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Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi HD USB Audio System with Phono Preamp
USB Sound Blaster X-Fi HD is an audiophile grade sound system with premium connectivity for your Notebook or PC. The front panel includes a conveniently located 1/4" microphone input and 1/4" headphone jack with studio quality headphone amp and volume control. The rear panel features optical I/O, gold plated stereo RCA I/O plus an integrated phono preamp for direct recording of your vinyl collection from your turntable. Media Toolbox software lets you record, convert, enhance and organize your digital music easily, while SBX Pro Studio technology brings you the same great audio experience found in live performances, films, and recording studios.
Creative Media Toolbox software allows you to record, playback, cleanup and organize your digital music easily
Gold plated connectivity for maximum signal quality and easily accessible front mounted headphone and microphone jacks with convenient volume control
THX TruStudio Pro is specially designed to bring the same great audio experience found in live performances, films, and recording studios - to the PC
Audiophile-grade components deliver unsurpassed USB audio quality with a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of 114dB
Phono preamp with RIAA EQ allows direct connection of your turntable to convert your vinyl to CD or MP3
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Audiophile-grade components deliver unsurpassed USB audio quality with a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of 114dB
Features SBX Pro Studio, the industry acknowledged guarantee of audio quality, includes Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect over headphones or speakers
Phono preamp with RIAA EQ allows direct connection of your turntable to convert your vinyl to CD or MP3
Gold plated connectivity for maximum signal quality and easily accessible front mounted headphone and microphone jacks with convenient volume control. Creative Media Toolbox software allows you to record, playback, cleanup and organize your digital music easily
|Average Customer Rating:
|| based on 197 reviews|
Average Customer Review:
( 197 customer reviews )
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
108 of 112 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.
12 of 13 found the following review helpful:
Useful But Know What to ExpectAug 21, 2011
After describing the X-Fi HD to a couple of friends I think it's worth mentioning this is not a USB recording interface - at least not in the same class as dedicated products by PreSonus, M-Audio, Tascam, and others.
The X-Fi is an external sound card with bundled software to play music, games and video, as well as to record from external audio sources and transfer cassettes and records to digital. If you're a musician looking for an interface that's optimized for instruments or vocals, I wouldn't recommend this or frankly any SoundBlaster card.
(Creative's E-MU subsidiary is another story. I have an E-MU 1212 PCIe recording card that works very well for my needs).
I chose the X-Fi for better audio playback on a corporate-issued Lenovo 2.2 GHz laptop running Windows 7 32-bit. The laptop's onboard sound and speakers are pretty limited and the X-Fi is clearly an improvement. I use Sennheiser HD201 headphones and a pair of Altec Lansing desk speakers with a subwoofer. Pretty basic stuff but good enough to demonstrate what the card has to offer.
The EAX reverb effects emulate eight distinct listening environments (Amphitheater, Jazz Club, Opera Hall, Orchestra Pit, Recital Hall, Royal Hall, Stone Hall, Theater). I like that the effect signal can be blended with the straight signal, it really expands your options. Obviously you don't have the flexibility of a DAW but it's fun to take favorite CDs and change their vibe, sometimes radically.
I also chose the X-fi to transfer cassettes and my last remaining box of records. The Smart Recorder application has a straightforward wizard interface that detects signal strength nicely. The configurable hiss and click filters work well but watch for high end roll off when applied too aggressively.
I had no problem using my old Tascam MKII 4-track and (even older) Garrard turntable, both of which connect easily to the X-Fi with stereo RCA plugs (there's even a ground screw for the turntable).
Speaking of the MKII, the X-Fi could be an option for cassette-based musicians looking to get their feet wet with digital recording (I know they're out there because the MKII still sells). Instead of bouncing down to a stereo deck use the X-Fi to convert your tracks to .wav and import them into the Wave Studio application. Wave Studio looks comparable to the open source Audacity program feature-wise: basic recording and .wav editing with built-in effects and the ability to host plug-ins.
The Media Toolbox application is the software control center for the X-Fi. It includes its own recorder application, a launcher for the EAX and THX Studio settings panels in the Sounds applet, a "normalizer" app (kind of a simple mastering tool that balances the volume of selected music files). There are tools for organizing your music files and - one I really like -for modifying tag information.
There are some caveats you'll have to weigh for yourself:
While listening to an orchestral CD (Ravel) using the Royal Hall and Orchestra Pit settings I found the sound to be lush and warm. However, there were noticeable breakups while adjusting the volume on the X-Fi as well as at sudden moments of loud, low frequencies. I understand the factors that can cause this but I was still surprised by the breakups. In contrast, my less powerful desktop machine using the E-MU PCIe card has never had comparable problems while adjusting playback volume. I'm not sure where the fault lies; I'm just putting the info out there.
Speaking of adjustments, there's one moving control on the X-Fi box, a volume knob that doubles as a push-button mute. The onscreen indicator appears as soon as you turn or push the knob. The indicator is easy to read, looks great, and responds tightly. But the knob itself doesn't turn smoothly like an amplifier pot; it also turns continuously without boundary stops (some people like that, I don't).
The knob face and sides are completely smooth which makes fine adjustment more of an effort than it should be. If the knob sides were fluted or ridged it would be easier to grab and the motion would feel more precise.
Finally the install program for the X-Fi software is clunky and feels like a collection of separate installs with too little regard for the overall user experience: The position of the next and back keys is inconsistent across dialogs. There's poor synchronization between background and foreground dialogs that one time resulted in a desktop lockup. I was prompted three separate times to input my language. I had to reboot my machine three separate times on an O/S newer than Win2k. I was notified of an available update for the Alchemy application only to have it fail because the base app was not present (granted, this could be an update website bug and not strictly related to the X-Fi).
I know many people couldn't care less about install programs (so long as they work) but I've always felt they're the first impression you often have about a product and can really color your opinion of the company.
Bottom line: Consider what you want to do with the X-Fi before deciding if it's right for you.
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