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Creative Sound Blaster Z PCIe Sound Card
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Average Customer Review:
( 536 customer reviews )
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338 of 373 found the following review helpful:
VERY IMPORTANT if you are looking into buying this...Please ReadMar 30, 2013
There is a major flaw with the more expensive ZX model of this product. The Audio Control Module (ACM) that you are paying about $50 more, LOWERS the QUALITY of the audio signal versus plugging your headphones directly into the back of the sound card.
Seriously, how has no one else caught this? I checked online and found no one complaining about this. So, I thought my ACM was defective. Amazon kindly sent me a replacement. I got the replacement and plugged the new ACM into the back of the sound card and then plugged my headphones in the ACM. SAME ISSUE. (I tried both the 3.5mm and 1/4in plugs) I then changed out the sound card with the new replacement card and reinstalled the software and drivers just to be sure.....SAME ISSUE.
If you already own this.....and you love the ACM....you most likely did not compare it to the sound when your headphones are plugged directly into the back of the sound card.
I noticed this dramatically because I did not use the ACM for the first week or so. I did all my initial testing in music and gaming without it. As soon as I plugged it in I thought something was wrong with my headphones or the sound card went bad on me. I quickly discovered that it was solely the AMC.
PLUGGED INTO THE ACM
- The sound is significantly softer making me believe that the built in AMP is being weakened by the ACM. This is a bigger issue for those that have high impedance headphones
- Second it affects the balance and quality of sound. For example: While playing COD Black Ops 2 - I immediately noticed that the sound of my gun was muffled and recessed even at the same volume level. I then plugged my headphones directly into the back of the sound card...and it is so much better! Everything is louder, clearer, and precise. Don't believe me, try it out for yourself. I also immediately noticed that my music sounded worse playing through the ACM. The surround sound effect through the ACM sounds more tinny and echoy.
So bottom line....the ACM degrades the sound quality significantly (I tested this with two ACMs). It baffles me that both Sound Blaster and Consumers have not noticed this issue with the ACM. I did find a forum of audiophiles debating if the ACM would degrade the sound quality and amp....but there was no definite answer and the topic ended with the assumption that it did not since Sound Blaster said it is the superior model.
Please mark this review as helpful so others can see it before spending the extra money on this model...and if they do, hopefully they will do the sound test themselves and compare the sound difference. How knows, maybe I got two bad AMC in a row? I highly doubt it though.
The Sound Card itself is very good and I highly recommend the Sound Blaster Z (not ZX)purchase to anyone. Great PC sound and software for customizing your preference of sound. You can plug in your gaming console via Toslink/spdif cable and and use the software for superior virtual surround effect (compared to Astro Mixamp or DSS/2)and customize your console gaming sound as well. The only down side to that, is that you need your PC to be on while you play a console game. Again, I highly recommend the Sound Card. Save yourself $50 and get the Z model.
UPDATE - 4/20/13
So, I have brought this issue up with others on Head-Fi (audiophile website forums). Many others have tested this out for themselves and have reported back with the same problem. There have been many differnt headphones used and the problem exists with all of them (Superlux HS668b, Ultrasone Pro900, Sony V-6, Sennheiser 558...ect).
It is worth noting that while the ACM degrades audio quality, the built in microphone on the ACM is better than the microphone on the Z model. I have tested out both mics and compared them with my Zalman Zm-Mic1 ($8) and the Zx mic is on par with the Zalman - while the Z model mic is not as good.
Also, it seems the people with the ZxR model ($250) are not noticing a big difference in audio quality with the ACM. That does not mean it does not degrade the audio - but those I have conversed with on Head-fi stated that the audio was not significantly affected. So, MAYBE the ZxR model has a better ACM.
Here is a link to the Head-fi forum where I first started this conversation. The conversation goes on for several pages of the forum. My username on Head-fi is Povell42
Here is a link to the same forum (pg 31) where others agree with me and the user phrozenspite confirms that the same issue happens with his ZXR Model.
34 of 37 found the following review helpful:
Best Creative Sound Card to DateJan 08, 2014
By Stephen Bonar
As both a gamer and audio enthusiast, I have always chosen a sound card over an integrated audio chip for two reasons.
1) A decent sound card generally features higher quality DACs (Digital audio converters) and Amps than an integrated solution, allowing for cleaner, richer, more accurate sound.
2) Hardware DSPs (Digital Signal Processors) provided mixing capabilities that offloaded mixing tasks from the CPU. This allowed for hardware accelerated 3D positional audio in games where all audio effects were processed directly on the card. This was particularly important in the early days of gaming when CPU cycles were at a premium.
Unfortunately the advantages of such cards aren't nearly as clear today. Microsoft eliminated hardware accelerated audio from its audio stack in Windows Vista and it's been that way since. As such, most applications (including games and the OS itself) perform all mixing in software by default. Although it is still possible to bypass the Windows mixer and send audio data directly to the soundcard to be processed, only the most audio conscious applications can do this.
So is there any reason to purchase a dedicated sound card in today's day and age? And if you're an existing sound card owner, is there any reason to upgrade?
I was skeptical at first, but then I took a chance and picked up this card when Amazon dropped the price (I had Best Buy price match it for me). Unlike the Creative sound cards that came before it, the Z was designed to over come the aforementioned challenges. Let's see how the Z still covers the two reasons to own a sound card listed above.
1) The Sound Blaster Z has excellent Burr-Brown DACs, capable of outputting a maximum resolution of 24-bit / 192Khz audio with a SNR of 116dB. This pushes the theoretical limits of human hearing, and provides a crystal clear, balanced sound that you won't get from most integrated audio chips. The DAC is one of the most critical components in reproducing an analog sound that is as close to the original as possible.
Previous Creative cards featured decent Cirrus Logic DACs that could output close to that resolution. However, a few major problems often prevented the sound from ever reaching the DAC in "bit-perfect" condition, and failed to achieving the highest resolution the DAC supported. For one thing, the DSP which provided the advantage of hardware accelerated mixing also came with a price: it could not achieve the true 24-bit / 96 or 192Khz audio that the DAC supported. Another problem was that Windows would resample the sound before sending it to the sound card DSP where it would get resampled again (unless the user or application used an API to bypass the Windows mixer). Multiple sample rate conversions can introduce artifacts into the sound.
Although the Z still has this problem with its DSP (the SoundCore 3D chip), the Z's much improved driver package offers a method (called "Stereo Direct") that allows you to bypass the DSP altogether, allowing for bit-perfect playback providing you bypass the Windows mixer with ASIO, WASAPI exclusive mode or OpenAL. This is great for music playback unless you want to let the Z enhance the sound in some way (upscale to 5.1, use the crystallizer to enhance lossy music, use virtual surround for headphones, etc). Either way, you can enable and disable the DSP as you please. When the DSP is disabled and the Windows Mixer is bypassed, the sound goes straight through the DAC to your speakers unaltered. Be warned if you do this, however. Not even Windows nor the Creative SBX control panel can alter the volume in this state, but that's usually what audio purists want.
2) Now what about when you want to take advantage of the DSP? Aren't all DSP effects handled in software unless you bypass the Windows Mixer? Yes and no. When Creative made Vista / Windows 7 / Windows 8 drivers for the Sound Blaster X-FI, they implemented most DSP effects for gaming and music (like EAX and CMSS3D) in software. As a result, things like CMSS3D and EAX effects would drop as soon as you switched to WASAPI exclusive mode. The only way you could get the DSP to apply these effects in hardware was by using OpenAL.
With the Z, most effects are applied in hardware even when bypassing the Windows Mixer (assuming the DSP is turned on). With the Z I was still able to have CMSS3D and other DSP effects when using WASAPI exclusive mode. The same could not be said for the X-FI where those DSP effects were only handled by the hardware when using OpenAL.
But does that even matter? I think so. I'd rather have the high end hardware on the Z process the sound than let software do it (especially Windows). As for games, DSP effects such as EAX will still be handled in software if the game uses Direct Sound for audio. Nevertheless, as I understand it, other gaming DSP enhancements in the SBX control panel such as Scout Mode, Crystal Voice and 3D positional enhancements are applied to the sound in the hardware DSP *after* the game / Windows pass it to the card.
Overall, this is a great card that provides some clear advantages over its predecessors. If you are considering this as someone who is new to sound cards, it is a worthy purchase if you want an enhanced gaming experience or quality audio in general. If you are thinking about upgrading from a previous Creative card, do it, even if only for the fact that the card has better drivers and can be fully utilized in Windows Vista / 7 / 8.
39 of 43 found the following review helpful:
Huge step up from an X-FI Xtreme MusicNov 30, 2012
Coming from an Xtreme Muisc this was a huge leap. The sound is clearer and the surround sound that replaces cmss-3d is better at creating directional audio. It's almost hard to explain jumping into a game you know and having it sound totally different and more detailed. This card is basically a X-FI with a core3d chip which is what the recon3d should have been. I am not sure how much of a difference it would be coming from a Titanium HD but if you have an older X-FI or a terrible recon3d this is worth a purchase
41 of 46 found the following review helpful:
Great Sound Card for headphonesDec 08, 2012
Does a great job adding bass to the Audio Technica ATH-AD700 cans I have using their control panel (SBX Pro Studio) and bass boost setting, which also lets you set the crossover frequency. I found the default settings, 80hz, and 50% on the slider, worked great... so there's room for even more bass than I find necessary. It can also be added via the equalizer which can do a somewhat better job, and the settings can be saved for each pair of headphones or genre.
Now I no longer need to buy the high impedance cans I was looking at, the cans I have currently get the job done (Sennheiser HD-558, Fischer FA-003, and ATH-AD700), so essentially this sound card has saved me a couple hundred bucks. I find the preset Equalizer settings such as 'rock' and 'classical' work very well and have tweaked the equalizer to my liking to give each pair of cans what I'm looking for in them.
Great for gaming too, the extra effects over the onboard sound are worth it. Great for people with home theater setups, with the optical out on the back. Easily best bang for the buck card out there, and eliminates the need for a headphone amp for all but the most picky audiophiles, since it includes a 600 ohm headphone amp built in. Mine came with the gold nicheon capacitors as well.
With the monster size of the heatsink on my sandy bridge setup, the card barely fit into the small PCI express slot on my motherboard though. I have about one of the largest aircooled heatsinks available so I can't imagine it not fitting unless you have the 120mm fans positioned bottom to top. Mine were positioned side to side so they covered up the RAM instead. Make sure you have clearance.
Installs on Windows 8 without issue using the installation disc provided.
Are there people I would recommend skip buying a sound card? If you don't game, and use low impedance headphones, especially if you are playing anything except 320K MP3 files or FLAC files, you may not need this card. Good headphones and sound cards pick up the flaws in compressed files. I found my onboard very good with music, even using FLAC files, if the headphones were low impedance. It just couldn't amplify the bass the way this card can. Testing included FLAC files of Metallica, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Heart, Ozzy, among others.
Bottom line, your chain is only as strong as your weakest link. Pair this card with a good set of cans and some high quality music to get the most out of it. :)
20 of 23 found the following review helpful:
Much better than ASUS Xonar PhoebusDec 20, 2012
By Brent A. Feinberg
First, off, let me preface this by telling you a bit about the card I am switching from. The HW on the ASUS Xonar Phoebus is actually better than the HW for the Sound Blaster ZX. That said, the SW and driver support of the ASUS Xonar Phoebus is complete crap - so much so, that you actually have to move the card around to different PCI slots to get it to recognize the card needs a firmware update. The SW is very confusing, and they can't even bother to label the ports correctly in the installation guide, resulting in several people connecting their cards incorrectly. That is the reason I snagged one of the first SoundBlaster ZX's when I saw some available on here on Tuesday.
The installation went very smooth, and the external breakout box / audio control module is very solid, well designed (in this case, actually better than the Xonar Phoebus's). One nice feature is that you can leave the headphones plugged in and switch between them and speaker through the SW so you aren't having to plug/unplug cords which could degrade the connector over time.
The SoundBlaster ZX does not require a power cable like the Xonar Phoebus, yet is still has a headphone amplifier built in.
The SW is excellent, easy to understand, and the documentation is sparse but accurate (unlike the Xonar Phoebus as mentioned above). The 3D positional audio for headphones is better than for the Xonar Phoebus.
Overall sound quality is great and I played some Max Payne 3 through my headphones last night which has an excellent orchestral jazz soundtrack. Sound was clear and noise free and I was able to hear small nuances/background sounds like people arguing in the background in a hotel room my character was in. I then switched to The Secret World through a 5.1 speaker system, and also had no issues. The positional audio worked great and sounds were placed in appropriate locations.
One note for those of you that pre-ordered this on Amazon. You can't rely on Amazon here (and I love Amazon, but I have to ding them on this one). I had mine pre-ordered for two weeks. It was just luck that I logged on and saw 7 available on Tuesday) - yet when I checked my order, it still hadn't shipped with no estimation of when it would be available). I immediately ordered one with next day delivery (Prime customer, so only $3.99) and cancelled my previous order. This is the first time Amazon has failed me in this way.
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