front headphone jack to the rear soundcard headphone jack, analysing differnt sections of music, and playing through different games, and I must say, my games and music have never sounded so good. There was just so much more detail and power in the audio that cannot be achieved with my onboard motherboard audio. Now at this point I will say that I am not using the most expensive headphones, and I would definitely recommend getting yourself a decent set of open backed headphones to pair with the AE-5 for that added soundstage, but even with my cheaper set of LucidSound LC25s, I was super impressed.
So, should soundcards have stayed dead? Absolutely not. I am extremely impressed with the quality of my audio that I’m now receiving on the Creative AE-5, and it’s like anything in a PC, if you can’t tell the difference, is it worth having? Well, I can safely say that there is a huge difference between onboard audio, and the audio I received from the Creative AE-5 Plus, with gaming and music, and anything that can make my experience sitting in front of my PC playing games or listening to music while working better, then that’s a huge win from me. For more information, head over to the Creative website.