I asked for two things for Christmas: a Creative X-Fi (Extreme Music) sound card and a UPS. I got the sound card, but I kinda wish I’d gotten the other now. Let’s run through a list of expectation I had and whether or not it fulfilled them.
Fixed Half-Life 2 sound stuttering? Yes.
Fixed sound in ATI MMC TV v8.8 ? Sorta. The echoes are gone, but there are still…issues.
Increased performance in games? Maybe. If so, it’s too insignificant to tell, but I’ve only tried HL2, Red Orchestra, and Doom 3 (1.3 patch with EAX 4).
CMSS would make stereo music sound better in surround? Not any better than the SBLive already did automatically.
Music would sound better overall? Not much. You can hear strings coming though more brilliantly. I probably just need new speakers to get anything better sounding.
The 24-bit 96khz output and 109db SNR will make a difference to sound? Can’t really tell, but then I haven’t really had anything that supports outputting this.
EAX 3, 4, and 5 will sound awesome in games? I can’t tell for this either. I tried Doom 3 with EAX 4, but it didn’t seem any different, albeit it was extremely creepy. I’ll have to try some more games.
I had a lot of expectations and most of them go unfulfilled. Even worse, it adds problems that the SBLive didn’t have. One good annoyance is the lack of inputs and outputs. Three functions are shared with in one jack (Line-In, Mic, and Digital Out)–this is unacceptable. I feel like there should definitely be an included breakout box or card. But they want to push the need for their expensive IO Drive and Console, neither of which have the necessary jacks for standard PC Mic and Line-in plugs.
Also, some features are of dubious value. The Crystalizer is just a glorified hardware EQ/Dynamics filter. The CMSS-3D Xpand Upmix adds too little to the surround, and the Surround Upmix is the same as how my SBLive always worked (non-surround output is just mapped to surround). Surprisingly, the X-Fi installation CD has even more crap on it than my SBLive one did. A lot of it is stuff that you can change in the Audio Console (about the only thing you need) and the rest of it is demo/gimmicky type stuff, like the 3DMidi player.
I’m just generally disappointed in this thing. It was all a lot of marketing hype and everyone, even the reviewers, bought into it. I’m thinking now that there’s nowhere else for audio technology to go. I think we’ve mastered reproducing sound–any further “fidelity” will go unheard. I think the future is more in trying to consolidate the workload and get all sound processing into hardware no matter what and off of the CPU.