The last discrete Sound Blaster sound card to be released from Creative Labs was the Sound Blaster AE-5 about two years ago. We applauded its Xamp technology and on-board lighting system while lamenting the lack of Dolby Digital decoding. Now, the Sound Blaster AE-7 has been released and we were able to take a look at it during a two week period of gaming, music listening, and more. Will the new Sound Blaster AE-7 exceed its predecessor? Read on to find out.
In terms the Sound Blaster AE-7’s design, it is very reminiscent of its little brother, the AE-5. The biggest difference in terms of design is that the Sound Blaster AE-7 lacks the “gaming flair”, instead opting for a more classy, dark gray and gunmetal color scheme. Gone is the “Pro-Gaming” subtitle on the side of the sound card as well as the RGB color lighting. The RGB lighting has been replaced by a heavenly white light. This looks like a much more “grown up” version of the AE-5. The back of the Sound Blaster AE-7 features the same number of ports as the Sound Blaster AE-5 did, including the speaker outputs, microphone input, and TOSLINK optical output jack.
In addition to the sound card itself, the Sound Blaster AE-7 sees the inclusion of the Audio Control Module (ACM) – something that I loved when it was included with the Sound Blaster ZxR series cards. It allows you easy access to connecting microphones and headphones (both of the 3.5mm and 6.5mm varieties) to your sound card. The ACM is robust and well-constructed. I can’t tell you how many times I accidentally knocked the ACM off my desk (I’m clumsy) and the thing took no damage from its fall to the floor.
The biggest issue we had with Creative Labs Sound Blaster AE-5 was the lack of Dolby decoding technologies. Thankfully, the Sound Blaster AE-7 remedies this situation with the inclusion of both Dolby Digital Live and DTS encoding! The sound quality of the Sound Blaster AE-7 is outstanding. I played numerous titles during my testing of the card and was consistently impressed – both while listening to the audio through my desktop speaker system as well as gaming headphones. By the way – switching from speaker to headphones is extremely simple thanks to the Audio Control Module. I love being able to just plug my headphones into it and immediate divert the sound. Also, the large volume wheel on the ACM makes it super easy to fine tune the audio load on my ears. On my games roster was the new space combat sim, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw as well as older favorites like DCS: A-10C Warthog and Fallout 4. Additionally, I downloaded some high-resolution audio files to test out the Sound Blaster AE-7’s sound reproduction. In my estimation, this is the best sound card yet from Creative Labs (bearing in mind I have not looked at the AE-7’s even bigger sibling, the AE-9).
The Sound Blaster AE-7 still supports Creative Labs Scout Mode and Crystal Voice features, which will help make your multiplayer gaming more efficient, and the AE-7 is fully integrated in the Sound Blaster Command software suite. Creative Labs continues to make the software suite more user friendly and I appreciated the easy method of changing the sound profile to simulate different environments and conditions.
The Creative Labs Sound Blaster AE-7 is an outstanding sound card that will provide great audio playback from both your games and movies alike. While the design has been made a bit more conservative, the inclusion of the improved DAC, Dolby decoding, audio control module, and Xamp more than make up for it. The Sound Blaster AE-7 retails for $229.99 Dollars, representing the mid-level price point between the Sound Blaster AE-5 ($169.99) and Sound Blaster AE-9 ($349.99). While this may seem expensive, the quality and feature set of the Sound Blaster AE-7 makes it well worth the price of admission.