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Creative Sound Blaster E1 review

Richard Easton
19 Feb 2015
Expert Reviews Recommended Logo
Creative Sound Blaster E1 front
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
40
inc VAT

The Creative Sound Blaster E1 is a super low-cost audio upgrade

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Specifications

Warranty: One year RTB, Details: uk.creative.com, Part code: Sound Blaster E1

The Sound Blaster E1 isn't not much larger than a matchbox, yet Creative has managed to squeeze a full USB sound card and headphone amplifier inside. The E1 is built from plastic, which is understandable considering its low cost, but that also means it doesn’t weigh very much - just 25g. An integrated clip on the back will be useful for attaching the E1 to a shirt or bag, as we're not fans of squeezing a second device into a pocket holding a smartphone in case it scratches the screen. It’s light enough to forget you’re wearing it using the clip.

The overall design is a little unexciting and comes off as slightly utilitarian, with a play/pause button, power switch and volume slider and that provides enough resistance for subtle adjustments on one side. The only splash of colour comes from the small white LED indicator that lets you know the E1 is turned on.

A microUSB port performs double duties as a charging port and for connecting to a PC or laptop, while a single 3.5mm input lets you connect a wired audio device such as smartphone or tablet. Once plugged into a PC, it acts as an external USB sound card and amplifier, removing the audio processing requirements from the computer's motherboard. Onboard audio often relies on low-quality DACs (digital-to-analogue converters) and we found the E1 improved the audio quality of the systems we tested it on, including desktops and laptops. Pleasingly there was barely any hiss and no stutters when initially playing music, as can be the case with other external sound cards.

The E1 supports playback at up to 24-bit/44.1kHz, so not true high-resolution audio, although we wouldn’t expect it at this price. The amplifier is capable of driving headphones up to 600 ohms in impedance, which is quite the achievement for such a small device and means it won’t have any problems with even the most demanding headphones.

Beyond the boost in volume from the headphone amplifier, the E1 managed to bring out more detail in our test tracks when used as an external sound card, compared to using the headphone jack on the motherboard. The level of improvement was most noticeable in our lower-end test earphones, including Sennheiser's CX 3.00. Treble sounded crisper, especially around vocals in our acoustic tracks. More high-end headphones, like the Philips Fidelio M2BT and Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear benefited to a lesser degree.

The E1 has a mono microphone, which shows up as a conventional microphone in Windows for use with Skype or any voice chat software. Sensitivity was more than adequate and a slight improvement compared to our test laptop’s built-in microphone for clarity.

Much like Creative’s other Sound Blaster products, you can install the SBX Pro Studio software suite to tweak the sound output. This includes CrystalVoice for improved microphone performance and Scout Mode that enhances sound effects when gaming - useful if you want to avoid opponents sneaking up on you in first-person shooters.

If you're using the E1 with anything other than a computer, it acts purely as a headphone amplifier - Creative’s more expensive Sound Blaster E3 and E5 use USB On-The-Go to act as a DAC, effectively offloading audio processing from your handset  for improved sound quality. The E1 still has potential as a headphone amplifier, however, particularly if you're looking to drive a demanding pair of headphones.

It actually has two 3.5mm headphone jacks for listening, with one supporting headsets if you want to make hands-free calls when connected to a smartphone. The dual op-amp from New Japan Radio drives each headphone jack independently; plugging in two pairs of headphones won’t result in degraded sound quality, which is great if you want to listen to music with a second person but don’t want to share a single pair of earphones.

Even as just a headphone amplifier the E1 performed well and the dual-headphone mode proved particularly useful. There aren't independent volume controls for each headphone output, which means one person might find the volume too loud or too quiet if you use two pairs of headphones with a large impedance disparity.

Battery life was exceptional. Creative rates the E1 for 25 hours and in our experience it certainly came close. Listening for long periods each day, we didn’t have to charge it more than once a fortnight. Of course, if you’re using it as an external sound card you won’t need to worry about the battery as it will be powered over USB.

For £40 the Creative Sound Blaster E1 is keenly priced and is a fantastic purchase if you're after an inexpensive audio upgrade. If we were being particularly nit-picky, it would have been nice if the E1 had an auto-standby when audio isn’t detected. As it stands it’s very easy to forget to switch it off, which can run down the battery.

However, as both a headphone amplifier and an external sound card, it’s a great performer. If you’re willing to spend more and want high-resolution audio support, consider the Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS instead. 

Buying information
Price including VAT£30
WarrantyOne year RTB
Supplieruk.creative.com
Detailsuk.creative.com
Part codeSound Blaster E1

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