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Refurbished Creative Sound Blaster X-FI XtremeGamer Sound Card
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( 106 customer reviews )
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107 of 116 found the following review helpful:
One of the best electronics purchases I've ever made--in a word, spectacularAug 01, 2007
As an avid music fan (and Amazon reviewer), it seemed inevitable that I should at some point seek out a semi-professional quality sound card for my desktop computer. And when it comes to sound cards, Creative leads the way with its X-Fi line of dedicated consumer audio cards. So the only question, then, was "Which one?"
After some consideration, I decided upon the XtremeGamer variant of the X-Fi card. This product contains all the essential parts that comprise the X-Fi experience, yet without all the padded extras that add to the cost of the more expensive cards in the line. My original inclination was toward the now discontinued XtremeMusic card, but since it is indeed out of production it was hard to find. The entry-level XtremeAudio was never a consideration because, contrary to its inclusion in the X-Fi lineup, the XA doesn't actually utilize the X-Fi chip.
This is one powerful piece of electronics. I read somewhere (Tom's Hardware, I believe) that the X-Fi audio processor was more powerful than most desktop CPUs at the time of its release (2005), and it scores an astounding 10,000+ MIPs. Some might see this as overkill, but then, in this age of power-hungry games and high definition digital audio, the more juice the better. And this thing delivers just that. After all, how many times do you see an audio chip with its own heat sink?!
Installation was easy enough. I had to do a little fishing to find the cable that leads to my front panel audio, but the convenience of being able to keep the front jacks working was worth it. Keep in mind that only the newer Intel HD front panels will work (not the older AC '97). The box contains installation discs for both Windows XP and Vista, making ordering the Vista disc (or downloading the applications and driver manually) unnecessary. The software installation was the usual annoying affair, with a million updates and prompts about new startup programs/services. It took over half an hour for it all to complete itself, and I would have hoped that Creative would have streamlined this a bit since the Audigy series. But no matter.
Once I actually got to using the thing, I was very impressed. What follows is a breakdown of what this thing can do, along with my comments. From time to time, I will reference my Audigy 2 ZS Notebook card, which is at least somewhat representative of the Audigy 2 line in general, as far as my purposes go.
This card is, without a doubt, the best-sounding audio device I have ever heard. And, when you consider that it produces a perfectly flat frequency response across the entire audio spectrum, it's not hard to see why it sounds so good. In particular, I noticed that bass has much more definition--it's not just tighter, but some of the higher overtones that define the individual notes come out much better, thereby adding some clarity to the bass lines in songs. Also, there is a certain warmth to the midtones that the somewhat brittle Realtek integrated audio lacks--Mellotrons in particular sound otherworldly. The IA I had was pretty good, but the X-Fi is so much better. Finally, both the volume and the S/N ratio blow away anything IA can offer. You can turn the volume up to the max, and you will hear ZERO noise from the circuitry.
-FUNCTIONALITY: THEORETICAL AND PRACTICAL-
This card comes with a host of software, which differs to varying degrees from that offered with the Audigy cards. The Creative MediaSource media player (now in version five) is the same, as are the SoundFont Bank Manager and the Creative MediaSource Go! applications. However, the similarities end there. Missing (very unfortunately) are Creative Wave Studio and Vienna SoundFont Studio (or equivalents); these tools, while I didn't use them particularly often (see below), were nonetheless very important as part of the package. Not everybody has Sonic Foundry (now Sony) ACID Pro or Pro Tools, for example, and a basic audio editing program should be par for the course with the X-Fi lineup; in addition, without Vienna Studio, the ability to precisely edit soundfonts is missing. Both these applications are available for download from Creative's website, but they really should have been included with the installation discs in the first place. As it is, some of the functionality of a multi-channel mixer has been absorbed in the Audio Console, which now sports three different modes of operation: Entertainment, Audio Creation, and Gaming. A link to a download of CyberLink PowerDVD completes the software package.
In practice, the software is fairly useful. I suppose Creative was trying to make things easier for beginning users, while allowing for advanced users to seek out the more vital functions. Everything seems to center around the Audio Console, and in each mode, different options become available. I usually stick with Audio Creation because it offers everything I require from the other two modes, plus it allows me to hook up my musical keyboard in a pinch. Which brings me to my next point: Some (probably older) keyboards don't work with the USB MIDI driver in Vista, which necessitates the presence of a working copy of XP. There might be a fix for this (barring visiting the keyboard manufacturer's website, which did not help for me), but I didn't have time to be bothered with it. I just booted into my XP partition and got on with it.
-MUSIC CREATION IMPLICATIONS-
This is where things really got interesting. The ability to load and play back soundfonts--not particularly touted in the XtremeGamer due to its intended market--is a powerful feature that all X-Fi cards carry. And this is where my trusty Audigy 2 ZS Notebook has utterly failed me--though it indeed has soundfont support, I was never able to get it to recognize my keyboard. I was stuck, then, with the lame ability to play a little over an octave of (single velocity) notes using my laptop's keys. Even so, I collected a bunch of soundfonts from all over the Internet, and when I fired up the SoundFont Bank Manager, it all payed off. The creative possibilities are virtually endless, even with the somewhat cheesy stock General MIDI sample set included with the card by default. Add a few foraged sounds (Mellotron samples, guitar samples, ...), and it's like a whole new world just opened up. You can even buy collections of soundfonts from Creative, or else sample your own. This card (or another X-Fi) is a must for amateur musicians just for this reason alone. Not only is direct-line recording (once you realize you have to use the Digital Out jack for Line-in--weird, right?) easy, it sounds very clean. Plus, you can lay down a basic mix just from a keyboard using a combination of internal sounds and soundfont files. Hook up a microphone and overdub some vocals, get out the guitar and strum a few chords, and you've got a reasonably high quality demo recording. Of course you need to supply your own connection cables, but all in all it sure beats using the old tape recorder.
This will be a pretty short paragraph, mainly because--you guessed it--I don't actually game much. However, the main reason any hardcore gamer would want dedicated audio is because it frees up processor overhead usually devoted to the audio portion of games. As mentioned earlier, gaming sound is becoming more and more immersing, and as such it can be very demanding on the CPU. Offloading this on a dedicated component has been reported (by Creative, of course) to result in up to a 15% increase in frame rates as compared to motherboard audio. Also, dedicated components almost always perform better overall than their integrated counterparts, so it's worth it just to get the whole experience. Plus, some games don't even offer the highest audio settings unless they detect an X-Fi audio card in the system, so it pays to get one.
Generally, there are a few things to consider when making this purchase. One of those is if your power supply can handle it. This is an extremely powerful piece of hardware, and as such it draws a considerable amount of wattage. Make sure you have wiggle room with your PSU. Also, you might want to make sure your motherboard has an open PCI 2.1 slot before you purchase--it saves on the hell and frustration should you discover otherwise. Also, though it's shorter than most of the X-Fi boards, you might still have a little trouble fitting this card in some smaller, more cramped cases. You might have to rearrange some power connectors and other cables in order to fit the card in its place. Finally, if you're a really serious gamer with a limitless budget, remember that there are even better cards than the XtremeGamer. The Fatal1ty line is a special subset of the X-Fi family, and is designed for the hardcore gamer who wants the absolute best gaming performance along with the best audio performance. These cards have additional enhancements as per the standard X-Fi line, and you might be more interested in these if you fit into the above category.
-COMPARISON TO AUDIGY-
One of the main gripes with the Audigy line was that it was hardware-coded to 48,000 Hz/16-bit resolution, and thus any other resolution source needed to be internally resampled before it could be digitally processed. This wasn't handled very well by the hardware, and artifacts could be heard in the sound. I observed this in real time when I played my keyboard through my A2 ZS Notebook: A persistent hissing would start up whenever a note was sounded, yet it would disappear when the note ceased. This only happened when I was using effects processing; when the patch was played dry, there was no noise. This annoying effect (which led many to use software rendering to manually resample before processing through the card) was finally eliminated with the X-Fi, which uses an entirely new architecture which allows near transparent resampling to and from all resolutions.
All in all, though there are certainly a few things that could have been improved, this is a wonderful sound card. It sounds great, it's powerful, and the creative potential it facilitates--something not as widely advertised as its gaming and entertainment merits--all combine to make the XtremeGamer card a must have in the arsenal of any serious audio enthusiast, amateur musician, or (yes) gamer. I can wholeheartedly recommend this card to anybody who fits the above list; it really is everything you've heard and more.
43 of 45 found the following review helpful:
excellent soundcardMar 09, 2007
There is some misinformation posted here. First, "buyers beware" is incorrect. The card he is referring to is the XtremeAudio. This card - the XtremeGamer - is the genuine article "budget" x-fi card. That means it has all the x-fi guts without additional bells & whistles found on other more expensive versions.
Second, the motherboard issues reported by many users refer to the older versions of the x-fi. This is a new revision that has corrected the static and popping. I am using this card on an nf4 motherboard (DFI Ultra-D) with no problems at all.
I'd wager that neither of those reviews were written by people who actually own the card. This is an excellent sound card that provides a noticeable upgrade over onboard sound, even with just a 2.1 speaker system. The latest XP drivers appear to be very stable. I bought this card because it is compatible with Intel HD front audio ports that come standard on many cases (so you can plug your headphones in the front of your case).
I also bought it because I'm a gamer. The improvement in sound and 3D effects is startling at times when EAX is enabled. Switching to "entertainment" mode also brings superior quality music and DVD audio. The installation CD also installs a link in the start menu for a free download of Cyberlink PowerDVD, which is a nice bonus.
15 of 18 found the following review helpful:
Great Hardware - Just use the online drivers to avoid junkSep 11, 2007
By N. Schweitzer
After reading the other reviews, I was nervous about installation / driver issues. After I installed my card, however, I went to Creative's website and chose to download only the driver (and not any of the applications). The install went smoothly, and it didn't install any junk programs on my computer.
But as for the sound card itself, the improvement in sound quality was well worth the money. The x-fi processor does really seem to make a difference. I use only a 2.0 speaker system (two JBL bookshelf speakers with a Sony receiver), and the new sound quality is about as good as you can get without getting extra speakers or a subwoofer. Music now sounds "clearer." It also includes an optical output (you need a TOSLINK cable or adapter--it is not the "square-looking" optical connection, it is a narrow plug that looks like a headphone jack).
15 of 19 found the following review helpful:
Great Sound, but limited and poor Creative QCMay 25, 2007
By Husband, Dad, and Nerd
The first card I received didn't work. Apparently there is a rash of cards from Creative that give the following error when you try to install the drivers, "Setup is unable to detect a supported product on your system etc. Setup will exit now." There is no recourse for this bug except to RMA the card. Gratefully Amazon is amazing at doing this, and they had a new card to me in 3 days, and they even paid the return shipping on the defective card.
The second card worked flawlessly, and the sound is truly remarkable. I've been doing pro audio for churches and youth groups for 13 years, and this card even impressed me a bit.
That said, there was a feature I was looking forward to, which isn't supported with this card. Sadly it is only this card in the whole X-fi lineup which doesn't support this feature. The feature I speak of, is Hardware Dolby Digital/DTS decoding. This feature allows you to set your software DVD player to SPDIF output, and have the X-fi take the signal internally (instead of outputting it on the Optical out), and decode it to your speakers directly. The only recourse for playing DVDs with 5.1 (or better) sound is to get a software DVD player that can decode the signals in Software. Not ideal, and a real let down.
The way Creative gets around this in their marketing of the card is to include a free download of PowerDVD that has Dobly Digital/DTS software decoding. However, I was never able to get mine to download, and Creative tech support (in India I might add) was unable to resolve the problem. So I end up having to go buy a copy of PowerDVD to watch my movies in surround.
In summary, this card is great for games and MP3s, it sucks for movies (unless you can get PowerDVD to download), and it sucks worse if you get one of the many bad cards that Creative is putting out. If you do get a bad one, Amazon is amazing at RMAs, so get a replacement. If I had to do it all over again, I'd get this following card instead, and leave this X-fi wannabe alone.
Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer Fatal1ty Pro Series Sound Card ( 70SB046A00000 )
6 of 7 found the following review helpful:
Has "What U Hear" (Stereo Mix or Wave Out) for Vista!Apr 21, 2008
This review is intended to help those who, like myself, have been pulling out their hair, looking for a sound card that provides a means to record what is heard through the speakers, directly from the system, in addition to the mic and line-in jacks. Among other names, this feature is called "What U Hear," "Stereo Mix," and "Wave Out."
I love my Gateway GM5632e (with Vista-32 Home Premium) in every respect, except for the on-board Sigmatel audio. Other than sounding good, it lacks the tweaky features of a decent sound card that I not only like to play with, but NEED. The feature I missed most was the ability to record streaming audio. There is much written elsewhere online on this subject, so I'll simply sum up by saying that acquiring this ability has been no small matter for many. Everything has been tried, from installing older sound card drivers, to Virtual Audio Cable(s) (and similar), to patching together the headphone and mic jacks. Well, you folks will be happy to know that your search can end here.
Over the past three days, I tried Sound Blaster's Audigy SE, XtremeAudio, and their Live! 24-bit External. None of them provided the ability to record "What U Hear." Then, I bought the XtremeGamer. After installation, and a search for online updates, that formerly elusive wave recording feature finally appeared. I installed it, and am now a very happy camper. It now works just like it did under XP.
Hope this helps someone. (Incidentally, I love everything else about the card.)
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