Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Amplifier Review

Creative Logo

Creative products always induce a little nostalgia with me as the Creative Sound Blaster Pro was the first ever upgrade that I bought for my PC. Looking back from today and the state of digital audio, it’s hard to imagine that most PCs only went “beep” back in the late 1980s and early 90s. Once I’d installed the SB Pro, I had glorious multichannel stereo sound, and incredibly, Wing Commander II had speech. Look it up kids.

Creative E1 Box

Returning to the 21st century, on review here is the Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Headphone Amplifier, a battery-powered amplifier supporting high impedance headphones, combined with a USB DAC sound card. In other words the E1 lets you used studio-quality 600 ohm headphones with smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktops. Pretty much anything with a 3.5 mm socket or a USB port and it works fine with lower impedance headphones, so let’s take a look.

What’s in the box? Simply, everything that you need to get going in the scenarios outlined above. There’s the E1 amplifier itself plus two bright red cables; a 4 pole (TRRS) 3.5 mm jack audio lead and a USB to micro-USB cable. The first cable is needed for tablets and smartphone listening and the second when using the E1 as a sound card (DAC). Bring your own headphones though.

Creative Sound Blaster E1

There’s a hint of red detailing on the E1 too but you have to look pretty hard to see it. Of course, there’s assorted instructions, warranty and disposal leaflets too.

Creative Sound Blaster E1

Glancing over the amplifier itself, the E1 is a lightweight plastic unit with a clothing or belt clip on the back. One end takes the music audio inputs, either digital via micro-USB or analogue through a 3.5 mm audio socket. The other end has the two 3.5 mm audio sockets, one for a set of headphones and one for a microphone or second set of ‘phones. On the side, there’s a power switch, a volume slider, a multi-function button and a small LED.

Creative Sound Blaster E1

Enough of what it looks like….what does it sound like? Pretty good actually. I used the E1 in both configurations, first taking an input from a smartphone or tablet and in this instance I was using a Nexus 9 tablet and a OnePlus One smartphone, both with high bit rate mp3s and Spotify. I’m not a total audio geek, so I don’t actually have any high impedance headphones so the testing was done using Sennheiser earbuds and recent edition 414 headphones (the ones with the yellow earpads).

Listening to the E1, there’s no dramatic difference from the source but it does tend to ameliorate the worst aspects of compressed digital audio, reducing the high frequency tinniness and giving it a slightly warmer feel. It particularly worked well with Spotify and other low-bit music sources, smoothing out the treble.

If worn conveniently, the E1 has a built-in microphone to enable hands-free calling. Call comes in, press the multi-function button, take the call. Callers reported that they could hear me well as long as the E1 was close. Clipped to my shirt was fine.

Using the E1 as a sound card is simply a case of plugging in the E1 to a spare USB port via the red cable. I tested with a Windows 8.1 Toshiba laptop, an 8.1 HP tablet via a dock and a Samsung Chromebook, and in all cases it worked out of the box. In this configuration, the presentation of the sound was good and generally superior to the audio provided by the laptop or tablet, especially when listening to Spotify.

Generally, background hiss was kept to a minimum and was only noticeable in the earbuds when I went looking for it, e.g. by putting the source volume down low and increasing the volume on the E1. With the source volume at a normal level there’s no problem and is unlikely to be noticeable with on-ear headphones.

In case anyone is wondering, it’s not possible to use the E1 as a mixer with two sources. Plugging in a 3.5 mm audio jack disconnects the micro-USB input. Sorry.

The E1 works well out of the box, but where it delivers in spades is with the full driver and app package which is downloaded from Creative’s web site. Once installed the software gives tons of extra controls over the E1, in particular allowing the audio response to be customised.

SB Studio

One of the best features is the equaliser which adjusts the frequency response. There are a bunch of presets with the usual suspects from classical to pop and rock, and its also customisable to personal preference. I liked this.

SB Studio

Overall, the E1 portable amplifier does what sets out to do, making compressed audio sound better, whether from an analogue 3.5 mm source or a digital USB connection. The extensive range of features from hands-free calling to audio equalisation is impressive and for those people who live in their headphones, it’s worth considering. The RRP is £39.95 in the UK or $49.99 in the USA.

Thanks to Creative for the loan of the review unit.

Sennheiser Momentum Wireless Headphones

Sennheiser LogoSennheiser have always been one of my preferred headphone brands and I previously reviewed the Momentum On-Ears for GNC. Consequently, I was very interested to hear that a second generation of Momentum headphones were on their way with both Bluetooth wireless and noise-cancellation features. Marlo chats to Scott Houston from Sennheiser about the Momentum Wireless.

The new Sennheiser Momentum Wireless takes the original Momentum and updates it for listening on the move. No tangled wires with Bluetooth wireless; environmental sound kept to a minimum with active noise cancellation; integrated microphone to take calls without removing the headphones, improved padding for extended listening and folding arms to pack the headphones away neatly. Overall, it looks like a tidy package.

Of course, this doesn’t come cheap with the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless costing US$499 or GB£379 from Sennheiser’s web store.

Interview by Marlo Anderson of The Tech Ranch for the TechPodcast Network.

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ONvocal Mix360 Combines Music, Voice and Ambient

ONvocal

Anyone who has worn earbuds or in-ear headphones will know that (a) they are very effective in blocking out external noise and (b) phone conversations sound a little strange if you use them with your smartphone to take a call. ONvocal have a solution to these problems….it’s a little unorthodox and pricey so Don finds out more from company president, Bob Spanner.

The Mix360 personal audio device combines microphones with signal processors to mix sound from three sources – music, phone call and environmental noise. The benefit in the first instance is that you can hear the world around you and avoid getting run over by buses plus when you are on a phone call, you hear your own voice, which makes it much more natural. The exact level of each audio source can be adjusted via complementary app. The interview video doesn’t really make it clear but the band is a neckband not a headband and is worn at collar level.

The Mix360 will be available in May with a price of $349 and can be pre-ordered at ONvocal’s shop.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor.

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Audio-Technica Gets SonicSporty At CES

Audio-Technica LogoJapanese audio specialists Audio-Technica have a long pedigree in sound going back to the 60s with an impressive client list include a number of successive Summer and Winter Olympics. Todd and Crystal Griffith take a look at the latest headphones from Audio-Technica.

First up are new additions to the SonicSport line of in-ear headphones, each of which has a different mechanism for retaining the earbud in the ear. Some hang over the ear, others lock into the inner part of the pinna. The idea is that Audio-Technica has headphones that suit you and your activities. The USP of these in-ear phones is that in addition to the standard ear-tips, ridged ear-tips are provided which allow a small amount of external sound through. This makes the SonicSport headphone range a good choice for those who need to be a little more aware of their surroundings. Prices start at $35.

Next are a new pair of high-end audiophile over-ear headphones. Aimed at the lossless music market, these headphones are technically designed to get the best from the music source while providing comfortable extended listening. US availability is March at an RRP of $249.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Peri Duo Speaker Case for iPhone

Peri Logo

When it comes to smartphones and tablets, there are few mobile devices that produce anything like a decent volume and as for stereo separation, forget it. Fortunately Peri can come to the aid of iPhone owners with the Peri Duo, a high-power wireless speaker and phone charger case. Todd and Jamie find out more from Cedric Sumimoto, co-founder of Peri.

The Peri Duo is a standalone wi-fi and bluetooth-enabled speaker and iPhone charger case all in one. As expected, music can be streamed via AirPlay but the iPhone doesn’t have to be in the case when playing the music, so the Duo speaker can be on the opposite side of the room while the iPhone is safely in a pocket. Even better, more than one Duo can be connected to a phone so one Duo can be assigned as the left speaker and one as the right. Alternatively, one phone can multicast to dozens of Peri Duos, which really gets the party going.

The battery is 2500 mAh which will fully recharge an iPhone once with a bit over, or else the Duo will play music for around 4 hours.

The Peri Duo will be available for the iPhone 5, 5s, 6 and iPod Touch. The MSRP will be $139 though it’s currently on pre-order at $99 via Indigogo. Deliveries are expected from April onwards.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Antelope Goes Atomic at CES

Antelope LogoAntelope Audio are manufacturers of professional and high-end home audio products. Well known in the industry, Antelope counts Stevie Wonder, Rhianna and Justin Timberlake as customers. At CES, Marlo chats with Georgi Lazarov from Antelope Audio about their Zodiac Platinum DSD DAC.

The Zodiac Platinum has three key components with the DSD DAC at the heart of the system. Antelope pursue the goal of keeping the music reproduction as close as possible to the original recorded by the artist and the DAC supports up to DSD128 (Double-DSD) and 384 kHz, 24-bit streaming. In addition, the DSD features include a unique 256x upsampling mode where DSD64 and DSD128 are upsampled to DSD256, knocking the standard CD into the proverbial cocked hat.

To complement the DAC, there is Voltikus audiophile grade power supply, and to keep everything in sync, an atomic clock. Driven by a 10M Rubidium oscillator, the atomic clock provides the most accurate and stable clocking reference keeping the digital to analogue conversion as close to perfect as possible.

Available now from audio dealers worldwide.

Interview by Marlo Anderson of The Tech Ranch.

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HearNotes Wirefree Earbuds Come to CES

HearNotesAudiophile wireless headphones are rare and audiophile wireless earbuds even rarer. There are a couple of reasons for this but the main one is that Bluetooth isn’t really very good for music streaming, even with newer codecs like AptX. HearNotes reckon they have the answer to this problem. Patrick Donohue explains what HearNotes can offer the audiophile.

HearNotes wirefree earbuds are special for three cool features. First the earbuds are genuinely wirefree with no wires even between the earbuds. Second the earbuds charge wirelessly in a matching case – there’s no plugging in to charge up – giving about 4 hours of listening between charges. Finally the wireless transmission uses a high quality wireless audio technology called Kleer. It goes without saying that the audio components are top notch too.

A small transmitter plugs into the 3.5mm audio port to support the Kleer technology so the HearNotes can be used in any situation where an audio jack is available. This is undoubtedly a benefit but the audio output from most DACs in portable equipment leaves a great deal to be desired.

The HearNotes will be available in Q1 for a fairly pricey $349 from retailers nationwide.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Todd Aune of The Elder Divide for the TechPodcast Network.
Disclosure – HearNotes is currently an advertiser at Geek News Central.

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Ion Audio Gets The Party Going at CES 2015

Ion Sound Experience

The great thing about Ion Audio is that they concentrate on fun audio products: seriously, who else puts a speaker in plant pot? At CES, Ion has continued in the tradition of fun with two products for two very different environments. Todd listens in with Wendy Fortin, Ion Product Manager.

First up is the Block Party Live, a 50W PA speaker on luggage wheels complete with light show. No really, there’s a light dome on top that projects coloured lights. Music can be streamed via Bluetooth and there’s an Apple and Android app to control the lights. Available now for $199.

Coming inside, the Sound Shine are wireless stereo speakers with built-in LED lighting. Screwed into a standard lamp holder the two speakers can either work as independent mono speakers or can be paired up for stereo sound. As with the Block Party, music is streamed via Bluetooth and both the music and light output can be controlled via an app for both Android and Apple devices. Available in Q1, $69 buys a single lamp and $129 gets a pair.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Kingston HyperX Cloud Headset Review

Kingston LogoKingston have long been a brand of choice for gaming professionals, expecially when overclocking the HyperX range of memory modules to within a megahertz of their life. Not content with the inside of the PC, Kingston has put the performance brand on the outside with the HyperX Cloud headset. Sensibly they’ve not tried to start from scratch but partnered with Swedish pro gamers Qpad to get into the market. Let’s take a look.

Kingston HyperX Cloud Box

Initial impressions are good. The HyperX Cloud headset comes in a solid well-finished box that pulls smoothly apart to reveal the headset and accessories. There’s a slightly cheesy marketing message from the HyperX Gaming Manager in silver on the inside of the lid, but it’s a nice touch.

Kingston HyperX Cloud in Box

As you’ll see from the pics, the version on review is the white with black edition; there’s a black with red version if you want to look a bit tougher. Taking the headphones out of the box, they feel pretty good and well-made for the price point. There are no rough edges, the headband stitching looks good and the embroidery is neat. The audio lead is braided rather than bare PVC and that alone helps with the tangles. It’s the end of the lead that gives away the fact that the HyperX Cloud isn’t only for listening to music as rather than a single 3.5mm jack, there’s a pair; one for audio in (the headphones) and the other for audio out (the microphone).

Kingston HyperX Cloud Headset

The detachable boom mic is on the left hand side of the box and plugs cleanly into a socket on the left hand ear cup. A small insert covers the socket when the microphone’s not needed to keep things neat. The boom is flexible and can be positioned to suit.

Kingston HyperX Cloud Headset with Mic

In the box there’s a comprehensive selection of accessories including an extension lead, in-line mic set and an adaptor to take the two 3.5mm stereo jacks into a single TRRS connector, as used in mobile phones. There’s even one of the adaptors needed for annoying aircraft seats, so whether it’s a PC, tablet, phone or plane, the HyperX Cloud can jack in.

But enough of the features….what is the HyperX Cloud like to use? To start with, the headphones are very comfortable to wear, especially when the leather-style pads are swapped for the included velour ones. I wore the headphones for several multi-album sessions without any soreness and would definitely recommend them for extended gaming sessions too. Obviously the preference between enclosed and on-ear cups is a personal one but for comfort, I think these are hard to beat.

Sonically, I used the headphones for gaming, music and IP telephony with Microsoft’s Lync. In the office, the headset is great. One minute you are listening to music, the next minute you are taking a phone call with no need to fumble around taking the headset off while picking up the phone. Voices were clear and callers could hear me well. Moving on to music listening, it’s always hard to critique without sounding critical. I thought the HyperX Cloud headset reproduced sound well with good clarity across the range. The sound could have been richer and more exciting but I was perfectly happy listening to the HyperX Cloud all day. Playing games, the headset was great with gunshots and explosions blowing up in your ears. Car engines came across well, so this headset was made for GTA. As with phone calls, abuse, sorry, conversation with fellow gamers was clear.

Overall, there’s not much to dislike and a great deal to enjoy with the Kingston HyperX Cloud headset. It’s well made and comfortable to wear, and comes with everything needed to plug-in. Audio quality is good without being outstanding. The Kingston HyperX Cloud has a list price of GB£79.99 but can be found on-line for less.  Stick it on your Christmas list.

Thanks to Kingston for providing the review headset.

OnePlus Partners with JBL for E1+ Earphones

OnePlus LogoOnePlus today announced a partnership with audio specialists JBL for exclusive earphones to complement the audio capabilities of the OnePlus One smartphone. The new JBL E1+ earbuds are bright red with flat tangle-resistant cable and comes with an in-line three button remote. The built-in microphone means that there’s no need to unplug when a call comes in, and it’s a standard 3.5mm jack on the end.

JBL E1+ Earphones

 

These earbuds look great and I love the knurled endcaps. I’m usually pretty understated with black Sennheisers but I could like these red E1+ earphones and I hope the audio is up-to-scratch too. It’s great to see all these moves in the audio space and it’s not just the iPhone that has all the fun, too.

Available in October for US $39.99 or GB £29.99 from the OnePlus Store. Video below ticks all the expected boxes.