Creative Sound Blaster ZxR Versus Onboard Audio

Introduction & Specifications

Back in the day (which, for you youngsters, is a scientific measurement of time reserved for anyone who used to walk to school during snowstorms, uphill, both ways), integrated audio solutions had trouble earning respect. Many enthusiasts considered a sound card an essential piece to the PC building puzzle. Depending on how far your PC gaming roots go back, you may recall fierce competition in the discrete audio space between AdLib and Sound Blaster, two heavy hitters that pretty much pioneered the category.

While AdLib would eventually end up as a footnote in the history of PC audio, the Sound Blaster brand lives on. It's been 25 years since the first Sound Blaster card was introduced, a pretty remarkable feat considering the rise of contenders between then and now, as well as the diminished reliance on discrete audio in the gaming community. Whereas a sound card once played a crucial role in offloading audio tasks and freeing up CPU cycles for higher framerates, today's multi-core processors aren't bogged down by onboard audio solutions. Gamers aren't as quick to adopt discrete audio solutions these days, but rather than throw in the towel, Creative has managed to reinvent its Sound Blaster line time and again to draw interest from gamers and audiophiles alike.

Sound Blaster ZxR Stock

Today we're looking at the Sound Blaster ZxR, Creative's flagship audio solution for PC power users. It's also one of three available cards in Creative's ultra high-performance Z-Series of sound cards, the ZxR being the top-end solution. It boasts a signal-to-noise (SNR) of 124dB that Creative claims is 89.1 times better than your motherboard's integrated audio solution. It also features a built-in headphone amplifier, beamforming microphone, a multi-core Sound Core3D audio processor, and various proprietary audio technologies.

On the following pages we'll examine the Sound Blaster ZxR in detail and figure out what kind of audience is best suited for a card of this caliber. To do that, we'll compare the ZxR to onboard audio and offer up some subjective analysis based on what we hear, as well as look at any potential impact in gaming performance. Enough chatter, let's get started.

Creative Sound Blaster ZxR Sound Card
Specifications & Features
Audio Processor:
Audio Resolution:
Digital Audio Converter (DAC):
Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR):
Maximum Playback Quality:
Frequency Response @96kHz:

Frequency Response @192kHz (Stereo Direct Only):
16-bit to 24-bit Recording Sample Rates:
16-bit to 24-bit Playback Sample Rates:
Maximum Recording Quality:
I/O Ports (Main Card):

I/O Ports (Daughter Card):

Audio Control Module / Front Panel Connectivity:

600 Ohm Amplified Headphone Output:
Swappable OP-AMPs:
Included Accessories:
Compatible With:
Sound Core3D
5.1: Up to 96kHz
Stereo Direct: Up to 192kHz
Front Channel Out: 10Hz to 45kHz
Rear Channel Out: 15Hz to 45kHz
Center Out: 10Hz to 45kHz
Headphone (33 ohms): 10Hz to 45kHz
Front Channel Out: 10Hz to 88kHz
8, 11.025, 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48, 96 (kHz)
8, 11.025, 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48, 96, 192 (kHz)
Up to 24-bit/96kHz
Headphone: 1 x Amplified 1/4-inch jack
Speaker Out: 2x RCA (L/R) 2x 3.5mm jacks (Rear, C/Sub)
Microphone In: 1x 1/4-inch jack
Line In: 2x RCA (L/R)
Optical Out: 1x TOSLINK
Optical In: 1x TOSLINK
Volume Control Knob Built-in Beamforming
Headphone Out: 1x 3.5mm jack, 1x 1/4-inch jack
Microphone In: 1x 3.5mm jack, 1x 1/4-inch jack
80mw TI TPA6120r
Audio Control Module (with Beamforming microphone built-in)
PC - PCI-E x1 Connection
Windows 7/8, Mac OS X
12 Month
$249.99 MSRP ($199 street) -- Find it @ Amazon

In case the specs didn't make it clear, Creative is promoting studio grade playback and recording. The card has Burr-Brown ADC/DACs, Nichicon "Fine Gold" capacitors, and a 600ohm headphone amp for clean audio. In plain people speak, this isn't a sound card built strictly for gaming, but also professional quality audio for musicians and audiophiles, too.

There's a lot going on with this two-card solution. We'll talk more about that in a bit, but in the meantime, don't fret if you're short on ports -- the daughtercard doesn't actually plug into a PCI-E slot, though it does screw into an available slot-mount (and connects to the main card via the included ribbon cable).

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