With PC building, the last component you tend to look at, or not look at all is the sound card. Any PC gaming enthusiast would say that sound cards are only good for those with large surround sound systems or doing music production and therefore are not really worth the money. I am one of those enthusiasts. However things for me took a sudden and unexpected change when one of my friends was selling his six month old Creative ZxR sound card for a reasonable price of £100. I’m unsure what really tempted me, whether it was the fact that one of my housemates just loves to randomly blast his music at certain times of the day and I wan’t revenge, or the fact that £100 for a ZxR, regardless of my stance on sound cards, was the deal of the century.
Now, my friend isn’t a shady person, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the card nor was there any particular reason why he was selling it for that amount. He just didn’t want it anymore so he gave it to me at a ‘friend price’ which was fair enough by all means, especially seeing as it was well below the cheapest price you could get one for sale. But was it really worth all that money?
I’m not a music producer, nor do I have a very expensive or sophisticated system. (a 2.1 Creative Inspire S2 to be precise) So really in a way it was like adding a Nvidia 980 to an old bulb 600×800 monitor. Or at least that’s what I thought. But when I added the card to my PC, I immediately noticed a vast improvement in sound quality. It seemed as if the ZxR can quite literally turn any sound system into a home theatre.
The Soundblaster Pro Studio driver allows you to adjust basic and advanced settings at will as well as to enable virtual surround sound, which can sound better or worse depending on what you are currently doing. If you want things with a little more bass, then you may want to disable this feature. Speaking of bass, there is also a handy slider to adjust the subwoofer and overall bass frequency, which is brilliant if you have people you’re living with who hates bass travelling through the ceiling (like my family) as you can adjust it with a mere click of the mouse instead of leaning over to your subwoofer and adjusting the knobs on its side.
For films and certain high quality music files, there is also a ‘crystalizer’ slider that enhances their audio output and making them sound livelier. I noticed that this can make a big difference as you can quite literally pick up the smallest of sounds that you would never hear on motherboard audio or even cheaper sound cards.
There is also a setting called ‘scout mode’ which adjusts the sound quality for you to hear footsteps a lot clearer, which is great for gamers who play stealth games and FPS’s as it gives you a ‘distinct tactical advantage in combat.’
If you have a sophisticated sound system, you can also take advantage of the cinematic mode, where you can enable the on board Dolby surround sound as well as DTS Connect surround sound.
The sound card also comes with a headphone jack that allows you to control the volume of your headphones independently to your speakers. If you want to change your sound output from your speakers to your headphones, or vice versa, there is a small switch in Pro Studio that allows you to do so instantly.
So those are some rather interesting and impressive features right? Indeed it is rather sophisticated however whilst using the ZxR I did also notice a few minor flaws.
For starters going back to the headphone output, I immediately noticed that the sound randomly switches from left to right to centre and back to left. I have no idea why this happens, my friend who gave me the card never encountered it before nor could I solve the issue online. The only way I figured out to temporarily solve the problem was to quickly switch from headphones to speakers and back again. However most oddly, it stops doing it whenever I’m in a Skype call. So whether it’s just the card getting confused with its ‘dynamic sound’ output or not remains to be seen.
There is also an issue when switching from speakers to headphones as by doing so will crash Youtube videos or any other Flash programs, which can be a pain as you have to refresh the page in order for the video to work again.
Regardless of these faults, the Creative ZxR is still a brilliant piece of hardware which can really make people who disagree on soundcards think twice. It may have been a little overkill but I am rather glad I bought it as it has made a big difference in audio output, and not only that, I can also increase the volume and bass to almost double what it used to do before I installed it, which is great when I played the THX logo at full blast. (I think this is an accurate representation of what happened.)
Overall I highly recommend the ZxR for any high end gaming PC as it is quite literally the cherry on top of the cake. As long as you have a decent sound system to go with it for maximum performance.