Overall, it is hard to find fault with the performance of the X-Fi XtremeMusic. The card performed flawlessly and offered exceptional audio performance in nearly every situation we presented. Despite the stellar results, there are a few chinks in the armor of the X-Fi XtremeMusic.
The lack of a standard digital output on the backplate is a bitter annoyance, especially with most higher-end speakers offering this as the ideal connection method. Creative could minimize this fault by at least including the 3.5mm TOS-Link adaptor users need to connect their digital speakers to the card. In addition, the card's $110 plus price tag would be a bit easier to swallow if it included the same X-Ram as its pricier siblings. Perhaps even 16-32MB would help justify the cost and perhaps even add a performance increase in games as an added bonus when it becomes more widely used. Lastly, the true Achilles' heel of the X-Fi is the lack of games that can truly harness its power and showcase its potential. Though the list of EAX-enhanced games is growing, it is far from showing up in all your favorite new titles. Hopefully, developers will continue their recent interest in game audio and we'll see see the same attention as graphics sometime soon.
New technology such as the 24-bit Crystalizer is a relative success. Although it did produce some unwanted sharpness on some tracks, it did make a positive impression on most lower-quality audio tracks. Typically, people will have to experiment with it and let the results speak for themselves.
Paired with a set of high-quality speakers, the Soundblaster X-Fi XtremeMusic offered an intense and realistic audio experience. Granted, the card's performance is not drastically different than its predecessors. Though a distinct improvement, it is more refinement than revolution. Those already gaming on an Audigy 2 or Audigy 4 might not be blown away by an upgrade to the X-Fi XtremeMusic, but they'll certainly appreciate the extra polish here and there.
Ironically enough, it seems as though the ideal customer for the X-Fi XtremeMusic is the hardcore or casual gamer that is using headphones. Here, the X-Fi has the most profound impact on the overall experience. CMSS-3D can have a dramatic effect on games and when combined with the crystal clarity the X-Fi XtremeMusic provides, it doesn't seem as though the audio could possibly get much better.
Overall, we'd have to commend Creative for the job they've done with the Soundblaster X-Fi XtremeMusic. Ever the pioneer in this industry, they've continued the forward progress they've been making the last few years with their Audigy line of sound cards and have reached a new level of performance. If you have the money to spend, you'd be doing your ears and your gaming experience a favor by purchasing any soundcard based on the new X-Fi chipset. Just be sure to do the card justice and get a set of high quality speakers or headphones that can show what the card can truly do. With all this is mind, we give the Soundblaster X-Fi XtremeMusic a Hot Hardware rating of 8.
|•_Incredible PC Audio
•_Amazing Headphone Audio Quality
|•_MSRP Seemingly Too High
•_Limited In-Game Performance Increase
•_Slow EAX Adoption