Creative Sound Blaster Z Initial Impression

spaceman

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If you are using headphones via a receiver, like I am. Run 1/8th to rca from the headphone out into the receiver or amp you are using to get the recon pro sound right.
 

Timmy121

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That would be fine, I'd give this to my mother since she uses absolutely garbage onboard audio yet she has Sennheiser HD 598 headphones.


It's not as good as HD, I need to check but it may have same DAC than Zx. Or at least very comparable. Headphone amp in Forte is probably not as good quality wise.

Hmmm.... Forte has AKM AK4396VF for front channels, CS4382A for rest. I'm not actually that sure any more about which would be better. EDIT: Cirrus Logic CS4398 and AKM AK4396VF have pretty much identical specs. THD+N is better on CS4398 though.

Spec sheets:
http://www.cirrus.com/en/pubs/proDatasheet/CS4398_F1.pdf

http://www.asahi-kasei.co.jp/akm/en/product/ak4396/ak4396_f00e.pdf

Also I wonder if Creative is planning on releasing ASIO drivers for Z series
As mentioned before, the only Burr Brown DAC in the Z line is the ZXR, every other one uses a Cirrus Logic DAC. The TiHD uses a Burr Brown DAC (PCM1794) which is the same one most people claim are on the ZXR.

I was finally able to test for myself what a vanilla Z and TiHD sound like and have found the quality on the TiHD to be better. I really wish I could get my hands on the ZXR but I can wait - for now. Since sound is purely subjective I will not question the person who posted before me who said that he had a TiHD once, got rid of it but now has a Z and thinks the Z sounds better. I would love for review sites to take up the comparison so that we could get more opinions. :(

Worth mentioning is that the non-ZXR Z's may never get ASIO support. I suspect that Creative would use that as (one) selling point for the ZXR.

I must add that Creative Z, Zx and ZxR now support ASIO from Creative them self with their new driver update, Look Below......

Creative Z - Once you load the Link Click ''show details''
Creative Zx - Once you load the Link Click ''show details''
Creative ZxR - Once you load the Link Click ''show details''


File Name : SBZR_PC_CD_LD_1_00_11.exe

This download contains the software(s) and application(s) for Sound Blaster® Z-Series. For more details, read the rest of this Web release note.

This download supports and is applicable for the following models:

- Sound Blaster Z (SB1500, SB1502)
- Sound Blaster Zx (SB1506)
- Sound Blaster ZxR (SB1510)

Added Enhancement / Features:

- Multiple fixes that improve the driver's overall stability and performance
- Added support for ASIO playback in SB Z and SB Zx. (SB ZxR already supports ASIO playback via its bundled driver. )

Requirements:

- Microsoft® Windows® 8 32-bit or 64-bit, Windows 7 32-bit or 64-bit
- Sound Blaster Z or Sound Blaster Zx or Sound Blaster ZxR
 

Zarathustra[H]

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Zarathustra[H];1039735152 said:
I wonder how it compares to my X-Fi Titanium...
My Titanium HD started out fantastic. Better than expectations, but as it has aged, some noise pollution from the rest of the computer has made its way into the sound. I can only hear it with headphones though.

It may not be the Titanium HD's fault, it may be something else in the system acting up, but it's definitely there.

My plan is to get an optical DAC and use the optical out line for my headphones and continue to use the line out on the Titanium HD for my speakers.
 

spaceman

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Zarathustra[H];1039735152 said:
I wonder how it compares to my X-Fi Titanium...
I had one. The Z is better. Especially with game sound. You hear direction AND distance much better now.
 

mlapgw

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I came from a Titanium non-HD. That was a nice card, sound really great and was a step up from my previous x-fi gamer.
The ZXR is better. My headphones like the amp and are a treat to listen too, my cheap logitech x620 speaker system sounds amazing, and games are improved. Having the Titanium before I thought it was great, the new cards are a noticeable improvement.
 

Zarathustra[H]

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I came from a Titanium non-HD. That was a nice card, sound really great and was a step up from my previous x-fi gamer.
The ZXR is better. My headphones like the amp and are a treat to listen too, my cheap logitech x620 speaker system sounds amazing, and games are improved. Having the Titanium before I thought it was great, the new cards are a noticeable improvement.
Ahh, Yes. The amp issue is probably huge.

Not really relevant to me though.

I use the line outs to a dedicated headphone amp that powers my headphones.

I use one of these, but first generation. Fantastic amp, made in the U.S. and at $250, it's better than anything else this side of $1,000.

I have been toying with the idea of getting one of their Bifrost DAC's to go along with it, and just use the sound blaster for my speakers, but I use my headphones for games in addition to music, and I'm not sure how much I'll sacrifice in gaming, by switching to a audiphile-style DAC.

I'd run it from the optical out on the Titanium HD (or replacement), and then leave the speakers plugged in to the soundcard directly.
 

Zarathustra[H]

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I plan on using optical out to a dedicated external DAC for my quality music listening. Analog outputs will only be used for a set of mid range desktop 2.1 speakers.

So I guess my questions are as follows:

1.) Are all the gaming/3d positional features outputted to the optical connector? In other words, with a set of stereo headphones hooked up via spdif, will I get the gaming benefits?

2.) Over optical out, is here any quality or feature difference between a basic Z and the ZXR, or is the difference primarily for the plethora of analogue inputs and outputs?

In other words, or my planned use, will I get the gaming benefits, and would a ZXR just be wasted money over the base model?
 

devman

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Zarathustra[H];1039737654 said:
I plan on using optical out to a dedicated external DAC for my quality music listening. Analog outputs will only be used for a set of mid range desktop 2.1 speakers.

So I guess my questions are as follows:

1.) Are all the gaming/3d positional features outputted to the optical connector? In other words, with a set of stereo headphones hooked up via spdif, will I get the gaming benefits?

2.) Over optical out, is here any quality or feature difference between a basic Z and the ZXR, or is the difference primarily for the plethora of analogue inputs and outputs?

In other words, or my planned use, will I get the gaming benefits, and would a ZXR just be wasted money over the base model?
For #1, you set the digital output to Dobly Digital Live or DTS Connect and have an external amp capable of using either DDL or DTS-C to create virtual surround. The Astro MixAmp, for example, can decode Dobly Digital via S/PDIF to use with Dobly Headphone. I don't know of any external amps that can use DTSC, but they might exist.

As for #2, if your going to use a digital signal, then I would just buy the cheapest sound card that can output DDL on S/PDIF and call it a day. Some motherboards even support DDL over S/PDIF with onboard audio chips and you wouldn't even need an add in sound card.
 

Zarathustra[H]

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For #1, you set the digital output to Dobly Digital Live or DTS Connect and have an external amp capable of using either DDL or DTS-C to create virtual surround. The Astro MixAmp, for example, can decode Dobly Digital via S/PDIF to use with Dobly Headphone. I don't know of any external amps that can use DTSC, but they might exist.
Hmm..


Reading the specs for the unit I was planning on getting I see no mention of DDL or DTS-c. It uses a Crystal Semiconductor CS8416 as an SPDIF input receiver, and an AKM4399 for D/A conversion, and the spec sheets for these aren't very helpful either...

I'll have to email the company.
 

devman

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Zarathustra[H];1039738188 said:
Hmm..


Reading the specs for the unit I was planning on getting I see no mention of DDL or DTS-c. It uses a Crystal Semiconductor CS8416 as an SPDIF input receiver, and an AKM4399 for D/A conversion, and the spec sheets for these aren't very helpful either...

I'll have to email the company.
If it isn't mentioned in the marketing material or the spec sheet it is unlikely the DAC handles Dobly Digital Live or DTS Connect. Since both technologies have to be licensed it isn't something the manufacturer would likely forget to put in the spec sheet.
 

Zarathustra[H]

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If it isn't mentioned in the marketing material or the spec sheet it is unlikely the DAC handles Dobly Digital Live or DTS Connect. Since both technologies have to be licensed it isn't something the manufacturer would likely forget to put in the spec sheet.
Fair enough.

I just don't understand why the virtual surround isn't mixed into the two channels being outputted on the source side, rather than conforming to some third party standard requiring a hardware decode on the receiver side...

Makes no sense to me...
 

WetMacula

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Can someone with a ZxR please measure the ACM cable length? Anyone ever find out why the original shipments were pulled?
 

Bigjohns97

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Has anyone thought about using an RCA Y splitter to be the extra 2 channels on a 7.1 home audio setup?

I am probably going to go try this tomorrow.

http://www.frys.com/product/5524840?source=googleps&gclid=CMr8o6HJoLYCFQ8GnQodQw8A8A

I know this won't get me discrete rear and side seperation but i really don't care this is just for music and i have a hole in my soundfield now with only 5.1

Does anyone know is doing this will result in a loss of db or power on the rear channels?

I would think not but now i am wondering it being analog and all.
 

janko10

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Can someone with a ZxR please measure the ACM cable length? Anyone ever find out why the original shipments were pulled?
There's a review on Amazon where the reviewer says the audio quality is significantly degraded when using headphones via the ACM vs. plugging them in directly into the card. Perhaps from that.
 

WetMacula

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Just installed mine. Only played a few flac files and 10 minutes of Bioshock and it sounds slightly better than the Titanium HD. I never use any of the Creative effects. I tried plugging directly into the card and plugging into the ACM and did not notice any significant change in quality. Was hard to tell because it's tricky to get the volumes identical. Just ordered (2) cheap 6-ft extensions and hope they work. About 60$ dollars of this card is in the unnecessary packaging and extra cables. Could have done without that. I'm also not happy about the egregious choice to use that shiny black plastic. It's cheap, reflects light, and attracts fingerprints. Consumer electronics designers need to stop using smooth reflective plastics.

My volume knobber is not quite concentric when you spin it. Anyone else have a wonky knob?
 
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Gmok Bonecrusha

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Just installed mine. Only played a few flac files and 10 minutes of Bioshock and it sounds slightly better than the Titanium HD. I never use any of the Creative effects. I tried plugging directly into the card and plugging into the ACM and did not notice any significant change in quality. Was hard to tell because it's tricky to get the volumes identical. Just ordered (2) cheap 6-ft extensions and hope they work. About 60$ dollars of this card is in the unnecessary packaging and extra cables. Could have done without that. I'm also not happy about the egregious choice to use that shiny black plastic. It's cheap, reflects light, and attracts fingerprints. Consumer electronics designers need to stop using smooth reflective plastics.

My volume knobber is not quite concentric when you spin it. Anyone else have a wonky knob?
I have a TiT HD. Is it really worth the swap?
 

WetMacula

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For sound quality alone and if you are a working class slave like me then...no, but I wanted the remote volume knob and 1/4" jack and microphone. Also adds the ability to switch between speakers and headphones in software, which is still more difficult than it should be. They should add a toggle in the tray icon. I don't have speakers now, but when you switch it the click of a relay can be heard. The drivers are much better and painless to install. I did have some trouble restarting after changing out the cards. It would hang before post until the motherboard was powered down. going to test this more tonight. I still think all the effects are a gimmick but nice to have. The microphone seems clear when testing. No static or popping so far but I still need to give it a good test drive. Mine is in the bottom slot of an Asus Z68 pro, below (2) 580's. I use Sennheiser 595's. I can't figure out how to enable ASIO or if it's even worth it. Tried Winamp with the japanese plugin but a creative dialog came up saying no device supports ASIO. My biggest complaint so far is the volume knob rubs slightly in the hole. It must have been soldered on at a slight angle. I don't want to remove the rubber pad to take it apart and look. For the money, I think the fit should be better.

Another potential concern if you want to drive 600ohm cans:
http://forums.creative.com/showthread.php?t=699412

Well the ZXR should be capable of 80mw into 600ohms, but I saw an excellent review including all the relevant tests that shows maximum output to 600ohms is 5.4v which is equivalent to 48.6mw, which is just over half the rated spec. False advertising, and rather disappointing given the competing product (Asus Essence STX) is capable of the full 6-7vrms, or 80mw, in similar tests (both by the same reviewer and by other independent reviews). Frankly I think you're better off going back to your receiver.
He does not cite the "excellent review" though.
 

Devastadus

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I installed my ZxR about a week ago. Comming from a Xonar STX i really like it. I honestly can't tell the difference between the ZxR and STX when using AKG Q701s' Audio-Technica ATH-A900's or Grados Sr325i's. When playing games the SBX virtual 3D sound when using headphones sounds good, but i can not say if it is better then Dolby Headphones on the STX. They seems very similar.

One nice thing i notice is if you play games, then music or whatever, on the STX if you do not have your sound channels or dolby headphone set correctly the sound will sound funny. This is not the case for the ZxR. Also using just Z-5500's sounds a lot better using the ZxR rather then optical since the STX only supported 5.1 that way. I can not commet on the Scout mode, I honestly haven't tried it but it dosen't seem to distort audio if left on playing other forms of media.

I also do not have issues with the volume knob, or any problems or beef with the card except $250 is steep
 

KILLER_K

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Honestly it will be hard to hear what you hear in a video. As depending on what sound card they have, they may or may not even hear the difference from what you do. Plus if you are going to do a compare, you need to use the same places for both cards. As random places for both cards will not do anything. But glad you like your new sound card.
 

janko10

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I have a quick question about the HD/Front panel header on the card. If I plug that into the card and then plug my headphones into my case front panel, does that still take advantage of the headphone amp? Or do you have to plug directly into the back of the card (or ACM but I just got the regular Z) to take advantage of the headphone amp output?
 

spaceman

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The best I can say about the Z is that game sounds are delicate. You can hear that faint sound of someone moving clearly that you just missed with previous sound cards. For music, maybe a bit more detail but otherwise similar. It is gaming sound that you really get an improvement over previous cards.
 

Happy Hopping

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As mentioned before, the only Burr Brown DAC in the Z line is the ZXR, every other one uses a Cirrus Logic DAC. The TiHD uses a Burr Brown DAC (PCM1794) which is the same one most people claim are on the ZXR.

.
Say I do not use headphone but I'll be using this set of speaker:

http://audioengineusa.com/audioengine-A5plus-tech

what sound card would you buy? As it only accept mini-jack in, and those stereo Right/Left in

Now, I do have an integrated amp., a yamaha RXR 573, but those 5.1 speakers are constantly on, watching Tv or movie while I use the PC, so the chance that I can connect from any sound card to that yamaha is almost zero.

The only time I can do it, would be to play a good video game, and connect from the optical out of a sound card to the input of the yamaha optical in. And I need a 35 Feet optical cable if I were to play a game, having optical out to the optical in of my yamaha.

And for causal use, that is, using my PC while watching TV, it's just for basic sound theme effect, card game at facebook etc.

Now, I am not remotely verse in the difference between Burr Brown DAC vs. Cirrus Logic DAC. Then there are some of you saying the capacitors used in ZxR is better than the Z. Having said all these, what should I go for w/ the above Audio Engine speaker?

Also, I'm out of my element when I come to that ACM, for people like us using just 2 speakers, do I need it?
 

spaceman

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Just get the Z. Any of the other models will give you a minimal improvement not worth the cost in this case.

Just plugging the speakers into the soundcard directly AND enabling SBX pro studio will give you the best gaming sound.

Wetmacula: If you buy this card and do not use sbx pro studio, you are missing the best gaming sound available today. Do not judge this card until you try it. There is a distinct difference.
 

WetMacula

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I've only owned the ZxR for a few days but systematically experimented with every feature of the Titanium HD and ZxR, back to back, using Sennheiser 595 headphones (plugged directly into the Titanium HD with an extension and into the ACM on the ZxR. For headphone use, both of these cards are in a different class than the Z, Zx, or any legacy cards. The "sbx pro studio" in the Z series and "game mode" in Titanium HD is just marketing horseshit for a number of optional effects applied to the source audio. I've tinkered with all the options (mainly playing flac files in winamp and gaming) and still prefer the raw sound with no effects. I've experimented extensively with Creative's positional audio on the Titanium HD using different games and prefer the sound from the "audio creation mode" which leaves the source unmolested. I plan on doing more testing with the positioning (surround) effects on the ZxR. In Bioshock Infinite and BF3, the difference is not significant. Pretty sure some of these games already have positional audio coded in for stereo monitors or headphone use, but I really don't know. Audio is subjective. To say, "If you buy this card and do not use sbx pro studio, you are missing the best gaming sound available today. Do not judge this card until you try it" is nonsense. It's the hardware that matters here. I can say now, with some confidence, the ZxR does sound noticeably better than the Titanium HD. If you have a Titanium HD and are on the fence and can afford to part with $250, I think it is worth it when you factor in the ACM features, better drivers, and the ability to switch between speakers and headphones in software.
 

Ocellaris

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Just get the Z. Any of the other models will give you a minimal improvement not worth the cost in this case.

Just plugging the speakers into the soundcard directly AND enabling SBX pro studio will give you the best gaming sound.

Wetmacula: If you buy this card and do not use sbx pro studio, you are missing the best gaming sound available today. Do not judge this card until you try it. There is a distinct difference.
Considering Creative doesn't even post information about what SBX Studio "does" or how to best setup Wondows and games for it, I find this reccomendation dubious.

A lot of games handle their own virtual surround now.
 

spaceman

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What it does is essentially allows me to hear sounds in bf3 accurately. With my previous sound cards, asus and creative both, bf3 sound would get so muddled you could not tell where anything was. Now I can. Beyond that, I can't help you.

Using Sennheiser 558s analogue out into a huge, 50lb Boston acoustics avr 7120 as an amp btw.

All ears are different and to mine, the Z does the best job with bf3 which is essentially all I am/was looking for in my gaming pc.

Same as always, if you are looking for the best gaming sound and are not using digital or usb stereo, get a sound card. Right now, the Z is better than anything else out there around $100 imo.
 

Happy Hopping

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What it does is essentially allows me to hear sounds in bf3 accurately. With my previous sound cards, asus and creative both, bf3 sound would get so muddled you could not tell where anything was. Now I can. Beyond that, I can't help you.

Using Sennheiser 558s analogue out into a huge, 50lb Boston acoustics avr 7120 as an amp btw.

All ears are different and to mine, the Z does the best job with bf3 which is essentially all I am/was looking for in my gaming pc.
My ear is average. However, I don't want to buy the Z and the card failed in a few years. In other words, what's the quality of those capacitors in comparison to ZxR? If it can last say 6 years or so, I'll be happy.
 
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spaceman

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My ear is average. However, I don't want to buy the Z and the card failed in a few years. In other words, what's the quality of those capacitors in comparison to ZxR? If it can last say 6 years or so, I'll be happy.
If I could tell you that I would be able to see into the future. I would say probably. Mine has gold caps on it but who the heck knows? In 6 years, pc sound might be an afterthought as we have already been assimilated by the Borg.
 

Eldata

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My ear is average. However, I don't want to buy the Z and the card failed in a few years. In other words, what's the quality of those capacitors in comparison to ZxR? If it can last say 6 years or so, I'll be happy.
I just got off a 15 year old computer with Win98SE, Creative SB Live card and Iomega cartridge drive. Everything still works fine.
 

Porter_

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The "sbx pro studio" in the Z series and "game mode" in Titanium HD is just marketing horseshit for a number of optional effects applied to the source audio. I've tinkered with all the options (mainly playing flac files in winamp and gaming) and still prefer the raw sound with no effects. I've experimented extensively with Creative's positional audio on the Titanium HD using different games and prefer the sound from the "audio creation mode" which leaves the source unmolested.
i agree, i run everything in audio creation mode on my Titanium HD. i've done lots of subjective testing using HD650's and to my ears it is the best way to listen to music/games/movies.
 

Matthew Kane

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Ok, so it's been a while and I pulled apart my Titanium Fat Pro. Since the Z uses good Nichicon cap's, I've decided to recap all the Jamicons on my Fat Pro and swapped the SMD JRC4556A opamp out for a opamp soic 8 socket to enable opamp rolling as the Z come by stock with a better opamp for the amp section. I don't really play games but I had the Z for 1 week throughout this period of objective and subjective testing. My Fat Pro is hands down superior subjective wise, objective wise measurements through windows itself is a little bit better than the Z, I don't have access to oscilloscope so I cannot measure distortion and THD ratings.

What I found was the Z to be a little bit lean with certain music, slightly brittle. My modded Fat Pro has more depth, slightly more neutral with a tad bit of warmth to the sound. Gaming wise, the sound is more immersive sucks you in sort of detail, there is more extension to the sound effects going on in games. But for those that don't want to tinker, my vote goes for the ZX. If you're hardcore and want good quality opt for a good external amp and DAC. It was a fun process turning the Fat from a mediocre sound card to a pretty good card. Of course I can go further with the mods and add in a buffer stage to the DAC with MKP coupling caps for power filtering to reduce background noise and distortion, but too much work and I'm happy with what I have now.

Pic's to come soon.
 
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