Audio Reviews

Sound Blaster AE-9 Review: Creative’s Latest High-End Sound Card

Already 30 years ago Creative Labs presented its first Sound Blaster soundcard. Since then, the manufacturer has rightly made a name for itself in the audio industry. The Sound Blaster AE-9 is a new flagship sound card designed for enthusiasts.

For most PC users and gamers, the onboard sound is good enough, but Creative is not targeting this clientele with the Sound Blaster AE-9. It claims to be the best sound card. It features an ES9038PRO SABRE digital-to-analog converter (DAC) from ESS, eight simultaneous channels for 32-bit audio at 384 kHz and 129 dB SNR (signal-to-noise ratio). The overall harmonic distortion of only 0.0001 percent is impressive. These are impressive values, but note that when using the external audio control module, the signal-to-noise ratio drops to 123 dB and the overall harmonic distortion increases to 0.0004 percent. So if you want to enjoy really good sound, you have to go directly to the sound card on the back of the PC.

In addition, the Sound Blaster AE-9 offers an amplifier for high-end headphones up to 600 Ohm, the channels (left/right) are even separated. The Audio Control module has a three-way switch for different impedance levels, so that simple in-ear headphones can also be connected.

The Audio Control Module, a desktop junction box, also features an XLR connector with +48-volt phantom power for recordings up to 32-bit and 96kHz. Unfortunately, the junction box is only made of plastic, which is cleanly processed.

In addition to the powerful hardware, Creative relies on the Sound Blaster Command software, the many pre-configured equalizer profiles for games and music styles and various other effects such as the Scout mode for gamers and CrystalVoice for voice enhancement and noise reduction.

We found out in our test whether Creative didn’t just deliver on paper, but also whether the impressive numbers are reflected in brilliant sound.

Specifications

Connection
PCI Express x1
dynamic range 129 dB (Stereo, DAC), 123 dB (Stereo, ACM module)
Total harmonic distortion
0.0001% (Stereo, DAC), 0.0004% (Stereo, ACM module)
Playback resolution (DSP Mode)
16-bit / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz | 24-bit / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz | 32-bit / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz
Playback resolution (Direct Mode)
16-bit / 48, 96, 192, 384 kHz | 24-bit / 48, 96, 192, 384 kHz | 32-bit / 48, 96, 192, 384 kHz
Recording resolution Mic Input:
16-bit / 16, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz | 24-bit / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz | 32-bit / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz
Aux and S/PDIF Input:
16-bit / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 192 kHz | 24-bit / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 192 kHz
What U Hear Input:
16-bit / 44.1, 48 kHz | 24-bit / 44.1, 48 kHz
Headphone amplifier
supported 16 – 600 Ohm Impedance
Connections
plug-in card:
1x optical TOSLINK input, 1x optical TOSLINK output, 1x 3.5mm rear out, 1x 3.5mm center/sub out, 1x ACM connection, 1x 6-pin PCI Express (PCI-E) power connector (required for ACM), 2x Cinch (L/R) front output
Audio Control Module (ACM):
2x RCA (L / R), 1 x 3.5 mm Mic In (mono), 1x 3.5 mm HP output, 1x 6.3 mm HP output, 1x XLR input
Power connection 1 x PCI Express 6-pin (required for ACM)
Price

Connections and Exterior

The Creative Sound Blaster AE-9 is housed in a sleek metal enclosure that is designed to shield against electromagnetic interference. Unlike the Sound Blaster AE-5, the AE-9 does not use RGB lighting, but simply white LEDs.

Creative also plays it safe with the power supply. Instead of getting all the power from the motherboard, which would be a good idea especially with the +48 volt phantom power supply, the sound card has an additional 6-pin PCI Express power connector. This does not necessarily have to be connected, but is necessary if the Audio Control Module (ACM) is to be used. Without the additional power supply, you can only use the connectors directly on the sound card.

The Sound Blaster AE-9 offers what you would expect from a high-end sound card in terms of connections. In addition to two jack connectors, there are also two optical and two cinch connectors. The external audio control module is connected via Mini-HDMI. There are two further cinch and 3.5 mm jack connectors on this module. There is also a 6.3 mm jack connection and an XLR connection. As already mentioned, the XLR connector is equipped with +48 V phantom power, which can also be deactivated.

In addition, there is a volume control, an impedance control, an SBX and a +48 Volt button on the connection box. Press and hold the volume control for two seconds to switch between headphones and speakers. The built-in display shows the volume.

Please note that one of the 3.5 mm sockets on the Audio Control Module is four-pin and can therefore be used for headsets. The simultaneous use of 3.5 and 6.3 mm jacks is not possible, however, as the 6.3 mm jack is then deactivated. The impedance switch is responsible for both connectors.

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Simon Lüthje

I am co-founder of this blog and am very interested in everything that has to do with technology, but I also like to play games. I was born in Hamburg, but now I live in Berlin.

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