• Creative X-Fi Soundcard Review

Hey folks, Valkor here. TOV is still getting over CES-itis (2006) and believe me the outcome of it all was totally positive. Right now we have a few more related articles ahead and this one is no exception. What started out as a blurb in my CES round up has now become a full fledge review. So without further introduction, I give you Creatives latest sound card, freshly installed in the Val-Cave computers, the “X-fi Xtrememusic”.

Creative X-Fi Soundcard

The X-fi Xtreme has some nifty features, but without getting too technical, we will keep it brief and talk about its two best. First there is the 24 bit crystalizer. What this does is, it takes all compressed audio if it be music or movies, and tries to remaster it in 24 bit, giving it back some of its original quality before compression. This means all your MP3’s whether they be the lowest to the highest will sound great! Plus you can rip music from CD’s in 24 bit, called Super Ripping, taking full advantage of what the sound card can do. If you’re like me and you have to constantly wear headphones, because you don’t wanna disturb the neighbors with all sorts of loud noises, then this feature is a plus. However Headphones are limited because you lose some of that surround sound edge. Enter X-FI CMSS-3D, which will remix your music real-time, making your headphones virtual surround sound machines. And believe me it works just as it says it does.

So the big question ultimately is: It sounds pretty damn good… on multiple levels. And believe me I put this card through the freakin ringer. I mean I really gave it a run, not just a quick shot of this and that, we’re talking extensive! And it passed all my tests with flying colors. I used different speakers 1) Sony Exceptional noise reduction headphones 2) Altec Lansing 2.1 digital speakers and 3) Logitech 4.1 surround sound speakers. Here’s my breakdown of each device and the grade that follows is based on a 5 star scale for the card used with that device

Sony Exceptional Noise Reduction Headphones

These headphones are most commonly used in the Val-cave because there are times I simply need to drown out the rest of the world. So once I got the drivers to the card installed and everything checked OK, I began my testing. First I started with different levels of MP3 starting with the 128 kps up to 320 kps, using winamp as my media player. With the Sony’s, there is a bit of a grating when it comes to heavy bass in the music. I did a little adjusting to fix this problem by turning down the main PC volume and lowering the bass. (Also not forgetting to turn on the 24 bit Crystalizer and the CMSS-3D). Once that was done I tested again and this time everything came across much, much better, with little of that grating. However with these particular headphones things did sound a bit muted and I don’t recommend at anytime to turn on the NR as that totally makes everything sound like your listening underwater. It’s that bad. Other wise for MP3’s it passes. Next I tested two DVD’s. One was Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children and the second was Star Wars: Episode 3. I didn’t experience the grating sound when it came to the audio on the disc, so my guess would be that it might be with the compression aspect of the music because audio wise, this baby kicked my ass. Voices, music, sound effects in both DVD’s came across so clear and crisp, that it was like watching these movies for the very first time. The CMSS-3D shines here as sounds came properly from their respective position, giving me the feel of surround sound like I have never experienced before. I was completely blown away and I ended up getting so caught up and watching both films in their entirety when I only wanted to watch key scenes. I remember when I was testing the card out at CES that I told the rep I wanted an example that was like “POW! BANG! WOW!” This is what I meant! This is what I watch and this is the experience I wanted from this card. Not that the Audigy wasn’t good, but it’s definitely a noticeable difference. OK, moving along, I popped in a few audio CD’s and got the same effect that I got from the MP3’s: crystal clear, full on immersion of sound (this is with the noise canceling turned off), with some of the grating when there was some heavy bass, but not too so much as the MP3’s. Next up I had to try some high quality divx films and I wanted to get the full on experience of each one. I have a ton of anime that I like to plop into the PSP in case I need to catch an episode on the go. Bleach is a new personal favorite of mine, so it was no question this would be my test anime. Ok Bleach is pretty sweet when the action starts to kick in, the music and effects fully immerse you, more so than with the Audigy. Again this is all thanks to the engine that’s running the card. But I think quality; even with the 24 bit crystalizer and CMSS-3D turned on, will be on a case by case bases, depending on how each anime was encoded. The Bleach anime turned out great, but there are times I would get a bad ep that didn’t look or sound too hot. (This is the case with some Real Media and Microsoft’s WMV files). Next up we have gaming!! I tried two games with some extensive play on both so I can get the full X-FI experience: Postal and Battlefield. I’m a bit biased when it comes to these two FPS, because I like Postal way more. Nothing against Battlefield, but I am not so much into war sims. But once I set the X-FI to gaming mode, I jumped in feet first. Directional sounds were amazing and you can hear how stuff just zips around you, especially when you are in the midst of a shootout or smack dab in the middle of a campaign. Voices are clear and music is spot on perfect. This definitely opens up gaming into new heights. Overall, the X-FI and the Sony Exceptional headphones are a wonderful combination for those looking to get into their media with no outside disturbance.

Creative X-Fi Soundcard

Altec Lansing 2.1 speakers

This set of speakers I use when I’m milling about the cave either looking at press kits or doing site work on the laptop and I need some tunes playing in the background. They’re a great pair of speakers with subwoofer that I currently use with my television set, so I have no complaints when it comes to watching films and my favorite TV shows with these speakers. But how does it stand against the X-FI? I didn’t expect anything special, because I was saving that honor for the 4.1 speakers. Yet I walk away impressed yet again. So I start with the MP3s. Because I am using speakers rather than headphones, sounds are broader. The music is crystal clear and you can definitely pick out different instruments and sounds that you normally wouldn’t hear. (Keep the 24 bit crystalizer and CMSS-3d switched on for an added ear treat) The same is said for music CD’s only it’s broader, bolder, and better than an MP3s (obviously). For the DVD, this time I switched to The Polar Express. The is a movie that the X-FI was made for because it’s so sound heavy, you need a card this powerful to really experience it. The opening scene alone when the little kid is scrambling through his room will suck you in. Wait until the action switches to the train setting or even when the kids go into Santa’s factory, it’s amazing. For the Divx movie I went with the first episode of “Lost”, which I encoded from the DVD set that I have… and still haven’t watched in its entirety. (I’ll get to it, I promise). I did it high quality so there isn’t too much loss when it comes to compression. Again, the differences from headphones to speakers are vast. It just sounds way better. Lastly I used the same two games, Postal and Battlefield, and I didn’t enjoy it as much. I think using the headphones are better because you’re really immersed in the game, whereas by using the speakers you have to deal with all the outside annoyances. So we see that the X-FI works great with 2.1 speakers, but for gaming stick with headphones… OR

Logitech 4.1 surround sound speakers - (if you have higher, SWEET!)

Creative X-Fi Soundcard

I bought these years ago and I hardly use them because I am mostly a headphone guy when it comes to my main PC. But for this review, it was a MUST that I plug these in. All I can say is: If things sound this good with 4.1 speakers, I can only imagine what 5.1, 6.1, 7.1, or DTS would sound like. I am making it my goal to get at least 5.1 surround sound for the Val-cave, because after the 4.1’s I can never go back I can only go forward. THIS is what the X-FI was made for, total immersion, full on surround sound. Blown away? Yes I was!! EVERYTHING was XTREMELY (pun intended) better under 4.1. With my MP3’s and CD’s, you’d swear everything was happening around you. Want to really see what I mean? Play a concert CD. I used the Green Day American idiot Concert CD and it was awesome!! The sounds of the crowd as they wrap around you, gives you the feeling that you’re there. The greatness that is Green Day themselves just flows through my room, encompassing me in their sound. Oh man it was intense. For the DVD I used The Polar Express again and Star Wars Episode III only because there is a heavy focus of sound that just needs to be heard on 4.1. Here’s where the movies shine on 4.1 with X-FI, because everything sounds clean, crisp, clear, and it’s just all over. I loved watching Polar Express more because, because even small sounds come across so well. For the games I went back to the well and played only Battlefield. Dude you’re freakin there! You’re in the game. Turn that shit up and it is on. Listen to the sounds of commands being shouted, gunfire all around you. When takes drive by and planes fly overhead, you are there and it is freakin sweet! Excuse me while I catch my breath.

Overall people, this is the card to get bar none. Am I a Creative whore? Yes. Yes I am, I can proudly say. They make the best products out there, especially when it comes to soundcards. Honestly, I have never tried another soundcard before and I don’t think I will ever want to. If you’re looking to add a little Xtreme in your music, movies, and gaming, then the X-FI XtremeMusic Soundcard is the card for you. Valkor tested, TOV approved!