If you have been a computer nut since the mid-nineties then you have probably heard of Creative Sound Blaster sound cards.
The Sound Blaster Co. sound cards were the talk of the town in the essential upgrades department for PCs. They gave you an extra port to plug in your Joysticks so you could enjoy playing X-Wing vs TIE Fighter and an amazing sound quality that was very hard to rival, but nowadays things are different.
These sound cards were an absolute gem of an upgrade in a time when basic hardware that came with the PC was not so high end and well-performing but nowadays audio hardware that comes inbuilt works perfectly fine with plenty of inputs and fancy software features that are more than enough — and you probably didn’t know about them before just now.
Even GPUs today can rival the performance of the sound cards of the past because they can pipe out some serious noise over HDMI too. But surprisingly, new Sound Blaster sound cards are still coming in the market and for the price of $350/£299, they are still a worthy purchase even by modern standards Let us tell you why.
The first benefit of using audio cards is that they make other sound equipment useless because you won’t have any need for them anymore. The AE-9 is an amazing example, as it contains both a sound card that goes inside your computer and an audio control module that sits on your desk and you can use it to control the sound just as you want it.
The ACM is an amazing element in the whole process as it serves as both a headphone amp and an audio interface, with room to plug in microphones and headphones like the ¼ inch and ⅛ inch with optional phantom power up to +48V.
You can also plug in various auxiliary devices that include your smartphone or MP3 player to listen to songs while your work on your computer through the phono inputs on the back of the device.
The sound card itself also includes a wide array of ports that include two phone ports and two ⅛ inch ports, plus optical in and out ports that allows you to connect a full-fledged 5.1 surround sound system.
You can use the AE-9’s amazing built-in Acoustic Engine processing to cater to your sound needs while you have the option to go for the Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect encoding but that’s where your luck runs out because the newly used Dolby Atmos and DTS:X standards are not supported by the sound card module and neither are 7.1 surround sound setups.
While most audio interfaces that are more rampant in the market than this one, offer more knobs to turn and switches to flip than the one-volume where, a three-point impedance switch and one or two extra buttons on the AE-9, the AE-9’s have still enough to handle most of the audio scenarios users till throw at it.
For example, you can easily hook up a powered XLR condenser microphone for streaming content, recording a musical instrument input or keeping all of the headphones and speakers connected to your home device all the time. The easy access to everything in one place is amazing and sure it’s a messier option than the other devices but still it’s the one you should go for.
Easy Accessibility with New Features
You know the struggle of pausing your game or your movie so that you can go to the settings to turn your volume up if you don’t have your speakers within easy reach.
If you have or are suffering from this ailment, then you would seriously appreciate the ACM’s wheel for volume control which lets you control your audio noise within milliseconds rather than you are strutting all over the desktop to fix the frigging volume when gaming lives are at stake.
An amazing feature in the AE-9 is that it can automatically shift your volume up and down to a certain threshold when the outside volume gets a bit louder. This really comes in handy when you are gaming and even hearing footsteps right around the corner can mean life and death for your player or if you are watching a movie and an ambulance or a police vehicle goes by wailing their sirens at you.
The usage of this feature might depend on individual users and their preferences, but it’s a welcome element of the device.
One other reason for using a high-end sound card like the AE-9 can be the static or any other type of interference during a sound playback or recording. While modern motherboards and power supplies have drastically improved over time, cheap or carelessly designed models can still produce those annoying hisses and humans which are very distracting if you are trying to be super productive.
These hisses and humans are especially distracting when you are listening to music at a very low volume or if you are making a video, recording a podcast or even streaming your gameplay on Twitch.
AE-9 has an amazing solution to this problem. It uses a feature called Creative call CleanLine that will correct any power supply ripple caused by the super heavy GPU’s and will try to make sure that you get a perfectly clear input.
Apart from adding a bunch of amazing features in its arsenal, the AE-9 just sounds good. It’s difficult to put into words how much better it is from the audio cards built into our computers but many audio devices like Sennheiser HD 598 headphones and the amazing Audioengine A5+ speakers sounded more outstanding and detailed.
When compared to other DAC’s like the Cambridge Audio XS and the like, it will be a very close call but still, the AE-9 came on top because of the wide array of new features it comes with.
Very Accurately Priced
This isn’t a big surprise that the hardware is outstanding when looking at the price, with its amazing DAC – an ESS Sabre 9038 capable of 32-bit 384-kHz high-resolution audio that is equipped with the amazing gold capacitors and changeable op-amps.
The bi-headphone amp is remarkably powerful which is capable of running very high-end headsets and powerful audio devices that require up to 600 ohms of pure impedance. At every turn, you will notice that the company has made used amazing components and materials to master this product and it is very rightly priced at £300.
While the execution is nearly close to perfect, there are still a few flaws that can be a concern to some of the users.
These issues include some integration problems with the PC hardware because the inbuilt motherboard’s audio hardware is also quite amazing and the modern A/V receivers offer more advanced surround sound formats including the DTS:X and the amazing Dolby Atmos. These features can not be matched by the AE-9 and its limited support for the 5.1 support sound and not further ahead with the 7.1.
Another issue is that the Sound Blaster AE-9 requires a free PCIe slot in your motherboard and an independent six-pin PCIe power input to run. While this might not be a problem for high-end computers that have these ports available, it can certainly be a problem with smaller ITX motherboards or computers that have powerful graphic cards and can’t spare a six-pin PCIe port.
The actual power input on the AE-9 is very poorly constructed as there is no clearance around the plug which eliminates the space for the clip that secures the cable. You have to really use force to insert the whole thing and remove it when the time comes.
The control module could also have been more user-friendly. While adjusting the volume up and down with the circular knob is good and muting audio by pressing the wheel is also useable, switching between multiple audio devices can really be a pain in the behind.
The procedure to do that is to press and hold for two seconds and wait for it to switch to the right device and if any movement occurs between this procedure, you can switch off the device just as easily, which is not good for the image of the device.
The ACM unit is also very lightweight so if you are not careful, you can easily push it back during the process if you don’t hold it still with your other hand.
So, where do we go now with this? While these kinds of hardware are a thing of the past, high-end equivalents like the Sound Blaster AE-9 do just enough to make us understand why we can still benefit from them. While you can always get a better audio listening experience with high-end headphones amp/DAC and an amazing headset from the market that will take care of all your audio needs for music and gaming.
If you are a creator and you want the best audio input device for your content creation, a good XLR or a suitable USB mic will do the trick. But if you want both high-end sound quality and a wide array of features that can come pretty handy at times, then the Sound Blaster AE-9 is a good all-in-one purchase that properly justifies its price tag.
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