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Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi HD Sound Card
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Average Customer Review:
( 207 customer reviews )
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111 of 115 found the following review helpful:
Great sub $100 DAC, can be a pain to set-up thoughDec 26, 2010
There are not many reviews for this product, so I am going to go ahead and write a fairly in-depth one.
Like other reviewers, I only got this because it is a high quality DAC (digital to analog converter) in the $100 price range. I am not ready to shell $300+ on a DAC yet. I may use the recording feature in the future to rip video game music, taking advantage of the SPDIF in port. When I do I will update this review.
The reason why I picked this DAC over other ones within the price range (like the Nuforce headphone amps) was because of the SPDIF in port. I did not want a DAC for just my computer. I wanted one that I could hook up my game consoles and TV to as well. Sound quality is huge to me; I find sound quality to be more important than picture quality. A good picture looks nice, but great sound is really what makes you feel like you are there. That is where I thought this DAC would really come in handy.
Now on to the actual review, since I have made clear why I bought this item.
This DAC is high quality. It sounds better than the Realtek HD Audio on my motherboard, it sounds better than my Insignia 32'' LCD, it sounds better than using analog output from my game consoles, and it sounds better than my Hanns G 21'' monitor (yes, that actually has a headphone out port that I can hook to speakers). Like all other reviewers who favor this item, I can hear all the more subtle parts of my music. If you have good speakers (I am using a pair of Alesis M1 Active 520s) and/or headphones, then you will hear the difference. After all, what is the point of having a high quality DAC if your playback equipment is not built to accurately reproduce music? In case you are not someone too familiar with sound systems, I can not stress this enough: Make sure you have good equipment before buying a DAC!
For music playback, this DAC is easy to set-up - simple plug and play (I'm using Windows 7, 32 bit). Just plug your device into the USB port, wait for the generic drivers to install, and you are done! Even with the generic drivers, you can output 24 bit/96 KHz on both optical out and line out ports. The line out ports are the standard, stereo RCA out ports. In addition, it has a 1/4 out jack for devices that use TRS cables. However, by using the generic drivers, you do not have an EQ. In that case, just use the EQ of your music player. There is a neat little feature that allows you to boost a certain bass frequency by a certain amount (such as 50, 75, 200 Hz up to levels like 3dB, 6dB, 12dB) in the windows console, and I found that to be incredibly useful for making my speakers output more bass, as I do not have a subwoofer.
Using the SPDIF in however, is much trickier and that is where I took off a star. As of writing this review, there is no documentation on making use of it, at all. I would know because I spent at least 3 hours searching through the manual and the creative knowledge base and I did not find anything. If you want this device to decode digital signals from some sort of entertainment device other than a computer (like a PS3), follow these steps:
-First off, before we begin, know that this does NOT decode dolby and DTS surround formats. For instance, if you are watching a DVD/Blu-Ray, make sure that you are NOT outputting the Dolby/DTS surround formats. It only decodes two channel, stereo, PCM.
-Replace the generic windows drivers of the soundcard with Creative's drivers by installing the drivers located in the installation CD.
-From the same CD, install Creative Entertainment Console and Creative Audio Control Panel.
-In Creative Entertainment Console, go to Mixer, and under playback, uncross SPDIF in. This passes anything that comes through the SPDIF in port to whatever speakers/headphones you have connected to your DAC.
-Make sure that under the recording tab in the windows console (when you right click the speaker icon and click on recording devices), you do not have, "Listen to this device," checked off for SPDIF in. There will be weird delay issues if you have "listen to this device" checked off in the windows console and SPDIF in enabled under the mixer tab in the Creative Entertainment Console.
-While you are under the recording tab in the windows console (when you right click the speaker icon and click on recording devices), make sure you have SPDIF in set as the default recording device. This tells WINDOWS to accept the input coming in from SPDIF in instead of the other inputs: Line in, Phono in, and Microphone.
-In the windows console, make sure you have the sample rates for SPDIF in and Speaker be the same.
Another reason why I took off a star is because, as of writing this review, you can not download the drivers for this device from the website. This soundcard was designed with netbooks in mind, and guess what? Netbooks do not have CD drives! If you are planning on using this device for a computer without a CD drive, make sure you have access to a computer with a CD drive so you can rip the installation files. Stuff like this is why Creative support has such a bad rep.
In conclusion, great DAC. Simple plug and play if you are using it for a computer, but can be a huge pain to set up for other devices. I will update this review when I use the recording features. Even though I have not fully tested this product's features, I thought it would be helpful to at least say that it works, and works well, for music playback since this device does not have many reviews.
I've used this to record video game music with the RCA line in ports, and I've connected my guitar and bass guitar to the 1/4'' microphone input and recorded myself playing. Perfect. No issues here whatsoever.
I also want to add that if you want to be able to record music that's playing directly on your computer (say you want to rip audio from youtube), this device has the "What U Hear/Stereo Mix" option. Just know that you need to install creative's software to activate this feature.
20 of 20 found the following review helpful:
Excellent quality at a bargain priceMar 23, 2012
I had for many years an external Audigy 2 NX that finally stopped working. This was a great unit for the DVD-Audio support and 192/24 support for headphones (96/24 for 5.1), and so a requirement was that any replacement could support playing all my ripped lossless archives at 96/24. Since the NX had permanently migrated to my desk at work, I didn't really care about the 5.1 support, and my main focus was on headphones (since I use it at the office). It also had to be USB, as this is replacing the crappy internal audio on my work computer and I like to be able to use it on multiple systems.
First place I checked was creative.com to see what was new, and started doing research on some of the offerings. I looked at the X-Fi Go! which would have been my choice if ultra-portability was my priority but I liked the extra features of the X-Fi HD: everything I need and nothing I don't. I really loved the 1/4" jacks which make perfect sense for an audiophile targeted item, and the split line-in/phono-in and line out is just excellent. I've been using this for about 2 years now so have a pretty good idea on the pros and cons.
I agree that setup can be a pain, though it seems to mostly be a driver issue and poor ability to control the mixers and mute what you need to through logical software menus. Ironically I have more trouble with Win 7 than I did on XP. A few things to note: The phono-in and the line-in is a shared connection, though it's very difficult to tell through the software which was it's configured. I wish instead of controlling this through software there was a physical toggle switch on the rear of the unit to select. If you plug something in through the line-in and it sounds awfully distorted, it's running through the phono preamp and you need to mute this input (good luck finding it in the windows mixer and the creative version, it's terrible to hunt for and not obvious at all). Once you get that sorted out, you'll be able to enjoy HD AM/FM radio from your Sony XDR-F1, at least until you undock your Win7 computer and then redock. At this point, everything will look like it's configured fine but you just won't hear anything. The solution is to go into the windows mixer and disable the line input and then re-enable, and you're back in business. I did not have this issue in WinXP.
So how about quality? Well it's really quite incredible, and the dedicated headphone amp is all the more impressive considering it gets its power from the USB 500mA connection rather than an external power source (like the NX did). How powerful is this you ask? Well let me tell you I did some back to back testing using some heavily modded AKG K340s (which are said to be notoriously difficult to drive) through the X-fi HD headphone jack, and compared that to the line-out feeding through Transparent Audio interconnects into a Darkvoice 336SE (which is also said to be an excellent pairing for the K340s at a relatively bargain price) and I honestly could not tell the difference between the two, as far as ability to drive the headphones. I tested using several lossless MFSL and Hoffman DCC albums and some DVD-A recordings with a variety of music styles, and the $100 X-Fi sounded JUST AS GOOD as a system 5 times the price. Very very impressive. I've also done the same with a pair of Grado SR80i to the same effect.
Originally I dismissed the THX stuff but have found myself using it lately. Since I also listen to a AM/FM radio through the line-ins, I mix a little of the "surround sound" into it to make it a bit more comfortable to listen to (and generally use a foobar plugin to do the same for my archived music). Depending on the quality of the station, the "crystalizer" and "speaker" options can give a little more punch, and the "dialog" option is nice for static-filled AM stations if you're listening to talk radio. Even Pandora streaming audio sounds really good (I was afraid the K340s would reveal all the MP3 artifacts but at the HQ setting I generally don't notice anything, though I am working usually rather than critically listening).
This has been an excellent bargain purchase and in truly an excellent addition to any audiophile's desktop arsenal. I'd really rate this 4.5 stars if I could because frankly the software/driver support is clunky and could be much improved. A physical toggle switch to select between line- and phono-in would go a long way to reducing the problems people have reported with crappy audio through the line-in. And despite the excellent powering through the USB port, I do wish it had an external power option that would allow you to use the unit as a standalone receiver, for example with the XDR-F1 I could listen to the radio independent of having a computer available, but that's pretty minor. This is a really excellent unit and I feel as if I should buy a few spares so that when this one gives up the ghost down the road I'll have a fresh replacement ready to swap in. Excellent job Creative!
30 of 32 found the following review helpful:
Another LevelDec 10, 2010
By Gene B.
In this brief review, I am only going to comment on the sound quality of this device. I do not have the intention of using any of its other features (recording, software conversion, etc). With that being said, wow, this thing is a bargain! I mainly bought it to pair with my AKG 172/702 headphones and laptop, but I am also using it with my Swans M200mkIII speakers. All of those items already sounded great in themselves, but once I paired them with this dac(AKM4396VF btw), the boost in quality was a tad unbelievable. Some of the more popular expressions uttered when one upgrades a component in their audio chain are that you can hear things you never knew were there and that you would need to re-audition your music library...and those extend down to this dac. In fact, it's so good, I'd almost retire my DAC1 (whoops, thought it was April) . I have not tried the THX sound shaping algorithms yet, and I don't really plan to, but it is a nice bonus that they at least are the company behind them and not some generic technology. The headphone amp is indeed of good quality, but the higher ohm cans will still want some more power to sound their best(like my 702s).
All in all, I am extemely impressed with this product. I bought it on a whim as a "try out" purchase(couldn't pass up the price), and it will now be staying in my system. The only gripe I have with it is that unlike its desktop specific brother (titanium), I can't upgrade/replace the op-amps. That drawback won't really be one to most of the people who shop this unit though. At this price (whatever price Amazon has it at when you read this), it deserves some serious consideration by the home audio enthusiast on a budget.
Just so everyone understands, I am not trying to allude that this dac is on par with the upper echelon, but it does sound way better than it has any right to given its price/s.
28 of 32 found the following review helpful:
The Heavenly ChoirNov 07, 2011
By Mrs. Butterworths
I grew up with vinyl and then cassettes and 8-tracks, but compared to vinyl, cassettes and 8-tracks were the MP3 equivalent for the '70's & 80's, suffering from the same lack of decent bass, top end and a compressed soundstage as MP3s do today.
When CDs came out I was overjoyed, at least at first. Then came the tragic day in 1994 when a friend of mine called from his recording studio and asked me to bring over my turntable (ancient Pioneer direct drive with a bit more rumble than I'd like) with the Sumiko Blue Point cartridge along with my CD and Vinyl Deutsche Grammophon recording of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (for the unenlightened that's the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey). We would listen to the vinyl version compared to the CD version, with the CD version played back on a Kenwood CD player with it's built-in D/A converters and then routed through a California Labs outboard D/A. So two different ways to hear the CD. Could the vinyl keep up?
We got comfortable in the control room seated in the sweet spot between the monitors: first up, the bare nekkid Kenwood.
The organ note started and it sounded perfect, like a good solid 32' pipe should sound- you feel it and hear it...but clean, not like the garbage can rattling and shaking heard on the street from the cars of assorted misanthropes drifting about the neighborhood.
Next up the California Labs and...maybe a little better, slightly more top end and perhaps the bass had a bit more oomph but nothing to say OMG! SPEND THAT $1500 right now! On the other hand it was nice to hear my buddy say that he was a little surprised since bits is bits. Then we blamed it on the better D/A converters and moved on.
Finally, the vinyl, the needle drops and the heavens opened up. At the point on the record where the music starts there's a split second of just the room before the organ note and in that split second the walls of the recording studio went away...and when the horns started they were in a concert hall, not packed between two monitor speakers as they were coming from the CDs.
We were astounded. Since that day I've listened to my CDs since they're more convenient, but I've always wanted to be able to record my vinyl into a high bit/sample rate format.
Now I can. The RIAA equalization is splendid. I did find that the software included with the X-FI DOES NOT RECORD at the highest bit rate...it says it does but when the file is opened (or right click and properties), it's only 16 bit, not 24.
Get (for windows at least) Audacity and use that freeware program to record at 96KHz and 24 bit depth.
Awesome! Yeah, 24 bit is wasted on vinyl with it's paltry 60-75dB headroom, but for sure the 96KHz isn't, there's stuff out there beyond the 20KHz brickwall of CDs..and who's to say that's not where the "room" lives?
At any rate, this little box rox.
9 of 9 found the following review helpful:
Five stars as a headphone amplifier.May 12, 2011
I use my X-Fi HD USB as a headphone amplifier and so far it's been great. It has no problem driving my Etymotic ER-4Ps which are 100 ohms or my old 40 ohm Sony headphones. Unlike the headphone jack on my Macbook, my desktop and my AV receiver, there is absolutely no noise or static. At one time I thought I was hearing a slight hiss while using Etymotics, but to my surprise when I attempted to play something, I found that they weren't even plugged in. If it weren't for the little blue LED, you would have no idea that the thing is on while it's not playing. As for sound quality, there is a noticeable difference when compared to other sources. Sounds just seem a little bit clearer.
I've tested it with my Mac (Snow leopard) and can confirm that it does work, although the volume/mute knob does not. OS X recognizes all it's inputs and outputs, and the all seem to work as they should. Ubuntu recognizes it as "USB Sound Blaster HD Analog Stereo" and it does (including the volume knob) work. However Ubuntu doesn't recognize that it has multiple inputs and outputs, but the headphone and microphone jacks do work. Windows sees it as a plug and play device so there's no reason to install the driver unless you want the fancy features it comes with, although the Crystalizer is the only feature I actually use.
So anyway, if you're looking for a good USB headphone amp, this one is great.
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