I’m pretty sure we’ve all had Creative soundcards in our systems at one point. I’ve started with Sound Blaster 128 back in 1998. And continued this with Sound Blaster Live! 5.1, Audigy 4 Value, X-Fi Xtreme Music and Auzentech X-Fi Forte which was based on X-Fi chip, but with higher quality DAC’s, OP-Amps and audio capacitors. I’ve also had Diamond Monster II with Aureal Vortex and ASUS Xonar Essence STX in between, but that’s for some other time.
Things really changed when I’ve gone back to Sound Blaster with the newly released Sound Blaster Z series at that time. These were the first Creative Labs soundcard series which had zero problems on my system with any kind of audio, be it games or general multimedia. I literally never experienced anything serious with it. That was a good start. Then Sound BlasterX AE-5 happened. Probably the most advanced soundcard made by Creative after X-Fi, capable of outputting 32bit audio at 384kHz and having DSP unit capable of processing 32bit 96kHz audio. They crammed really high end components on it, the sorts you find in Class-D amplifiers. It even makes clicking sound as you’re switching audio/speaker modes and it’s switching circuitry, just like on high end amplifiers. But that’s no surprise, Creative has made high end soundcards before…
What’s really different this time seems to be the part which Creative has been lacking for years and decades. Software and tech support. If you got 2 updates a year and actually got a full driver for new version of Windows, it was basically a miracle. Creative just didn’t even bother. Software was often really buggy, problematic to install and use. Tech support? LOL, what is (was) that?
I’ve had Sound BlasterX AE-5 since October 2017 and what I can clearly confirm is the rate at which Creative is releasing updates for it. To this date, I’ve received 5 driver updates since its launch in August 2017. Last one just released on 9th February 2018. That’s more drivers than 2 old series of soundcards from the past combined! In just half a year time. I’ve also contacted their tech support during this time because AE-5 had a bit buggy software since it’s rocking whole new interface. And they always responded within a day and in case of microphone problems even supplied me a solution and in next update fixed the actual issue. They also dramatically improved installer which is ultra fast now and feels way less problematic than before. And for the new Creative Connect 2 control panel, they listened to our wishes and added few things that were necessary but missing at first (like more user defined EQ presets and not just a single “Custom”). And goodies like Filter mode for the DAC’s which just appeared out of nowhere in the Connect 2.
I have no clue how a long term software support for AE-5 will be, but if they continue this trend and actually provide this kind of level of software and support in the future, things are looking pretty bright for Creative. People won’t have to be scared of buying an expensive soundcard and finding out it’s just a nice paperweight after 2 years or when new major Windows version is released. I guess motherboard makers integrating more and more capable soundcards pressured them into being more active with software support if they want to sell more stand alone soundcards.
If you want an excellent soundcard that actually has superb driver support this moment, get Sound BlasterX AE-5 for sure. Time will tell, but this certainly surprised me. It was about time, damn it. 🙂