Technology: 24-bit Crystallizer
Is it possible to make sound recorded with lower precision (bitrate) sounding better then originally recorded? That's one of the essential questions that needs to be answered in this part of the review. What am I saying here? Can recorded sound be played back in a more realistic and real way? Bringing it closer to the original sound?
With the sheer amount of calculation power that the X-Fi processor has it has some reserves harbored in the what'll call SPU from now on (Sound Processing Unit). You all have heard about techniques called up and down sampling right? For example if you have a DVD that you'd like to output to a HDTV screen on 1080i then you can buy a HD upsampling DVD that can up sample that 6x0 resolution towards 1920x1080i. Such a similar process yet way more advanced is what I believe the 24-bit crystallizer is doing.
Traditionally in a recording studio in the process of recording CD quality audio a lot of information is recorded and lost in the conversion to 16-bit (16 bits of information per taken sound sample) CD precision. The 24-Bit crystallizer should restore that studio quality music in, to me, a very puzzling process. In short, 16 bit music will be played back as a 24 bit recording, at least that's what Creative is telling me.
Personally I think that once you record music at lower quality, the loss in information never can be restored 100% as it isn't in the recording anymore, you'd need to make a best guess. However in all fairness, just like we see on graphics cards doing anti-aliasing, we can improve the image quality by taking samples from point A and B versus timeframe and calculate the best possible in-between solution. So in essence my theory is that the Crystallizer makes a calculated decision on how the sound should have been recorded in the first place. Intriguing idea huh? This however is my best guess and explanation on how Creative approaches this matter.
I've been playing around with this feature for hours as I write this and have to conclude, yes it honestly does work pretty well, I love it with my MP3's people. The entire dynamics or precision in sound quality seems to be a small notch better but you have to listen, listen and listen and once you get used to the Crystallizer process you'll probably not want to go back and disable this feature.
Technology: 3D CMSS
Pretty much everybody that owns an Audigy soundcard knows these days what CMSS is. You make stereo sound into surround sound.
Creative Multi-Speaker Surround takes your stereo audio files and creates a simulated 5.1-channel effect over standard stereo speakers or a set of headphones using Creatives upmixing/downmixing/headphone-spatialization technology. With the X-FI soundcards Creative tries to introduce 3D CMSS, it's nothing new though. If you own an Audigy card with the latest drivers then open up your EAX Console and notice CMSS 3D is already there. X-Fi is improving the process a little though.
You'll be allowed to playback 2-channel MP3's through all 7 speakers in a sort of hybrid 'Dolby Pro Logic Mode'. In simple wording, with stereo music everything will be upmixed to multiple channels. You have several selections available based on your requirements. For example if you playback a 2 channel stereo DVD (rare I know) you can upmix it to your 7 (or whatever) channel speaker solution and add simulated room acoustics.
3D CMSS technology however you should probably not use with music, really. When music is recorded in Stereo, just playback in Stereo.
You know what it's useful for? With movies being a popular download these days we have all these formats like XVID and DIVX, a large sum of these movies are recorded in 2 channel Stereo or DD sound. That's where 3D CMSS kicked bigtime ass. Much like Dolby Pro Logic, the spatial orientation of 3D CMSS kicked in bigtime as you get a feeling of a Dolby Digital movie. Voices are placed to the middle speaker, you can hear action in the rear, the explosions came from the subwoofer, yes Shrek 2 (Donkey rules!) was sounding awesome.
I know this is a bit of a subjective yet bold statement, but 3D CMSS on the X-Fi might even sound better then Dolby Pro Logic (2). Ehm, I don't think it can get much better then this with 2 channel mode movie. Of course Dolby Digital and DTS (ES) is the much preferred option here as it blows all this away.