Creative Sound BlasterX H5 Gaming Headset Review

What is a manufacturer supposed to do when it wants to distinguish a new product from its existing portfolio without sacrificing the cachet of a well-established brand? Add an X to the name, of course. Sound Blaster consequently turns into Sound BlasterX, and you're made to think that its H5 may be a higher-end, more extreme gaming headset.

But what's really at the heart of Creative's naming games? On the surface, it's looking to sell a more expensive piece of hardware that does away with the perception of value pricing and average performance.

The H5's packaging reinforces this message. In addition to the headset itself, Creative's bundle includes a detachable microphone and an extension cable that splits the combined connector into two separate 3.5mm jacks. Those are then plugged in to your mic input and headphone output ports.

Specifications

The headset has been on the market for some time now. Still, a $130 list price is temporarily marked down to $80 as of this writing.

Look & Feel

The patented ear piece and frame suspension is this headset's real highlight. As far as we know, only a few companies use this patent, which probably has something to do with the IP's owner. In return, lightweight and neutral headphones are converted into a true gaming headset.

An increased focus on quality is also evident in the material mix. Sturdy aluminum parts combine with more durable plastics to yield a better looking and feeling step up from lower-cost alternatives. We tried twisting and bending the headset with quite a bit of force, but couldn't deform it. Though the H5 wasn't built to last forever, you can at least be sure it won't fall apart on you in a few weeks or months (Creative guarantees the H5 for one year).

Comfort

No matter how large your head is, once you get the H5 adjusted, it'll fit perfectly. Of the headsets we tested, this was one of the highest scorers in the comfort department. It's neither too tight nor too loose, even though it's an over-ear solution that seals off the auricle completely.

The ear pads made from faux leather are extremely soft, and the foam used inside molds to accommodate your anatomy. Unfortunately, we cannot estimate how long the polyurethane will hold its shape or resist cracking.

Slightly tilted drivers are meant to better support the human head. By adjusting the source of generated sound waves to line up better with your ear canal, Creative claims its "tilt driver implementation" optimizes that chamber between its driver and your ear. We couldn't tell if this actually helped reduce annoying resonance, though, since we couldn't perceive any to begin with.

The idea to adjust fitment via joints on the frame works well. In fact, this is similar to the implementation of various Beyerdynamic products. Similarities continue on the inside of the headband, and it's no coincidence that headsets like the Qpad QH-90 are in some ways indistinguishable. 

A good fit is only one part of the comfort equation. The rest can be achieved by this headset's light weight. And it's worth mentioning Creative's very soft padding integrated into the frame. Because the H5 is so light, though, you don't find yourself relying on it to lessen the fatigue of long gaming sessions.

Creative unquestionably brings refreshing design and good workmanship together with its H5. This is less common in the ~$100 category than you might think, even if competing headsets occasionally score points for high quality and new ideas as well. The H5 simply one-ups them all, though.

Functionality & Interface

A control unit built into the cable houses the volume dial and microphone switch. It's located close enough to the headset for easy reach without taking you away from your game. And because Creative didn't implement a USB-based interface, instead opting for a conventional 3.5mm jack, it avoids any well-meant but ultimately detrimental effects on quality caused by sound engineering.

If you have one, it's worth connecting the headset to a good headphone amplifier. That will almost always yield better sound quality than on-board solutions, along with higher volume levels with less distortion. Level stability, in particular, is what makes many integrated audio controllers a limiting factor, while actual DACs have matured to the point of being quite useful.

Microphone

The omnidirectional microphone has a large pop filter, and can be plugged in or removed at will. This allows you to quickly switch the H5 from a communications device to an ultra-light, comfortable set of headphones instantly.

The low cut at ~100 Hz performs admirably. Thus, you won't have to worry about the rumble of wind noises or jarring blow-out sounds. The pop filter takes care of everything else. Noise suppression works reasonably well, and without amplification, audible clipping only occurs at high peaks. Speech intelligibility is great, which is helped by a flexible gooseneck for optimal positioning.

Measurements & Sound-Check

To read about our test methodology in depth, please check out How We Test Gaming Headsets, particularly page 6 where we detail the measurements we take.

Creative hopes to compete with products like the Qpad QH-90 and HyperX Cloud II. The fact that both headsets are made by Guangdong Takstar Electronic Co. Ltd. and are, in fact, modified stereo headphones is no coincidence. Obviously, the manufacturer came to realize that good stereo headphones are capable of much more believable spatial sound reproduction than any attempt at 5.1-channel surround could hope to achieve, including those ridiculous attempts at sound engineering that have no true benefit beyond marketing.

A slight deterioration of the bass curve starting at 200 Hz is likely due to our test setup. Creative's ear pieces produce lower contact pressure as a result of the small artificial head we use (its circumference is only 56cm). This reading doesn't trouble us though, as our subjective impression was more satisfying. If you do like your sound a bit heavier and don't want to sacrifice the H5's light fit, raising the 64 Hz control brings back whatever bass you desire. This works so well because Creative's H5 offers some of the best level stability we've seen.

We only have good things to say about these results. The progression is completely linear, with only slight variations of +/- 3dB from 200 Hz to beyond 20 KHz, resulting in neutral sound. We also observe expertly differentiated reproduction of voices, instruments, and broadband gaming noises.

A comparison of the H5 to Beyerdynamic's Custom One Pro and DT 990 Pro places Creative's Sound BlasterX in the middle. The Custom One Pro's predominant bass affects its finish, as does the DT 990 Pro's highly intrusive trebles. Meanwhile, with an equalizer and optimized settings, the H5 plays smoothly down to the subcontra octave as it maintains soft, warm, and balanced sound reproduction. Its transient response is definitely acceptable for this price range.

Whereas the DT 990 Pro's high frequencies often need to dialed back on the equalizer, the H5 is much more neutral. Its acoustic impression is almost equally good across all frequency ranges, and the highly differentiated reproduction is certain to make even gamers take notice. Certain sounds will be experienced differently on the H5, and in some cases it might seem like you're hearing them for the first time. If you're used to common "gaming headsets" with exaggerated lows and highs, Creative's Sound BlasterX is going to be a breath of fresh air.

It is possible to enjoy both music and gaming equally through the H5s, and love both interpretations with a little help from the bass control. These more or less half-open headphones don't cut you off from the environment completely, but they do have a pleasant sound cover to mute the outside world. For many musical genres, and even gaming, we prefer the H5 to the Custom One Pro, since the H5 offers higher level stability.

Conclusion

What happens when an almost neutral headset with great level stability meets a discerning gamer whose ears haven't been ruined by the booming bass so prevalent in competing products? We think the gamer will happily buy that headset and enjoy it immensely. Listening pleasure really can be as simple as a good stereo headset with a detachable microphone.

Marketing departments are good at over-promising with flowery adjectives and features that do more harm than good. In the end, though, truth always reigns supreme. In this case, it does so in the form of pristine, neutral sound that relentlessly reveals details that weren't audible before.

Our final verdict is entirely positive, and an explicit purchase recommendation is the only logical conclusion. If you prefer a neutral sound and would rather manually adjust the resulting acoustics through an equalizer, try Creative's Sound BlasterX H5 out for yourself.

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  • hannibal
    Well, one reasonable good gaming headset...
    Not bad at all!
    Not hifi quality, but closer than normally seen in these devices.
  • FormatC
    It's very close to perfection for this price. And it is not one of the normal bass bombers.
  • thinkspeak
    So this is also basically the Hyper X Cloud review as well?
  • FormatC
    I have the newest HyperX Cloud Alpha Models here. They are already in my pipeline. The older HyperX Cloud is EOL. :)
    But all this pieces are based on the same Takstar platform, modified.
  • phobicsq
    Looks old and 3.5 jacks.... and that mic? Yeah no...
  • FormatC
    What did you prefer? A cheap USB-audio solution with an 50 Cent C-Media chip inside, pseudo 7.1 and a hyper-mega-dragon-gaming plastic design? :)

    The mic is very comfortable.
  • clarkx100
    Are those the same style ear pieces as the HyperX Cloud? The mic went out in mine and i'm looking for a good replacement but I haven't found anything nearly as comfortable as those yet and I want to try something different instead of just ordering a Cloud II
  • FormatC
    They are super-comfortable. The newer model H5 Tournament Edition is giving you a little but more bass, but the mechanic is the same. The ear pads are super-soft and in direct comparison the the latest HypeX Cloud Alpha a tick better. :)
  • WyomingKnott
    I was encouraged by the frequency response graph - first time I've seen a decent one on a headset. I just got mine and I must say that they sound like mud compared to my usual AKG K701 monitors, but I'll let them burn in for a few days and check back in.
    My focus is a little different - I listen to baroque music, I was an audiophile before I lost my hearing about 12khz. The idea of something I can use to listen to music while I work and switch to the phone on the same headset somehow tempts me. Despite the trivial amount of effort involved in taking off my headphones and picking up the phone.
  • FormatC
    I'm 54 and testing my ears monthly. Very good 14 Khz are the follow of "saving" my natural resources over the years. ;)
    The AKG K701 costs here 100% more and it is an excellent headphone for the money, but totally open. They fits also very good and it is always a recommendation worth. Only the deeper freqs below 200 Hz are totaly underpowered.

    Which H5 you bought? First revision or the Tournament Edition?
  • WyomingKnott
    The box says "pro gaming."
    I've always preferred the sound of open cans and as close to absolute clarity as I can get. My Sennheiser 650s get almost no use. The 497s, on the other hand, were the greatest thing since sliced bread while they lasted.
    I'm a few years older and I have tinnitus instead of high-frequency hearing. It has put quite a dent in my listening; for example, I can no longer identify what used to be my favorite recording of the Brandenburg Concerto number 5. On the plus side, I can now buy cheaper equipment.
  • FormatC
    Paper Box or the same plastic thing like in the review? The newer version is worse. More bass, a narrow scene and not so crispy.
  • WyomingKnott
    It's the clear plastic circular thing with some disassembly required to get at the parts. Which is the newer version, the paper box or the clear plastic thing?

    Oh - my favorite toy used to be Ray Samuel's Predator portable DAC and headphone amp. Made a huge difference until Sandisk came out with the Sansa Clip. That little thing has both clarity (on hi-res files) and power that astonished me. Etymotic 6 didn't need an amp at all, and the Clip can actually push the AKGs without sounding labored.
  • FormatC
    The paper box is newer. The H5 needs time to perform better. It's not real Hi-Fi, but better than the most of all of this so-called gaming headsets. :D
    I'm using two different Amps for my headphones, especially the Beyerdynamics T90 with his 250 ohms needs a good amp. Nothing for a smartphone or PC-onboard :D
  • WyomingKnott
    An interim report. Just a few hours of burn (without listening) has cleared some of the worst of the mud (especially it being inconsistent across frequencies), but they are still definitely playing elevator music instead of being at a chamber concert.

    I didn't used to believe in burn-in. Then I didn't believe in burn-in for purely electronic parts. Then a week of continuous operation of my Predator made a noticeable difference, from great to amazing.
  • WyomingKnott
    Decent sound. Not distorted, fairly accurate, not quite as "present" as my studio monitors.
    I gave in to temptation and ordered a Massdrop of the Sennheiser PC37X. My spouse will murderize me for spending yet more on cans.
  • FormatC
    I'm sure, you will get the same problem ;)
  • WyomingKnott
    Well, they are Sennheisers. I've been a fan of Sennheiser's clear sound since the 414s, back in the 70s. Yes, Sennheiser makes some cans that are less wonderful, or targeted to a modern lo-res, bass-heavy audience. OTOH they produced the 497, one of the two legendary under-$100 headphones for audiophiles.

    After listening to these for a few days I can tell them from my go-to headphones, but they are pretty darn good. They are open enough that I get the benefit of the open sound that my ears prefer. My biggest issue at the moment is that they squeeze my head too darn hard.

    Get a pair from Massdrop and let me know what you think - write a review!