Creative Labs Sound Blaster E1 Review

Is the Creative Labs Sound Blaster E1 worth the price?

I have been looking for a portable headphone amplifier for a while, but the price and the weight usually caused me to back down from getting one. So when I chanced upon the Creative E1, it drew my attention. First off, this thing is light. At just 25 grams, it’s a breeze to carry around in your pocket, or clipped to your bag or belt.

Front profile of the E1

Some of the basic specifications of the amplifier are as follows:

It can power headphones with an impedance of up to 600ohms, and has a signal-to-noise ratio of 106db. The computer requirements are pretty basic, with a minimum OS version of Windows Vista, or 10.6.8 for Mac users, with at least 1gb of free ram, and a USB port. The output from the headphones are stereo, and the input from the inbuilt microphone is mono.

Top profile of E1

Connectivity

The E1 supports both a micro USB connection as well as a line-in, so it works on both computers as well as other music devices such as phones and iPods. When plugged into the computer the E1 doubles up as a sound card, with many features that can be enabled via Creative’s Sound Blaster control panel. I’ll delve into that a bit later though.

Side profile of E1

Ergonomics

The E1 has three buttons on the side that allow you to control the volume, the power and a pause/play button that doubles up as a button that enables you to answer your phone if it’s hooked up to a phone. It’s a pretty neat feature that comes in handy if you don’t want to reach into your pocket to grab your phone.

Bottom Profile of the E1

At the top of the device, there are two output jacks, with one jack accepting headphones that have microphones built in. Having two jacks also allow users to plug two headphones into the E1, and share the music. Once again, a pretty neat feature.

“Even if you do not happen to have a headphones with in built microphones, the E1 comes with a microphone on the device itself.”

It doesn’t look cool holding this amplifier up to your mouth to talk, but it’ll do in sticky situations.

Sound Quality

Let’s come to the main point of this post, which is to discuss the sound quality. When I tried the amplifier with Creative’s Aurvana live 2 at the roadshow, I was blown away by the difference the amplifier made. I immediately went online and ordered the amplifier (as it was cheaper than getting it from the roadshow, go figure). When the amplifier finally came, I was jumping up and down with excitement.

Then came the moment, I plugged it into my iPhone and my modified ATH-M50s, and pressed play. I couldn’t hear anything. Did I get a faulty set? Nah I just forgot to turn it on. I tried hitting play again, my music started playing and my headphones came to life.

I was playing pretty guitar-heavy music that demanded a lot of clarity, and the amplifier really came through for me.

“I could hear notes that were indistinguishable before, and every drum beat was clear.”

It was a pretty refreshing experience, and I was certainly pleased with the amplifier. However, I had to try the amplifier out with various kinds of genres, and headphones. I used three sets of listening devices, my ATH-M50s, Bose QC15s and Apple’s EarPods. There was a limit to how much the EarPods benefitted, but I could definitely tell the difference with the QC15s and the ATH-M50s.

A cheap portable but powerful soundcard?

As mentioned before, the amplifier also doubles up as a sound card when it’s plugged into your computer, and this is where it really shines for me. Creative’s sound control panel allows you to tweak the software in very precise ways, and even has an option to turn out ‘Scout Mode’, that is wonderful for gamers such that it allows you to hear the footsteps of your enemies from further away, and thus giving you an advantage. The E1 is definitely not the best sound card out there, but it definitely beats your default inbuilt sound cards that comes with your computers.

I turned up the bass with the control panel, and the headphones came to life, with each beat of the bass drum being very clear, and all this while retaining the clarity of the guitar solos, and nuances in the vocals.

The only issue I faced was the white noise that was pretty obvious when the amplifier was plugged into the computer and left idle. It wasn’t particularly irritating, but then again, I was playing music most of the time when I had the headphones on my ears, so I couldn’t really hear it.

Technical Specifications

Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) 106dB
Audio Fidelity Up to 24-bit / 44.1kHz
Audio Technologies SBX Pro Studio, CrystalVoice, Scout Mode
Dimensions 35 x 19 x 66 mm (1.37 x 0.74 x 2.59 inches)

Ratings:

Value: 4.8/5

for an amplifier that is below $50, the sound quality that can be gotten out of this is very worth the price.

Quality: 4/5

it’s light, but it feels cheap, and seems like a few drops would kill it.

Ease of use: 5/5

There aren’t many settings that you can tweak with this amplifier, and what is there, just works.

Overall: 4.5/5

I was not expecting much when purchasing this sub $50 amplifer, but the amount of value that I have gotten out of this amplifier is amazing. I highly recommend this amplifier to all those who listen to music with headphones, and are looking for something to bring their music quality to another level without breaking the bank.

Where can you get it?

You can purchase it over the counter from the creative online store at sg.creative.com or alternatively direct over at Amazon.com at USD $49.

Indie Music Apps you must have

We’ve been busy loading our phones and web browser to check out music apps this week, and here are 5 music apps that you will love!

1. Earbits

“Awesome mobile and web user experience. “

Earbits is a music streaming service music app that connects music lovers to indie musicians and create meaningful connections.

A team of music lovers and experts @Earbits curates indie songs ranging from pop, funk, rock, electronic, classical and many many more. Music fans give back to the artistes by  using Groovies, a virtual currency if they wish to play a song on-demand or play through an entire Artiste album. Fret not, as groovies can be earned easily by sharing songs, or promoting the band. In fact you will earn 500 groovies by just registering.

We really like the user experience on their mobile and web apps. Not only does it look good on your phone, the app also analyzes your music collection to recommend artistes.

We really like the song recommendations so far, and what’s more there are no commercials!  You can play or skip to any songs for normal discovery style playbacks. Earbits is available on iPhone/iPad, Android and Google Chrome.

2. Indie Shuffle

“Huge music collection you can find”

indieshuffle

Image from Indie Shuffle Google Playstore

Indie Shuffle is a music blog who believes humans are better at discovering music than robots. They have a huge team of writers who regular scours the web like Sound Cloud for worthy indie songs all across the genre.

They have taken their mobile phone music app as well, where you can switch between genres easily and listen to your favourite indie music on the go. The playbacks are all ad-free and you can even build your own collections of favourite songs.

3. Bandcamp

“Indie Music Haven”

bandcamp-website

Image from bandcamp Website

Bandcamp is the place to be online for any budding indie musician. It offers a micro website platform for which indie musicians can customize easily to connect to their fans and sell their music.  They have recently launch a mobile music app to allow bandcamp fans to listen to their tunes on the go. Purchases made on Bandcamp web app is also sync immediately to your phone too.

4. Streetvoice

”Featuring creative music compositions from budding musicians in East Asia”

streetvoice

Image from Streetvoice Website

Streetvoice was created is to allow young budding musicians to express their creativity and share their compositions online. We got to know about this platform through rising Chinese pop star William Wei, who has been publishing his works on Streetvoice before going mainstream. The compositions featured on Streetvoice are top notch so head on down so you will definitely be in for a treat!

 5. Poweramp

“Probably the most popular music player app on Android.”

powerampapp

Image from Poweramp Website

Even though Poweramp isn’t a music discovery app, we just included this for the music lovers who loves listening to music on smartphones and that’s looking for that extra audio ommpph.

Poweramp plays a wide range of formats (mp3s, aac, flac, ogg, wav). Its strength is its custom made 11-band equalizer and preamp system to make your music listening more immersive. It also boasts a beautiful and well design playback interface which displays album/artiste covers when a song is played.

Poweramp is really useful on entry level smartphones, and if paired with a decent pair of earphones, you will attain true audio bliss. I personally use Poweramp on each of my Android phone so far and have not looked back ever since.

 

Live Looping Magic

Loop pedals has breed a generation of live looping musicians, or live loopers. With just a step on this pedal, Live loopers layered percussive beats, bass, and vocal harmonies to build rich soundscapes impromptu. The audience watches on and listens to the music creation process live, as the songs gets composed layer by layer, redefining the whole live music experience.

Loop Pedal

The concept of music loops is not new. Music looping technology exist as early as the psychedelic 60s’ in the form of tape loop machines. Rock groups in that era - the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa led the charge to create unique background sounds in their recording.

Fast forward to the 21st century, these devices have shrunk to small loop pedals, mobile and versatile enough to be carried around and used by your regular busking and gigging musicians. In fact, loop pedals now lives on your iPad/iPhone and you can create music on the go with your friends just like this:

Trending Live Looping Musicians

1. Randolf Arriola

Now, let the music do the talking. Randolf Arriola is a seasoned local musician, and a well-known regional live looper . His unique sounds and experiences has him representing Singapore in the Y2K10 International Looping festival in 2010 and performed numerous shows over the years.

Watch how Randolf deliver a refreshing rendition of U2′s “With or Without you”

2. Weish

With just a loop pedal and her pristine voice, Weish has been making waves in the local music scene with her imaginative sounds, vocal harmonies and lyrics.  She has performed numerous gigs, including the recent Baybeats and 100 Bands festival, along with her bands sub shaman and .gif.

Be captivated and chill to the sounds of “Rushing On”:

3. Ed Sheeran

I was first introduced to Ed Sheeran after I saw a video of “A Team” some years back. While I like his beautiful lyrics and folk guitar sound, it wasn’t until I watched him on The Live Room that I became amazed by his raw talents in composing and using the loop pedal. Fan girls aside, he is one of the most exciting talents out in the pop scene right now.

I like how he uses the loop pedal to infuse tribal percussive rhythms and vocal harmonies to build an emotional and spiritual  feel in “Give Me Love”.

Ed Sheeran has released a new album, “Multiply” and is invading all record stores and music players. Check him out today!

If you crave for more live looping magic, you can check out other talented live loop artists around the world.

 

 

5 Korean Indie Pop Bands you need to listen to if you’re an Kpop fan

Forget your SNSD, SHINee and Psy.

Here are 5 Korean Indie Pop Bands that we think you’d enjoy especially if you’re an Kpop fan.

1. Milktea

 

Milktea is a two-man/girl korean indie pop band that has been playing since 2010. With their catchy mellow acoustic tracks, they are considered one of the bigger and more established independent band with a pretty strong following.

Blog
Website
JuiceMedia (Label)
Milktea Facebook Page
Milktea Twitter Page

 2. Coffee Boy

Coffee Boy, now where do I start. Firstly, the refreshing voice and mellow feel of all of his (self-composed) songs, makes me want to jump out, find a nice fireplace with a hot mug of coffee and just stare out of the window people watching on a cold winter afternoon.

Make sure you check out his acoustic/live performances below.

Website
Coffeeboy Facebook Page
Coffeeboy Twitter Page

3. J-Rabbit

Sweet, cutesy talented girls who just by watching their videos, you know they must really love making music, and also that people like listening to them with over 328,506 likes on their Facebook.

Check out the second video of a live HD performance to see how really talented they are.

Add JRabbits on Facebook
JRabbit Official Website

4. Brother Su

Not to be confused with Kim Hyung-soo, a famous Korean actor who also shares his same name, Brother Su is like the Khalil Fong of Korea. Both in terms of musical R&B infused style and their boyish look. If you’re into $&B and soulful

Bonus Interview (Korean)

BrotherSu Tumblr Page
BrotherSu Twitter Page

5. Neon Bunny (Electro/Synthpop)

29 year old Kim Yu-jin, Korea’s Imogen Heap, finishes off this list with her amazing 80s style electro-synthpop. Her meteoric rose to fame from indie-darling to outspoken indie proponent after her “Best Pop Album” win at the Korean Music Award 2012 had not dampened her commitment to producing great sounding diverse music. She had once proclaimed that, “We don’t need a record company, this way we can just do our own thing.” Don’t take our word for it. Give her a listen and you wonder why music like hers has not made it out into the international scene.

Last.fm
Neonbunny Facebook Page
Neonbunny Twitter Page

The Baybeats Experience

36 bands. 8 regions. After looking through the lineup and their promotional videos, I was really spoilt for choice as they were all good bands each with their own unique style. Nonetheless, I let my instincts took over and roamed around to check out as many bands as I could over the weekend.

P1012828

My first stop was at the Chillout Stage, with Enec.e (Enecdote). The gig began with a musically progressive introduction and I was soon attracted to the beautiful vocal harmonies of Michelle and Lisa. Enec.e plays dark pop and indie rock, telling stories of conversations never happen and haunting memories with songs like Ghost and Crystalize. They even played a fantastic rendition of Frank Ocean’s Thinking about you and made the song their own. It was indeed a good chill out session with a band that offers so much musically.

I was drawn by the sounds of classic rock played by Lost Weekend at the Arena. The 60s rock influenced sounds On Sunday and About Forever made them relaxing to hear, especially on a weekend by the Esplanade bay. Underneath the relaxing melodies, the lyrics tell stories of urban living’s anxieties and obligations which everyone can identify.

The gigs at the PowerHouse were the highlights of my Baybeats weekend. The bands put up a high energy performance, where the audience moshed and body surfed to their hearts’ content. Aspectrum rocked the crowd with their highly infectious pop punk tunes and stage presence. They already have a pretty huge following, as evident from the sing-along and cheering when lead vocals Tejo D’cruz sang up close and personal with the crowd towards the end of the gig.

P1012948

Survive, said the Prophet a Japanese rock band performed hard hitting hits such as Innocence in the name of love, Let us party and Mirror. They got everyone head-banging to the thumping double bass drums and screaming vocals. They are a very sincere and passionate bunch, with the native Japanese speaking bassist speaking in English to thank the crowd for their support.

P1013291

I ended my Baybeats weekend watching Ska punk veterans The Full Pledge Munkees. It was very nice to see music fans of different genres congregating to mosh and dance to the sounds of Ska. Don’t be fooled by their experienced outlook, for the band played and sounded like an average age of 23 years old throughout the show.

I think Baybeats has provided an awesome music experience and a platform for budding local and regional bands to perform. From the bands to the stage and sound crew, everyone really put in their heart to put up a good show. I found the sound to be balanced in all the three venues in terms of volume and clarity, and you can hear each instrument clearly even with louder, heavier sounding bands playing at the PowerHouse. The lightings and strobe lights were beautiful and definitely add an extra edge to the shows. I’m definitely looking forward to enjoy myself again at Baybeats 2015.

Here’s more pictures from the gigs:

Baybeats Schedule
« 1 of 18 »