Creative Sound Blaster Z Initial Impression

Nielo TM

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I've been playing with it for an hour or so and so far I'm very impressed with the sound quality (better than the X-Fi XM I had before). I wasn't expecting such detail and clarity after the Recon3D fiasco. Built quality is also superb, but the card is filled with G-Luxon caps. I'm not sure how they compare to Nichicon's Fine-Gold (FG) Audio Capacitors found on the Zx or if they are even worth the extra money (it might be cheaper to recap). From reading various forums, G-Luxon caps don't seem to be audio grade. I mainly use my in-ear (PFE012) for critical listing so I'm not sure how it effects me (but would love to find out tho).

Installation process couldn't be simpler and the control panel is well laid out and very easy to use (exact opposite of the ASUS Control Panel). Going to do some more testing later on and if you have any questions feel free to ask.


PS: I don't game on my PC, so can't answer and gaming related questions.


Left: X-Fi XtremeMusic (2006 Edition). Right: Sound Blaster Z (2012 Edition)

 
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Nielo TM

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So far it has been exemplary. I haven't detected anything that could be of concern. I suspect most reviews will praise the card for its quality.
 

IdiotInCharge

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You bought a gaming sound card but don't game... why didn't you buy a USB DAC/Amp? Also, why are you buying anything Creative for 'critical listening'? Honest questions :).
 

Nielo TM

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I did thought about getting the E17 and at some point I will. But for now I just wanted a decent soundcard (cos I didn't want to use my old X-Fi with my new motherboard). I've used creative cards since 2003 and I never had any issues and i prefer creative's control panel to ASUS's. After reading about the Recon fiasco, I wasn't too keen but decided to give it a try since the specs seem identical to the D2. Besides I could always return it.

Gladly everything worked out for the best. I am actually very happy with the sound quality. I can't fault it and if I ever decided to get back into PC gaming, it'll come in handy.
 

Skylit

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I ordered a Z, but mine was fully equipped with Nicheon FG.

Unfortunately, I wasn't impressed with the card itself. Suppose mine might have been faulty (already sent it back for another critical issue).
 

reaper12

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I ordered a Z, but mine was fully equipped with Nicheon FG.

Unfortunately, I wasn't impressed with the card itself. Suppose mine might have been faulty (already sent it back for another critical issue).
The Z doesn't come equipped with Nicheon FG capacitors. Maybe you got an unfinished Zx by mistake?
 

XacTactX

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Guys, go and read what NwAvGuy has written on this subject. Capacitors are used to store electricity so they can smooth out voltage spikes. As long as the capacitors that are being used do that satisfactorily you will not hear a difference between so-called audiophile capacitors or any others. Audiophile capacitors are a myth. What really does make a difference is how the components are arranged on the PCB, because then it can introduce unwanted interference between the components.

http://nwavguy.blogspot.com/2012/04/what-we-hear.html
The Bastard Box – The author made an audiophile grade box comparing a $300 audiophile capacitor with a $1 capacitor from Radio Shack with the flip of a switch. He correctly identified the audiophile capacitor in blind listening only 7 of 12 times. Pure random guessing would be 6 of 12. By the statistical guidelines for blind testing, he needed to be correct 10 of 12 times for a meaningful (95% confidence) result. He failed so Radio Shack wins.
Also don't underestimate Creative's ability to do good engineering. The Titanium HD which was released in 2010 had an audibly transparent line output (at least that's what NwAvGuy said). Creative released the measurements that were taken with an audio analyzer, it was so confident with the sound quality. Since this new Z series is supposed to be the flagship I would expect the same thing again.

Here are the RMAA measurements for the Titanium HD. If you want the audio analyzer measurements just Google it. http://connect.creativelabs.com/PR/IFA 2010/Sound Blaster Audio Products featuring THX TruStudio Pro/Sound Blaster X-Fi Testing Methodology And Results For RMAA.pdf
 
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reaper12

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Good info Xactact. Creative generally make good hardware. The recon3d was a bit of an exception.

Yeah I thought that about the capacitors. The only point I was making is that the Z doesn't come with the FG ones, only the Zx and Zxr, so chances are he got an unfinished or faulty card by mistake.

Not sure how that could happen though :)
 

Impulse

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I think the concern around certain caps should really be about reliability, worse quality caps have a higher failure rate and supplies have even been plagued by fakes.
 

Nielo TM

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Just tried a few tracks from Sarah Brightman's Harem and I can hear details I've never heard before. It's like I'm listening to remastered version.

Creative definitely have done themselves proud.
 

Nielo TM

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I think the concern around certain caps should really be about reliability, worse quality caps have a higher failure rate and supplies have even been plagued by fakes.
As they age, do have affect the sound at all? Or do they just stop working?
 

BurntToast

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As they age, do have affect the sound at all? Or do they just stop working?
They will leak/explode and cease functioning. They are easy to replace since they just have two leads and are generally fairly large. But I would expect that to void your warranty.
 

Skylit

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As for my issue, the sound was very narrow, less detailed, and quite warm in comparison to the X-Fi Elite Pro it replaced. Aka, the former High end X-Fi until the HD was released. Both the Z and XFI EP were running the same CS4398 DAC's.

Subjectively if I were to rate the soundcards I've used in the past based on that above claim, It would go something like this... (All DSP effects off)

Elite Pro> Xonar DX> Fatality Xtremegamer> Musiland Monitor 02> (Xfi GO> Xonar U3)>Z

Again this is my personal sense of imaging. There should be no reason why the Z is that low as I've always considered the CS4398 a bright, neutral and spacious DAC. Suppose I would have given it another week, but I ran into another critical issue.

The sound card worked with most of my headphones using standard 2 conductor TRS, but my Ultimate Ears 6000 has a 3 conductor TRS jack due to the inline microphone. While there was absolutely no issue with the other phones, the UE6000 wouldn't seat properly and thus alter the sound. Actually had to pull out a headphone spliter to get the headphones working "properly".

So it seems that I might have actually received some sort of a prototype as you guys seem to claim that the Zx is supposedly the card equipped with nicheon fine gold. When in fact, I received a Z with those same caps. Is there a stated source to that claim btw? Can't find :)

I'll be trying the Z or even the Zx for a second time once they're readily available as it seems I didn't get to experience the true product.
 
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reaper12

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As for my issue, the sound was very narrow, less detailed, and quite warm in comparison to the X-Fi Elite Pro it replaced. Aka, the former High end X-Fi until the HD was released. Both the Z and XFI EP were running the same CS4398 DAC's.

Subjectively if I were to rate the soundcards I've used in the past based on that above claim, It would go something like this... (All DSP effects off)

Elite Pro> Xonar DX> Fatality Xtremegamer> Musiland Monitor 02> (Xfi GO> Xonar U3)>Z

Again this is my personal sense of imaging. There should be no reason why the Z is that low as I've always considered the CS4398 a bright, neutral and spacious DAC. Suppose I would have given it another week, but I ran into another critical issue.

The sound card worked with most of my headphones using standard 2 conductor TRS, but my Ultimate Ears 6000 has a 3 conductor TRS jack due to the inline microphone. While there was absolutely no issue with the other phones, the UE6000 wouldn't seat properly and thus alter the sound. Actually had to pull out a headphone spliter to get the headphones working "properly".

So it seems that I might have actually received some sort of a prototype as you guys seem to claim that the Zx is supposedly the card equipped with nicheon fine gold. When in fact, I received a Z with those same caps. Is there a stated source to that claim btw? Can't find :)

I'll be trying the Z or even the Zx for a second time once they're readily available as it seems I didn't get to experience the true product.

Definitely something wrong with your card. There is no way this card is worse than the Asus U3. Having compared it myself directly to a Fatality and xonar DG it's better than both.

And user on another forum has compared it to the titanium HD and thinks there isn't much in it.

I know 4 people with this card and none of them have fine gold caps. A russian site that took the cards apart and it didn't have FG caps either. And neither did Nielo. So, maybe there might be some Z's with FG caps, but doesn't seem likely.
 

Nielo TM

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It is odd that Creative would send out a disfigured card. Hopefully its an isolated case. I would hate to receive something significantly inferior.

Did you post it on their Facebook page? If not try to get some answers from them.
 

reaper12

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well, the first professional review is up. thought you would like to see it. It's from a russian site, so you will have to translate using google.

http://personalaudio.ru/detail/creative_soundblaster_z_/

I agree with him about releasing a version without the microphone. And I think he is saying it's a good card, it's hard to tell for sure. What do you make of it?
 

CreativeRS

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Hey there Skylit, my names Ryan Schlieper and I'm the PM for the Audio products at Creative / Sound Blaster here in the states. This does indeed sound like something was off with the card you received.

To confirm what others are saying the Z series base line is not equipped with the Nichicon FG capacitors. That's for the Zx and ZxR series.

I do think if you're looking to compare more Apples to Apples the Zx and the ZxR will fare much closer to the Elite Pro that you have used previously BUT the Z should be within the same realm as what you were expecting which makes me really interested to get more info from you if you're willing to. Definitely want to make sure we're living up to expectations.

We've taken a LOT of time with the Z series cards (Z / Zx / ZxR) and have built a flavor for everyone and listened to critical feedback across the board, and definitely still listening now.
 

MorgothPl

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Ryan... a question then, to solve the problem, that bugs many people. Is the chip on the Z series a new design, or is it the same from Recon3D series?
 

reaper12

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Ryan... a question then, to solve the problem, that bugs many people. Is the chip on the Z series a new design, or is it the same from Recon3D series?
Erm, thought this was answered already, but it's an improved version of the chip that was in the recon3d. The thing that makes the Z better is that there is now a seperate DAC that isn't integrated into the core3d processor. It's the CS4398 and drives the front channels. The DAC that is built into the core3d handles the other channels.
 

CreativeRS

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Hey guys, Yep Reaper12, and Nielo_TM are both right.

The Recon3D chip was designed to be incredibly flexible (and power efficient). In the "Post DirectAudio" world we wanted to have a chip that could run our algorithms regardless of platform and be easily deployed in both PCIe and USB solutions (amongst other platforms like standalone devices, etc).

The chip on the Z has been optimized for the PCIe platform and we've hooked up to the external DAC's versus using the on-chip DACs that the SoundCore3D has natively. This obviously gave us the ability to significantly raise the SNR of this series of cards.
 

quiktake

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Hmmm. I have the X-fi extreme music from 2006 as well as the Titanium HD (high end version). It just feels like Creative is teasing me and I wonder what I am missing. I only game and watch videos so if music quality is the only thing that differentiates this, I will probably pass.
 

Guille_ZGZ

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The Z doesn't come equipped with Nicheon FG capacitors. Maybe you got an unfinished Zx by mistake?

Possible. Pretty sure i'm not blind.

Wish I took pictures now~
I think I can help.

I found this thread looking for some info about the card before ordering it. I got this one at a pretty nice price (66€). A bulk unit, no mic, no red carcass, no leds:



This caps-issue came to my mind as I saw these on my card:



Are those the ones you were talking about? I've found no problem with the card. Sound is completely OK and better as the on-board, but I'm no expert at all. Should I be happy about the card having this seemingly uncommon configuration or be worried about it?
 

Brahmzy

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Just ordered a Z. It'll replace an X-Fi Ti Fatality Pro.
I've heard the suite is much better/less bloated. I'll report my findings back here. If it sucks, I'll return it, lol.
 

GotNoRice

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I'd be really curious to know how this compares in terms of sound quality to my EMU 0404 PCI (AKM AK4395 DAC, 116dB SNR).

I use an X-Fi Titanium in my main computer and have the 0404 in my server which sits next to my main computer. The digital output from the X-Fi loops into the digital input of the 0404. In that configuration, my X-Fi does all the game processing, etc while the 0404 acts as a DAC giving me the best of both worlds. It would be nice to cut the config down to only one card though. I had my eye on the X-Fi Titanium HD with it's 122dB SNR but perhaps one of these cards would be the way to go instead.
 

Castaa

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I'm curious to know why isn't the OEM Sound Blaster Z for sale in the US? And why aren't there any review on the web even though the product is obviously shipping.
 

sirsad

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I'm curious to know why isn't the OEM Sound Blaster Z for sale in the US? And why aren't there any review on the web even though the product is obviously shipping.
I don't know why it isn't at many of the online stores (like newegg). But amazon has it here.
 

Timobkg

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It's been 6 years since I bought my last sound card, and I'm eyeing this one as a possible replacement in a few months. One thing I'm confused about is how the headphone / speaker option works.

In my current X-Fi XtremeGamer card, when I plug in my headphones the speaker outputs are muted. Is that the same way it works in the Z, or do you have to go into the sound card control panel and manually switch it to headphones and back?

Also, I assume it stores separate volume settings for speakers and headphones?
 

testctv

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Hey Guys

I ordered my Sound Blaster Z from Amazon and will be forwarded to my country via MyUS in the next 1 to 4 days.

Somewhere on a Russian site I read a review on this card. The card has dedicated amplified output for headphones at the back. If I understood correctly, the guy was advising not to use the front panel audio connector to to run you headphones from your chassis' from audio connector because it isn't meant to run the headphones from there. Is this true? If it is, is it because only the dedicated headphone output is amplified and not the the channel going to your front panel audio header?

I am asking as I have a pair of Sony XB-500 headphones which has a very short cable and it is MUCH more convenient to run it connected to the front of my chassis.

CreativeRS, if you see this, can you kindly confirm (or anyone else who may know). Thanks so much
 

reaper12

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Hey Guys

I ordered my Sound Blaster Z from Amazon and will be forwarded to my country via MyUS in the next 1 to 4 days.

Somewhere on a Russian site I read a review on this card. The card has dedicated amplified output for headphones at the back. If I understood correctly, the guy was advising not to use the front panel audio connector to to run you headphones from your chassis' from audio connector because it isn't meant to run the headphones from there. Is this true? If it is, is it because only the dedicated headphone output is amplified and not the the channel going to your front panel audio header?

I am asking as I have a pair of Sony XB-500 headphones which has a very short cable and it is MUCH more convenient to run it connected to the front of my chassis.

CreativeRS, if you see this, can you kindly confirm (or anyone else who may know). Thanks so much
Sorry can't answer the question, but surely you can just get a good quality 3.5mm extension cable and use that?
 

Timobkg

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The card has dedicated amplified output for headphones at the back. If I understood correctly, the guy was advising not to use the front panel audio connector to to run you headphones from your chassis' from audio connector because it isn't meant to run the headphones from there. Is this true? If it is, is it because only the dedicated headphone output is amplified and not the the channel going to your front panel audio header?

I am asking as I have a pair of Sony XB-500 headphones which has a very short cable and it is MUCH more convenient to run it connected to the front of my chassis.
Anything with a headphone jack is amplified.

The Asus Xonar DGX card used a dedicated headphone amp for the rear output and a different amp for the front panel, and I bet this Z card does the same thing. I think it's because the front panel amp needs to handle both output and input for the microphone, while the rear amp only needs to handle output.

That said, your headphones are 40ohm, so they don't need a powerful amp. They're designed to be loud off a low power output. The lower the ohm of a headphone, the less power it needs to reach a given volume (and the louder it will be off a given power input). If you had 600ohm headphones, you would need the powerful amp on the back of the card to make them loud, but you don't. I'm using 56ohm headphones off the front panel connection of my X-Fi XtremeGamer, and I don't turn the volume up past 15%.
 
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