Creative has added a new member to their portable Sound Blaster "E" series lineup with the E5.
This new multi-function DAC and headphone amp features a reference-grade D/A converter chip from Cirrus Logic, the CS4398, which supports up to 24-bit/192kHz PCM audio (and technically DSD 2.8MHz/5.6MHz, though this does not seem to be implemented here). In addition to the realistic analog reproduction possible from a high quality chip like the CS4398, the Sound Blaster E5 provides amplification via a Texas Instruments TI6120A2, which Creative says gives the E5 a "best-in-class 600 ohm headphone amplifier".
Another aspect of the E5 that sets it apart from the previous E1 and E3 models is the inclusion of optical digital input/output, to go along with USB and dual 3.5mm headphone jacks. The two 3.5mm jacks can simultaniously drive two pairs of headphones, and on the back of the unit there are additional 3.5mm jacks for microphone input, line input/output, and these double as optical input/output via mini TOSLINK. (This might be geared for portable use, but would serve as a fine external sound solution for desktops as well!)
The input stage of the E5 uses another Cirrus Logic chip, the CS5361, enabling high quality recording options from various sources at up to same 24-bit/192kHz. While supporting external microphones (as well as line/optical input) the E5 also has "built-in beamforming CrystalVoice microphones for audio recording and calls". And while the E5 is employing Creative's SBX sound processing chip, this DSP can be switched off with a button on the side of the device – a welcome option for serious music listening from high-resolution source material.
The Sound Blaster E5 also supports digital input from iPhone and "select" Android phones (listed compatible devices include the Samsung Galaxy S4/S5, Galaxy Note 2/3, and Nexus 5/7). For portable use the E5 has a built-in rechargeable 3200mAh lithium polymer battery, which Creative says will provide up to 8 hours of playback per charge.
The Sound Blaster E5 will be available in October for $199 at Creative's online store (and likely various other retail outlets).