PC & Console Peripherals

Tried an external sound card: the Creative Sound Blaster X3

Even if PCs and laptops nowadays have a sound card installed and you don’t necessarily need a dedicated sound card, it is usually still worth upgrading the integrated sound cards. Unfortunately this is not always possible, be it because there is no PCIe slot available, a laptop or even a console. This is where the forefather of sound cards comes into play.

Creative offers with the Sound Blaster X3 an external USB-DAC (digital-to-analogue converter) with headphone amplifier, which enables not only virtual but also real 7.1 surround sound.

The Creative Sound Blaster X3 can be connected via USB to PS4, PC or Mac. Any other source can also be used via a jack input, but then of course with reduced functionality.

Creative Sound Blaster X3

Is it worthwhile to upgrade from an internal sound solution to the Creative Sound Blaster X3 for 124.99 Euro? Let’s find out!

Technical details

Compatibility Windows, Mac, PS4, Nintendo Switch
Max. playback quality
  • Playback Resolution (Stereo): PCM 16/24/32-bit / 48.0, 96.0, 192.0 kHz
  • Playback Resolution (Optical Out): PCM 16/24-bit / 48.0, 96.0, 192.0 kHz
  • Surround 7.1: PCM 16/24/32-bit / 48.0, 96.0, 192.0 kHz, Dolby Digital Live: 16-bit, 48.0 kHz
Max. recording quality
  • line-in: 16/24-bit, 48.0, 96.0, 192.0 kHz
  • Mic-in: 16/24-bit / 48.0, 96.0, 192.0 kHz
  • What-U-Hear: 16/24-bit, 48.0, 96.0, 192.0 kHz
Power supply USB type C
ADC dynamic range: 104 dB, THD+N: 0.0017%
DAC Dynamic range (stereo): 115 dB, THD+N (stereo): 0.0004%
Audio technologies CrystalVoice, Scout Mode
Headphone amplifier
  • low gain: 32 – 149Ω (1.2V RMS @ 32Ω, 1.5V RMS @ 150Ω)
  • High gain: 150 – 600Ω (2.3V RMS @ 150Ω, 2.9V RMS @ 600Ω)
Input options
  • 1 x 3.5 mm Output front
  • 1 x 3.5 mm socket (line input)
  • 1 x 3.5 mm socket (Side Out)
  • 1 x USB Type-C port for PC / Mac
  • 1 x 3.5 mm jack (rear)
  • 1 x 3.5 mm output for center speaker/subwoofer
  • 1 x 3.5 mm headphone/headset jack
  • 1 x 3.5 mm Ext. mic input jack
  • 1 optical TOSLINK output
Dynamic range (DNR) 115 dB
Dimensions 129 x 129 x 40.6 mm
Weight 330 g
Price € 132.90 *

Connections

We connect the Creative Sound Blaster X3 via USB. A USB-A cable is included, which is connected to the sound card via USB-C. This not only supplies the Sound Blaster X3 with power but also with data. If you want to use the full range of features, you have to fall back on this. If that’s not possible, you can also use the USB port only for power and use a jack input as audio source. But this of course offers much less quality and functions. Both connectors are located on the rear.

"Creative

In addition, there are four more jack connectors on the rear panel to supply a 7.1 system. So the Sound Blaster X3 supports not only virtual but also actual 7.1 surround sound. Furthermore, there is an optical Toslink output.

The front is not quite as lavishly equipped. There is only a microphone input and a headphone output. The output is especially exciting here, as the strength of the headphone amplifier can be adjusted depending on whether you use high-quality studio headphones or not. Up to 600 Ohm are possible here.

"Creative

Control

On the top of the Sound Blaster X3 are the buttons and the control dial.

Creative Sound Blaster X3

The large rotary wheel is not only responsible for the output volume, but also for the microphone volume, audio balance (between game and chat) and Bluetooth pairing with the smartphone. Unfortunately, the connection is only intended for control via app, so a sound playback via Bluetooth connection doesn’t work. If you press the rotary wheel, the sound can also be muted.

The microphone button is responsible for activating the monitoring. You can also use it to access the audio balance mode.

Creative Sound Blaster X3

The mode button can switch between different equalizer profiles. The following modes are available: Off, SXFI, Music, Movies, Footprint Amplifier, Direct Mode.

The SFXI button switches between headset and speaker and is responsible for activating SXFI in headphone mode.

Depending on what is currently being set, the light ring around the dial lights up in a different color.

Software & Options

Various settings can be made via Sound Blaster Command. The software is available for download for Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS.

Unfortunately, you also need the SXFI app to use the SXFI feature. It’s a pity that not everything can be controlled by an app. Furthermore the linking and/or the login within the different applications is not always possible without problems. So Creative has to upgrade the software in any case.

But why do you need two different apps at all? The SXFI App enables the use of Creative’s virtualization technology SXFI. A photo of the listener’s face and ears is taken. Furthermore, different headphones and headsets can be selected to adapt the audio experience to different circumstances. Although Creative lists nearly 60 third-party devices here, this is of course a limited selection and, unfortunately, your own headset is not included.

However, Sound Blaster Command offers many more options in addition to SXFI. So different profiles can be created and used, in which for example the bass or dialogues are amplified. With the Scout Mode Creative addresses itself to gamers. The mode is supposed to optimize the noise in shooters so that you can hear your opponents earlier.

If you use the SPDIF output, you can also activate Dolby Audio for your sound card in Sound Blaster Command.

A simple equalizer and a mixer of the different sources are of course also available.

Sound

When it comes to sound, you have to differentiate between different outputs and modes, as Creative changes quite a lot of the sound via software. So there are different profiles for music, movies, gaming etc. – You can also create your own profiles.

If you want to achieve the highest possible audio quality, use USB-C as input. Here all functions are available and up to 32 bits at 192 kHz are supported. Personally, I usually like the direct mode best, i.e. the unaffected sound without software optimization. But with sound this is always a question of taste. Some like more bass, some less. The Sound Blaster X3 delivers however perfect sound with high resolution, for which one needs suitable source material and suitable output devices first.

Conclusion

The Sound Blaster X3 delivers. As a headphone amplifier, it can drive up to 600 ohms, but it doesn’t need to hide in the loudspeaker range either. It can start right after plugging it in, we especially like the fact that Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch are also supported.

The spatial sound from SXFI has its advantages in some situations, but not always. Especially music doesn’t always sound good with it and you have to get through the setup first. With two different apps that don’t work together properly, Creative unfortunately still has a little chaos here with a need for optimisation.

Nevertheless we like the audio quality of the external sound card and if you can’t use high-end sound cards like the internal Sound Blaster AE-9 but need an upgrade of your onboard sound solution, the Sound Blaster X3 is a reliable and above all portable alternative.

Creative Sound Blaster X3

Workmanship
Sound quality
Recording quality
Features
Value for money

88/100

The Creative Sound Blaster X3 proves to be a successful sound upgrade, even if you don't have to like all profiles and sound enhancements.

Creative Sound Blaster X3 externe USB-DAC- und Verstärker-Soundkarte price comparison


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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 Bad Segeberg.

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