Sound Blaster X3 Review: Portable Super X-Fi Audio For PCs And Consoles

Sound Blaster X3: Summary and Conclusions

Creative Labs produced the Sound Blaster X3 primarily for audio consumption: music, movies, and games all sounded great. Creative endowed its latest external audio solution with all the inputs and outputs one would hope for in a device in the $120 price range. The Sound Blaster X3's price tag isn't pocket change, but with clear, crisp audio, support for high-impedance headphones, and plenty of connectivity for discrete surround systems, you'll find plenty of ways to put it to good use. Thanks to an S/PDIF optical output, the newest Sound Blaster can blend into a home theater setup, and with a discrete 7.1 speaker setup, it can be the foundation of such a computer setup on its own. 

with laptop sound blaster x3

Creative bundled a host of audio effects to spruce things up where necessary. First and foremost, Super X-Fi is Creative's push to make headphone audio sound natural, as if you're listening to it in a room. It wasn't perfect, but we really like the way it handles cross-fed audio to unifiy the distinct left and right channels into a single sound field. Unfortunately, the only way to get that is with all of the other effects mixed in, and we found that in some cases, the additional reverb and delay Super X-Fi adds in an attempt to simulate a room is a bit too much, especially on modern mixes meant to be consumed with headphones (and, interestingly, may have been mixed that way in the first place).

Creative bundled in tons of other features in its Sound Blaster Command application, too. Playing games on the Sound Blaster X3 was a real treat thanks to 7.1 Virtual Surround ensures you can hear positional audio even with a pair of headphones. Several times our ears were fooled into thinking sounds were coming from behind or above us, and that adds a great deal to the immersion. Scout Mode can help you hear distant sounds like enemy footsteps approaching, which may help you live longer if you're able to react. Most of this is available in other Creative cards like the PCI-Express based Sound BlasterX AE-5 or AE-9, but Super X-Fi isn't available in those cards. 

You're not just limited to gaming on the PC with the Sound Blaster X3, either. We put this USB audio device through its paces with both the Nintendo Switch and Sony PlayStation 4 Pro. While you're limited to just stereo audio on consoles, the Sound Blaster X3 does a nice job of replicating a stereo headset and microphone. As an added bonus, you can also turn on Super X-Fi effects with those console games to simulate listening to them on big speakers in the room instead of small headphones right over your ears. It's not for everyone, but we like that Creative gives us the option. Just be sure to download the Sound Blaster Command mobile app for Android or iOS to control it. 

box sound blaster x3

Overall, we really enjoyed our time with the Sound Blaster X3. Creative put together an attractive, small package that delivers big sound at an affordable $120 price tag. It represents a big boost to the audio capabilities of any small PC that doesn't have a free PCI Express slot, whether it's a notebook with a single headphone jack or a small-form-factor machine like one of Intel's many NUC barebones kits. The Sound Blaster X3's combination of crystal-clear audio and interesting software enhancements offer a significant aural boost for anyone for whom on-board audio is not good enough. 

  • Excellent Sound Output And Clarity
  • Convincing 7.1 Virtual Surround 
  • Digital and Analog Surround Output
  • Dolby Surround Sound Encoding
  • Compatible with PS4 and Switch Consoles
  • Innovative Super X-Fi Room Simulation
  • Supports High-impedance Headphones
  • Super X-Fi Requires Another Cloud Account
  • No native ASIO driver for audio production
  • Requires Adapter for 4-pole Headsets

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