Top critical review
5 people found this helpful
Sound OK but not audiophile. Worrying messages during installation.
on 19 November 2012
Bought this to try and get decent sound from a laptop plugged into a hi-fi amp, and also to get decent A/D conversion from vinyl and other analogue sources.
- Analogue to digital conversion seems to work without any glitches or clicks - this is under 64-bit Windows 7 and true line-in. I didn't use the phono RIAA option. I also disabled my wireless network connection first.
- Nice discreet black box design
- Applications like Audacity and Windows Media Player can see 'Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi HD' as one of the output options, and it's possible to switch between the PC's native sound card/drivers and the Creative USB box.
- Sound quality, both on A/D and D/A conversion is no way "hi fi". In a side-by-side test ripping a vinyl track to an uncompressed .wav file and playing back on a CD, my laptop sound card did a better job of digitizing the analogue signal from the turntable (using the phono stage in my hi-fi amp on the way). OK, I admit I'm a bit fussy with sound, but then Creative are marketing this as "audiophile".
- Line out is OK, but not stunningly high quality, certainly compared to my 1990s CD player in a side-by-side comparison of the same track played through the Sound Blaster and directly on the CD player.
- Line out is a bit quiet and I suspect it's not true "line out" (50 kilohms impedance), but the more computer-friendly "headphone/speaker" socket impedance.
- The Creative installation CD ran OK, but when I plugged in the actual USB device the PC churned away for a while before reporting "The device is unplugged". However, the gadget actually worked fine, so something odd is going on there, probably due to the fact that the Creative drivers get in the way of the standard Windows USB drivers installing themselves to run the device.
- When you look under "audio devices" in Control Panel, it reports that "Sound Blaster X-Fi HD" is "unavailable"... but again, it actually works OK. Very odd and a bit offputting.
- The black volume knob on the hardware seems to do very little; the volume control in the Creative software panel on the PC does control the volume... between 'inaudible' and 'fairly quiet' settings!
In summary, it's OK but not stunning, and Creative need to supply more information to prevent nervous PC users like me being put off by the warning messages thrown up by Windows. They could do to address the A/D and D/A quality issues and the strange output impedance if they're going to market this as "audiophile" quality. I'd say sound quality was fair-to-middling at best. I returned this to Amazon and purchased an alternative product to do the job.
Tested with: Arcam Alpha 7 amplifier, Mission 723 speakers, side-by-side comparison was with Marantz CD-52 CD player.