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The most impressive sound card in years!,
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This review is from: Sound Blaster Z PCIe Gaming Sound Card with High Performance Headphone Amp and Beamforming Microphone (Personal Computers)
So, I've been using add on sound cards since forever ago, from the old Mocking Board on my Apple II, though various Sound Blasters, Gravis and Orchids of the 80's and 90's, right though to the modern X-Fi, Recon and now the Z series.
Some cards have been amazing (AWE64 and Audigy 2 anyone?), and some less so (I still wake up screaming, having nightmares of trying to configure IRQ and DMA settings for the Adlib Gold cards). So in short, I've used a few sound cards over the years.
However, there is a big elephant in the room with sound cards these days; on-board sound.
On-board sound used to be a joke, crackles and pops, slow, tinny sound bad drivers etc. Today though on-board audio is very good, better even than the best sound cards from only a few years ago. Companies like Creative Labs have had their work cut out to remain relevant as add-on sound cards are no longer a must-have item.
Enter the 'Sound Core 3D' Cards, namely last year's Recon3D and now the Z-series; these are the sixth generation of Sound Blaster cards, and with the Z-series in particular, they have really raised the bar.
These latest cards basically package up all the best 'consumer' features of recent years, improved the quality, reduced the size and de-cluttered the installation software. The result is a beautiful, focused package which in a nutshell delivers fantastic sound for gaming, music and day-to-day use.
Gone is the lengthy installation process of the earlier high-end cards, the Z is a top end card with a refreshingly simple install process. Also, the driver software itself is now far simpler, allowing even a novice to get the most from the card and see actual value in their purchase.
In use, the card sounds superb, easily the best sounding card at this level (i.e. cards without removable DACs etc.), and it simply blows on-board sound into the weeds. Gaming the best yet, surround World of Warcraft has always been one of my favourites :), while music and system sound is crisp and detailed, absolutely top marks on all counts.
It's worth noting, that this is not a 'professional' audiophile or recording card; you won't see these in many recording studios. The Z series is aimed squarely at consumers who want the best and use their computers for multiple, if typical tasks.
Reading this, you may be getting the impression that I really like the new Z series cards, and you would be right, I do. It's the best new card from Creative in a very long time.
I finally feel that Creative have got right back on track with this card, and not before time. I can hardly wait to see what the flagship ZxR model is like (though like the Titanium HD from a couple of years ago, the ZxR appears to lack analogue 5.1 outputs for gaming speakers).
To summarise then, the Sound Blaster Z is an absolutely superb card. It's simple to install, relatively inexpensive, easy to configure and delivers sensational performance.
A very easy five stars.