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Saturday | December 10, 2016
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Creative Sound Blaster ZxR Review

Creative Sound Blaster ZxR Review

So we have seen recently what Creative have to offer for mobile users and those in need of an external desktop solution. On both occasions we pretty much couldn’t have been happier and so it was with great hope (and expectation) we began our Creative Sound Blaster ZxR Review. Let’s find out how it did…

Creative Sound Blaster ZxR Review – Packaging and Bundle

creative-sound-blaster-zxr-review-box creative-sound-blaster-zxr-review-bundle

The Sound Blaster ZxR arrives in a reasonably large box that features branding which fairly stands out. Creative have made a good decision to show the soundcard through a window, along with the control pod, which really helps to emphasise that this isnt a bog standard product. In the box, along with the main hardware, we get product documentation, software disc and some cables. These are two types of 3.5mm to phono, optical and a ribbon cable which joins our sound card to its daughter board.

Creative Sound Blaster ZxR Review – The Sound Blaster ZxR

creative-sound-blaster-zxr-review-soundcard creative-sound-blaster-zxr-review-card

The PCIe 1x based Sound Blaster ZxR is shown above and the first thing that stands out is some nice styling. We get a quality metal cover which minimises interference from other components, gold bracket on the end and a view through to the multi-core Sound Core3D processor. This takes audio processing tasks such as virtual surround sound and voice effects away from our systems CPU, leaving its resource free for other tasks.

Our daughter board is approximately half the length of the main card and does not require external power or a PCIe slot. It too features a Sound Core 3D processor, this time for recording functions.

Key Features:

Audio Fidelity 24bit/192Khz (96KHz in 5.1, headphone or recording modes)
SNR: 124dB
DTS Connect/Dolby Digital Live Support
ASIO/ASIO 2.0

Main Board Components:
DAC: Burr-Brown PCM 1794 for Front L/R, Burr-Brown PCM 1798 for Rear/Centre/Sub
Headphone AMP: TI 6120A2
OP AMPS: LM49710NA, NJM2114D
Capacitors: Nichicon Fine Gold

Daughter Board Key Component: Burr-Brown PCM 4220

creative-sound-blaster-zxr-review-outputs-inputs

Turning round to the end of the cards we see that the main PCB has 1/4″ output for headphone (amplified, inc, support for 600 Ohms) and input for mic, there are two RCA outs (left/right) and our rear and centre/sub connectors are 3.5mm. On the daughter board we get a further two RCA connectors (inputs) and optical in/out.

creative-sound-blaster-zxr-review-pod

As we noted earlier Creative also bundle a pod with their ZxR. This connects to our soundcard through the 1/4″ ports and Creative offer screw on 1/4″ caps for the pods 3.5mm connectors. We pass through audio from our headset using either 3.5mm or 1/4″ ports on either side of the pod and a large volume dial can be found in the centre. Also built in to this pod is a dual array noise cancelling condenser microphone with beamforming. Frequency response is 100Hz to 20kHz and sensitivity is -37dB.

Creative Sound Blaster ZxR Review – Software

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Creative offer a fairly hefty software suite with the ZxR which includes their WaveStudio, Audio Server and Smart Recorder applications. These allow us to share audio, record easily and tweak existing audio files. Also included in the bundle is Media Toolbox which allows us, amongst other things, to convert music from one format to another or attempt to fix low quality files. That said, it appears that it is only a time limited trial version of the Media Toolbox.

Our main software is the control panel and this provides much of the same functionality we recently saw on the Sound Blaster X7 review. We start with Pro-Studio which allows us to add virtual surround, enhance quality of files and boost dialogue clarity. Crystal Voice looks to maximise the quality through our microphone (e.g. noise reduction, echo cancellation) and also provides the option of enabling enhanced vocal effects such as making us sound like a robot, demon etc. Next scout mode enhances gaming audio, helping us hear our enemies more easily.

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Speaker/Headphone configuration is up next with the key feature being selection of the gain of our headset. We can enable Dolby and DTS tech in the next section and control various volume aspects in Mixer before moving to EQ and its various profiles.

Creative Sound Blaster ZxR Review – Conclusion

Creative are off to a great start on the ZxR when it comes to build quality. Across the product we get high quality Nichicon components, good quality op-amps and impressive DAC and ADC chips. The Sound Core3D processor is tried and trusted (the inclusion of two is fantastic) and it is a bonus to get the high quality shielding. The gold finish is also a nice touch and overall the design and port layout is good, with one exception. It would have been better if Creative offered a more visually appealing cable to connect the main PCB to the daughter board. If we were being really picky we would also like to have seen some discrete red LED lighting for the case modders and maybe a blank PCIe tab on the daughter board to add some extra stability for those who have slots free.

As far as value goes, that is pretty good. High build quality, decent bundle of cables and the control pod all add value. The software suite is also good, though at £175/$200 the full version of Media Toolbox should be included.

So that brings us to performance where Sound Blaster ZxR excels across the board. The weakest aspect? Probably the microphone on the control pod. It is decent, but not up to the standard of something like a Blue Yeti/Razer Seiren or Audio Technica AR2020. For those who are not pro- podcasters it will of course be more than sufficient though. Other than that though the ZxR oozes quality. In music playback the sound is spectacular, regardless of the audio genre. Wide, detailed soundscape. Loads of bass, no distortion of note and great separation across the range. It really is one of those cards which allows you to hear your music in a new, more detailed way when compared to the vast majority of PC audio solutions. In gaming and movies the sound was immersive, very realistic and with plenty of power when required. Scout mode also works well, allowing us to pick out sounds such as enemy movement more easily than normal.

Summary: Whether you are a mobile user (E5), in need of an external sound card (X7) for PC/console or want a PCIe card such as this, Creative have an exceptional product catalogue at the moment. The ZxR is a great mix of build quality, design, features and performance.

Gold Award

About Author

Stuart Davidson

3 Comments

  1. tygrus

    What’s the point of this and your similar reviews when it’s missing tests like: SNR, THD, dynamic range, output levels, testing of inputs and outputs, frequency response, latency, power consumption. You quote the basic specification sheet and everything else is subjective.

    • Yep, completely useless to even link to this ‘review’. But then again, seeing as the price is only around €200 it’s no wonder. You can never get 124 db SNR with an internal (in-case) ADC. Wonder how it’s weighed too, probably not A. This is just crap hardware with good extras. For the real deal we need to look further. It’s sad how in 2016 you STILL can’t seem to get both usability and high-end quality. We need those features with that headphones/speakers switchbox Creative offers for example PLUS actual audiophile quality. When will the pro audio industry wake up to that?

  2. Роман Романов

    Хорошая техника

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