Customer Review

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A superb 'ultimate' Soundblaster card - but it's 5.1 only, has similar features to the Vx, and my Arcam rPAC sounds better, 12 May 2013
This review is from: Creative Sound Blaster ZxR PCIe Audiophile Grade Gaming Sound Card with High Performance Headphone Amp and Desktop Audio Control Module (Accessory)
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My gaming PC had an old Creative Xtreme Gamer XFi soundcard from a previous motherboard that starting crackling on both channels. So I decided to get this Soundblaster ZxR to replace it, as I love gaming and also have a massive iTunes collection ripped from CD to Apple ALAC lossless, plus my son and I are getting into video and sound editing. There are two cards in the box, but only one requires physical connection to a PCIe slot (x1 or higher), with the other secondary 'card' simply needing a free backplane over any slot. The two cards are linked via the supplied proprietry black flat ribbon cable.

One thing saddened me, this 'ultimate' ZxR soundcard looks very classy from the side, but once fitted into the slots all that's visible is the smooth black metal top that is as dull as dishwater viewed from outside via my Perspex PC case window (the cheaper Zx/Z soundcards actually look far better in their bright red anodised finish). However I'm grateful there's no row of bright red LEDs on this card, as being located in the PCIe slot above the graphics card they would have blinded me. I fitted the card in minutes and installed the drivers from the CD, as it's far easier to automatically upgrade an installed set of Creative software than try and find the correct drivers/software on Creative's website. Other than fitting the main card into the PCIe slot, nothing else is required as the card gets all its power from the PCIe slot. The card works with Windows 7 & 8 (I use Windows 7 64-bit). I have a 5.1 speaker system which is all this ZxR card will support, so it's fine for me. However my teenage son's new Sabretooth X79 gaming PC has the cheaper SoundBlaster Zx card+pod and a great 7.1 speaker setup, and neither the Zx or this ZxR soundcard can drive them beyond 5.1 which is a real pain (his old XFi Xtreme Gamer soundcard supported the full 7.1 audio, but with the new Zx/ZxR two of his speakers are annoyingly left dead).

I couldn't use the header for my cases headphone/microphone socket, as there aren't any riser connections on the soundcard - the card provides external headphone and microphone sockets, in both 3.5mm and HiFi 6.5mm size, plus inbuilt quality stereo microphones, via the cabled volume control `pod' that plugs into the rear of the second ZxR `card'. This pods great, although it doesn't fully control PC volume - you turn up the PC sound and the pod volume controls to that level. Oddly the pod volume control only works with its headphone sockets and doesn't adjust the volume on my PCs 5.1 Logitech speakers, but as I only use headphones anyway that's perfect for me (besides my speakers have a decent volume control). Also supplied with the card(s) are a good quality twin phono to 3.5mm plug cable, an optical cable, and a short phono to 3.5mm converter to use with the central/front speaker stereo phono sockets out on the main ZxR card. Annoyingly the speaker/mic socket outs on the main ZXR card aren't colour coded, but it's `green' to the front (twin phono), `black `to the rear (3.5mm), and `orange' to the centre (3.5mm), with pink to microphone (3.5mm). I'm used to Creative's Control Panels and soon had my PC's 5.1 speakers running correctly and the headphones set up. Switching between headphones and speakers is very clunky via the PC software Control Panel, as there's no physical switch and removing the headphones doesn't autoswitch - which again is a another real pain for those regularly switching speakers/headphones. My son uses the freebie fan-mod 'SBZ Switcher' tool to speed up this headphone/speaker swap, but really Creative should have sorted this problem out themselves. Plus the SB software switch (and 'SBZ Switcher') aren't happy changing headphones/speakers during gaming. I always use Creatives `Crystalizer' sound enhancements that add clarity and dynamic range, and they work well with this card. There's also Creatives new CrystalVoice microphone enhancements:

1. CrystalVoice NoiseReduction that eliminates background noise
2. CrystalVoice Smartvolume that ensures even a whisper is heard on-line
3. CrystalVoice Echo-cancellation to remove feedback from speakers
4. CrystalVoice Focus creates a sound beam so that you are the only one heard
5. CrystalVoice effects to morph your voice into munchkins, elfs or orcs etc.

You can walk around the room and the ZxR's pod microphones should pick you up anyhwere (provided Focus is switched off). My son uses the microphone on his old Tritton AX720 gaming headset rather than the twin mike's on his Zx Pod, and he felt voice quality via the Trittons was better with CrystalVoice enhancements turned off, although he was amused by the CrystalVoice voice morphing effects and said his female voice morph was very convincing. In addition to CrystalVoice, there's loads of audio enhancements:

1. Studio DialoguePlus enhances voice clarity for movies/videos
2. SmartVolume controls audio so that tracks are all similar loudness or to reduce fatigue when gaming for hours,
3. StudioBass increases bass without recessing voices/treble
4. Studio Crystalizer brings out details without affecting vocals, good for games and video
5. 3D Studio surround creates a 3D surround effect for stereo headphones and speakers, good for gaming/videos
6. A gaming `Scout' mode to help you hear enemies creep up on you

Via speakers the sound quality is far better than my old PCI Xtreme gamer, and via headphones the sound is in another league quality wise - particularly as all the noise and crackles I got with the old card are now gone. That's the Soundblaster ZXR main big sell over the cheaper Soundblaster Zx, a 124db signal to noise compared to the Zx's 116dB, all brought about by more expensive electronics and shielding. The sound quality from the ZxR really is miles better than my old XtremeGamer for both sound and features, and it was well worth the upgrade. The ZxR also offers an extra twin phono line in over the Zx, with both the ZxR and Zx having optical in/out sockets. The ZxR also sounds very good with my 5.1 PC speaker system (it is a 5.1 soundcard). However I was surprised the ZxR doesn't match the superb sound quality from my £150 ARCAM rPAC USB2 headphone amplifier with my HiFi Grado SR125i's, and ZxR tonal/crystalizer adjustments didn't close the gap, so I stick with the rPAC/Grados for iTunes music (but I always use the Soundblaster ZxR with separate lightweight headphones for gaming, movies, PC bangs and whistles or with the PC speakers). Another annoying thing is that Creative's useful Media Tool Box 6 that brings in things like noise and crackle clean-up on analogue music, various recording/editing options, and auto segmentation of recorded vinyl records into tracks, costs another US $40. I have a Sony HiFi CD recorder deck for recording vinyl records which offers some of this via hardware, but for the extra £90 over the Zx card I would have thought Creative Toolbox 6 software could have been bundled in for free, as it's so useful for the ZxR card.

Still overall this is a great soundcard and worth the money for those wanting top rate gaming and video sound, so 5* for features and 4* for value. However much of what the £200 ZxR offers, including the neat volume/headphone/microphone pod, can be found with the far cheaper £110 SoundBlaster Zx Soundcard, so that card is better value (the even cheaper £90 SoundBlaster Z lacks the neat headphone volume pod though so I would avoid that card as I live on headphones). The Zx has the same negatives though, 5.1 speakers max supported and no auto-switching to speakers when you unplug the headphones from the pod, plus it isn't as 'low background noise' as the ZxR. However with the cheaper SoundBlaster Zx, you could use the money saved to get an Arcam rPAC headphone amp as well if you like listening to iTunes music on your desktop Windows PC and have a pair of top notch HiFi headphones - this Soundblaster ZxR PCIe card scores more heavily when gaming, recording, watching video or using the PC speakers.
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Review Details




Location: West Berkshire, England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 31