So what’s special about the Creative Soundblaster E1???
The Creative SoundBlaster E1 is a portable AMP and a standalone DAC. This is the first of its kind in Creative’s portfolio. Creative already boasts plenty of DACs in its arsenal – Both internal and external. What makes this DAC different from all the others is that it doubles up as a portable headphone amp as well. With 25 hours of claimed battery life, it makes it very versatile as a headphone amp and its small size is an added bonus.
Another bonus is that it supports two headphone outs at the same time.
One of the headphones’ out sockets can support earphones with built-in microphones for using with your mobile device. The E1 also has a bigger brother in the form of the E3. The E3 is one of the first ever portable Bluetooth headphone amplifiers! I hope to be able to review the E3 also shortly.
Specifications and First Impressions
|Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR)||106dB|
|Connectivity Options (Main)||
|Headphone Amp||Up to 600 Ohms|
|Max Channel Output||Stereo|
|WARRANTY||1-year limited hardware warranty|
The package is basic, but the quality of the provided accessories is pretty good. Everything is provided to run the unit as either a DAC or as a headphone amp.
The Creative SoundBlaster E1 unit itself is of average build quality. It’s made primarily of plastic and doesn’t look like it will handle too many drops. That said it’s very light-weight and compact which means carrying it around isn’t very obtrusive.
When using it on the PC, Creative has a software suite to tweak the sound. I generally don’t like the artificially tweaked sound so I didn’t install the software. That said for those who love tweaking the sound should like the optional software package. The software is completely optional so it is an added bonus that is there if you so wish to use it.
The DAC works just fine without any drivers or software on Windows 7. It works fine with even USB 3.0 ports.
Ease of Use
Installing the DAC is even more straightforward than most other Creative DACs. It works just fine without any drivers or software. A true plug-and-play experience. Another interesting point to note is that the Creative SoundBlaster E1 DAC has TWO headphones out ports. What’s even more impressive is that it’s dual headphone out amp circuits built into its tiny footprint.
So connecting two headphones simultaneously doesn’t degrade the performance of any of the connected headphones as there are separate headphone amplifiers for each headphone out. That’s quite an amazing feat considering the diminutive size of the DAC. Creative has pulled off a coup providing so many features in such a small device.
Like most of its other DACs, the E1 also has a powerful headphone amplifier. And my testing shows that it’s capable of driving just about any headphone out there under 600 ohms. It drives my very hard to drive ortho-dynamics with plenty of gusto and volume. In fact, it can drive BOTH of my hardest-to-drive headphones at the SAME time. A very impressive feat for Creative when you consider the size of the E1.
Also, there is a built-in volume control and an on/off switch. The unit doesn’t have to be switched on to charge itself when plugged into a PC or Mac which is nice as you may have an already existing DAC present.
The battery life is very impressive and I didn’t face any need to charge it during the review.
Sound quality testing was three-fold. One was using the E1 as a pure DAC connected to my dedicated EHHA headphone amplifier. The other was using the E1 as a DAC/AMP when connected to a PC and the last testing was using the E1 as a portable headphone amp.
Testing the E1 as a pure DAC isn’t straightforward as it lacks a line out. I had to connect the E1 via its headphone out jack where the sound passes through its built-in amplifier circuit and colours the sound. However, the E1 provided a very good performance and comparing it to my Music Streamer II was a difficult task and I truly could barely figure out any difference between the two. Which goes to show that the E1 has given a very good performance if it can match a pure DAC which costs more.
As a DAC/AMP again the E1 gave a fantastic performance and drives all my headphones very well. Comparing the built-in amplifier with my EHHA dedicated amp the EHHA had more volume, a bigger soundstage and a little better detailing but the differences were subtle and not at all very evident.
The DAC isn’t entirely neutral, to be honest. This has a bit more midbass and a slightly boosted treble but nothing offensive.
As a portable headphone amp, the Creative SoundBlaster E1 again gave a stellar performance and some of my IEMs like the CM Storm Resonar sounded better on the E1 than without the E1. The extra power does help a few earphones. Not all mind you. Most it gave only a volume boost with a slight bass emphasis but otherwise, you will be hard-pressed to tell the differences.
Where it really shines though is when you connect full-size headphones to your portable music player. The E1 provides a much better performance here than without any amp.
I have nothing but praise really for the E1. It does almost the same thing as my much bigger and expensive discrete setup and only really discerning listeners will be able to appreciate a much better DAC.
As a pure DAC, DAC/AMP or a portable headphone amp the E1 performs splendidly and with flying colours. Considering that the E1 is basically a budget DAC I simply cannot find any real negatives for the DAC. The price in India is a bit higher than the US price but even then at this price point I simply cannot think of any similarly priced product.
- Excellent sound quality in its price bracket
- Very versatile
- Feature-rich software
- Well-built in headphone amplifier
- Dual amplified headphone out sockets
- VFM price in the US
- Limited availability in India
- Price is almost doubled in India