Creative Sound Blaster ZxR Versus Onboard Audio - HotHardware

Creative Sound Blaster ZxR Versus Onboard Audio

5 thumbs up
So we've determined that you're not going to side-step a video card upgrade to improve framerates by buying a discrete sound card -- today's multi-core processors and systems in general are far to powerful to be bogged down by in-game audio chores. But what about audio quality in music, movies, and games? That's what this section is all about.

Music and Movies


Sound Blaster ZxR Equalizer

Creative knows its core audience consists of gamers who want to feel that gut punch from deep bass, and out of the box, the Sound Blaster ZxR definitely delivers that kind of playback. We cranked the volume and fired "Shots" by LMFAO featuring Lil Jon, and when the bass line kicked in, we started to wonder about the structural foundation of our environment.

If the club atmosphere is what you're into, you'll love the stock performance Creative delivers. Otherwise, you'll want to spend some time tweaking the equalizer to fit your audio preference. Feeling lazy? Cycle through the preset configurations and see if there's one that suits you.

Once you fine tune the performance of the Sound Blaster ZxR, you'll be rewarded with a richer and cleaner listening experience than your onboard audio can deliver. That doesn't mean the $15 speaker set you picked up on a blue-light special at K-Mart will miraculously put you in the middle of a symphony, but if you're rocking a halfway decent set of speakers, they'll come to life.

Image Source: Flickr (MarkScottAustinTX)

A good test to see if you've balanced out bass performance with mids and highs is to play a Gangstagrass CD, and that's precisely what we did. The band's unique blend of rap and bluegrass makes it easy to see if the bass is overpowering and if anything else needs tweaking. Several songs offer up a mix of delicate vocals, the high pitch of a fiddle, twang of a banjo, and hard hitting bass. "Trouble Everywhere I Go" and "In My Aching Heart Shadows Linger" are two of the better examples for testing audio, and when we auditioned them, the Sound Blaster ZxR (once tuned) made it easy to separate the different elements.

Watching movies offered a similar upgrade experience, though perhaps not as pronounced since it's a more visual experience than an audio one. Still, the effects hit harder and cleaner, and of course you have Dolby technology to lean on as well.


Playing Games

One of Creative's proprietary technologies is something called Scout Mode. When enabled, it uses noise and echo cancellation along with some exclusive audio algorithms intended to help you hear your enemies sneak up on your from far away. Your mileage will vary depending on the game. We're a bit indifferent to the effect, though some gamers swear by it.

Metro 2033

Of much more interest to us is the overall boost in audio quality. Bombs and explosions hit harder, and subtle sound effects are not only more easily noticed, they're more crisp and realistic sounding, at least as much as your speakers will allow them to be. What that essentially means is that your speakers become the bottleneck for your audio when you're running a card like the Sound Blaster ZxR. There is a noticeably difference between onboard sound and the Sound Blaster ZxR when gaming, which is also true for music and movies.


Headphones

An increasing number of gamers have moved on from elaborate speaker setups to headphones, and this is an area where the Sound Blaster ZxR excels as well. Not only does the ACM make plugging headphones in convenient, but it has a built-in 600 Ohm amplifier to boost your audio (just make sure your headphones can handle the boost). Depending on the quality of headphones, the difference between onboard and the Sound Blaster ZxR is arguably most pronounced here.
 

Article Index:

1 2 Next
0
+ -

So I bought the Sound Blaster ZX and it also has the Audio Control Module. However, it has a problem where the sound quality is actually reduced if you plug your inputs into that instead of directly into the card, so I've foregone that module altogether.

 

Did you notice or was it known for that audio quality downgrade on this particular model's ACM? If not, I may consider upgrading. I love my ZX but it wouldn't hurt to have something that's better.

 

Here's the one I have now: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009XDWUCQ/ref=oh_details_o09_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

0
+ -

I stopped needing to buy a creative sound card back with the DFI LANparty UT NF4 SLI mobo that shipped with a Karajan sound module which was a daughter card to get some of the sound stuff way from the mono which added digital noise wayyy back in the day, a decade ago? Effects in games and audio music still sounded better on a creative or even a high end Turtle Beach Montego. After that HD and digital audio rolled became the norm and it seemed creative started releasing far more SKU's per product release and diluted its own marketshare. Cards like the ZxR still make me drool and no high end PC for any duty isn't complete without a discrete sound card!

Love the comparison review.

0
+ -

nfs3freak; I believe any ACM reduces the quality of audio versus direct input, but I could be wrong.

0
+ -

Thanks. I presume that's probably the case.

0
+ -

I have the old X-Fi fatal1ty, never tried onboard, so i wouldn't know the difference but I'm happy with what i got, so i would be glad to see this modern comparison to see if it even matters.

0
+ -

If you are referring to the PCI-Express version (Fata1ity Professional), it is roughly identical to the base Sound Blaster Z (and includes the identical software bundle and uses the same driver); my own factory-refurbished version even includes the same beamforming microphone included with the Sound Blaster Z/Zx/ZxR. The Fata1ity Pro replaced a PCI bus X-Fi low-profile XtremeGamer, which has a rather problematical addressing flaw at the 4 GB level - therefore problematical for x64 OSes (from anyone). The Fata1ity Professional - like the Z that succeeded it - will work in ANY PCI-Express slot - including that often-ignored x1 slot above the first x16 slot (which is where mine sits in my ASUS P5G41-M LX2, a mATX motherboard with the Intel G41 chipset). Also. both solutions work with SteamOS (they are detected as Intel HD Audio devices - which is proper) and any Linux distribution that supports Intel HD Audio.

0
+ -

I have always loved and used creative sound cards in my builds. My latest Z card is amazing and I'm glad I don't have to unplug my speakers to use my headphones.

0
+ -

Back in the days of Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 it was a must to have something separate. The onboard audio on the motherboard was junk and SoundBlaster had always been my go-to choice.

I currently (hangs head in shame) am using the onboard Realtek audio and it does a fine job, but I will be looking to do some recording and upgrading to a Z or better might make a huge difference from the onboard where I can't quite get the recording levels I want.

Time to upgrade? I'm thinking so.

0
+ -

WendellBeverly1:

Back in the days of Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 it was a must to have something separate. The onboard audio on the motherboard was junk and SoundBlaster had always been my go-to choice.

I currently (hangs head in shame) am using the onboard Realtek audio and it does a fine job, but I will be looking to do some recording and upgrading to a Z or better might make a huge difference from the onboard where I can't quite get the recording levels I want.

Time to upgrade? I'm thinking so.

yeah it was.. if you didnt have a Creative SB card.. your PC sucked lol. Now... I dont see the need. Personally im not an audiophile so im good with the onboard. The realtek setup with SB Cinema app is pretty good on the MSI gaming 5 mb

0
+ -

Anyone have any comparison for between a ZxR and the EVGA Z87 Classified (Core3D onboard)?

I have no complaints with the audio the board puts out, but I am always looking for improvement and I am curious if this would provide any real benefit from an audio quality standpoint.

1 2 Next
Login or Register to Comment
Post a Comment
Username:   Password: