Creative Sound Blaster Z Initial Impression

Timobkg

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It's better to get a 3.5mm extension cord and use the rear port.
That's great if all you use are headphones. It may not be practical if you also use speakers.

For example, I have speakers and headphones, and I want the soundcard to automatically mute the speakers and switch to headphone mode when I plug in my headphones, and automatically un-mute the speakers and switch back to 5.1 mode when I unplug the headphones. The only way to do that is to either plug in directly into the jack on the back (which I can't reach) or to use the front ports.

Assuming that your front ports are working correctly - that there are no grounding issues with the shared USB ports (and there are different ways to fix / get around that) - you're not missing much at all by using the front ports with efficient (low ohm impedance) headphones.


I assume that the control port that comes with the $150 Z card alleviates this situation, but we won't know for sure how exactly the control ports hooks up and functions until those cards become available for testing.
 

Nielo TM

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The Z has a dedicated headphone out jack and headphone/speaker switch in the control panel.
 
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Impulse

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Just like the Xonar STX, personally I prefer that, far easier for me to leave everything plugged in and switch with a mouse click.
 

osirus35

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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.
Is that the only difference between the Z and the ZX besides that audio control module?
 

testctv

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I know the Z and Zx both are 5.1 cards. Is the ZxR also 5.1 or 7.1? Only the specifications for the Z and Zx are shown on Creative's website (Asia only as other regions it is not showing).
 

Brahmzy

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^^ same here, gold caps. Got mine installed yesterday. Pretty happy with it. I would definitely say it is an improvement over the X-Fi Ti Fat Pro it replaced. It does have a different sound for sure. If you use the Crystallizer at all, it sounds very different on this new card.
 

stockwiz

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it does a great job adding bass to the Audio Technica ATH-AD700 headphones I have... I loved them before, now I no longer need to buy any other headphone.... I turned everything off except that bass boost. I originally bought the card just to have a 600 ohm headphone amp, now I don't need to buy the 600 ohm cans. :)

After more testing, I really like this card. The preset EQ settings work great too. Goes with headphones like toast and tons of peanut butter and jelly. :)
 
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anr11

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Could someone please confirm that the card ships with Windows 8 drivers? I'm not seeing any available on the support site.
 

skankeh

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I checked my Soundblaster Z OEM and it does indeed have the Nichicon FG caps. Maybe the OEMs are the Zx without the RF shield, LEDs and other accouterments?

Don't know, but I am very happy with what I got for a knock-down price!
 

Matthew Kane

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Correction: Nichicon FG caps not Nicheon, the FG and KZ series are pretty good caps for filtering/coupling.

Caps Overall: It's not about hearing placebo affect's but it's about reliability and quality over no-name generics which can't even meet the spec'ed value.
 

Brahmzy

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Damn. I've been listening to this card some more. I'm hearin' $hit I never have heard before with the Fatality Pro card I had. This thing kicks ass.

Denon amp, Kli[sch Reference bookshelves. Good stuff.
 

Matthew Kane

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Damn. I've been listening to this card some more. I'm hearin' $hit I never have heard before with the Fatality Pro card I had. This thing kicks ass.

Denon amp, Kli[sch Reference bookshelves. Good stuff.
I have a Titanium Fatality Pro (without the control console that goes into the drive bay) that I'm either going to mod the opamp's or upgrade to this, which route do you reckon I should go with? Also I don't care about gaming performance just sound quality.
 

Brahmzy

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Good question - I have not ever heard a modded card. And I suppose if we're nitpicking audiophiles, the full-blown ZXR would be the one to get. And I may be smoking crack, but I ran this card on W7x64 for 3 days solid and then upgraded to W8x64 and have been running it for 2 full days. I swear I hear a difference between the 2 OSs. Same exact settings. Could that be? Not necessarily better, but different.
 

MorgothPl

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You all make me want that card :). Granted, I just use Aurvana Live, but they are nice budget cans and should like the amplifier there... Still, got to wait for the Zx or ZxR to see final retail pricing and to see what's really the differenc, if any, in sound quality from whole family. And yes, the little connector with volume knob and headphone port looks tempting too :)
 

aldamon

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The card looks great but I can't justify the cost to upgrade from a Titanium PCI-E. Hopefully an OEM version appears at some point without the microphone. Also, I'm a bit pissed about the Windows 8 driver situation on the X-Fi. The original X-Fi is scheduled to get Win 8 drivers before the Titanium.
 
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Impulse

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The card looks great but I can't justify the cost to upgrade from a Titanium PCI-E. Hopefully an OEM version appears at some point without the microphone. Also, I'm a bit pissed about the Windows 8 driver situation on the X-Fi. The original X-Fi is scheduled to get Win 8 drivers before the Titanium.
Hmm, that's unfortunate, guess my second system's gonna go without a sound card for a while after I upgrade it to 8... How much can the drivers differ between the PCI and PCI-E versions, sheesh.
 

reaper12

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The card looks great but I can't justify the cost to upgrade from a Titanium PCI-E. Hopefully an OEM version appears at some point without the microphone. Also, I'm a bit pissed about the Windows 8 driver situation on the X-Fi. The original X-Fi is scheduled to get Win 8 drivers before the Titanium.
The OEM version of the Z without the mic is already available.
 

aldamon

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The OEM version of the Z without the mic is already available.
Do you have a link or are you keeping it a secret for suspense? :D ;) I don't see it on Newegg. With the boxed version on sale for $80, the OEM would have to be pretty damn cheap for me to bite.

Hmm, that's unfortunate, guess my second system's gonna go without a sound card for a while after I upgrade it to 8... How much can the drivers differ between the PCI and PCI-E versions, sheesh.
The current drivers work in Win 8 for sound, but settings don't stick unless you put the PC to sleep first before shutting down and with an SSD it's very likely you will not have sound after a restart (fixed by switching audio modes back and forth). Easy to work around, but just very annoying.
 

Impulse

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Ah, gotcha... Guess it won't be a big deal then, that system does have an old X25-M SSD but the sound settings are never touched.
 

reaper12

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Do you have a link or are you keeping it a secret for suspense? :D ;) I don't see it on Newegg. With the boxed version on sale for $80, the OEM would have to be pretty damn cheap for me to bite.
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!!
 

Exostenza

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Hey everyone I am an active member of the Overclock.net forums and wrote this first impressions on the Sound Blaster Z today. I had previously read this thread from a Google search before my card came in so I thought I would share it will all of you as well. Please note this is my first write up so it is not going to be professional or necessarily organized in the best manner, but I think most of you will enjoy it.

So, I upgraded from an X-Fi XtremeMusic (real-X-Fi card) to a Sound Blaster Z yesterday and would like to give my first impressions.

Also on OCN I have my system in which is n ot on here so I have to note I am playing with the Ultrasone Pro 750 which is know for its clarity and accuracy in sound. They are heavily source dependent which lets me hear the difference between the two sound cards much better than on other headsets.

I have been using the X-Fi since 2005 so I would say I am pretty used to how it sounds and have noticed several differences between the two right away. Please note I am not an audiophile and have no training in audio, so this is simply coming from a music, movie and gaming lover's perspective.

Music

First of all the X-Fi delivers a more neutral and maybe even "tinny" sound experience. It sounds like the X-Fi does not add anything to the sound that it is putting out and because of this the sound could be described maybe as more accurate, neutral tinny, flat, I would even go as far as to say some what metallic (cold and hard) if that makes sense. The first thing I noticed about the Sound Blaster Z is that all the sound is warmer, more full and encompassing than the sound from the X-Fi. I could see how some people would say that the X-Fi is better because it sounds more accurate although I like the sound from the Sound Blaster Z better as it sounds like it has much more of a presence to my ears and the full range of audio seems to really reveal itself from this card. Everything is distinguished like the X-Fi, but some way melded together much better to make a full audio package out of the sound instead of distinctive audio. Again, I could see audiophiles liking the X-Fi sound more as it seems more technically accurate, but to my music, gaming and movie loving ears the Sound Blaster Z is the VERY clear winner from first impressions.

Games

Now there is something I have to talk about and I know OCN is going to find this interesting. I am playing a lot of Day Z lately and I have the audio samples up to 128 in the preferences up from 32 as I know the X-Fi is supposed to be able to handle it. The first thing I noticed in Day Z is that not only is all the sound SO VERY MUCH more clear (almost opposite of how I described the sound in the music section, but not quite as its not tinny or metallic like the X-Fi) coming out of this card, but there are WAY more sounds being played as well. I can hear all of the zombies around me, the trees, wind, birds and other environmental sounds are way more prominent and there are way more of them. I don't know what is technically going on here, but it sounds like the X-Fi was not putting out even half of the sounds that this new card is (which is odd because technically is can process way more sounds - although I guess its all done on the CPU now anyways). The game environment sounds much more realistic and lush compared to the X-Fi although the down side is that it sounds like none of the sounds are close or distant - they all have a set volume and do not seem to fade in or out from that volume so the zombie that is right next to me may be just as loud as the zombie 10 feet from me (this might be placebo as everything is much louder - so I can't be too sure of this yet). It definitely feels like everything feels much more realistic and prominent on the Sound Blaster Z while there are way more sounds playing at once although the ability to accurately hear how close or far something is coming from CMSS3D to SBX Pro Studio Surround on my headphones has been severely compromised which might be a huge deal breaker for most gamers.

Note: I have only tested in Day Z (Arma 2 Engine), so these results might not be representative of all games. I will try to comment on this later.

Movies/Shows

I personally have the problem of not being able to hear voices very well on top of the terrible mixing/mastering going on in Hollywood which makes it even harder to hear voices. The super easy stereo surround helps me gets my audio from the back speakers as well to emphasize the voices (was no issue either on the X-Fi) which is nice, but what I like the most is the option called Dialogue Plus which enhances the voices without changing how the movie or show sounds. I realize this is just an advanced equalizer setting, but since I cannot do this on my own it is very useful and it has a slider to allow for more or less emphasis on voices to get it just right. In combination with the Dialogue Plus doing its job well there is the smart volume which is a tweaked version of the SVM on the X-Fi. This works much better and has 3 presets - normal, loud, and night which allows the user to keep an effective volume across the board. I like this a lot because without these options I watch movies and some scenes the sound is so quiet I have to crank it up to hear the voices and then there is some action and I almost soil myself while the neighbors have clearly been woken up. One last thing to note here is that the drivers are working flawlessly on Windows 7 X64 and very simple, straight forward and not bloated which is a first from Creative according to what I have experienced and heard.

The options aside (which is a huge improvement over the X-Fi options) the sound can b e talked about the very same way the music is spoken about. The sound is much more full and encompassing while the warmer signature of it compared to the X-Fi makes the listening more of a pleasure and easier on the ears. I like it better than the sound signature of the X-Fi, but audiophiles may not due to the apparently colored nature of the sound signature.

Conclusion

I was anxious waiting for the Sound Blaster Z to come in the mail as I really thought that I might have just thrown away 100 bucks from all the doom saying people have been spewing about how newer sound cards are all codec based and don't have real sound processing like the old X-Fi cards. What I have experienced so far has been almost all positive (only the one issue of gaming sound which might only be in Day Z/Arma 2 - I will test more and comment on this) and I must say that the 100 dollars have been well spent and I am going to be happy never using the X-Fi again. There is a marked improvement in sound texture and quality to a non-audiophile's ears and usability in terms of driver features and hardware features such as a dedicated headphones jack with an amp and the extremely well working beam forming microphone.

For someone looking to upgrade from the X-Fi or for the person who finally wants to ditch their crappy onboard sound I can easily say, so far, I recommend this card. Although I must note that the gaming depth perception might prove to be a real issue and as I have already noted I will try and test this more in order to come to a conclusion on the matter.

EDIT 1: I seem to be having issues with the beam forming microphone after my first shut down period. It does not block out sound that is out of the specified angle very well at all - it would stand to reason that this is a software issue if it worked yesterday and doesn't work today. The smart volume option that keeps you sounding the same no matter how close or far from the pc you are (which is an awesome feature in practice) just makes every little tiny sound I make (tapping on anything, sighing, breathing loudly etc...) perfectly audible to my friends on the other other - sucks for them. Although I have to say that I have background noise in my apartment which is completely blocked out by the software which is very nice.
 
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Krysaenaar

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first impressions on the Sound Blaster Z today.
Very nice review Exostenza.

I am getting my Z on Monday so i am glad to hear it is a decent / pretty good card.

It will be on my gaming PC, so as long as there is excellent positional audio in BF3 i will be happy :)
 

Exostenza

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Very nice review Exostenza.

I am getting my Z on Monday so i am glad to hear it is a decent / pretty good card.

It will be on my gaming PC, so as long as there is excellent positional audio in BF3 i will be happy :)
Glad to hear people like it as it is the first thing I ever written about on the internet.

One thing you have to pay attention to is what I said about the gaming sound as if it holds true in other games then it would truly be the worst gaming solution possible. I really hope it is just a flaw in the Arma 2 sound engine, but since it worked just fine with Dolby Headphone on my G35 and CMSS3D with my Ultrasones it stands to reason that there is an inherent flow in this new TruSound for gaming.

Also I will be updating my post with more stuff so make sure to keep rechecking it. Actually maybe I'll make a new thread...
 

KMASCII

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Very helpful review Exonstenza. I've recently ordered the Creative Z myself. To the OP:

...I wasn't expecting such detail and clarity after the Recon3D fiasco...
Here's one person's comparison between an Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC, like the DAC used on the Creative Z, and the same DAC chassis equiped with an Analog Devices AD1852. I think the review agrees with what you're hearing. But I personally wouldn't be too, too concerned about the DAC portion, so much as the 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,..
I use my computer for casual music listening. However, audio quality is still very important to my music listening on computer. But, I ordered the Creative Z so that I might swap caps as well. I'm not as much of a fan of the Nichicon FG (Fine Gold's) in the audio path so much as I've become a fan of Nichicon's KZ series caps. The FG's, in my opinion, are just slightly grainy in the upper frequencies by comparison to the KZ. The KZ's have a well defined, and non-grainy, clarity in the treble. This is primarily why I chose the Creative Z to fiddle around with.

Some people refer to the KZ series of Nichicon caps as being a Muse series cap, but I'm not sure whether that's true? The only KZ's I've ever used haven't had the Muse name stamped on them. In any event, I don't know why but the treble and upper mid range sound cleaner with the KZ series caps in any application I've used them. Two have been in headphone amps and two in DAC applications. Oh, there's also a bit more extension into the upper frequencies with the KZ's.

I'm simply a casual DIY'er and couldn't possibly tell you why I would hear this difference between the two caps. There may some technical specs that rationalize why I'm hearing differences between the FG and KZ series caps. Maybe stability, losses or leakage? I don't know, but... I've come to prefer the KZ's in the audio path for there added clarity.:)
 
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Exostenza

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I started a new thread that will be maintained with more information if anyone is interested.
 

reaper12

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Very helpful review Exonstenza. I've recently ordered the Creative Z myself. To the OP:


Here's one person's comparison between an Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC, like the DAC used on the Creative Z, and the same DAC chassis equiped with an Analog Devices AD1852. I think the review agrees with what you're hearing. But I personally wouldn't be too, too concerned about the DAC portion, so much as the caps.



I use my computer for casual music listening. However, audio quality is still very important to my music listening on computer. But, I ordered the Creative Z so that I might swap caps as well. I'm not as much of a fan of the Nichicon FG (Fine Gold's) in the audio path so much as I've become a fan of Nichicon's KZ series caps. The FG's, in my opinion, are just slightly grainy in the upper frequencies by comparison to the KZ. The KZ's have a well defined, and non-grainy, clarity in the treble. This is primarily why I chose the Creative Z to fiddle around with.

Some people refer to the KZ series of Nichicon caps as being a Muse series cap, but I'm not sure whether that's true? The only KZ's I've ever used haven't had the Muse name stamped on them. In any event, I don't know why but the treble and upper mid range sound cleaner with the KZ series caps in any application I've used them. Two have been in headphone amps and two in DAC applications. Oh, there's also a bit more extension into the upper frequencies with the KZ's.

I'm simply a casual DIY'er and couldn't possibly tell you why I would hear this difference between the two caps. There may some technical specs that rationalize why I'm hearing differences between the FG and KZ series caps. Maybe stability, losses or leakage? I don't know, but... I've come to prefer the KZ's in the audio path for there added clarity.:)
It's pretty simple, you aren't hearing a difference. CAPS have no effect on sound what so ever. None, zero, NADA!! they are either sufficient to handle the voltage spikes or they aren't.

And then you casually dismiss the DAC which is one of the most important things in quality of the sound.

But congratulations on your order, the Z is a really amazing sound card.
 

Exostenza

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So you guys with the card I need some help. I am having problems with the beamforming mic and was wondering if they are inherent to it or can be fixed/tweaked. My problem is that when I use it for multiplayer gaming it picks up very sound I make such as every keystroke or tiny tap on my desk which is very bad for the people on the other end. Is there any way to get it to only pick up my voice or am I going to have to find another mic solution as I hate push to talk?

Thanks in advance.
 

KMASCII

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...And then you casually dismiss the DAC which is one of the most important things in quality of the sound...
Not sure if you read my whole post but:

...I use my computer for casual music listening....
I actually own a couple DACs for two different systems and wouldn't dismiss the importance of one for either enjoyment or critical listening. But for casual listening when surfing or working on other stuff with the computer? Anyway, looking forward to tinkering.
 
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