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.

aiFi is a Stackable, Configurable Speaker System at CES

Aifi logoWith the invention of portable media players and earbuds, music listening moved from an inherently social event to an isolated experience. The problem has only been exacerbated over time, as boomboxes and portable stereo systems have fallen out of favor with consumers. aiFi is a new speaker system that’s looking to bring music back out into the open.

Scott met with Fredrik from aiFi. Fredrik explained that aiFi is a unique speaker system that can be used in multiple ways. One aiFi speaker works just fine on its own. But when it’s stacked with another aiFi speaker or setup with two or more other aiFi’s, the speakers will configure themselves, depending on the location of each aiFi. For example, stacking two aiFi’s will increase the bass response of each unit. Or, three aiFi’s could be placed together to create a sound-bar system for TV viewing. aiFi speakers accept input thru either bluetooth, optical line-in or standard audio line-in, so these speakers can be used with nearly any type of sound source.

Interview by Scott of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

Become a GNC Insider Today!

Support our Show Sponsor:
$1.49 .com New or Renewal geek149
$1.00 / mo WordPress Hosting with a free domain! Promo Code: press4
$1.00 / mo Economy Hosting with a free domain! Promo Code: geeks12
50% off new hosting plans with a free domain 50host7
GoDaddy Promo Codes always save you money, check out my Promo Codes Today

Altec Lansing Brings new Waterproof Speakers to CES

Altec logo

Electronics and water. Two things that just don’t go well together. And while it’s easy enough to keep your electronics dry at home, what about those times when you’d like to play some music or listen to a podcast at the beach or next to a swimming pool? Altec Lansing has a new line of waterproof bluetooth speakers that you can use virtually anywhere.

Scott had a chat with Jill from Altec Lansing. Jill showed off an impressive array of products from the company’s “jacket” line. Starting wit the Mini h2o Jacket ($39.99) going all the way up to the Boom Jacket ($199.99), these speakers are wireless, waterproof and highly durable. All of these speakers are also designed to float, so no worries if they’re dropped into the ocean or knocked into a pool. Altec Lansing even put these speakers thru a series of tests, including fire and bullets. And each time, the speakers came thru, still working as expected.

Interview by Scott of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

Become a GNC Insider Today!

Support our Show Sponsor:
$1.49 .com New or Renewal geek149
$1.00 / mo WordPress Hosting with a free domain! Promo Code: press4
$1.00 / mo Economy Hosting with a free domain! Promo Code: geeks12
50% off new hosting plans with a free domain 50host7
GoDaddy Promo Codes always save you money, check out my Promo Codes Today

Denon Brings Innovative new Professional-Grade Gear to CES

Denon logoNo doubt there’s a big focus on consumer-focused products at CES. But there’s still much to be found at the show that’s specifically aimed towards professionals. Denon is a great example of one company that’s not here to sell wearables or kids’ toys.

Nick caught up with Eric from Denon. Eric demonstrated several of Denon’s new products that are specifically designed for use by audio-video integrators. The first is the Solutions series bluetooth-enabled receiver. It’s a box that transmits audio via bluetooth and can easily be integrated into a pro-grade sound system.

Next up is the Denon Envoy, a 360-watt chargeable PA speaker that comes loaded with different input options. Envoy can stream audio from a bluetooth-connected smartphone, it can play media from a built-in SD card slot or it can be connected to a standard external mixer. Envoy’s battery will run for up to 12 hours on one charge.

The last piece of gear in the demonstration is the DN300Z rack-mountable media player. This device is designed to play any type of media a user might have on hand. It’ll play CD’s, bluetooth streams, files from SD cards or USB sticks, even AM/FM radio. This unit would work great in situations where it’s necessary to play back multiple media formats in a hurry.

Interview by Nick DiMeo of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

Become a GNC Insider Today!

Support our Show Sponsor:
$1.49 .com New or Renewal geek149
$1.00 / mo WordPress Hosting with a free domain! Promo Code: press4
$1.00 / mo Economy Hosting with a free domain! Promo Code: geeks12
50% off new hosting plans with a free domain 50host7
GoDaddy Promo Codes always save you money, check out my Promo Codes Today

AAMP of America Auto Upgrades

Aamp of AmericaTechnology moves on quickly and while most people get a new smartphone every other year, buying a new car doesn’t happen nearly as frequently. As a result, in-car technology can get out of date quickly, particularly with respect to entertainment and communication. Fortunately, AAMP of America can help out with this; Todd talks with Jeff Smith to find out what’s hot in auto upgrades.

With over 4,000 dealers, AAMP provide a wide range of after-market upgrades, with rear-view cameras and parking assistance being very popular, including dynamic parking lines. To keep up with manufacturer offerings AAMP does its own design and development to make sure its own products match or exceed the OEM products. Watch the video to learn more about AAMP and their approach to innovation.

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

Become a GNC Insider Today!

Support our Show Sponsor:
$1.49 .com New or Renewal geek149
$1.00 / mo WordPress Hosting with a free domain! Promo Code: press4
$1.00 / mo Economy Hosting with a free domain! Promo Code: geeks12
50% off new hosting plans with a free domain 50host7
GoDaddy Promo Codes always save you money, check out my Promo Codes Today

Samson Meteorite Falls Into CES

Samson LogoAudio specialists Samson today announced the new Meteorite, a USB condenser microphone for capturing high-quality recordings on a laptop or desktop. Meteorite is perfect for podcasting, creating audio for YouTube videos and recording music on your favourite software or apps, and to top it all, looks great.

Samson Meteorite

The Meteorite will be better than any computer’s internal microphone and soundcard, which is often provided at the minimum possible cost. The Meteorite’s studio-quality 14 mm capsule and dedicated audio conversion path provides a smooth, flat frequency response to capture the natural characteristics and dynamics of speech.

The Meteorite mounts to a magnetic base that lets you tilt and swivel the microphone to customise its positioning to your exact preferences. You can even take the microphone off its base and speak directly into it for recording or communicating in crowded noisy environments, and when combined with the iPad using Apple’s Lightning USB Camera Adapter or Camera Connection Kit (for 30-pin), the Meteorite is a great for recording on the go too.

The Metorite is priced at only $39.99 and to find out more visit Samson at CES South Hall 1, booth 21935.

I want one purely because it looks cool!

Braven unveils Bluetooth speaker to rock your home

braven-805

Bluetooth speakers seem to be a dime a dozen on the market these days, and some are better than others. Braven tends to rank up there among the better quality ones available. The company produces a range which even includes water-resistant models that are ideal for outdoor use. But what about filling the inside of your home with sound? That is now covered as well.

Braven is announcing the new model 805, which it deems an “ideal home speaker”. The latest offering comes in a variety of colors, enough to suit even the most finicky of tastes. Customers can choose from simple white or black, but also can opt for the more exotic, such as pink, orange and more.

“The BRAVEN 805 is more than a speaker; it’s an extension of your home”, says Valentine Lopez, Executive Vice President. “It is the only part of your home décor that allows you to enjoy your favorite music whether you like lounging in the living room, dining and cooking in the kitchen or relaxing in the backyard”.

Braven claims the 805 will be available this month and the device will set you back $199, which isn’t a huge price for a good speaker. Plus if you’re attending CES 2015 then you can get a chance to preview it while there.

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.

Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear Headphones Review

Sennheiser LogoI was watching an ABBA retrospective on BBC4 last night and to my surprise, there was Benny and Bjorn wearing Sennheiser HD414s in the recording studio. Lest anyone think that I’m a complete Sennheiser nerd, the HD414s have bright yellow earpads and are very recognisable. With the trip down memory lane complete, let’s take a look and a listen to an entirely more modern set of headphones, the Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear.

Momentum On-Ear

Extending Sennheiser’s Momentum range, the On-Ear is is more compact version of the original over-ear Momentum, and is aimed squarely at the fashion-conscious, iPhone-toting music lover. Although lighter and small, the On-Ear retains much of the luxury and audio quality of its bigger brother but with smaller cups that rest on the ears rather than enclosing them completely.

It’s the attention to detail on the headphones that really stands out – the adjustment, the fixings, the stitching, the soft Alacantara material on the headband and ear cups. The Momentums are a pleasure to handle, hold and wear. I found them comfortable but the trick to extended listening was to keep the cups slightly forward. Too far back and my ears started to get sore.

Ear AdjustmentScrewsStitchingEar Cups

Audio-wise, the Momentum On-Ears are everything that you’d expect from headphones in this price range. Excellent definition and clarity, with musical subtleties coming through beautifully. As might be expected, on lower bit-rate MP3s the On-Ears easily showed up the limitations of the format, while with higher bit-rates, the sound filled out nicely revealing the detail. Plugged into an amp (a Yamaha DSP-AX763) with a CD player source (a Technics SL-PG580A) , the music was incredibly good. I could really listen to the tracks rather than just hear them. It’s hard to get over the audio experience in words, but let’s just say I’m impressed.

ConnectorIncluded in the box with the headphones is a semi-rigid case, a soft carrying bag and two leads. One has a standard 3.5″mm stereo jack for connecting into digital music players or amps, but the other lead has an in-line iRemote for use with Apple products such as the iPhone. The leads have a neat little moulding on the headphone-end that secures the connector into the headset so it doesn’t come out unintentionally.

The Momentum On-Ears come in a range of seven colours – high-gloss black, classic brown, red, ivory, blue, green and pink. There’s a new Samba edition to tie in with World Cup in Brazil this summer which has yellow cups, bringing us back to the original 414s.

Priced at £169.99, these aren’t pocket money, but they are lovely headphones. As with all things hi-fi, there will always be better and more expensive headphones but the Momentum On-Ears seem to occupy a good spot, balancing cost and audio quality. Try them out for yourself.

Thanks to Sennheiser for the loan of the Momentum On-Ears.

Sony introduces 9.1 surround wireless headset

sony-headphonesThese days many of us have a 5.1 system set up in our homes, consisting of a center channel, two front and two rear speakers, along with a sub-woofer. Some folks go the extra mile to implement 7.1, which most modern A/V receivers are capable of handling. But what about 9.1 built into a wireless headphone set?

That’s what Sony promises. “Get a cinematic sound experience all to yourself in the comfort of your home with the new MDR-HW700DS digital surround wireless headphones system”, the company claims.

The dual band connection, 2.4GHz and 5GHz, allows for smooth wireless transmission without any disruptions, with a goal of giving users the freedom to move around without having to compromise the sound quality. There is also a selection of audio types to choose from, including cinema, game and voice.

“Both good for the eyes and the ears MDR-HW700DS is crafted for a comfortable fit over long periods of use with the pressure-relieving luxury ear cushions. The 50mm driver units provide deep bass and impressive sound power. Continuous use is no problem with a battery-life of up to 12h and fast recharge. All this is packed in luxurious and executive design. The headphones are outstanding in their compatibility with the 4K technology. The MDR-HW700DS allows native 4K video content to be passed through in its original quality to a 4K TV or projector, allowing you to experience the full 4K quality while listening via the digital surround wireless headphones system”, Sony explains.

The new headphones will be available later this month. Retail pricing was not included in the announcement.