Setup and Usage
The setup of the Sound Blaster AE-5 Plus is very straight forward and easy. First, plug the AE-5 Plus into any PCI3 X1 or X16 slot that you have available on your motherboard. Next, connect the Molex connector to your power supply. Finally, you can choose to connect your front panel audio connector to the AE-5 Plus. Next, plug in your speakers, soundbar, and or headphones to the I/O on the Sound Blaster AE-5. For me, I have the Sound Blaster Stage soundbar hooked up via the optical port and my AIAIA TMA-2 headphones hooked up via the headphone port to take advantage of the XAMP, bi-amp headphone amplifier on the AE-5 Plus. Next, we install the Sound Blaster Command software and set up the AE-5 Plus through the software. There is a lot to talk about in terms of the software, so let’s get into it.
Sound Blaster Command Software
The Sound Blaster AE-5 Plus uses the Sound Blaster Command Software. Although the software isn’t necessary, and you can install the AE-5 Plus, plug your headphones in and go, it is a program to play around with. Creative makes excellent software to go along with their excellent hardware. Generally, when I can avoid installing unnecessary programs, I do. However, the Sound Blaster Command software had some great features you can take advantage of. There are a vast number of preset profiles, too many to name here. Ther are the basic profiles one would expect such as Gaming and Cinema. But there are also several profiles designed around specific games such as Apex Legends, Battlefield 1, DOTA 2, Fortnite, and PUBG to name a few. There are also more generic profiles as well such as Real-Time Strategy, RPG, Action and Adventure, First-Person Shooter (FPS), and Racing, again, only naming a few. The Acoustic Engine is another feature worth using this software in itself. This allows you to enable surround sound, crystallizer, smart volume, and dialog+ as well as boost the bass. At the bottom of the screen in the Sound Blaster Command software, the is a switch that allows you to toggle between speakers and headphones. In order to use the bass boost feature, you must be on the headphone setting. There is also a volume slider at the bottom right of the screen.
The Equalizer section of the Sound Blaster Command Software allows you to independently adjust each individual frequency, for each of the different profiles, as well as adjust both bass and treble. A drop-down menu lets you select the profile. Then simply click on the frequency and drag it into place.
The playback section of the Sound Blaster Command Software allows you to select between 5.1 surround sound to headphones for playback. You can also test your speakers or headphones to make sure they are set up properly. Here you can set the filters for fast Roloff, slow roll-off or medium phase, as well as select the bit rate and frequency. The recording section allows you to adjust the setting for not only the emic connected to the AE-5 Plus but other microphones connected to your PC in general.
Scout mode is the next section in the Sound Blaster Command software. Scout Mode is also one of my favorite audio features I’ve used over the last couple of years. This is how Scout Mode works. Say playing an online first-person shooter. With Scout Mode enabled, you’re able to hear the footsteps of your enemies from the direction they are coming from. The closer they get the louder they get. There is also a companion app for IOS and Android call the Scout Radar. This will show your enemies as a blip on the radar right on your phone or tablet. It’s a great feature to have that will give you a slight advantage in-game.
Unlike the original AE-e, the Sound Blaster AE-5 Plus has both DTS and Dolby Digital Live encoding. Dolby Digital Live will convert any audio signal into a 5.1-channel 16-bit/48 kHz Dolby Digital format at 640 kbit/s. The DTS Connect will take multichannel audio and converts it into a 1.5 Mbit/s DTS stream for output. Both of these options are available in the Encoder section of the Sound Blaster Command Software.
The Mixer Section of the Sound Blaster Command Software allows you to control the sound for both the SPDIF volume and speaker volume, as well as the microphone input volume.
In the lighting section, you can adjust the lighting effects on both the Sound Blaster AE-5 Plus, as well as the built-in RGB controller. There are a number of different effects you can set in the lighting menu. The lighting options on this sound card are expansive and in-depth. There are nine effects for the overall lighting. These settings are listed below.
- Wave Rainbow
- Solo Orange
- Wave Blue Ice
- Pulsate Red
- Wave Fire
- Wave Green
- Wave Blue
- Mood Yellow
I started to list all of the sub-menus under the effects. However, the effects menu leads to sub menus with sub-menus. So, I’ll simply say that my personal favorite effect was the rainbow wave effect, at the slower speed with the wave motion.
The last two sections are the sing in section and the setting section. The sign-in section allows you to sign in to your Creative account. The settings section allows you to select your language, update the software, and set the software to launch with Windows.
As with all audio reviews, testing is very subjective. Sure, there are a few benchmarks we can run that will give you an idea of how the hardware looks on paper. But for the most part, it’s all subjective testing. I personally have a specific set of music, movies, and games I use while testing headphones, earbuds, sound cards, and like products. The games I play do vary since as new games come out, there are better games for testing audio. Generally, I play Skyrim and GTA V as the vast open worlds are great for testing surround sound. For music, I listen to a playlist I’ve put together over the years that consists of everything for rap, classic rock, heavy metal, country, and even classical music. I always listen to the Eagles Hotel California. The reason for picking this song is it’s the song I listened to on Sennheiser’s $55,000 Orpheus headphones at CES several years ago.
The headset I use is the Fnatic Duel gaming headset. Its a privately labeled TMA-2 from a company called AIAIAI. They make amazing headphones. In fact, we’ll be looking at their TMA-2 HD Wireless headphones in an upcoming review. As the Sound Blaster AE-5 Plus is capable of driving very powerful headphones, the TMA-2 had no issues taking everything the AE-5 Plus could throw at them. The sound quality is amazing. Crystal Clear sound, deep, punchy bass, and zero distortion. Like with other audio reviews I’ve done, I watched Black Hawk Down as it has excellent sound mixing and is great for testing surround sound.
For benchmarking, we used the Right Mark Audio Analyzer. RightMark will give you an idea of how the audio compares on paper. To test with Rightmark, you must first plug into both the rear headphone jack and the rear mic jack using a double-ended 3.5 mm jack cable. This creates an audio loop to test the internal audio performance of the onboard audio. For comparison, we have added 16-bit results for both the Sound Blaster AE-5 Plus, as well as the onboard audio on the ASRock Z490 Velocita. As you can see from the results, the noise levels on the AE-5 Plus get higher as the frequency is increase where the noise levels for the Z290 Velocita basically stayed the same throughout.