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Creative Sound Blaster Z Sound Card

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#1
Creative's long awaited new line of sound cards is here. Today, we take a thorough look at the new entry-level model called "Sound Blaster Z". The sound card comes equipped with the new Sound Core processor and Creative even bundles it with a decent microphone.

Show full review
 
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#2
Solid review. I've been thinking about a SoundCore based card for a while now, but I can't pull the trigger for one simple reason; they dropped support for 7.1 analog speakers in the move from the X-Fi series. I find this particularly amusing because the 7.1 analog speakers I want to use are Creative brand, the same set I've used since my Sound Blaster Audigy Value, nearly 8 years ago now. I had an Audigy 2 ZS after that, and then a Rocketfish Branded X-Fi-driven card when Creative was a little slow to adopt functioning Vista drivers for my A2 ZS. Eventually, I just bought four 3.5mm Male-to-Male Audio Cables to replace the proprietary Creative cable on my 7.1 speakers and use my onboard Realtek.

The gaming market didn't really go the way Creative seems to have expected it to. EAX, while somewhat popular for a while there, has largely disappeared in titles as of late. A lot of their technology hinges on developers actually implementing it. And I think the general gaming public puts a lot more emphasis on visuals than they do audio, lessening the incentive for developers to bother with it. That and on-board solutions have improved leaps and bounds above even just a few years ago.

I love the concept of a quad core sound card, though, and if they eventually implement 7.1 again in future models, I'd probably give them another shot.
 
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#3
"Driver suite is memory intensive at over 80 MB RAM"
I don't see any problem here, wer'e not at the year 2003 anymore :)
 
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#4
Nice review... noticed on page 4, the last two dialog images are swapped.
 

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#5
I completely agree about the unnatural gain. My SB Recon3D has a similar problem. Creative attempted to substitute a proper OPAMP circuitry with brute gain on its headphones jack. Anything above 20% software volume is intolerable, and quite some fidelity is lost at that volume. The line-out jack is too weak for my cans. The front-panel jack uses a cheap ribbon-cable between the card and the jack. Creative's approach to the headphone amp jack is similar to Realtek's recent attempts at compensating for its cheap sub 90 dBA SNR CODECs with high gain. Most recent Creative cards are not for audiophiles at all.
 

Paramount

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#6
nice review but

very nice review ..the sound core 3d is the same that found in previous disappoint gen Recon3d..so the Z series the same hardware with software tweaking
i dont want to buy sub 100 $ sound card does not support 7.1 surround ! Asus have better option like Xonar DX.:)
 
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#7
...and I wouldn't call G-Luxon nor Fujicon "pretty standard" - they're utter shit. But this card is geared towards busting eardrums, and not audiophiles, so it was to be expected.
 
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#8
There is nothing going on;on that card. Like a fancy car stripped to nothing. All I see is a shroud with 2 leds.
 
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#9
I know Windows 7 is still the main cheese around here but I wish this test was done in Windows 8. Other than that it was a great review! Thanks.
 
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#10
How this card rated a 9 is beyond me. :confused:
 
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#12
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#13
I owned an Audigy MP3+ PCI and vowed it would be my last Creative card. Several years later I was in Circuit City when they were closing the doors and against my better judgement picked up an X-Fi Titanium Fatality. I have since renewed my vow that this will be my last Creative soundcard. I still believe that they make decent hardware but their software is pure CRAP.
 
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#14
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#15
I know Windows 7 is still the main cheese around here but I wish this test was done in Windows 8. Other than that it was a great review! Thanks.
I think I will go dual boot for a while just need a bigger SSD 120 GB is not enough for two OS + game and applications :p

Cheers,
Fred
 
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#16
How this card rated a 9 is beyond me. :confused:
The card performs well for the price and has a few novel features and a well implemented microphone and EQ system. It is good enough to drive most headphones and headsets.

Main issue is the insane gain of around 10x (estimated I have a O2 with 6.5x gain and the SBZ has more) which is just absurd with today's headphones. A gain around 2.5x to 4x would probably be ideal.

I hope this makes sense.

Cheers,
Fred
 
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#17
I completely agree about the unnatural gain. My SB Recon3D has a similar problem. Creative attempted to substitute a proper OPAMP circuitry with brute gain on its headphones jack. Anything above 20% software volume is intolerable, and quite some fidelity is lost at that volume. The line-out jack is too weak for my cans. The front-panel jack uses a cheap ribbon-cable between the card and the jack. Creative's approach to the headphone amp jack is similar to Realtek's recent attempts at compensating for its cheap sub 90 dBA SNR CODECs with high gain. Most recent Creative cards are not for audiophiles at all.
I agree here it is far from optimal and it is the main real issue with these cards. If you plan on using them with a set of very high impedance headphones it might be a pro, but I doubt that many die hard gamers will do that.

Cheers,
Fred
 

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#18
So is there a pain free way to reduce the gain?
 
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#19
I think I will go dual boot for a while just need a bigger SSD 120 GB is not enough for two OS + game and applications :p

Cheers,
Fred
No I understand man. I get ya. My point was more because of drivers and the new OS. I don't know if you remember Creative and the Vista debacle.

Again the review was great. I just would like more info for us Windows 8 adopters.
 
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#20
Actually even the modern systems can't keep up with proper 3D sound. Play any EAX 4.0 or EAX 5.0 title and you can clearly see a performace difference between X-Fi and onboard soundcard.
The lagged game feel was so annoying i couldn't play much with the onboard.

But i'd really wish Creative would make a proper APU (Audio Processing Unit), bump up the specs a bit (256 3D sounds wouldn't hurt) and push EAX a bit more. All the software 3D positioning engines are rubbish and i miss the EAX 4 already in most of modern titles. Hell, most of them sound and feel a lot better if you use ALchemy on them though it doesn't work on all of them.
 
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#21
The only card for me to even think about switching to would be the ZxR.
I like my Titanium HD
 
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#22
No I understand man. I get ya. My point was more because of drivers and the new OS. I don't know if you remember Creative and the Vista debacle.
Again the review was great. I just would like more info for us Windows 8 adopters.
I totally get it and I remember all Creative driver shenanigans :)
 
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#23
Good review. A couple of things though:

One of the unsung heroes on these cards is the Dialog Plus feature for me. I can't see any review anywhere supporting this feature and I feel this is pretty overlooked. I do not watch any movie without it, because it makes the dialog that much clearer.

Creative includes a new quad-core sound processor on its Sound Blaster Z series cards. The processor can basically handle all the signal processing you might want. True hardware acceleration only works with ALchemy supported titles, but it is highly overrated since any modern PC will easily handle the miniscule load generated through the audio of games.
I have to disagree completely with this statement. I tried playing several games with EAX software processing and it was absolutely terrible. CPU usage on cores would randomly spike to unreasonable levels, which in turn causes sound stuttering, delayed audio, etc. To add insult to injury, it sounded worse than onboard with muddled sound due to the driver latency. I would like to add that these cards work nearly flawlessly with any EAX enabled game in Windows 7 -- I cannot say the same for my Xtreme Gamer, at least not in Windows Vista/7/8.

I completely agree about the unnatural gain. My SB Recon3D has a similar problem. Creative attempted to substitute a proper OPAMP circuitry with brute gain on its headphones jack. Anything above 20% software volume is intolerable, and quite some fidelity is lost at that volume. The line-out jack is too weak for my cans. The front-panel jack uses a cheap ribbon-cable between the card and the jack. Creative's approach to the headphone amp jack is similar to Realtek's recent attempts at compensating for its cheap sub 90 dBA SNR CODECs with high gain. Most recent Creative cards are not for audiophiles at all.
Getting the right settings out of these cards takes a lot of messing around with the equalizer. I have about 4 different gaming profiles, 3 different movie profiles and 7 different music profiles. Having the right one with the right task makes all the difference between a good and a terrible sound. Oh, and turn off THX TruStudio Pro when listening to music, especially with headphones, because they will ruin the sound of any song on anything other than speakers.

Your last sentence I don't get at all -- I don't ever remember these being marketed as audiophile-grade cards, so the complaint seems unfair. These are a hassle-free GAMING AUDIO upgrade from on-board audio with the best game compatibility -- that's it. This may not sound like much, but Xonar have nothing that can compare to this thing in terms of compatibility -- anybody that has used any Xonar's horrible GX emulation knows that for a fact.

Unless you're running XP, most definitely yes.

I owned an Audigy MP3+ PCI and vowed it would be my last Creative card. Several years later I was in Circuit City when they were closing the doors and against my better judgement picked up an X-Fi Titanium Fatality. I have since renewed my vow that this will be my last Creative soundcard. I still believe that they make decent hardware but their software is pure CRAP.
It's the other way around now. This is the most hassle-free sound card I've ever had and I've gone through several Xonars -- but it's definitely not the best sounding for anything other than games, by any means.

Actually even the modern systems can't keep up with proper 3D sound. Play any EAX 4.0 or EAX 5.0 title and you can clearly see a performace difference between X-Fi and onboard soundcard.
The lagged game feel was so annoying i couldn't play much with the onboard.

But i'd really wish Creative would make a proper APU (Audio Processing Unit), bump up the specs a bit (256 3D sounds wouldn't hurt) and push EAX a bit more. All the software 3D positioning engines are rubbish and i miss the EAX 4 already in most of modern titles. Hell, most of them sound and feel a lot better if you use ALchemy on them though it doesn't work on all of them.
I totally agree. Comparing software emulated EAX to hardware-accelerated EAX is like comparing Nvidia's PhysX on a CPU vs on a dedicated GPU.


P.S. if these sound card had a blue colour casing I'd seriously consider moving up to a ZX/ZXR from my Recon3D Fatal1ty (I'm wondering just how much of an improvement these are compared to my Recon3D). And for God's sake Creative, either dim the stupid LEDs, completely get rid of them, or use tri-colour ones and let us decide the colour co-ordination and brightness level through the driver inside our rigs.
 
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#24
The card performs well for the price and has a few novel features and a well implemented microphone and EQ system. It is good enough to drive most headphones and headsets.

Main issue is the insane gain of around 10x (estimated I have a O2 with 6.5x gain and the SBZ has more) which is just absurd with today's headphones. A gain around 2.5x to 4x would probably be ideal.

I hope this makes sense.

Cheers,
Fred
It may indeed perform well but the score is out of line, maybe a 7 or 7.5 at best but definately no 9, just being realistic :eek:

I know you gotta keep samples coming in but don't muddy the waters, please :toast:
 
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System Name Dark Silence 2
Processor Intel Core i7 5820K @ 4.5 GHz (1.15V)
Motherboard MSI X99A Gaming 7
Cooling Cooler Master Nepton 120XL
Memory 32 GB DDR4 Kingston HyperX Fury 2400 MHz @ 2666 MHz
Video Card(s) AORUS GeForce GTX 1080Ti 11GB (1950/11000 OC Mode)
Storage Samsung 850 Pro 2TB SSD (3D V-NAND)
Display(s) ASUS VG248QE 144Hz 1ms (DisplayPort)
Case Corsair Carbide 330R Titanium
Audio Device(s) Creative Sound BlasterX AE-5 + Altec Lansing MX5021 (HiFi capacitors and OPAMP upgrade)
Power Supply BeQuiet! Dark Power Pro 11 750W
Mouse Logitech G502 Proteus Spectrum
Keyboard Cherry Stream XT Black
Software Windows 10 Pro 64-bit (Fall Creators Update)
#25
I have an Auzentech X-Fi Forte but we haven't got any driver updates for ages and i'm really into trying something new again. But i'm unsure what to think of. Raw SNR is on the Forte's side but everything else might be better on a new card.

From the charts, all Z cards are the same, only difference are the extras (daughter card, desktop dock or microphone). And the ZxR supposedly has higher SNR. But i have no use for the daughter card and it would be a waste of 180 EUR if i'd only use half of it anyway...

I'd really need to hear it myself to tell the difference, these reviews don't really tell you much. It's a shame that no one puts enough effort to accurately compare soundcards. For me, sound is far more important than graphic cards, but since the whole audio part of the gaming is pretty much stagnating, it's really crappy time for me. If anyone remembers the days of Aureal Vortex and Creative competition knows what i mean. And the sound evolution was the greatest back then up to EAX 4.0 when it pretty much stopped dead. Ppl would be more into all thi if someone actually cared about it. But it seems like Creative doesn't give a damn either. For no reason, EAX was imo one of the most ground breaking things in gaming audio. System Shock 2, Thief and NFS3 without EAX wouldn't even nearly be what they were with it. A skin crawling symphony to the ears.
 
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