Subjective Listening tests
Now performance and numbers are essential, but there is only one way to review a soundcard properly and that's listening to the actual product of course. It's quite subjective though as sound is really personal and also you are limited by the quality of your speaker setup.
What I believe to be a wonderful sound, in your ears can be horrid. My personal flavor in sound is a deep clear bass, average mid and high range of treble. We'll be listening to the sound reproduction with the help of Creative's 7.1 THX certified Gigaworks S750 7.1 speakers (review here). I'll be firing my usual suite of music and games at this soundcard, we'll start up the test by listening to multi-channel DVD playback.
DVD enthusiasts, you gotta hail the king!
A little extra thingy (Ed: thingy is of course, a highly technical term =P) I tried to enable 3D Creative MultiSpeaker Surround, or 3D CMSS for short. As I explained pages ago, this feature will simulate surround sound on two speakers (CMSS2) or it will simulate surround sound on 5.1 or 6.1 system from a stereo source (CMSS1). With multi-channel the effect is not subtle and actually is highly dis-recommended. Things change though when you are watching a movie that does not have multi-channel sound.
As stated earlier, XVID and DIVX, a large sum of these movies are recorded in 2 channel Stereo or 2.0 DD sound. That's where 3D CMSS comes in quite handy. Much like Dolby Pro Logic the spatial orientation of 3D CMSS kicked in nicely as you get a feeling of an Dolby Digital 5.1 movie. Voices are placed to the middle speaker, you can hear action in the rear, the explosions came from the subwoofer, yes Shrek 2 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 in this 2 channel mode. Of course Dolby Digital and DTS (ES) is the much preferred option here as it blows all this away.
CPU Utilization was on a 3.2 GHz Pentium 4 based system armed with a Radeon x800 XT PE, 2 GB memory was only 5% decoding a Dolby Digital track. And that's including your video decoding and the normal system processes.
Surround effects were undoubtedly excellent, as was the dialogue. It's hard to beat this kind of playback. Of course I played several DVD's to get a more objective overview and I launched a number of titles at it: Shrek 2, Ocean's Twelve, White Noise and Alexander which was a disappointment but hey, that had nothing to do with the sound effects. I can make a long story here, but this card has to be among the best for Dolby and DTS Decoding, period.
Music and MP3
Got a somewhat slow PC? Do you hate it when a MP3 file starts the sound crackling and is giving you hiccups if you try to multi-task? Well, there's just no chance of that with the Audigy 4 for sure. The DSP can do MP3 decoding accelerated in hardware, which leaves the computer's CPU free to perform other tasks.
CPU Utilization was less than and don't get scared now... 1%, obviously the entire process is offloaded to the X-Fi card.
The tracks I listen to where as always an acoustic version of Foo Fighters "Learning to Fly" and "Darling Nicky" was stated rich and full. I'm not an audiophile but once the lead singer starts screaming 'Nickeeeeh' and the soundcard can take it, hey then you have a safe buy. By the way there is something with the Crystallizer function that makes MP3 songs sound much more dynamic. I like that!
Will you look at the CPU utilization please ?
Don't shoot the messenger!! For loves sake and each mistake I listened to that eighties track "Solid" from Ashford and Simpson. Hah out of the tens of thousands of people that'll read this review likely five of you know what song I mean. Hey you're on the web, go google it! Sorry I grew up with these songs, welcome to my mysterious life (Ed: ie, Hilbert is old).
This title has sturdy mid range bass sounds, really clammy synths and good drums. If either your speakers or your soundcard distort you will notice it with this title for real. I listened a couple of minutes with total satisfaction and then got my groove on. It think... do I dare? Yes... it's time for Kate Bush, "Running up that Hill". Hmm, missing a little treble here. Probably the recording though. Oy .. cranking up the Crystellizer a notch makes it even more dynamic. Aah, how beautiful Kate Bush was in the 80ies and how much better she sounds with modern technology :) Katie, if you read this babe... call me.
Right Whigfield. Sexy eyes, nice chick, whatever happened to her? Anyway, I chose the song for the inmense bassline and drums her songs always had.I'm a sucker for that powerful dynamic sounding (not pounding) bass. That's the subjective part I told you about. No tweaking needed, full rich bass line, nice.
Well as always, since you can't do a soundcard review without at the very least listening to one classic masterpiece I always go for Prokofiev's Montagues and Capulets (Introduction) as played by the London Symphony Orchestra from Romeo and Juliet. Yes, the song is as long as its full title. Sound was deep and clear much like the Audigy series. Perfect strings, it's my favorite dramatic piece of classic music.
The X-Fi is a very good sounding card indeed. Let's pump up the volume a little.Yeah congratulate me please, the neighbors now officially hate me (Ed: they always hated you Hilbert, all those bad puns... =P).