Creative Sound Blaster Z Initial Impression

BatJoe

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I personally turn Crystalizer and Bass enhancement off. I find all the Crystalizer does is just boost the sound (isn't that what the volume nob is for?). And the Bass adds unwanted extra bass in certain music/sounds where either the musicians or developers did not intend there to be any. Again just adjust the bass on your sub to the desired level. I only keep the Surround setting on. I know you pay as part of buying the Sound Blaster for these enhancements, but the value is still there over onboard audio with them off as the Z still has great clarity and overall quality without them.
 
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Ocellaris

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I personally turn Crystalizer and Bass enhancement off. I find all the Crystalizer does is just boost the sound (isn't that what the volume nob is for?). And the Bass adds unwanted extra bass in certain music/sounds where either the musicians or developers did not intend there to be any. Again just adjust the bass on your sub to the desired level. I only keep the Surround setting on. I know you pay as part of buying the Sound Blaster for these enhancements, but the value is still there over onboard audio with them off as the Z still has great clarity and overall quality without them.
I don't get what SBX Surround is doing so I don't use it. Most games have some form of virtual surround going to 2 channel headphones. Always feels like I should be able to turn the Surround on and then select "5.1 emulation" or something like that to get it to work. Then in games it should list that I have a 5.1 setup...
 

Krysaenaar

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I don't get what SBX Surround is doing so I don't use it. Most games have some form of virtual surround going to 2 channel headphones. Always feels like I should be able to turn the Surround on and then select "5.1 emulation" or something like that to get it to work. Then in games it should list that I have a 5.1 setup...
I have to agree.

Great card but the options like we had in the X-fi range was the better option for gaming.

To me at least it feels as if the options are based around Movies, Music and Microphone options and very little for Gaming.

It still sounds great in games though :)
 

BatJoe

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I don't get what SBX Surround is doing so I don't use it. Most games have some form of virtual surround going to 2 channel headphones. Always feels like I should be able to turn the Surround on and then select "5.1 emulation" or something like that to get it to work. Then in games it should list that I have a 5.1 setup...
Well like everything else it uses an algorithm to try to increase/expand surround virtually. I find this part works fairly well. SBX Surround is basically CMSS-3D re-tooled and at least now you can properly adjust it.

I've had issue with Crystalizer for a while now since they introduced it. Like I said, it really just boosts the sound. And in fact, can cause unwanted clipping depending on what you are doing. Admittedly, I have seen less clipping with the Z than I have before. By design, Crystalizer will sound different because its dynamic. Depending on the source it is being sent, so while you may hear improvements in some things in others you will not, or it might even sound worse.
 

Ocellaris

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Well like everything else it uses an algorithm to try to increase/expand surround virtually. I find this part works fairly well. SBX Surround is basically CMSS-3D re-tooled and at least now you can properly adjust it.
To me this makes it sound like a generic "MOAR SOUND" slider. If that card is only getting 2 channel audio how would it know what is in front of me or behind me?

I've had issue with Crystalizer for a while now since they introduced it. Like I said, it really just boosts the sound. And in fact, can cause unwanted clipping depending on what you are doing. Admittedly, I have seen less clipping with the Z than I have before. By design, Crystalizer will sound different because its dynamic. Depending on the source it is being sent, so while you may hear improvements in some things in others you will not, or it might even sound worse.
I run the Crystalizer on 25% which seems to clean up some low quality audio sources without having a negative affect on higher quality sources. Same thing with the Bass Boost, I have that set to 25% and the crossover point at 25Hz. Any higher on the Bass Boost and it starts to really over-boost low frequency background noises (engine noises, weather rumbling, bass in soundtracks...) to too high of a level.
 
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keefusm

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I'm pretty cautious when investing into pc audio these days, but after reading this thread I bit the bullet and ordered a Z and some new headphones.

Well, color me impressed.

 

BatJoe

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I like the look of it too. I've seen people who have figured out how to disable the LED, but I like it.
 

devman

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To me this makes it sound like a generic "MOAR SOUND" slider. If that card is only getting 2 channel audio how would it know what is in front of me or behind me?
SBX Surround is a 5.1 downmix similar to Dolby headphone. It takes a 5.1 source and applies a HRTF to create a 2 channel output while attempting to preserve the 3d audio of the 5.1 input. If the game is only producing 2 channel stereo audio, then you are correct, the HRTF doesn't really do much. If you set the game to 5.1 audio it will be able to work its magic.

CMSS3d was a different beast all together. Instead of taking 5.1 audio and downmixing, it could instead get a coordinate reference and intensity from OpenAL and generate binaural audio. OpenAL fell out of favor, so now we have 5.1 HRTF downmixing with TruStudio Pro Surround, SBX Surround and Dolby Headphone.
 

Ocellaris

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SBX Surround is a 5.1 downmix similar to Dolby headphone. It takes a 5.1 source and applies a HRTF to create a 2 channel output while attempting to preserve the 3d audio of the 5.1 input. If the game is only producing 2 channel stereo audio, then you are correct, the HRTF doesn't really do much. If you set the game to 5.1 audio it will be able to work its magic.
So how is the game supposed to know that my system can do "5.1" if the Sound Blaster Control Panel just list my device as "Headphones"? I don't have an alternate 5.1 system setup or anything like that. This is the stuff that makes Surround totally confusing to me.
 

xoleras

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So how is the game supposed to know that my system can do "5.1" if the Sound Blaster Control Panel just list my device as "Headphones"? I don't have an alternate 5.1 system setup or anything like that. This is the stuff that makes Surround totally confusing to me.
Double check the sound portion of the windows control panel. Go to control panel, hardware and sound, sound, and then click "configure" for your speakers. From there it gives you the choice between stereo or surround 5.1, select 5.1 here and in SB control panel choose headphones.
 

Ocellaris

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Double check the sound portion of the windows control panel. Go to control panel, hardware and sound, sound, and then click "configure" for your speakers. From there it gives you the choice between stereo or surround 5.1, select 5.1 here and in SB control panel choose headphones.
*HEAD EXPLODES*
 

keefusm

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Well, I've been using the card here for the past few hours.. I think I've got my equalizer and settings all ironed out. It's definitely pretty awesome in BF3. Music sounds great as well. I'm extremely happy with this card.
 

TroyX

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Double check the sound portion of the windows control panel. Go to control panel, hardware and sound, sound, and then click "configure" for your speakers. From there it gives you the choice between stereo or surround 5.1, select 5.1 here and in SB control panel choose headphones.
I dont think it makes any difference if you select 5.1 or stereo in the "control panel, hardware and sound, sound" when you select headphones in SB control panel.
 

xoleras

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I dont think it makes any difference if you select 5.1 or stereo in the "control panel, hardware and sound, sound" when you select headphones in SB control panel.
Making that adjustment in windows control panel was a common practice for a long time for the x-fi series, perhaps it was a software issue then though. It's entirely possible that it isn't necessary on the Z line.
 

Ocellaris

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Making that adjustment in windows control panel was a common practice for a long time for the x-fi series, perhaps it was a software issue then though. It's entirely possible that it isn't necessary on the Z line.
Well glad to see no one knows how this stuff works :eek:
 
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I wouldn't consider the TiHD anymore as an option.
Support on a card that's almost what? 2 years old now? I wouldn't buy it as it might be discontinued soon, and support may go down with it. I think it currently has no or poor Windows 8 support right now? correct me if I'm wrong.
You are wrong, I am sorry to say. TiHD was one of the first to have fully functional Windows 8 drivers. It may even have beaten the Recon3D - but I am not sure about that.

Keep in mind the TiHD still bangs around for about $180 which isn't so far away from the ZxR, and I feel that the additional $70 is well worth the built in 600 Ohm amp, and the other newer features on the new card over the TiHD. Also the TiHD only supports 5.1 through RCA/optical out right? and it has no analog 5.1 which would be an option some would consider a deal breaker.
The TiHD can regularly be had for $99. The reason I keep mentioning the TiHD in this thread is because of its off again, on again $99 price tag. For less than the current going rate of the vanilla Z, you could have a superior sound card. Note I said "Z" and not "ZxR".

As you mentioned, the key points in a Z over a HD would be the AMP, no analog surround sound and the fact that Creative may never ever release the promised daughter card.

I have very little doubt that the ZxR will be a better buy than the HD. When talking about the Z vs the HD things tend to get less black and white. If you have legacy games that support OpenAL (with or without Alchemy) and can make use of CMSS3D then the HD is the way to go. Yes people WILL tell you that SBX surround is "good enough" but SBX is NOT a re-branded CMSS3D. If anything SBX Pro Studio is THX TruStudio pro without the THX licencing - of which the TiHD can do both.

For someone like me who uses a ATH-M50 (38ohms) the AMP for 600 would be disabled and set to the 30-300 setting. Currently I am awaiting my pair of LME49860NA and LME49720NA OP AMPs and plan on swapping them in and out for the default 49710's and see how that holds me. :D





I would also like to clear something up I said before. I once said that the ZxR has the same DAC as the TiHD but that is simply not the case. The TiHD uses PCM1794 while the ZxR uses PCM1798. I noticed while I was watching this video. :eek:
 

txfeinbergs

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I am just wondering where the hell the ZxR cards are actually at! Other than the 7 or so that shipped out the last week of December, they haven't gotten anymore in.
 

Veedo

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I am just wondering where the hell the ZxR cards are actually at! Other than the 7 or so that shipped out the last week of December, they haven't gotten anymore in.
No kidding. Come on creative, get it together!
 

keefusm

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Starting to get static in my audio... constantly having to reboot to make it go away. Not too happy about this.

Edit: It seems to have to do with the format settings and frequency in the control panel...Perhaps this will fix it.
 
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spaceman

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The delay worries me a bit. Might be some weird production issue. Be wary until we get some reviews in to say the least. Hopefully it's nothing more than a shipping or supply issue and not a quality/driver concern.
 

Tup3x

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ZxR goes for 249 € in their EU shop. Yaiks! Zx or nothing it is then.
 

fighter

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by the way, the price at amazon japan is about 220 dollars after conversion, really cheap, if you can read japanese and they ship to your country
 

Tup3x

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I ended up ordering Zx. I hope they release proper ASIO drivers but I can live with it.
 

Farkle

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Wall-o-text review:

I returned the Zx that I ordered. The stereo image on the line-out seemed like it had some compression (more centered with veil compared to other interfaces, less spacious.) Another thing I noticed that is the same as the Recon3D was the SPDIF out locked to whatever you set the SPDIF interface to in the Windows device properties when you play "Stereo-mix to SPDIF" from speakers or headphones. If I need to use an external DAC to make it sound normal to begin with, I'm going to at least want to not have to go into the drivers and switch bit-rates all the time -- that's one of the reasons I don't like the Xonar series. Creative really needs to look into that; when your output is headphones or speaker mode, and you have "Play stereo mix to SDIF" ticked, it should adjust the SPDIF rate to the same playback rate being utilized by the line-out. It took me a moment to remember this flaw on the Recon3D while using the Sound Blaster Z (Speakers) over WASAPI. I was playing back 44kHz content, but it was locking at 48kHz externally on the digital stereo-mix. A few mouse clicks through the Sound Properties, and I had it falling in line to whatever I wanted it to, but for a consumer solution it should be just plug and play. Why does any of this matter? Well, the only way to get the 5.1 -> 2 stereo mix-down that is provided with headphone mode, to speakers, is over SPDIF. I think that is the ideal configuration for the product, Headphone mode, headphones attached to the headphone port of the card, then SPDIF out to your DAC/speakers. Though most of the critical listening I did trying to review the product was all on the Speaker mode (analog stereo out.)

From an actual music perspective, with non-harmonic tone changes in music passages, the Zx due to the compressed image seemed to miss transition subtleties that you'd note with other interfaces played from my Kurzweil PC3 (digital out to the Zx.) The same thing happens with the Recon3D Fatal1ty Edition, but I thought it was actually because of the funky way they equalized that card -- guess it's just the design in general. Perhaps they do something to the sound stage to make positioning better, and found it to be an equal trade-off for audio quality. Recon3D + FiiO D3 for example, this problem goes away, but of course you're keeping it all digital that way and not using the analog stage of the sound card. It would be the same outcome for the Zx series, but the FiiO D3 is on paper worse than the Zx by a small percentage, so I saw no point in repeating that test. It seems like all Creative is riding is SNR numbers of the DAC present in every recent product release, and not actual reproduction, unlike their acquired E-MU line which is mostly spot on.

I had a similar stereo-image issue with the Auzentech Forte (RIP, you poorly grounded POS), but it was the reverse. They exaggerated the stereo image, and it was even apparent on the digital out. I had originally thought it was the drivers involved, and some type of processing was sticking, but I ended up contacting Auzentech support about it, and I was told that my Panasonic digital receiver was at fault. When I switched it over to my LavryBlue from my music workstation, and the same result occurred -- I was told to reinstall Windows from scratch, and install the driver before updating anything else. So I popped another hard drive in the system, installed Windows 7, installed the driver, copied XMPlay over, played back some music and ... it was still there. I really wish these sound card manufacturers would quit playing with the consumer, to make them believe an interface is superior to another. "Sounds better", equates to "Sounds different" or "Sounds louder" in most cases. Tiny dB shift, makes a huge difference in the punch and sizzle to an untrained ear. Stereo imaging changes, without a reference device to compare to also creates quite the psychoacoustic fan boy.

Speakers used for this test were my "multimedia speakers" -- aka KRK Rokit 5 G2 with a KRK 10S subwoofer. Interfaces I compared to make sure I wasn't imagining things with the compressed stereo image on the Zx in my weekend testing:

TC Electronic Konnekt 6
E-MU 1212m PCI
LavryBlue via onboard audio transport
M-Audio Revolution 5.1
Chaintech AV-710
Onboard audio out with MB2 drivers

Overall the card sounds "good", but not "great". Xonar STX is still quite an upgrade from a Zx, due to the correct stereo image. Another thing to consider is that my Zx had a dislodged volume knob in shipping and scratched the hell out of it and the ACM, so try to buy local if you want a guaranteed pristine product. Stereo-image wise, it almost seems like the Recon3D and Z series were crippled so the enhancements would make more of an impact or equalize better. PCI-E leak noise on my Gigabyte EX58-UD5 motherboard in my gaming PC was present, but at a lower mixer volume than the Recon3D, I had to turn it up to 16 gain instead of 12 to hear hard drive and CPU activity in the speakers. Most prosumer cards can go all the way to 20 gain, without a single digital hash noise present. I'm quite convinced that this motherboard is notorious for getting internal ground loop noise into PCI-E cards, but it does not happen with well designed PCI-E cards, nor the onboard audio, or any PCI card that I have tried. Perhaps manufacturers can start using this board to see if their output stage filtration is working? :D

My conclusion: If you want a "smoothed over", tonally warm sounding sound card that misses subtleties with a slightly compressed stereo image, or perhaps you have regular computer speakers and you wouldn't notice -- buy the Zx. The positional audio on it is a little better than the Recon3D due to the lack of the bass hump and early treble roll-off on the analog stage when equalized in Scout Mode. If you're a musician or hobby audio engineer that would like to use the Z series as an additional interface on your mixer from time to time, skip it, cheaper cards and even some onboard audio can do better. I think that Recon3D + budget DAC that exceeds the Recon3D sound performance levels for gaming will provide you with better audio than just using a Z or Zx, since the positional queues on Recon3D are of very close quality. But the headphone out of the Z series, is going to sound better than the Recon3D either way, so keep that in mind if you intend to just use it with headphones. And finally, if you are getting this card as an "all around" solution, suck it in and put up with the crappy control panel and having to constantly manually change bit rates on the Asus Essence STX, because it is a better performing card all around.

I'm hoping the ZxR does not have any of the flaws I've talked about, but I will not be purchasing it in the near future. As a consumer I've grown tired of flavor of the month sound cards, and yearly side-steps claiming higher performance but just missing the mark. Wake me up when a consumer sound card exceeds the playback quality of a now practically ancient DAL CardDeluxe :( Creative was going the right way with the 1212M, 1820M, 1616M and USB 0404, if they can merge that type of audio reproduction quality with their Sound Blaster line, without the consumer bewildering Patchmix DSP software, they will have a winner on their hands. Hats off to Creative for releasing the Recon3D, then a few months later releasing another product that is slightly superior, that still doesn't cut the mustard. Yet somehow you still managed to get my money (at least temporarily) -- well played my friends, your marketing worked on me.
 

blade52x

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I am impressed with the Zx.

1) The software is nice. I can switch between 5.1 (disabled rear and center for effective 2.1) and headphones without any issues. Switching modes sometimes caused a complete loss of sound on the past. Everything else in it seems to be well setup. It's a pleasure to use it.

2) The sound is very clean. For music, it's definitely a step up from my old my Titanium Fatalit1y Pro. It's not major there, but it is noticeable. Gaming however the difference is night and day. Big upgrade there.

3) The audio control module does its job. For me it allows to plug in the headphones so that the headphone wire will run out of the way of everything else.

The only cons I can think of is... it's red. And it looks terrible with my white/black/blue color scheme. I can live with it though. This card was worth it, and I guess if you don't have a Titanium HD, then go for the Z or Zx. Also, for whatsoever reason the card would not install on a Z77 MPower (even on a clean install of Windows), so I'm not sure what is going on there. But it seems like there may be an incompatibility between the two pieces of hardware for the time being.
 

TroyX

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Hmmm. I guess that I will stick with my old Asus DX1 for awhile longer.
because of the wall of text post? you never even planned to buy anything, stop being a fanboy of something you dont want to spend money to upgrade.

the wall of text poster didnt like it due for his own personal reasons that had nothing to do with you or your card, DX1 produces a motherboard sound quality when compared to the new ZX.

all your previous posts have been anti-creative, you work for Asus or something?
 
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Porter_

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because of the wall of text post? you never even planned to buy anything, stop being a fanboy of something you dont want to spend money to upgrade.

the wall of text poster didnt like it due for his own personal reasons that had nothing to do with you or your card, DX1 produces a motherboard sound quality when compared to the new ZX.

all your previous posts have been anti-creative, you work for Asus or something?
what's with the hostility? spaceman is a good contributor to the audio sub-forum. no need to throw a fit.
 

InnervateD

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the STX will obviously sound better than the Z or the ZX because of the differences of the DACs and the overall build quality of the two soundcards. Their not even on the same level. One is a $200 sound card targeted for Audiophiles and the Z/ZX is targeted to gamers. The STX has a dedicated power source via 4pin Molex to deliver cleaner and additional power to the soundcard.

The real comparison will be between the STX vs the ZxR, as their closer a like interms of specs. Though I'm beating on the ZxR since it supports 5.1 whereas the STX not much so much.

ZX is more comparable to the Phoebus because of the breakout control and specs. The Z series should be leaps ahead of the Recon3D, as the Recon3D was probably one of the worse Creative cards spec wise and isn't worth the price it's asking for. The regular Z card is the same sound card as the ZX, so in theory you didn't need to spend the extra $50 if you didn't feel like the ACM unit was worth the extra $50.
 

Veedo

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ive got around to trying the titanium hd vs the z, and although the z sounded awesome compared to the onboard sound, the ti hd is even better to my ears. it took a while to compare but to my ears the ti hd snaps a better image in front of me and seems more detailed. both are great cards but to me, the difference is pretty obvious when listening to music. for gaming I have no feedback. only drawback for me is no sub out on the ti hd.
 

Farkle

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because of the wall of text post? you never even planned to buy anything, stop being a fanboy of something you dont want to spend money to upgrade.

the wall of text poster didnt like it due for his own personal reasons that had nothing to do with you or your card, DX1 produces a motherboard sound quality when compared to the new ZX.

all your previous posts have been anti-creative, you work for Asus or something?
"Motherboard sound quality" is actually quite good on a number of products, both measured and perceived so you may want to be more mindful with that particular brand of mud flinging. I have never heard the Asus Xonar DX1, but it is generally well received by the audiophool community on the Internet. It also looks soundly designed on the analog out, close to test boards you get from manufacturers in implementation, though it has more buffering. That of course, doesn't account for any phase, linearity, impedance to another input or DC bias with opamps chosen (didn't look that closely) that may be apparent downstream. Then there is this constant tri-channel and virtual ground design that plagues almost all sound cards out there that is also apparent on the DX1... but I won't bore you with electrical engineering nonsense. That is beyond the scope of this thread about the Sound Blaster Z series.

I also agree with InnervateD that the Recon3D is probably the biggest disappointment since the Audigy LS. But if you do toslink out from the Recon3D, to a well implemented budget DAC that exceeds the performance levels of the ZxR (ESS Sabre32 and AD based DAC come to mind) you're going to be under the ZxR's asking price, with the same gaming features from the Recon3D and Z at your fingertips (with the exception of having to constantly change the bit-rate in the playback device properties in Windows, to match the stereo mix to your output which could be solved with a driver update.) That at least covers the 2.1 stereo and headphone crowd for positional DSP. The 5.1/7.1 physical surround audio crowd is another matter altogether though, and really unless they're rocking BlueSky MediaDesk 5.1 or better performing speakers, I don't think it'd even matter to their ears after a few minutes of critical listening.

Titanium HD vs Z, Titanium HD is a winner by measurements according to various reviews (lower stereo cross-talk, slightly lower noise floor), so I'd suspect it wins by audible performance too... But that's just me speculating, since I do not own, and have never owned a Titanium HD. It could also be testing error, as RightMark isn't really the end-all be all performance testing suite that so many review sites think of it as.
 

TroyX

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Titanium HD is using a burrbrown DAC which is better than the one that the Z and ZX are using, but at the same time the Z and ZX still have a much better DAC than the ones that Recon3d are using, Recon cards were made just for games and they do their job well with a very good 3d positional sound quality in games, no so much for music and movies.

now, ZXR will be using the BurrBrown DAC just like the HD but with better headphone AMP and some other components, it will beat it out for sure.
 
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Matthew Kane

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I don't know if I should upgrade to this or stay with my Fatality Pro. Decisions, decisions...
 

InnervateD

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If you're gonna compare the TiHD vs the Z/ZX it depends on what you're looking for in your soundcard to do with the type of equipment setup you have. The TiHD will be better than the Z/ZX if you're doing 2 channel sound or headphone sound because the TiHD has a Burr-Brown DAC which is superior than the one on the Z/ZX. The TiHD limitations is the 300Ohms AMP and it won't be able to power up the 600Ohm studio grade headphones with the Z series cards can do, but the Z/ZX DAC isn't as good as the BURR-BROWN but still very good.

The ZxR has the newer Burr-BROWN DAC, and should be slightly if not will be the same as the STX at the very least.

The biggest problem people have is buying the right soundcard for their needs.
Everyone's needs is different.
Some only play games, some listen to just music, and some are audiophiles, and some make music. Then you gotta look at what you plan on running/driving with the sound card. Regular computer speakers, higher end computer speakers, 2.1, 5.1, 6.1, 7.1, monitor/studio grade speakers, gaming headset, studio/audiophile headphones.

There are sound cards that are great gaming sound cards but their not great music listening or audiophile sound cards. The same can be said about audiophile soundcards "aren't" always suited "well" for gaming. Some cards try to do both, but in the end it's really up to whether or not one card has all the needs you need for the job you want with the equipment you have.

Example. you wouldn't want to buy say an Asus DGX if you have a pair of Beyerdynamics T1 headphones or DT990s 600 Ohms version. Your better off with the STX or the ZxR.

The Z/ZX are great for gaming, and is very good for music listening, and is a very good soundcard for those that want a good middle ground or a great gaming sound card.

The STX is better for music listening and is probably the best 2.1/headphone sound card out there. It's pretty good for gaming but not as good as the Z series, as it doesn't have stuff like CrystalVoice and Scout Mode, etc... STX also doesn't support Multi Channel Speakers ie. no 5.1/7.1 support. STX will support those audiophile grade headphones. Audiophiles prefer the 2 speaker w/Sub /headphone route.

It all depends on what you want your sound to do for you, and what you have or want to buy to run the sound coming out of your computer to suit your needs. People often forget that it doesn't matter how good of a soundcard you have. If you don't have the proper equipment to take full use of the soundcard it won't sound good or as good as it should. Don't get me wrong you'll hear a difference but you'll hear a bigger difference on better speakers, better headphones.

Also comes budget. Not everyone can afford the sound card and the headset/speakers they want so they have to settle with what they can afford.
 
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