First Look Sunday – Creative X3

Today, we take a look at the Creative X3, the new USB DAC from the brand. It’s made for games with an audiophile heart and it’s available for a small $119,9USD.

 

 

This is part of our Picture Sunday series, where we take a quick look at some products in the review cycle. You can find all previous Picture Sunday posts here.

For those of you who might not be familiar with this mythic brand, here is a quick presentation.

Creative is a Singaporean brand that’s famous thanks to their Sound Blaster soundcards. Long before USB DAC and DAPs became a thing, Creative PC soundcards were there to feed our needs. Even I still own an X-Fi Titanium soundcard in my gaming computer, with swapped OP-Amps and the specific headphone front I/O.

So, when they sent us a box with their new desktop DAC, the Creative X3, I was eager to try it. And, they also bundled an Aurvana SE to experience the full X-Fi bundle. So, before the full review, I’ll lay down my first impressions.

Creative X3 – The design

At first glance, it’s hard not to see some familiarity between the Creative X3 and the JDS Labs Element.

A big aluminum volume knob, circled by a blue LED ring, fitted on a boxy case with rounded edges. But, where John Seaber chose to use exclusively aluminum for the case and the knob, Creative favored plastic. That may explain the steep price difference: 399$ for The Element and 119$ for the X3.

The Creative X3 can be hooked with just a USB-C cable

The case is bigger than your usual USB DAC, but for a desktop solution, the Creative X3 remains pretty conservative. On my desk, it fitted perfectly between my laptop and the monitor, just where I previously had the Chord Mojo. It’s 129mm x 129mm wide and 40.6mm tall for 330g, just 20g more than iFi Micro iDSD Black Label.

Even if the X3 isn’t made of metal, it was never an issue in my opinion: the DAC didn’t feel nor look cheap. Sure it’s a bit geeky with the three buttons in the front row, but that’s also a reminder of the true purpose of this device.

None of the inputs or outputs are gold-plated, and there is no balanced output too. Although, the Creative X3 offers a complete array of discrete outputs to connect a 7.1 home theater, plus an optical plug (Toslink) to connect another DAC to this one. Pretty cool.

Creative Aurvana in 2020 !

Once plugged to your computer, smartphone or even gaming console (!), the blue circle turned to advise me that the X3 was ready to unleash the supreme X-Fi experience.

And, to get the full experience, I even hooked the DAC to my smartphone, thanks to the Bluetooth Low Energy connection and the “Sound Blaster Command” app. So, so geeky!

Creative X3 – A quick view

For 120€, it’s hard not to be amazed by the range of possibilities Creative fitted into the X3.

First and foremost, it got the new Super X-Fi technology. The goal? To recreate a full holographic experience, found on a discrete 7.1 system, with and headphone and this DAC. To do so, Creative developed a new Super X-FI ULTRADSP CHIP that can emulate the same sensations, and soundstage, thanks to high-speed calculations.

The Creative X3 is a pretty cool device

Like Beyerdynamic and their Amiron Wireless, you can download the Super X-Fi app on the app/play store and get an Ear-Map of your ear, to ensure the best sound performances while using the X-Fi effect. Audeze offers the same system with their Mobius, but all is done by the single press of a button, on the headphone. Still, it’s always nice to see some brands going for the extra mile.

The DAC can playback all files up to 32 bit / 192kHz and even features an internal ADC, to connect your microphone. This is pretty interesting for streamers or podcast who can fine-tune the levels and get the best of both worlds.

Creative announces a wide dynamic range of 115dB and a THD under 0.0004%. Powered by a single USB-C port, the DAC can support headphones up to 600 ohms, the amplifier automatically adjusts the gain to high when the impedance reaches 150ohms or more. Again, this is good engineering at work.

Creative X3 + Aurvana SE, the Bang for a buck setup

Strangely, the Creative X3 isn’t compatible with the Xbox 360. However, you can plug a PC, Mac, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Android and iDevice with ease. If Windows gives you the full experience with Dolby Digital Live decoding, crystal voice or even Scout mode ( to hear your enemies from even further), some features will be unavailable when using the other platforms.

Still, I tried it on all the listed devices and was quite amazed to confirm that all of them recognized the X3. Way to go Creative!

Let’s talk about the sound now.

Creative X3 – First impressions

I mainly tried the Creative X3 with the Aurvana SE. To be honest, I didn’t expect much from this headphone which, to say it crudely, feels awesomely cheap.

To my surprise, it’s a very good match. The DAC is definitely at work here, nevertheless, I would not expect this level of detail from this configuration. It’s a definitive bang for a buck. The sound is crisp, with super-wide soundstage, deep bass and a very high level of fun.

You can connect a full 7.1 system to this bad boy !

Super X-Fi, more than a simple gimmick, really gave me that 7.1 sensations. Ok, to be honest, it doesn’t work on EVERY genre, but when it works you’re really immersed in your music. Movies and games are better fitted for X-Fi though, it’s a great option if you can’t afford, or place, a full discrete 7.1 system.

Power is never an issue and even the Sennheiser HD800S was driven quite easily. Also, this headphone might be one of the best options available, if you want to experience the true potential of virtual surround. Very, very impressive.

Did we mention the Creative X3 win a “Best of CES” award in 2019? I’ll take more time to compile a full-fledged review, but let me savor my “Madeleine de Proust’.

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A nerdy guy with a passion for audio and gadgets, he likes to combine his DAC and his swiss knife. Even after more than 10 years of experience, Nanotechnos still collects all gear he gets, even his first MPMAN MP3 player. He likes spreadsheets, technical specs and all this amazing(ly boring) numbers. But most of all, he loves music: electro, classical, dubstep, Debussy : the daily playlist.

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