Creative Sound BlasterX H7 (Tournament)

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NO SMOOTHING is applied to the shown plots. Most measurement sites have some smoothing applied which ‘irons flat’ sharp peaks and ‘wiggles’. I do not use smoothing because some info about sound quality is lost when plots are smoothed.

Aside from a small correction of the microphone itself also some correction in the lowest frequencies is applied to the plots to compensate for the perceived loss of bass when using headphones. This is described HERE in more detail.
A ‘horizontal‘ frequency response curve on the shown frequency response plots on this website thus indicates a perceived ‘flat’ tonal signature.

ALL measurements are made with a good SEAL on a flatbed measurement rig.
The shape of your head, bone structure, pad size, pad ‘softness,  (compliance), hair or no hair and or wearing glasses may (drastically) change the frequency response of some headphones, so… your personal experience may differ substantially from these plots.

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Creative Sound BlasterX H7 (Tournament)

SBX HD

This is the new version (2017) Creative Sound BlasterX H7 the Tournament edition. It has some improvements over the older H7 when it comes to the (removable) microphone and 50mm drivers.
This headphone is considered one of the better (relatively cheap) gaming headsets. It is not intended as a hi-fi headphone.
It has a dongle connected to the left cup which has 2 inputs. An analog one (with TRRS for mic/remote for (PC/Mac/Android/iOS/PS4/XBOX) and a micro-USB input.
It worked (without drivers) directly on win XP-SP3 and Ubuntu 14.04. But was limited to 44.1/48 on WIN XP without drivers of course.

SB DAC
It also has a volume control, a play-pause button and a big slide switch to switch the mic on and off.
The volume control works in both analog and USB mode and appears to be a simple 1kΩ potmeter in series with the driver. Attenuation is between 0dB and -30dB stepless.
In analog mode it can play a lot louder than in USB mode but sounds cuppy and muffled.
In USB mode it can’t play as loud (limited by the 5V USB voltage) but sounds much clearer and more detailed.
The drivers are efficient but do not reach the specified 118dB at 1mW. Instead it reaches 118dB at 1V so the specs should say 118dB/1V or 103dB/mw. It thus still can play quite loud from portable equipment.

In USB mode it also is (virtual) surround 7.1. This is done using 2 drivers so a software simulation which does work well with gaming (so I am told, not tested myself).
Drivers/programs are available for WIN XP, Vista, W7, W8, W8.1, W10 and on MAC OS X 10.8 and higher.

With the Creative program(s) installed you get a LOT more options but did not check this. You will have to look on gamer websites for that kind of info. In short you will get either extensive EQ/DSP options or go in gaming mode with virtual Dolby surround 7.1 with presets for certain games/consoles.

When used in USB mode the red X on the cups lights up on and off in a ramping manner.

Wearing comfort is reasonable. The depth of the pads isn’t excellent but because the cups are angled the slightly wider eared people may still like it.
It does become a bit sweaty/sticky after a while though. Attenuation from outside noises is quite good. Not excellent but well above decent and a lot of other headphones.

I can’t say much about gaming things though (not my thing) but in USB mode and comfort wise it looks good. The mic is also pretty good and you can easily bend it in place and isn’t distorting quickly so communication with fellow gamers is very good.

specifications:

Type: Over ear, closed
Usage: Gaming.
Driver type: dynamic
Pads: replaceable, pleather
Collapsable: No.
Headphone connector: 3,5mm TRRS and USB, both in a dongle.
Cable entry: Left sided
Cable: Fixed part: 0.4m to dongle.
0.8m with gold plated 3.5 mm  TRRS plugs on both sides
1.5m micro-USB to USB connector.
Driver size: 50 mm (angled)
Nom. power rating: not specified
Max. S.P.L.  not specified
Impedance: 32 Ω (@ max vol setting, at lower vol settings the impedance increases to max 1kΩ.)
Efficiency: 118dB/mW (acc. to specs.) but is more likely to be 118dB/1V so: 103dB/1mW
Weight: 290 g.
Clamping force: medium
Accessories: 2 cables, Y adapter, extra set of pads, quickstart manual.

Sound description:

Passive mode:

Bass is there but not of high quality. It is a bit muddy as in the opposite of ‘tight’. Mids are ‘warm’ and lack clarity/presence. Everything thus sounds as if it is coming from a far distance yet the treble level ‘contradicts’ this. The sound thus is ‘off’ and not realistic.
The boosted bass is nice if you want to hear explosions in gaming. The treble being on the proper level can still give timing clues. The subdued clarity in the mids may make voices less ‘clear’.
Disappointing for hifi-usage in passive mode.

active mode (USB) in ‘DAC mode’ only so not using any enhancements:

As mentioned, this headphone is capable of virtual surround and has lots of other DSP trickery and equalization/tone control options when the Creative suite is installed.
This might have interesting features for some people.
In DAC mode only (by simply plugging into a PC) the sound quality is greatly improved. Bass is much better and not muffled any more. Mids are very realistic and have a good clarity and presence. The treble part is a bit accentuated and so are ‘details’ in the music. In better recordings there is no sibilance or sharpness. In lesser recordings it starts to sound a bit ‘coarser’ and lacks finer nuances.

measurements:

Note: all measurements are made in passive mode unless noted otherwise.

Below the frequency response of the H7 Tournament (Left, Right) in passive mode.FR SBXHD

The channel balance is decent. There is a bass boost of around +5dB from 80Hz to 300Hz.
Subbass extends to well below 10Hz (with a good seal). The mids are very ‘warm’ to the point where it sounds ‘muffled’ as the frequency response is sloping downwards 17dB from 200Hz to 3kHz. So there is no clarity/presence at all. The hump around 150Hz also gives it a very ‘muddy’/’hollow’ sound to it. The treble is almost on the proper level which compensates somewhat for the lack of clarity and makes cymbals etc. sound at normal level. Treble quality is not great but decent. slightly ‘coarse’ but not sibilant nor sharp. Treble extension looks O.K. but lacks ‘air’.
Of course nobody should use these headphones in passive mode unless the only thing you have is a phone or DAP without USB output.

In USB mode the dongle functions as a 24bit/192kHz DAC/headphone amp.
I only tested it on WIN XP without any drivers installed. With drivers installed it probably performs better. Just in DAC mode it appears that some (basic) equalization is applied. The test was done at 44.1/16 because no drivers were installed.
Below the frequency response of the H7 Tournament (Left, Right) in USB DAC mode.
FR SBX HD DAC 44.1

Differences are more easily seen when the traces of the (right) channel are overlayed in passive mode and in USB-DAC mode in the plot below.
passive vs DAC

There is a bit more subbass roll-off below 30Hz, most likely due to too small value coupling cap(s) here or there. It is clear to see the differences above 500Hz. Clarity/presence is excellent in USB mode and the ‘muddy/muffled’ sound is completely gone. It still has some bass boost that most people that buy these type of headphone will appreciate. Aside from the increase in clarity, which is further aided by the angled drivers so the area between 2kHz and 6kHz may be shown slightly too low in the plots, the treble is also increased giving the headphone a slight U shape. So boosted bass and boosted treble. Despite the boost in treble it doesn’t get sibilant or sharp sounding. It sounds more detailed to most people. For Hi-FI aficionados  the amount of treble is a bit too much though. While details appear to have increased the connoisseur will have noticed that it is ‘fake’ detail and ‘finer nuances’ etc are still missing and the treble is still somewhat ‘course’ yet not ‘grainy’.

The tonal balance in USB mode is a lot more appealing to an audiophile than the passive mode which sounds muffled/dark and muddy/hollow.

Below the distortion measurements of the H7 Tournament (Right channel).Dist R t

The distortion levels are actually quite low. Just below 1% in the lows isn’t bad at all.
A somewhat elevated 2nd harmonic distortion in that area isn’t perceived as distortion but more as ‘fattening’ of bass.
Around 4kHz the distortion increases and peaks above an audible 1%. In that frequency range our hearing is most sensitive. The peaks there may well be (partly) responsible for the somewhat ‘coarse’ sound with certain recordings.

Below the distortion plot but displayed in percentages.
Dist R percent

Below the CSD of the H7 Tournament  (Left and Right are superimposed)CSD SBXHD

The plot shows some lingering in the mids and issues around 4kHz and 5kHz where some ringing is visible. Even though our hearing is more sensitive for amplitude (level) differences and distortion at 4kHz it is less sensitive to ringing at those frequencies because the ear canal also ‘rings’ at that frequency and thus the brain tends to ignore this. At higher frequencies the resonances seem damped well enough and are probably not problematic/very audible. No large dips or peaks nor ringing above 6kHz.

output resistance / damping-factor

As this is a dynamic headphone the frequency response might be amplifier output resistance dependent when certain higher output resistance amplifiers are used.
To test this the headphone is measured via a low impedance amplifier (0.2Ω) and a high impedance amplifier (120Ω). On a higher output resistance amplifier the output level will be considerably lower. To compensate for this the amplifier is cranked up to the same level (at 1kHz) as the low impedance amplifier. This way the plots are overlay-ed and it is easy to see how the tonal balance changes.
FR SB 120

No changes in frequency response nor in other aspects so this headphone has a pretty flat impedance across the entire frequency response.
As the volume control in the dongle is just a variable resistor in series with the driver it is a good thing that the impedance is constant. Otherwise the tonal balance could change depending on the setting of the volume control.

Below the spectrum plot of the H7 Tournament. spectr SBCHD L
It shows the bass energy ‘lingers’ on a bit longer than desired. Also the problem area around 4kHz and 5kHz is visible.  At 750Hz, 1.5kHz and 3kHz (probably no coincidence that these are harmonics) there is also some short lived resonances. These are not reaching problematic levels though.

The step response (Left channel, passive mode) below shows the warm signature.
There is a little bit of overshoot and some short lived resonances. The ‘peak’ at 2ms is caused by the elevated bass/mids and the upwards ramp from 0 to 1.5ms shows the lack of clarity/presence. The initial rise is 10dB lower than the rest of the signal and thus impulse response isn’t great.
In DAC mode this will look different but with my current setup I can only measure the frequency response. The Right channel looks very similar so isn’t shown.
Step L

 

summary

For those who like to listen to music while on their PC and not having to change headphones this headphone isn’t a bad idea.
No, it still isn’t a great headphone and there are better sounding ones out there for the price that can connect to any headphone output.
For gamers that don’t care for ultimate hi-fi sound this is an affordable (around € 130.-) headphone that aside from being excellent for gaming also lets you enjoy music.
Passive mode is not recommended and this headphone really should only be used in USB mode.
In passive mode expect a dull and bassy sound which is a bit ‘hollow’ sounding with decent treble up top. No clarity at all.
In USB mode (24 bit/192kHz DAC inside) it sounds a lot better and the creative software will add tons of functionality such as virtual surround and lots of presets for DSP and tone control.
Very good headphone for gamers, not very Hi-Fi but in USB mode a decent sounding headphone that lacks some finesse and treble is a bit strident.

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