Creative Sound Blaster AE-9: Final Thoughts and Rating
In addition, Virtual Surround 7.1 audio presents a very convincing sound field using just a pair of headphones. When combined with Sound Blaster Command's huge collection of tweakable knobs and switches, we're confident that everybody from audiophiles to hardcore gamers can get exactly the tone and timbre they desire out of the card. Thanks to its Dolby and DTS encoding capabilities, Creative's new card can integrate into any home theater setup easily as well
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However, getting audio into the AE-9 was unexpectedly lackluster. While it's unrealistic for us to demand that Creative's flagship audio card would have a microphone preamp that could beat a dedicated audio interface in the same price range, we didn't expect the difference in capture quality to be quite so substantial. While some of the difference may go unnoticed by casual users, it's unfortunate that the AE-9 didn't produce better results. Still, it's simple enough to work around this limitation with an external preamp, and this limitation did not ruin the experience. Everything else about the Sound Blaster AE-9's production chops was solid.
With a recommended price of $350, the Sound Blaster AE-9 is not for the faint of heart. Creative is taking USB DACs and headphone amps from high-end providers head-on, while delivering additional features like Virtual Surround and native surround sound encoding for living room theaters. We suppose when you put it like that, the asking price represents a good value for discerning audiophiles. To quote Ferris Beuller, "if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."