Exclusive first look: Creative Labs’ high-end Sound BlasterX AE-9 breaks cover

High-end audio lovers finally got the attention they craved this week when Creative Labs showed off its upcoming $300 Sound BlasterX AE-9 sound card.

Aimed at a more discriminating class of audio listeners, the AE-9 features such audiophile features as replaceable operational amplifiers, or opamps, to tune the flavor of sound from the card.

Following the introduction of the gaming-focused Sound BlasterX AE-5Remove non-product link and Sound BlasterX AE-5 PureRemove non-product link last year, the AE-9 kicks it up a notch or two.

Sound Blaster AE-9 Gordon Mah Ung

The card appears to have standard 3.5mm jacks for rear, center, and sub, as well as RCA stereo out and optical in and out ports.

Although still based on the same Sound Core 3D chip as the AE-5 and AE-5 Pure, the AE-9 jettisons the on-chip digital analog converter, or DAC, in favor of an external DAC. The premise being that a high-end DAC will make the sound even more pristine.

Creative officials said the card is rated at a 129dB signal-to-noise ratio and uses an ESS Sabre 32 digital analog converter. Since the AE-5 and AE-5 Pure both use an ESS ES9016 DAC, we figure the AE-9 is a step up to perhaps a Pro ESS DAC.

Audio-fidelity folks will appreciate how the AE-9 gives them control over the operational amplifiers, which can be mixed and matched for desired tuning.

Like the AE-5 cards, the AE-9 features XAMP, which amplifies each stereo channel of headphones out separately as well.

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Sound Blaster AE-9 Gordon Mah Ung

The Sound Blaster AE-9 will feature replaceable opamps so consumers can tailor the audio if they so wish. We’re not sure if these are final shipping opamps or not.

In a first for a sound card—the AE-9 relies on a 6-pin PCIe connector for power. That’s up to 75 watts of power for the AE-9. Besides direct power being cleaner, the added power for the card is to help run the ports on the new breakout box.

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