Creative Sound Blaster Roar Review

Creative LogoWhile everyone’s eyes have been on drones, portable Bluetooth speakers have been the sleeper hit of the past few years. From low-fi to hi-fi and prices to match, there’s a speaker for everyone. On review here is Creative’s Sound Blaster Roar, a compact portable Bluetooth wireless speaker with NFC, though this description sells it short by a long way. Let’s take a look.

To start with, the SoundBlaster Roar is about the size of four DVD boxes stacked on top of each other, though it’s a bit narrower (57 x 202 x 115 mm). It’s no lightweight either with a bit of mass (1.1 kg), which is reassuring when it comes speakers. There’s metal mesh on four sides and a swathe of controls, slots and sockets on the fifth with soft touch rubber which spills over onto the top. The design itself won a Red Dot Award in 2014.

Creative Roar

Some of the controls are self-evident such as the power button and volume controls, but it’s not immediately apparent why there are buttons for record, play and pause. Even more surprising and concerning is the switch marked “ARM”, which fortunately is in the off position for now.

The Roar is much more than a Bluetooth wireless speaker. It’s a hands-free speaker phone, a USB digital sound card, an MP3 player, an audio recorder, microSD card reader, a battery pack and a siren. It’s quite the box of tricks with versatility to take it from the office to the party.

Powering up the Roar plays a satisfying little jingle – it’s on and ready to rock. Starting with the basics and playing music from a smartphone, it’s straightforward to pair the Roar, with a choice of two techniques. Pair via the normal Bluetooth passcode or else swipe the NFC hotspot on the Roar to automatically set the pairing, assuming your device has NFC.

With the pairing done, it’s time to play some music. Given Creative’s long history in audio, it’s not unsurprising that the Roar sounds good. For it’s size, it’s very good indeed which rich sound that’s far bigger than the box itself. To achieve this presence, the Roar houses five speakers in the unit’s body, with sets of speakers tuned to deliver in the bass, mid and high frequency ranges. For extra volume, the ROAR button will turn it up to eleven, through it needs to be plugged into the mains to get maximum volume output.

The Roar is a portable speaker and as a necessity there’s a built-in battery that according the specs gives eight hours of playback. I’m not going to disagree with that – it’s in the right space. The Roar can be recharged either from a supplied power brick or via micro-USB through a port on the rear. There’s a full size USB port too for recharging other devices such as smartphones and tablets from the Roar. Battery status is shown by three round green LEDs on the top.

That’s the main presentation out of the way and if that’s all that’s needed from a portable wireless speaker, the Roar delivers well and is worthy of closer inspection.

Creative Roar

But it’s so much more. As the speaker pairs with smartphones via Bluetooth, it’s not entirely unexpected that Roar doubles up as a speakerphone. In use, call quality was good and echo was minimal, and unlike most speakerphones, the audio from the phone call can be recorded to the inserted microSD card. Potentially a useful feature, but check the legality of recording conversations in the relevant jurisdiction.

The Roar works as a USB audio device too, and installation is largely limited to plugging a USB cable between the PC and Roar. Windows auto-loads the drivers and a few seconds later, the Roar is good to go to play music (and other sounds) from the PC. In this mode, the Roar is powered by the PC and the battery charges up as well. The Roar complements music streaming services such as Spotify or Google Music.

Next up, the Creative Roar can work as a standalone music speaker. Load up a microSD card with mp3s and pop it into the Roar. There are simple controls for play, next track, previous track, repeat and shuffle.

Finally, returning to the ARM button, the Roar has a siren feature. Arm the unit with the switch at the top and press the Alarm button to get a whoop-whoop siren to get everyone’s attention. What more could you want?

Overall this a portable wireless speaker that is crammed full of features and the Roar is everything you need for music on the go, in the office or at home. It’s a great sounding wireless Bluetooth speaker, speakerphone, call recorder, MP3 player, USB digital sound card, battery pack and personal alarm in a portable package costing GB£129. There’s nothing to quibble about here, though I’d really like to see it in yellow. Available now from good retailers and direct from Creative’s store.

Thanks to Creative for the loan of the Roar.

Power Support Anti-Glare Film Set for iPhone 6 Plus Review

Overall, I’m pretty happy with my iPhone 6 Plus. But one problem I keep having to deal with is screen glare, especially in sunlight. The problem is compounded by my visual impairment and it makes the phone almost unusable outdoors. After doing some online research, I decided to pick up a Power Support Anti-Glare set at my local Apple Store.

Power Support anti-glare set for iPhone 6 Plus

 

Power Support anti-glare set

The set is pretty straight forward. It comes with a set of instructions along with two adhesive anti-glare films and one adhesive dust remover. For good measure, I removed my iPhone from its protective case (the instructions don’t specifically recommend doing this) and polished the screen using some Juce screen cleaner. Next, I used the included dust removal adhesive strip by applying one half of the strip at a time until the entire front of the phone was covered.

Power Support dust remover

 

Power Support dust remover

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Archos 52 Platinum with Fusion Storage Review

Archos LogoOn review here is the Archos 52 Platinum smartphone, a mid-range phone with a couple of tricks up its sleeve. First, the smartphone takes dual SIMs and second, it has a microSD slot. The latter is perhaps not a great trick on its own but when paired with Archos’ new Fusion storage, it’s a smartphone with masses of space. Let’s take a look.

Archos Platinum 52

They say first impressions count and my first impression of the Platinum 52 on opening the box is how much the smartphone looks like a bigger Nexus 4. It’s the silver surround on the front and while round the back it’s not the sparkly glass of the Nexus, I’m still a big fan as it’s a neat clean look.

The physical dimensions are 77 mm wide, 150 mm tall and only 8.8 mm thick. Weighing in at 161 g, it’s a tidy package for a big screen phone.

Specwise, the Platinum 52 is a 3G quad-core 1.3 GHz device with 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB storage and a microSD card slot. It’s not a cutting edge processor by any stretch of the imagination but it’s a solid performer that will handle most tasks thrown at it. The 1 GB RAM is a bit meagre but once Fusion Storage has been experienced, it forgives the 8 GB storage memory. Out of the box, the 52 is running KitKat with extra Archos apps but no significant changes to stock Android.

It’s a 5.25″ IPS screen with a 1280 x 720 HD screen which looks bright with good contrast. The Platinum 52 has hard buttons at the bottom of the screen. I prefer the soft buttons of the Nexus series but that’s a personal choice.

There are two cameras, an 8 MP rear camera and a front 2 MP one. No great surprises from either camera, either good or bad.

Archos Platinum 52 BackRound the back and inside is a removable 1750 mAh battery – performance was in-line with expectations. Also inside is the Platinum 52’s first trick; a SIM carrier that takes two SIMs, one micro and one nano (though the Archos website says that they’re mini and micro).

SIM cardsHaving dual SIMs opens up possibilities that having one SIM doesn’t. One SIM for personal and other for work. One SIM for home and your main number, one SIM for the local country and data services.

When a new SIM card is put into the Platinum 52, the phone prompts to set the defaults for each card, so if on travels, set the data connection to the local SIM to avoid whopping data charges. It’s pretty neat.

The next trick is Archos Fusion storage and the Platinum 52 is one of the first smartphones to take advantage of  the feature. Simply, the internal 8 GB storage memory is joined with the inserted microSD card. Put in a 32 GB card and the Platinum 52 has 40 GB of storage.

It’s a two step process; first enable Fusion and then optimise the storage. It’s straightforward and pain-free, though the optimising process takes a little while as files are shuffled around.

Archos Fusion  Archos Optimise

Archos Games with FusionOnce the process is finished, the addition of the microSD card to the storage memory is seamless. After inserting a 32 GB card, I was able to load a stack of massive games onto an “8 GB” phone – Monument Valley, GTA III, Shardlands, Iron Man 3, The Room, The Dark Knight, Galaxy on Fire 2. In practical use, I could tell no difference – possibly games took a little bit longer to load but these are big games and take time even on standard phone. As far as I could tell, the Fusion storage system worked perfectly; Archos have done a really good job here.

At an RRP of GB£129.99, the Archos Platinum 52 is up against some stiff competition but on the whole comes out ahead in both price, specification and looks. The dual SIMs and Fusion Storage are compelling selling points which should set it apart from the herd, especially for travellers. Fusion Storage is clever, works well and gives the low internal storage a valuable boost.

Booq Taipan Shock Backpack Review

booq LogoThe Booq Taipan Shock is a lightweight laptop backpack for devices with screens up to 16″, designed to store the laptop safely in a padded section, placing all the accoutrements of mobile life in other pockets and compartments. As can be seen in the photos, it’s a relatively big backpack at 46 × 33 × 21 cm giving it a large internal volume for plenty of gear. The outer material is 1680D triweave water-repellent polyester closed with YKK zips and all the stitching is neatly finished and taped over on the inside. The specs say it weighs just under a kilo.

Booq Taipan Shock back

Booq Taipan Shock strap sideThe dedicated laptop section is closest to the back side of the Shock and has padding on all sides with a flash of red material. The Shock easily took a chunky HP ProBook with a 15.6″ screen and a more svelte 13″ Lenovo Yoga looked almost lost inside the padded laptop pocket.

Booq Taipan Shock laptop pocket

In the main section, there’s a selection of zipped pockets, netted areas, pen-holders and slots for paper pads. There’s plenty of room for books and lunchboxes too.

Inside the Taipan Shock

Booq Taipan Shock Removable KeyringThe Taipan Shock has loads of neat features. To start with all the zips are YKK’s water-repellent versions, so once closed up the bag will keep gear dry in a rain shower. As the zips are covered with a layer of material, they look neat and tidy, with none of the zip teeth showing. For convenience, one of the side pockets has a detachable keyring, and while the arm straps can be adjusted for fit, any extra webbing can be neatly wrapped and retain with velcro to stop it flapping around. Finally on the rear of the backpack, there’s a pocket that’s just the right size for an ereader or 7″ tablet, which is handy for easy access.

Booq TagsThe Taipan Shock looks very smart in grey but for a bit of brightness a few coloured leather pull-tabs are included which can be swapped in. It’s a neat touch.

Finally, the Booq Taipan Shock comes with Terralinq, a service designed to reunite lost bags with owners. By pairing a serial number on the backpack with the purchaser, the Shock can be returned should it be found.

Overall, the Booq Taipan Shock is a well-made backpack that has plenty of pockets and space for safely toting larger laptops. The Taipan Shock is vailable from Amazon.co.uk with an RRP of £80.

Thanks to Booq for the loan of the Taipan Shock.

Divoom Airbeat-10 Bluetooth Speaker Review

Divoom LogoIt’s rare that products sent for review offer any great surprises: usually gadgets arriving on my desk meet my expectations in terms of build, functionality and price. However, occasionally a device delivers more than expected and I’m pleased to say that this is one such occasion. The Divoom Airbeat-10 punches well above its weight with loudness and clarity that belies its diminutive size. Sorry if this ruined the review but let’s take a look anyway.

The Divoom Airbeat-10 is portable Bluetooth speaker with speakerphone. It’s splashproof and comes with a suction cup and bike mount, though Airboot is just as happy to sit on the table or hang from a hook. A USB to micro-USB cable is included for charging and a 3.5 mm stereo lead comes in the box for devices without Bluetooth.

Airbeat-10 Contents

The Airbeat-10 is about 9 cm along the sides and around 4.5 cm tall. Covered in a soft touch rubber, it’s available in four colours; black, white, red and blue. An LED on the top lights up to show Bluetooth and charging activity, on the side there are four buttons for power, phone functions and volume up/down, along with a covered port for USB charging and 3.5 mm aux in. On the back of the Airbeat is a standard camera screw mount which is used for the suction cup and bike attachment but can be used with other camera accessories such as a GorillaPod. The Airbeat 10 weighs in at 155 g, meaning that it’s not hollow plastic.

Airbeat-10 Buttons

Pairing is straightforward. Turn the Airbeat-10 on, search from the Bluetooth settings on the phone or tablet and pair up. Easy-peasy and time to make some noise.

And this is where the Airbeat-10 delivered well beyond my expectation – it produced rich and surprisingly loud sound for such a small device. Certainly it’s not audiophile hi-fi and it’s not stereo but for a pocket-sized portable device the Airbeat-10 is very good indeed. Music comes across well through the range with little of the tinniness normally associated with small lightweight devices and good amount of lower end bass.

Airbeat Speaker with SuckerI had the Airbeat on my desk for the review period and it was great to have it handy for a quick listen for both music and podcasts. It’s portability and wireless connectivity meant that I could move it round my desk as I needed space. Battery life is a claimed six hours and that seems about right – I found that I needed to charge the Airbeat-10 once or twice a week depending on usage.

The Airbeat-10 is splashproof as well and with the suction mount, it’s ideal for use in the shower. I whacked it onto the tiles with the sucker, started the radio app before stepping in and listened to the morning news in the shower without getting my smartphone wet. Excellent.

There are three minor issues that I found with the Airbeat. First, when using it as a speakerphone, the microphone on the side needed to be pointing at the speaker otherwise the caller on the other end of the line didn’t hear too well. The second was that sometimes “silence detection” seemed to be overly aggressive and between music tracks or between people talking in podcasts, the Airbeat would go silent (presumably to save power) but then there would be a small pop as the sound restarted and the first half-second of speech or music would be lost. Adjusting the volume upwards on the smartphone or tablet usually helped. Finally, the soft touch rubber coating was a bit of a fluff magnet!

These niggles aside, I was impressed by the Divoom Airbeat-10. Although small, the quality of the sound and volume is better than anything I’ve heard at this size, and the portability and wireless connectivity make it the perfect casual speaker whether in the office, in the shower or out-and-about. At this time of year, I’d recommend it to the music Festival crowd and later in the year I’d be suggesting it as a great stocking-filler.

The Divoom Airbeat-10 is available from retailers worldwide with an RRP of £29.99 in the UK.

Thanks to Divoom for the Airbeat-10 for review.

App Review: aTimeLogger 2 for iOS

aTimeLogger2 logoAs a freelancer, time tracking is essential to the work I do. I’m always looking for ways to improve that tracking, so I’ve been trying out different apps lately to help with the task. One of this apps is called aTimeLogger 2. There are some previous versions of aTimeLogger for other platforms. But aTimeLogger 2 is only currently available for iOS and I’ve used it exclusively on my iPad Mini. The app sells for $2.99 in the App Store but I was able to pick it up for free during a special promotional period.

aTimeLogger 2 is pretty straight forward when adding a task. The app opens with a screen that allows you to select from different task categories. aTimeLogger 2 is designed to keep track of EVERYTHING you might do in the course of a day; working, eating, exercising, sleeping, etc. I’m only interested in using the app for work projects, so I selected the Work option from the menu below.

aTimeLogger2 screen

This automatically added a new task at the top of the screen with a new timer that had already started rolling.

aTimeLogger2 screen

 

Tapping the task takes me to a screen that allows me to add some details to the task. The “Type” section was already set to Work, as I selected that on the previous screen. If I wanted to change it to something else, I could do that here. The “My plan” feature has something to do with combining different tasks into a plan. This feature seemed confusing and since I really didn’t need it, I didn’t try to figure it out. I did however use the “Comment” field as a way to give my tasks unique names that made them easier to identify.

aTimeLogger2 screen

This screen also keeps track of any time I’ve added to the task so far and it also has a delete button for removing the task completely from the app.

Tapping the Save button in the upper right-hand corner took me back to the main aTimeLogger 2 screen. I added an additional task just to show that the app allows you to keep track of multiple projects at the same time.

aTimeLogger2 screen

Note: While you can keep track of multiple tasks as shown above, aTimeLogger 2 can only one run timer at a time. I think this is by design, since the app breaks everything down into task categories and the assumption is you probably won’t be doing more than one task at a time.

From here, you can pause tasks and restart them again as needed. This is crucial for the type of work I do, as projects are not always done in a single block of time or on a single day. This is really all I used the app for, and for the most part, it did this well. However, I did notice sometimes that the timer would jump ahead in time when adding details to the Comment fields of tasks. It was easy enough to fix this when it was caught right away. But it was confusing at first, as I noticed some tasks had already logged more minutes (sometimes even hours) than I could’ve possibly used since adding the task to aTimeLogger 2. Once I figured out it was doing this, I just had to tap on the timer and reset it with the “Now” button. Fortunately, this problem only seemed to appear when initially setting up a task. This problem never arose when adding more time to an existing task.

At the end of a tracking period, aTimeLogger 2 will allow you to export all of your tracking data to a CSV or HTML file. Again, all I wanted the app to do was track my time in the Work category. But because it’s designed to track all of your time, there’s no way to remove that pesky “Other” category from the export results.

aTimeLogger2 screen

aTimeLogger 2 has settings and feature beyond what I used it for. For example, you can connect it to Twitter if you’d like the app to tweet when you’ve started/completed a task. You can also change the theme of the app if you’d like it to look different from the default layout (which was perfectly fine for me).

I used aTimeLogger 2 for one month’s worth of task tracking. And while the app is OK, I have trouble recommending it, mainly due to the timer issue I mentioned above. But, if you don’t mind a little babysitting when you first add tasks to the app, or if you’re super interested in timing EVERYTHING you do in the course of a day, aTimeLogger 2 might work well for you.

Archos Connected Scale Review

Archos LogoOver the past few years, we’ve all seen the rise of the fitness tracker and their transformation into wearables. While the goal of encouraging greater fitness is laudable and essential for the future health of the nation, to some extent the tracker is the gamification of fitness. For evidence of weight loss, reduction in BMI and reduced body fat, you need scales (and hard work)….which brings us neatly to the Archos Connected Scale.


Connected Scale

The Archos Connected Scale is a set of stylish bathroom scales which measures weight and body fat transmitting the recordings via Bluetooth to a complementary app on the smartphone. I think these would look good in any bathroom or home gym.

Archos Connected Scale ReadingIn the box, there’s the scales, four AAA batteries plus a couple of guides. Getting going is simply a case of installing the batteries and once they’re in, the Archos scales will measure weight like any other bathroom scales. The display is backlight and lights up with a cool blue.

Of course, the real benefit with these scales is that the readings can be sent to the owner’s smartphone and recorded in the Archos Connected Self app, available for both Android and Apple iOS devices. The app stores information from three different sources to record data on weight, blood pressure and distance from Archos devices the Connected Scale, Blood Pressure Monitor and Activity Tracker.

To get the readings from the scales via Bluetooth, the Connected Scale need to be paired with the smartphone and that’s straightforward: press and hold the Unit button on the rear and then pair as normal.

Archos App User Scale Binding

On the Connected Self app, the first step is to set up a user account and the second is to attach the Connected Scale to the user. With all that done, every time you step on the scale, weight and body fat percentage are transmitted to the app. It’s that easy. As recordings build up, the app can show graphs on weekly, monthly and annual basis. It can also show the data in a tabular form.

Graph Values

If needed, weight measurements can be added manually and some additional information can be added too including blood pressure and heart rate.

In use, the Archos Connected Scale worked well, sending the weight readings to the smartphone. I did have one glitch which was only resolved by re-pairing the scale, but in my experience of Bluetooth devices, this isn’t unusual. One tip for potential users – don’t bother taking your smartphone into the bathroom every day. The Connected Scale will remember several week’s worth of readings and upload them when there is a connection to the phone.

The only downside is that as with all of these wearables and health devices, they don’t talk to each other and each supplier is trying to build their own ecosystem. Simply I can’t load Archos Connected Scales information into my Fitbit app or I can’t load my Fitbit steps into the Archos app. Very frustrating.

With an RRP of £49.99, the Archos Connected Scale is about twice the price of a similarly stylish but unconnected set of bathroom scales. Having said that, the Connected Scale can be found on-line for a little less (£35-ish), which I think makes it a fairly good buy even if you are only looking for stylish bathroom scales.

Thanks to Archos for the loan of the Connected Scale.

Thanks for Nothing, Taskrabbit

Taskrabbit logoAs a freelancer, I’m always looking for new ways to increase my income. I prefer to do this by doing more of the things I’m really good at like audio production or writing. But when those gigs aren’t coming thru as often as I’d like, I start to look around for other opportunities. I’d heard of Taskrabbit awhile back. It’s a service that aims to connect those with available “odd jobs” to potential laborers looking for work. Like everything in this post-app world, it looks like a great idea and could be truly beneficial to those who use it. I wish I could say that was my experience with Taskrabbit.

I decided to sign up for the service as a “Tasker,” the term Taskrabbit uses for those who are looking for work. I gave Taskrabbit the usual details about myself (name, e-mail address, phone number, mailing address, etc.) and that’s fine. One of the things Taskrabbit strives to provide is a sense of trust among its users and that’s really important as the service is essentially connecting strangers. Taskrabbit needs to know that its users aren’t hiding behind fake credentials, especially since some Taskers will be sent to peoples’ homes.

From there, I was asked to take a 10-question quiz based on topics in the Taskrabbit user guide. I’ll admit, I didn’t read the guide. But the questions were pretty easy to work out, as the answers were all based on real-world common sense. However, I did miss one question and apparently, the Taskrabbit quiz is only passable on a perfect score. I had to retake the quiz and this time, I aced it.

That led to the next part of the signup process where Taskrabbit asked for my Social Security and bank account numbers. I’m always apprehensive about giving over this kind of sensitive information. I double checked my browser to make sure I was on a secure connection and that I hadn’t fumbled entering the address and accidentally went to “tsakrabitt.com” or something like that. Everything looked good so I entered the information and moved on. Then, I had to tell Taskrabbit the geographical area in which I’m available to work. Using the site’s handy mapping tool, I drew a box around my hometown and then clicked the Next button.

And finally, this is the point where Taskrabbit decided to tell me that the service isn’t available in my area. I was pretty discouraged by this. Why didn’t Taskrabbit check my ZIP code against its database when I first entered my information? I understand that some people may live in one area not covered by Taskrabbit but may be open to work in an area that is covered by the service. But why not give me a warning first? Not only did I waste my time in signing up, taking (and retaking) the quiz, but Taskrabbit now has my Social Security and bank account numbers. And while I’m sure Taskrabbit’s security is top notch, information breeches happen all of the time.

I just wish Taskrabbit would’ve told me the service isn’t available where I live before I had given them all of that information. There’s no ETA as to when Taskrabbit will be available here. All I can do now is wait and see when they get here. Or deactivate my account, which is probably what I’ll do.

Bose Soundlink Color Bluetooth Speaker Review

bose soundlink colorI’ve been playing around with the Bose Soundlink Color Bluetooth Speaker and, truth be told, I think I’m in love.

The Soundlink Color packs an incredible punch despite its compact design. It weighs only 1.25 pounds, making it the perfect audio solution for travel and everyday use. The upright, rounded design allows for crisp, clear sound that projects throughout the room. While it doesn’t beat the quality of higher-grade professional speakers, the Soundlink Color is perfect for the average music lover, with exceptional sound quality considering that it connects via Bluetooth.

Pairing your smartphone, tablet, or computer with the Soundlink Color couldn’t be easier. Just turn on the speaker and it will begin searching for nearby Bluetooth devices within a 30-foot range. When it pops up as an available connection on your device, just hit connect and you’re good to go. The speaker will guide you through the process with voice prompts so you’ll be connected in no time. The Soundlink Color can connect to up to two Bluetooth devices at a time, so you can easily switch between different sources of audio. In addition, the speaker remembers the last eight devices it’s been paired with to make connecting even easier.

The Soundlink Color’s rechargable lithium ion battery boasts an impressive 8-hour battery life, so you’ll get plenty of listening time before its time to charge up. This makes it the perfect choice for camping, traveling, or casual listening wherever you are. You can charge the speaker using the included wall adapter or via USB.

True to its name, the Soundlink Color comes in an assortment of colors: red, mint, blue, white, and black. I bought the black model, and it is quite attractive. One of the first things I noticed when trying it out is just how sturdy this little speaker is– you can feel the durability. The durable rubber casing protects it against dust, dirt, and damage, without compromising on style or performance.

You can purchase the Soundlink Color for $129.95 on the Bose website or at an electronics retailer near you.

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.