Pros: Great audio quality, Tons if I/O options, Many features found on expensive products, Powerful software
Cons: Minor software glitches, Price
The box is vibrant and full of detail. The X7 has a ton of features and they clearly want you to know about all of them. Notable is the built in Bluetooth with aptX codec, NFC support, 100W amplifier, and many built in audio effects.
The sides show more features and tech specs. There are too many to list but some main ones are the multi-platform support, power ratings, playback specifications, and an overview of each port on the unit. A large portion of the box is used to highlight the audiophile grade components. These include Nichicon Caps, Burr-Brown DAC and ADC, a "high power amplifier", and swappable Op-Amps. Those first three won't really mean too much to most people but the last one will. The ability to easily swap out the internal circuitry is a feature only found on very high end products. The fact that SoundBlaster included this shows their commitment to sound quality.
Inside the box, we find the X7 itself, a metal headphone stand, some instructions, and another box. Inside that second box is easily the largest number of power cables that I have ever seen in a product. You won’t have to worry about buying an adapter for your country. Also inside is a very sturdy micro USB cable. The only included audio cable is a 1/8" to RCA adapter. The terminations feel excellent while the cable itself feels average. I would have liked to see an optical cable included as well considering the price.
Now on to the unit itself. It measures just less than 6" wide, 5.75" long, and 5.25" tall. With the included headphone holder, it is 14" tall. A large volume wheel dominates the front. It is free and smooth spinning without tactile increments. It also acts as a mute button when pushed in. You can hear the relays turning on and off when it is pushed. This is good features that ensure total silence when muted, not silence with faint hissing. Moving down we find a grill for ventilation. The unit gets warm after continuous use but never hot. Below that there is a row of three LED indicators. The outer two are buttons as well. The left is the power/Bluetooth indicator. It glows white when the unit is on and blue when it is connected over Bluetooth. The right one is SBX or the built in effects. At the bottom, we find the main I/O. The left is a 1/8" mic in, the center is a 1/4" headphone out, and the right is a 1/8" headphone out as well.
Let's go to the back, and wow... It looks almost like a mini home theater receiver. The top features more ventilation honeycomb. Below that are the two holes for the headphone stand. Moving to the ports, in the top left and going clockwise we have an impedance selector, two sets of heavy duty speaker terminals, a power input jack, a USB input, optical in and out, RCA line in, 1/8" sub and rear speakers, and finally RCA line outputs. I can't imagine any scenario when all of these would be used at once but there are many possible combinations. While the X7 is designed for PC use, I think it may have more capabilities as a home theater in a box. It has a powerful amplifier and works as a Bluetooth media player. With the mobile app you can even control it using your phone as a remote.
Moving to the bottom we find a USB host port (pictured on top). This lets you, with the corresponding mobile app, stream audio to the X7. The main feature on the bottom is the removable door that allows you to change the internal Op-Amps. As I stated before, this is a feature only found on much higher end equipment. This will allow you to tune the X7 to your specific ears. By using different Op-Amps, you can slightly vary the sound to make it brighter, warmer, darker, or anything you can dream of.
Here is the X7 with the included headphone stand inserted. It is pretty flimsy but it works. Pictured is the AD-900X which I did most of my listening on.
That's basically it for the physical tour. Now let's move on to the software. The first window is for SBX which is basically a built in FX processor. You can add a surround sound effect, a "crystalizer", some bass boost, a smart volume control, and a dialog booster. The surround effect is finicky. It can add some great depth to certain music, but it can also destroy others. It just depends on what you are listening to. The crystallizer is my favorite. It doesn't do anything major, it just widens the soundstage a bit and clarifies the mid frequencies. I keep this on most of the time at about 40%. The remaining three settings are cool to use once or twice, but I wouldn't use then permanently. Someone who would drop $400 on the X7 clearly cares about audio quality and the last three don't really offer anything of substance.
Next is Scout Mode. This is supposed to allow you to hear sounds from far away. It is probably aimed at FPS games like CS:GO. I tried it and it definitely brought out distant sounds, but I didn't think it was anything special. I ended up turning it off after a few minutes. Another effect like this is the Dolby Cinematic Dynamic Range Control. I just left this at the default. The Speakers/Headphones tab has some interesting options. You can set the gain on headphones, change the output from headphones to 2.1 or 5.1 surround, change input settings, calibrate your speaker setup, and switch the polarity of the speakers. The last tabs are the Mixer and EQ. Mixer allows you to individually adjust the volume of each possible input. EQ allows you to, you guessed it, set the device's EQ.
The X7 has a built in Bluetooth audio receiver. This allows you to stream music through your sound system and control it with your phone as a remote. Range wasn't anything special but I didn't have any problems using it in the same room. The power LED will turn blue when connected and you will hear a rather loud "Device Connected" through your speakers. From here, anything you play on your device will be sent to the X7 and be played through your sound system. The X7 uses the industry standard aptX codec so Bluetooth quality is very close to wired. If your device does not have Bluetooth, you can still play using the built in USB host. Download the mobile app and connect your device to the X7 with a USB cable. Now it will work the same as if over Bluetooth. From the mobile app you can do everything that the software can do.
If I had to be picky, the software was the most unpolished feature of the X7 for me. Overall, it is great and is easy to use, but there were a few minor glitches. For example, I couldn't set hotkeys to control scout mode and the unit would randomly switch from headphone to speaker mode. These can be easily overcome but considering the physical build quality, I would have expected the software to be the same.
Now on to the part you came here for: the audio quality. I started big with a home theater. It was easily able to drive 2 large cabinet speakers. They got louder than I would normally use, but not loud enough that I was uncomfortable. At that volume there was a slight hiss and some minor distortion in the lows. I wasn't too surprised or upset considering the size of the X7. Next, I moved to desktop speakers. The X7 can power a 2.1 setup easily and a 5.1 channel setup with a bit more work. For most of my testing I listened on a pair of Audio-Technica AD900X. The X7 sounded great and was indistinguishable from a $200 stand-alone DAC. This may seem odd considering the price range of the X7, but when you take into account all the extra stuff packed inside, it isn't a problem at all.
The bass response was good without sounding like typical gamer audio. It was present and punchy without being overpowered. With a little bit of crystallizer, the sound stage was very large. The mids were strong providing an excellent response for male vocals and instruments. The highs weren't harsh either. Creative and their SoundBlaster line are known for gamer audio where quality and a reference signature is not always a top priority. I think the X7 is a real change from that. It doesn't sound like any of the stereotypes. It truly sounds like an audiophile product. The build in Op-Amps sound pretty neutral but can be easily swapped out for your favorite model.
I would value the X7 at well over $450. It includes a $200 DAC, a $100 Bluetooth media streamer, a $100 amplifier, and a $50 receiver to name a few. When you start adding up all the features, the $400 price tag starts to become more reasonable and even fairly competitive depending on your needs. When I first read all of the features the X7 had, I was a little skeptical as to the quality. Most products that try to do everything end up being able to do nothing well. The X7 isn't like that. It excels at most if not everything. If you are looking for just a DAC, I would look elsewhere. However, if you are looking for a DAC that you can use over Bluetooth, stream to with USB, use to provide a clear amplified signal to your speakers, organize all of your audio inputs and outputs, and above all, one that sounds good, look no further than the X7. It is the portable audio box that does it all.