Creative Sound Blaster ZxR Versus Onboard Audio

Setup and Software

Physical installation of the Sound Blaster ZxR is a cinch as long as you're careful and pay attention to the slot you're trying to shove the main card into. You can use any available PCI-E slot -- 1x, 4x, 8x, or 16x. The DBpro Daughter Card doesn't get inserted into a slot, though you will need to attach it to an existing expansion slot-mount on your case. Once you do, just connect the two cards using the included ribbon cable.

Klipsch ProMedia Ultra 5.1

We connected a set of Klipsch ProMedia Ultra 5.1 speakers to our test setup. Granted, these aren't studio grade speakers, but they are one of the best sets of multimedia speakers you can purchase for your PC without going broke. This speaker set boasts a 500-watt BASH amplifier, dual in-inch side-firing woofers, two-way Ultra 5.1 satellite speakers and mid-bass drivers, and up to 115dB of acoustic output.

Sound Blaster ZxR Installation

The Sound Blaster ZxR's quick start guide covers installation for a variety of speaker setups, and if you're connecting a 5.1 system like we did, the above is how you'd hook everything up. Note that the cable with the green connector coming from your 5.1 speaker setup will plug into the included Y-Splitter cable with red and white connectors. Everything else is pretty straightforward -- black goes to the 3.5mm Line Out 1 jack (Rear L/R) and orange goes to the 3.5mm Line Out 2 jack (Center/Subwoofer).

One other installation tip we should note -- when switching over to the Sound Blaster ZxR card, it's a good idea to uninstall your onboard audio's drivers and then disable onboard audio in the BIOS. And if you're running Windows 8.1, don't panic if you run into initial hiccups. On first boot, Creative's drivers looked at us funny and said they couldn't detect a compatible card. A simple reboot solved the problem, though digging around the web, other users have had luck reseating the card.

Sound Blaster ZxR Control Panel

The Sound Blaster control panel is your portal to tweaking the sound card and playing with the various proprietary technologies. In many cases, changes happen in real-time, which makes it easier to compare before-and-after effects, such as enabling Creative's Crystalizer technology.

Sound Blaster ZxR FX

You can adjust the equalizer and enable Dolby audio processing within the control panel, and then save your settings to a custom profile once you have everything configured just the way you want it. In addition, some of the doodads you'll run across are more novelty than anything else. The most obvious one is the FX portion of CrystalVoice. Creative's CrystalVoice technology is intended to deliver the best vocal fidelity possible and there are some settings that help with that, but the FX checkbox and ensuing options primarily there to goof off with. After you've played around with changing your voice into an alien's or making yourself sound like a robot a few times, you'll probably never play with it again, though it could come in handy if you're working on a special project.

Sound Blaster ZxR Software

Depending on how much of Creative's bundled software you want to install, you'll also have access to a music server, recorder, a wave editor, and more. It's a bit heavy handed if all you're wanting is a sound card for gaming and streaming music, but at least much of it is optional.

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