It has a decent range of audio processing features, but this USB sound card and speaker combo is rather expensive
The Sound BlasterAxx SBX8 is a small obelisk of a speaker that’s powered via USB. It looks good for a laptop speaker and it puts out a clear and balanced sound. However, it’s not very loud and we noticed slight distortion on acoustic tracks when we increased volume settings to full. It brings out fine details in subtle jazz and classical tracks effectively, but the pounding bass of the dance and hip-hop tracks in our test was conspicuous by its absence, and the overdriven guitars of some extreme metal tracks sounded like a tin can full of bees.
If it was just a compact laptop speaker, Creative would have a very hard time justifying the £80 price. However, it’s best to think of it as a USB sound card that happens to have an integrated speaker; it definitely sounds best through a pair of headphones. The Axx range uses Creative’s latest SB-Axx1 audio processor. The processor has masses of built-in features, including virtual surround sound, volume normalisation for movies and music, bass enhancement and more. However, for music, we preferred to listen without any effects. The SBX8’s sound is well balanced, although a little brighter than some rival sound cards. The virtual surround sound comes into its own for movies and gaming, though. It’s not as good as having a true multi-speaker surround sound headset, but the effect is fairly convincing nonetheless. All of these features can be selected, configured and written to the USB sound card using Creative’s software control panel.
Like the rest of the Axx range, the SBX has a built-in microphone to make it easy to chat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t let you capture sound from a specific area, which is something that its larger siblings can do. This means that it picks up background noise easily, but Creative’s software control panel has excellent noise cancelling features which effectively eliminated the background hum of a loud server, but not the sound of typing. The control panel software also allows you to apply a range of vocal effects to change your voice to that of an orc, an alien or that of another gender. The built-in microphone means that you can chat online without a headset, which meant we could use our favourite headphones when gaming. If you prefer a headset, though, the Axx’s 3.5mm microphone input lets you use it as normal.
Because it’s cheaper than the rest of the range but has the same versatile audio processor, the SBX8 is easier to recommend than the larger, more expensive SBX20. The speaker’s mediocre, but the microphone’s useful and the sound card is rather good. However, it lacks the specialised processing for gaming audio on the Creative Recon3D. You can’t connect it to analogue surround sound speakers, and if you just want to listen to music we recommend the Arcam rPAC instead.
The SBX8 sacrifices features that would make it appeal to a specific buyer. It sounds good through a pair of headphones, but you can get similar audio quality from cheaper devices. If you’re after a jack-of-all-trades USB sound card, we prefer the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi 5.1.
|Power consumption standby||N/A|
|Power consumption on||N/A|
|Analogue inputs||3.5mm stereo|
|Satellite cable lengths||N/A|
|Controls located||main unit, application|
|Digital processing||dynamic bass boost, virtual surround sound|
|Tone controls||10-band equaliser|