Creative Sound Blaster Z Initial Impression

The Cobra

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I always use headphones, but they're nothing special, just an ordinary Plantronics gaming headset. I like plugging into the front panel, it's simply easier.

Mic is a built-in boom type of course.

One problem I previously had with the Audigy 2 ZS was that under Windows 7, I could not, no matter what I did, get the microphone input to work. As far as I was able to determine, this was down to Creative's lousy drivers not working in a 64-bit environment (and, really, who runs a non-x64 OS today?). Which can't be fixed, unfortunately.

Did you ever use any of the third party drivers for the Audigy?
 

Objekt

Limp Gawd
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Tried both the KX drivers and Daniel K drivers.

Possibly there was user error somewhere, but I simply Could Not get the mic to work.

Another peculiarity: when I had the Soundblaster in its PCI slot, I could not use the onboard audio device. It had nothing to do with BIOS settings; Windows 7 simply could not see the Realtek device, as if it weren't there.

This is no good. I had the same microphone problems on my older desktop (based on an Asus P5E3 WS Pro motherboard, with Analog Devices onboard sound). But, in that case I used a hybrid solution: Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS for output, onboard sound for the microphone.

I have some free time this weekend. Maybe I'll futz with it some more.
 

walcel

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hi
i have been using sound blaster x-fi xtreme gamer for past 5 years with 5.1 speaker system from logitech (z506). i have been using this sound card with "daf" / unofficial drivers.

Last week i decided to buy new sound blaster ZX. In case of gaming and in general, sound is ok. i think it is "generally" "better", range of sound / or what i can hear, seems to be wider (if it is not a "placebo" effect ;-)...) . But in case of movie sound i have a problem with voices. Sometimes, i can hear echo or additional bass is added to conversation / when someone speaks. In general, voice is less clear / more difficult to understand.

I have been trying to turn off additional effects such as sbx, Eq, other. I have updated drivers to newest. Also when de-installing x-fi gamer i have used additional soft to clean (completely) old drivers and to check registry. Next, i made similar sound setup as i have been using in the past - with x-fi (i.e. crystallization below 5%-10% and bass redirection at 80Hz), but it did not help. (i tried dts, dolby in zx setup and some other possibilities, i can hear the difference but the problem with voice persists, sometimes it is more or less "aggressive")

At this stage i kind of thinking about going back to my old sound card since watching movies from blu-ray or dvd is kind of difficult unless you do not care about voices ;-) ... and voice level / volume is ok !, i mean i can hear the voice and it is above other background sound, the problem is with clarity, sometimes echo and sometimes additional bass.

some advice or setup to change, please ???

(my hardware/software: win 7, 64 bit version, Asus p6x58 with intel gulf processor, geforce gtx670, ssd drive, the only game i have been playing in past is battlefield 3, for movies i have been using power dvd version 12 or from time to time - if it is dvd - windows media player).
 

spaceman

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Run the speaker test and see if the sub is playing when the center channel should be making noise. They get flipped sometimes.
 

Objekt

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It almost sounds like your system is allocating sound channels incorrectly; e.g. it's only putting out signals for 2 or so speakers even though you have a 5.1 setup. That might explain why voices are muffled/extra bass-y.

Sorta reminds me of what I heard one time when I accidentally plugged my (single) pair of speakers into the "Back" output of my SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS. I was only getting the back left/right channels, so of course dialogue was muffled/nonexistent since it'd normally be strongest in the "front" channels.

Just a guess, I may have no idea what I'm talking about.

One thing that may help your troubleshooting: Make things as simple as possible. Restore all software settings to defaults, set output to about 50% in software, and go from there.

If you have a spare set of stereo speakers or headphones, use those. If you can get things sounding right with just a simple 2- or 2.1-channel setup, you have a chance of figuring out what's going on with your 5.1-channel setup.

hope this helps.
 

IdiotInCharge

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Run the speaker test and see if the sub is playing when the center channel should be making noise. They get flipped sometimes.

Yup. In cinema mixes, the center channel should be dedicated to center stage voices, and if you can't hear what people are saying (I have this problem with my HT setup), you should be able to just turn up the center channel.

Now, if they're reversed as spaceman posits, then yeah, you should probably identify that and fix it first :).
 

walcel

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Jul 19, 2013
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ok, thanks for help
just finished testing sounds channels / speakers,
When testing under sound blaster software everything seems to be ok, channels are played correctly and no bass / additional sound is added.

When testing under windows 7 speaker setup (sound -> speaker setup), channels are also played correctly but i can hear additional sound with center speaker (at the end), kind of shakiness or electricity flow ? i have change connection, center speaker with right rear speaker and there is no additional sound when playing center test sound (while there is one when playing test sound on center speaker). So it may be more mechanical / hardware problem unless center speaker is supposed to be bit more "rich" in sound or there is some other problem with windows testing software. Strange that this difference - if it is a real problem - is heard only under win speaker setup, while no noticeable difference under sound blaster testing software.
 

Objekt

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Happy denouement sidebar: I reinstalled my old SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS in my new-ish desktop. Windows 8 automagically installed a rather old driver (dated 2006) so I downloaded and installed the most recent driver from Creative, dated 2010 (18 March to be precise).

As before, the Audigy's microphone input would not work under any circumstances.

But, I was able to use the hybrid approach, as on my older machine running Windows 7 64-bit. By looking more carefully at the menus in the UEFI/BIOS setup, I noticed that there were actually three choices for the onboard sound device (Realtek). I set it to "Enabled" rather than "Auto" (probably what was tripping me up previously!). By plugging my headset mic into the Realtek's mic input, and the headphones part into the Soundblaster stereo output, I was able to have the best of both worlds: output from the SB Audigy 2 ZS and a working mic through the Realtek device.

This makes me happy! :D
 

VulcaN

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So my headphones wernt getting enough juice and I had to purchase an amp. Now, whats the best way to connect the Z to the amps RCA inputs? Do I use a 3.5mm male to RCA cable on the speaker 1 output jack?

Is it worth it to upgrade to the ZxR at this point that has dedicated L + R outputs?
 

spaceman

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So my headphones wernt getting enough juice and I had to purchase an amp. Now, whats the best way to connect the Z to the amps RCA inputs? Do I use a 3.5mm male to RCA cable on the speaker 1 output jack?

Is it worth it to upgrade to the ZxR at this point that has dedicated L + R outputs?

Yeah try that and see before you upgrade to the ZxR. What headphones and amp do you have?
 

spaceman

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Yeah ok. Go ahead with the mini to rca hookup. I would try playing around with the settings too. Try stereo direct for music and stereo plus or minus default sbx for games and maybe movies. Should sound pretty nice. The only thing I am unsure of is if the sound card voices things differently when you select headphones vs speakers. It might just change the output to the headphone out and you hear nothing. I use optical out so I can switch bw the two settings and it all goes through the same pipe so to speak.
 

VulcaN

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The only thing I am unsure of is if the sound card voices things differently when you select headphones vs speakers. It might just change the output to the headphone out and you hear nothing.

Okay I thought this was going to happen as well and it did. I can no longer use headphone mode, I have to set it to 5.1 speakers mode and then uncheck all boxes except for the L+R speaker, so I'm essentially getting stereo 2.0 speaker audio.

Am I now missing out on all the cool headphone enhancements like that CMSS3D Headphone / fake surround enhancements that make the positional audio so great? It sounds like its different to me...

What if I get a ZXR and use the two RCA outs? What does that "restrict" you to using in software? Because right now I can see why its not letting me set it to headphones, because I'm plugged into the L+R speaker port.
 

spaceman

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Okay I thought this was going to happen as well and it did. I can no longer use headphone mode, I have to set it to 5.1 speakers mode and then uncheck all boxes except for the L+R speaker, so I'm essentially getting stereo 2.0 speaker audio.

Am I now missing out on all the cool headphone enhancements like that CMSS3D Headphone / fake surround enhancements that make the positional audio so great? It sounds like its different to me...

What if I get a ZXR and use the two RCA outs? What does that "restrict" you to using in software? Because right now I can see why its not letting me set it to headphones, because I'm plugged into the L+R speaker port.

Did you check SBX Pro Studio? That is what the new CMSS is called.
 

VulcaN

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Yeah, that's where its set to 5.1 speaker mode, it mirrors the windows sound settings it seems. I've tried adjusting it in both locations.
 

spaceman

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Yeah, that's where its set to 5.1 speaker mode, it mirrors the windows sound settings it seems. I've tried adjusting it in both locations.

Crap. I use digital out so while I also have it on 5.1 with headphones and sbx checked, it out puts correctly. Well, just plug into the headphone out then. Put the volume in windows to 80% to avoid clipping and adjust volume with the amp. I am again guessing and being lazy by not testing it myself. Sorry.
 

VulcaN

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It works... I just don't like double amping, one more part in the chain I guess. I wonder what would happen If I purchased the ZxR, as the main card has a RCA out that I could run directly to my amp.
 

Nitrius

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Anyone had any problems with the speaker configuration resetting it self to 5.1 Surround even though you set it to Stereo? This happens to me each time i reboot my computer. Possible to make it stick somehow?

Am using the headphone part of the ZxR soundcard, and i guess since the amp is getting turned off and on each time you reboot, maybe that's what making the speaker configuration wrong?
 

VulcaN

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No Nitrius, its supposed to be set to 5.1 Surround in windows, then in the sound blaster control panel app you set it to headphones mode.

This way, games and applications will send the soundcard 5.1 channels of data, and then the soundcard can put on its robe and wizard had to morph the audio waves into your headphones using algorithms to emulate surround sound.

It is by design that it reverts back every-time you reboot, and you can continue to force it back to stereo however keeping in mind that if you do so you are not using the product as intended and that you are not getting the full surround effect that this gaming grade card can provide.
 

BababooeyHTJ

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No Nitrius, its supposed to be set to 5.1 Surround in windows, then in the sound blaster control panel app you set it to headphones mode.

This way, games and applications will send the soundcard 5.1 channels of data, and then the soundcard can put on its robe and wizard had to morph the audio waves into your headphones using algorithms to emulate surround sound.

It is by design that it reverts back every-time you reboot, and you can continue to force it back to stereo however keeping in mind that if you do so you are not using the product as intended and that you are not getting the full surround effect that this gaming grade card can provide.

I really wish that you could control this through the creative control panel like you can with C-media cards like Asus' Xonar series.
 

IdiotInCharge

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It is by design that it reverts back every-time you reboot, and you can continue to force it back to stereo however keeping in mind that if you do so you are not using the product as intended and that you are not getting the full surround effect that this gaming grade card can provide.

Gaming-grade cards provide very, very good surround effect using stereo headphones; what you're proposing (that Creative thoughtfully implements) is to trick games that have good '5.1 surround' modes but crappy headphone/stereo modes into providing useful surround to the headphone user.

This is a very small subset of games- and not representative of gaming as a whole. Any decent game can have very, very nice surround with a decent set of cans- which is where most of us are coming from when recommending the base Z along with the HD555's. And no, we're not talking about setting Windows to 5.1 and then using the Creative software (or anyone else's) to 'simulate' surround sound. Set it to headphones in Windows and in game, and leave it.
 

VulcaN

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I play FPS games exclusively and the difference between doing what you suggest and leaving it how it is set by default is noticeable every time. The amount of positional detail you can ascertain from this card is amazing, and in games like Day Z / Arma, & Battlefield 3 I consistently hear people creeping up around me more often now.

With stereo sound its pretty much the same as my onboard audio so why spend the $100 on this card again?
 
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LigTasm

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Anyone using this card having audio drop out? I'm having an extremely difficult time and I think it has to do with the drivers and control panel. For example, the windows start up sound cuts off exactly when the control panel loads on to the task bar. This has been consistent with a fresh windows 8 installation and then a full wipe and windows 7 installation, three different motherboards and two CPU's.

If I leave the default windows drivers the card works fine indefinitely, once I install the creative driver sound will drop out in games or videos between 10 and 30 seconds in. My USB Corsair 2000 headset works perfectly all the time.
 

IdiotInCharge

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I play FPS games exclusively and the difference between doing what you suggest and leaving it how it is set by default is noticeable every time. The amount of positional detail you can ascertain from this card is amazing, and in games like Day Z / Arma, & Battlefield 3 I consistently hear people creeping up around me more often now.

With stereo sound its pretty much the same as my onboard audio so why spend the $100 on this card again?

I don't recommend leaving it 'at default', I recommend setting it properly- particularly to headphone mode if that's what you're actually using.

That works incredibly well for BF3. For the others, well, it's anyone's guess- their HRTF setup may not be as nearly as robust as the one DICE got from Dolby.
 

spaceman

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Planetside 2 has very good positional audio too. Might not notice it as much when there are 100+ people blasting away but it is there during the quiet fights among a few people.

Oh and try the new Metro game. Pretty amazing sound there.
 

VulcaN

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Noticed creative supported ASIO with the latest drivers, downloaded the ASIO plugin for winamp on the winamp plugin search page but it just pops and clicks terribly.
Tried setting winamp process to "realtime" as google search suggested but it didnt do anything...

Any suggestions? Running win 8
 

spaceman

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Noticed creative supported ASIO with the latest drivers, downloaded the ASIO plugin for winamp on the winamp plugin search page but it just pops and clicks terribly.
Tried setting winamp process to "realtime" as google search suggested but it didnt do anything...

Any suggestions? Running win 8

Foobar should work.

You might want to try the WASAPI plugin for Foobar too. I find it has the edge on ASIO on my Windows 7 laptop. Its a similar Idea to ASIO but exclusive to Vista/7

foobar2000.org/wasapi
 

PGHammer

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LOL sorry, yes, it's secret!! :D

I should say online shops in the UK have the OEM version for sale the last couple of weeks, I just presumed shops in the U.S. would have it as well as they normally get things first!!

Some do (MicroCenter does, for example) - however, the retail=boxed card (which includes the mic) is priced identically to the OEM/white-box card, so why go OEM when retail costs no more?

http://www.microcenter.com/product/406059/Sound_Blaster_Z_51_Sound_Card (retail)

http://www.microcenter.com/product/414552/Sound_Blaster_Z_Sound_Card_-_White_Box (OEM/white-box(
 

blitzio

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Just upgraded from a X-Fi Titanium (non-hd) which I've had since 08 to a Sound Blaster Z and the difference is very evident, the overall crispness and clarity is pretty astounding.
 

IdiotInCharge

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Just upgraded from a X-Fi Titanium (non-hd) which I've had since 08 to a Sound Blaster Z and the difference is very evident, the overall crispness and clarity is pretty astounding.

What headphones are you using? They're not listed in your sig :)
 

Ocellaris

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I am getting ready to ditch my Z due to an inability to lower the output level to an analog headset. Using the jacks on the back or the front panel connectors, I really only have about 10-18 on the volume level adjustment usable. Even then, sometimes I will be above that, then switch sources, and it is WAY TOO FUCKING LOUD. My kid keeps screwing it up too, it goes from "can barely hear it" to "deaf mode" in about 4 or 5 clicked. At 22 and 24, I can use the headset as speaker if I set them on the desk.

This is using JVC HARX700 headset. The ZXR has options for adjusting the output level. The normal Z cards have nothing of the sort, very unfortunate.

I suppose my other option would be to get a headset that is harder to drive, then maybe it wouldn't be so freaking loud.
 

ccityinstaller

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I am getting ready to ditch my Z due to an inability to lower the output level to an analog headset. Using the jacks on the back or the front panel connectors, I really only have about 10-18 on the volume level adjustment usable. Even then, sometimes I will be above that, then switch sources, and it is WAY TOO FUCKING LOUD. My kid keeps screwing it up too, it goes from "can barely hear it" to "deaf mode" in about 4 or 5 clicked. At 22 and 24, I can use the headset as speaker if I set them on the desk.

This is using JVC HARX700 headset. The ZXR has options for adjusting the output level. The normal Z cards have nothing of the sort, very unfortunate.

I suppose my other option would be to get a headset that is harder to drive, then maybe it wouldn't be so freaking loud.

You have something funky going on..I just picked up the Z OEM model on sale from Micro Center ($80) since I cannot use my Xonar DG in my new MB..I am using a Beyer Dynamic MMX 2 headset and have full volume control, from 0 to full blast..

I like the Z so far, although I have only had it installed for about the last 6 hours I have been streaming Pandora One during that period..I had to pull the "Crystalizer" option down to 27%, otherwise it makes music WAY to bright, and actually hurts my ears..The difference between it at 27% vs the default to me is like comparing a pair of high end silk tweets vs metal ones..The bass option pulls way to much bass out, it's like trying to get bass from earbuds, even with the X-over point set really low...

The Xonar also seemed to have a "warmer" sound then the Z...I used it outta the box with just the amp and Dolby Headphone and 7.1 virtual surround enabled..With the Z, I have had to tweak things a good bit, since it can sound awesome on one type of music, but then Pandora throws a different genre up, and it doesn't sound as good..
 

Liggywuh

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It looks like that M Audio speaker is an active speaker, so you would just need a cable from Left or Right (assuming front speakers) from the soundcard, to the input on the speaker.
 
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