I get it, onboard audio in this day and age is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was during the sound card's heyday. Old habits die hard, though, and my current setup rocks a Sound Blaster ZxR. Up until now, it was pretty much the best Creative had to offer. That changes with the introduction of the Sound Blaster AE-9 and AE-7.
Presumably, anyway. According to Creative, these are the "most advanced PCIe sound cards ever." The AE-9 in particular is "in a class of its own," the company says, and is suitable for "pro-gamers and pro-audio users" alike.
Creative is touting "audiophile-grade components," including Nichicon fine gold capacitors, WIMA film/foil audio capacitors, and swappable op-amps.
At the heart of the card, though, is an ESS 9038 Sabre-class reference digital-to-audio converter (DAC). It is capable of blasting 32-bit audio at 384kHz with a 129 dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). The total harmonic distortion (THD) is rated at an extremely low 0.0001 percent (Rtings has a decent write-up on THD and why it matters). For reference, the ZxR that I'm using supports 24-bit audio at 192kHz with a 124 db SNR
"What really makes Sound Blaster AE-9 stand out against the competition is its CleanLine technology, a new breakthrough in filtering a microphone path for clear and uncompromised voice communication," Creative says. "This latest technology features specially-designed circuitry and components which eliminates voltage rail issues and isolates unwanted noise caused by power supply ripple from high-performance GPUs."
Filtering is not new by any means new, though Creative claims it is the first to integrate this type of thing in its core, thereby negating the need for a desktop mixer.
The AE-7 is a slighter lesser product, though "very much a powerful sound card in its own right," Creative says. It uses a hi-res ESS Sabre-class 9018 DAC that delivers up to 127 db DNR, and also supports 32-bit audio at 384kHz sampling. The THD is the same, and both cards utilize a custom Xamp discrete headphone bi-amp. However, it doesn't feature Creative's fancy CleanLine tech.
Here's a handy chart that compares Creative's current sound card lineup:
The new cards are available now, but they do not come cheap—the AE-9 costs $349.99 and the AE-7 costs $229.99 (Creative will knock 15 percent off the price if you own and have registered a previous generation Sound Blaster—details here). Neither one comes with Dr. Sbaitso, but no worries, you can take a stroll down memory lane right here for free.