When the new Sound Blaster X1 is announced, I had to take a second look: the X1 looks like the Super X-Fi Amp that Creative launched in 2018. But I soon find that the Sound Blaster X1 is quite different from the SXFI Amp, and has more similarities with the Sound Blaster Play! 4 rather than the SXFI Amp.
Retailing at S$99, the Sound Blaster X1 is basically a Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) dongle fitted with SXFI chip, SmartComms Kit, and several other audio-enhancement features along the X-series product line. All these are housed in the same SXFI dongle, and naturally inherits some of the SXFI Amp features. While the Sound Blaster X1 appears to be an improved SXFI Amp product, there is just one feature that the SXFI Amp is better, and that is the signal-noise ratio (SNR). The SXFI Amp has 120dB SNR and 0.0003% THD, while the X1 has 115 dB SNR and 0.00056% THD. In other words, the SXFI Amp is still the better product for audiophiles.
I compared the audio quality between the two and I couldn’t tell the difference casually. Both uses the same AKM4377 DAC chip and the amplification level is identical as well. Of course, the new Sound Blaster X1 has much more features, particularly when the dongle is connected to the PC via USB cable. After installing the Creative App, the software detects the X1 and shows all the available functions on the app. (the app does not detect SXFI Amp as a valid device).
Creative App for Sound Blaster X1
As you can see in the above screen shot, there are a lot of functions available on the Sound Blaster X1, to improve audio and communication experience. Let’s go through one by one.
Needless to say, the Super X-Fi delivers an out-of-head audio experience when activated. New users would need to take photos of your head and ears using the smartphone SXFI app so that the app can calculate the HRTF. Once your personalised profile is uploaded to the dongle, you can just enable the SXFI mode by pressing the large round button on the Sound Blaster X1 or via the PC software.
In the Acoustic Engine option, you can adjust audio effects like Surround, Crystalizer, Bass, Smart Voice, Dialog+ to improve the audio quality. Play around with it to get to your preferred tuning.
For fine-tuning the frequency response, you can use the EQ page to manually adjust, or you can dropdown to pick a list of preset EQ.
The SmartComms Kit is a rather powerful feature to process incoming audio and outgoing microphone. For incoming audio “NoiseClean-In“, the SmartComms Kit will filter out non-voice sound so that you can hear the speech of the other party. Fun fact: it works for normal music listening too, but what you hear is the singer minus background music, albeit aggressively processed. For NoiseClean-Out, it will remove background noise that your headset mic picks up so that the other party can only hear your voice. Finally, the “VoiceDetect” mode will mute your mic when no voice is detected, so it negates the need for your to mute your mic when you are not talking.
Like all audio-processing engine, the post-processing voice quality is rather muffled and less dynamic compared to disabling the feature, so I recommend using this only if you are working in a very noisy environment.
CrystalVoice is another audio-processing engine that tweaks the voice picked up by the mic. The most interesting feature in this menu is “Voice Morph” where it alters your voice to different characters and accents. As the engine processes your voice in near real-time, there is a slight delay in sending the altered voice to the other party. The output is quite impressive and you can use them with convincing results.
Another interesting function available on Sound Blaster X1, the Scout Mode sweetens the frequency response to boost treble clarity such that it accentuates sound effects like footsteps, weaponry handling sounds. With this mode, you are guaranteed to hear more ambient sound during game play and achieve improved awareness and response.
Virtual Surround Modes
The Sound Blaster X1 also supports virtual surround modes from 2.1 to 7.1. Enable this to experience a simulated 3D audio placement. For discrete surround, you can look at the Sound Blaster X3 and X4 that has a lot of audio connections.
The Sound Blaster X1 DAC dongle combines the features of both Play! 4 and SXFI Amp, upgrades your existing audio interface to a professional-grade DAC for quality music enjoyment, plus teleconferencing functions that will definitely benefit telecommuters who spend a great deal of time on calls. Although the SXFI Amp has slightly better specs on the DAC, the audio difference is not noticeable during casual comparison.
The Sound Blaster X1 retails at S$99. Visit the Creative Online Store for more product info and purchase.