If you want a decent USB amp for a good price, the Creative Sound Blaster X7 is a great choice. You’ll get excellent features and the sound quality of a dedicated DAC, as well as a volume knob. Its onboard stereo amplifier is pretty awesome.
However, it isn’t the very best amp out there, and doesn’t come with certain features that others offer. To top it all off, it’s a bit pricey. So is it a good solution for you?
The X7 resembles the Triple P Designs Pyramid speakers, which are used often in mixing studios. It is triangular in shape, and about 6 inches tall. It is offered in black, though you can get the limited-edition white version.
You’ll note that the metallic volume knob takes up the majority of the top two-thirds of the unit, and below is the onboard noise-cancelling microphone and two buttons -- one a Power/Bluetooth toggle button, the other an SBX enhancer control button. Underneath those you’ll find a 3.5mm microphone input alongside a 3.5mm and ?-inch headphone output.
On the back of the unit, you’ll find the speaker connectors, various inputs and outputs, and a toggle to switch between 4-ohm or 8-ohm speakers. Know that if you opt for 4-ohm (most speakers today are 8-ohm), you’ll need a separate power pack.
The power button is not the best design -- the plastic scrapes up against the plastic housing, and it just isn’t fun to push. What’s more, any button you push causes the entire unit to wobble around thanks to instability, unless you hold it firmly to the table with one hand.
As previously mentioned, you do not have a physical remote. Instead, you need to download the X7 Control app for Android and iOS, and pair your phone via Bluetooth.
It features the Burr-Brown PCM1794 DAC that Creative has used on high-end sound cards, decoding up to 24-bit/196kHz. It features an onboard Dolby Digital decoder, perfect for streaming and TV. But if you want to decode the DTS HD-Master Audio or Dolby Digital TruHD audio from a Blu-ray disc, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Just as you would expect, it has swappable op-amps hidden under a flap, allowing you to tweak the sound to your liking. And it isn’t just for PC use -- use it for USB hosting for iOS or Android, an RCA Line-In for analog connectivity, and optical S/PDIF for TVs and game consoles.
It’s a little tougher to connect a full surround system. You can rely on the two amps for left and right, but it also has the two 3.5mm minijacks for center and rears, so you’ll need a separate amp or powered speakers in order to use those channels. To get the most out of your sound, you should output to an AV receiver via the optical or analog outputs and forget about the onboard amps.
If you are looking for a solution to set up a two-channel system for your desktop PC or want to record to your PC, this is perfect for you. However, if you want to use it to power your surround system, you probably want to look elsewhere. Pick this up for MSRP $370.40.