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Soundblaster Z crackling sound


New Member
Jan 29, 2023
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It's been 9 years. Many things has happened during those 9 years.
During those 9 years have you never changed any other part of your system? It has always been the same old parts? Alot of consumer hardware do not really look too far into the future. It is really unpredictable in the consumer space and frankly a waster of RnD money. So your creative card was probably designed with the 9 years ago hardware landscape. Alot of newer hardware along those 9 years appeared that started to defy those expectations that use way more power and produce way more heat in a small area. The Creative engineers of that time simply didn't think that the inside of a computer case would attempt to expel so much heat out of box, and therefore did not take into account the surrounding heat would overwhelm their chips on their soundcard. Unless you tell me you have never upgraded your hardware, take note that there are alot of other heat sources in your PC that have increased in leaps and bounds during those 9 years. It accumulates until hardware decides its time to start giving up. Its beyond the thermal design of the hardware itself.

Secondly, don't you notice the weather has been going crazy lately. Do not take your room thermometer at face value. Don't forget things like humidity and how the heat really "feels like" after taking into account everything else. Some hardware eventually will take its toll after experiencing all these things. Especially hardware that is designed to work in an environment that was normal 9 years ago. It happens. Just deal with it. Its not like we can command the human race overnight to fix everything.
It's an interesting take for sure, but I'd have to disagree with you on the running hotter part. My PC is theoretically cooler and produces less heat than the very heavily OC'd i7 950 (130W) and GTX 770 (230W) that I replaced in early 2020. I'm now on a stock i5 9600k (95W) and RTX 2070 (175W). The audio cut-out didn't manifest itself until two years after the upgrade, but the "crackling" has always been there since I had that first gen i7 - again, regardless of OS and driver. The bigger variable is the constant heat cycling of the room over the years most likely weakening solder joints, and now that the card has "degraded," when the room is hot enough, starts to trip thermals in whatever IC does the digital encoding - the problem does NOT occur over analog (headphones) from my testing last week. I'm willing to bet some of the AE-5/7/9 owners experiencing audio cutting out for a split second may have a heat issue as well since that entire card is sealed up in metal and plastic garbage.
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Oct 15, 2011
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Springfield, Vermont
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I know I'm necroing an old thread, but I wanted to put in my experience.

I'm hooked up through optical to Z-5500s using the DTS encoder (I think the Dolby sounds gross imo). I have Smart Volume and Crystalizer on. I have the Zx's headphone remote plugged in too, for my 'phones. Full tower Corsair 750D case with all fans running through an analog controller. The card is an unobstructed straight shot from my 140mm fronts, with a one PCI slot gap between it and my 2070. Intel.

I've had my SB Zx since November 2013 and has technically been in two different builds of mine. I've had "crackling" (I'd call it distortion) for years upon years, regardless of the OS (I stayed on 7 up until 2020), motherboard, or CPU. To me it sounded like those robot voice filters, but I guess it does sound "crackly." Tried many different drivers and fixes but never found a solution. It'd happen randomly (primarily while watching videos/streams). I'd just restart, and voila, fixed. I've just dealt with it for years. I can't say any specific driver caused or fixed it, it's just always been there regardless.

MUCH more recently though (specifically since mid-winter) I started getting AUDIO CUT-OUT for a second or less. Never, EVER had it before. It'd happen randomly while watching videos, while playing games, or especially while playing a game with a stream playing in the background. It started getting worse as of the past several days, with the cutouts occurring more frequently between them. I tried the "new" driver, with "Sound Blaster Command." Didn't fix anything; same shit, different UI design. I tried those registry tweaks people are posting with many different values but it changed nothing. Switching the encoder on/off did nothing. Restarting did nothing, other than temporarily cool the card down...

Last night I took the card out, removed the red beauty cover, and removed the square plastic abomination covering the main IC (it's actually trapping heat under there; it is NOT a heatsink it's just a hollow chunk of plastic). I also stuck some tiny 8x8 aluminum heatsinks on three chips. The board is packed stupidly dense, so most of the heatsinks have barely any clearance to nearby components. I could NOT get an 8x8 comfortably on the main IC though, so that one is open air. That would have been a bit sketchy imo as an 8x8 heatsink would come dangerously close to some smt caps; 6x6 or smaller will be needed for that one and unfortunately those are hard to obtain. The red metal beauty cover is off and replaced with two M3 nuts to hold the PCI bracket on. I have NOT had the audio cut-out problem since. IMMEDIATELY fixed! Time will tell if I get the "crackles" though as they were more rare. Room is currently 76F.

I think the problem started in the winter because of space heaters and forced air running. I started realizing it'd happen if the room was around or over 75F. In summer the AC is constantly running, so... yeah... heat issue 100%. My question is: why has audio cut-out NEVER happened for 9 years until now? Maybe the BGA balls under the main IC are going bad? Maybe a reflow could help? There's also a very slim chance that it just needed to be reseated or the screws tightened (grounding?). I may do some more testing in the near future to see if I can remove the heatsinks and still be in the clear.
I keep getting the "every sound played cracks" bug on my Gigabyte GA F2A88X-D3HP motherboard. (socket FM2+) But it's OK with socket 1366, IMX.
Sep 18, 2015
7 (0.00/day)
That issue pissed me off one too many times. Turns out my Asus Z270-WS motherboard does support DTS Connect through the onboard S/PDIF. Just needed to install the drivers. I believe the only reason I did not do that earlier is that for many years Sonos Playbar did not support DTS. Now that it does it seems the far better option. The DTS Audio app installed together with the drivers is not working but that does not seem to be an issue. I get that "DTS Audio is unavailable for the specified audio device" popup when Windows start, but again not an issue apparently. You can setup DTS Connect/Interactive through that Realtek HD Audio Manager panel accessible from a taskbar tray icon. All seems to be working fine on Windows 11. Also unlike Creative dodgy solution the Windows volume control works, no need for that MasterVolumeSync tool. Moreover when no audio is playing, after a while, the audio stream stops which is perfect, yet again something Creative totally failed at.

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Feb 10, 2007
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Not related to soundblaster Z exept I use DTS on my integrated soundcard with modded driver and had same crackling again. Solution to the problem was:

Enable 'Stereo Mix', mute the stream, then enable 'listen to' (default device) to keep the DTS encoder always on.

https://ibb.co/477T74G | https://ibb.co/MVgzT5s

This will prevent crackling that occurs at start and end of a stream.