Creative Sound Blaster Z and Zx Sound Card Review

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Creative Sound Blaster Z and Zx

For some time, we’ve shared our underwhelming experiences with sound cards and headsets with integrated audio processors that featured virtual surround sound. For the more modern implementations such as Razer Surround and Dolby Home Theater V4, simulated positional audio was hardly noticeable. The more extreme case is Dolby Headphone which degrades audio quality when it is enabled. Then there are true surround sound headsets, those that pack multiple drivers on different channels into each earcup. Those don’t work too well either to the point we have never recommended a headset on that feature alone. Positional audio is a desirable and much wanted feature gamers want, but obtaining a set of 5.1 or 7.1 speakers may be neither reasonably priced nor practical for some people.Creative Sound Blaster Z and Zx

Unfortunately for headphone users, it is an unattainable challenge to recreate the sound of six or eight speakers on just two speakers. However, some implementations are better than others and we listened to the few audio recordings on the internet that gave us the opportunity to listen to those implementations we previously were not able to experience. One in particular, Creative X-Fi CMSS-3D featured on the Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium sounded the best, providing the best virtual surround audio compared to its competition. We looked forward to a chance to get our hands on some hardware from Creative to thoroughly explore its capabilities.Creative Sound Blaster Z and Zx

Previously, we looked at the Creative Sound Blaster ZxR to which praised its capabilities including its unnamed virtual surround engine. Our primary criticism was the excessiveness of its features and pricing for most gamers especially when compared to the Sound Blaster Z and Zx cards, which this review focuses on. These two products use the same sound card and only differ by their bundled accessories. The Sound Blaster Z is available for $100.99 and the Sound Blaster Zx is available for $125.85 both on Amazon with free shipping.

Sound Blaster Z and Zx Features:

  • 116dB Signal-To-Noise Ratio
  • Sound Blaster Beamforming Microphone for Z or Accessible Audio Control Module (ACM) for Zx
  • 600 Ohm Dedicated Headphone Amplifier
  • SBX Pro Studio
  • Advanced home entertainment audio
  • Pristine audio recordings with ultra low latency
  • 24-bit / 192kHz audio output

Sound Blaster Z and Zx Specifications:

  • Audio Processor: Sound Core3D
  • Audio Resolution: 24-Bit
  • Digital Audio Convertor (DAC): Cirrus Logic
  • Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) (20kHz Low-pass filter, A-Wgt): 116dB
  • Maximum Playback Quality:
    • 5.1 : Up to 96kHz
    • Stereo Direct: Up to 192kHz
  • Frequency Response @96kHz:
    • Front Channel Out : 10Hz to 45kHz
    • Rear Channel Out: 15Hz to 45kHz
    • Center Out: 10Hz to 45kHz
    • Headphone (33 ohms): 10Hz to 45kHz
  • Frequency Response @192kHz (Stereo Direct Only): Front Channel Out : 10Hz to 88kHz
  • 16-bit to 24-bit Recording Sample Rates: 8,11.025,16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48, 96 (kHz)
  • 16-bit to 24-bit Playback Sample Rates: 8,11.025,16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48, 96, 192 (kHz)
  • Maximum Recording Quality: Up to 24-bit/96kHz
  • I/O Ports (Main Card):
    • Headphone : 1 x Amplified 3.5mm jack
    • Speaker Out : 3 x 3.5mm jacks(F/R/C-Sub)
    • Line / Mic In : 1x shared 3.5mm jack
    • Optical Out : 1x TOSLINK
    • Optical In : 1x TOSLINK
  • Audio Control Module / Front Panel Connectivity (for Sound Blaster Zx):
    • Volume Control Knob Built-in Beam-Forming Microphone
    • Headphone-Out : 1x 3.5mm jack, 1x 1/4” jack
    • Microphone-In : 1x 3.5mm jack, 1x 1/4” jack
  • 600 Ohm Amplified Headphone Output:               Maxim MAX97220A
  • Included Accessories: Beamforming Microphone with Sound Blaster Z or Audio Control Module (with Beamforming Microphone Built-in) with Sound Blaster Zx
  • Technology
    • Audio Enhancement:
      • SBX Pro Studio
      • Surround
      • Crystalizer
      • Bass
      • Smart Volume
      • Dialog Plus
      • CrystalVoice
      • Noise Reduction
      • Smart Volume
      • Acoustic Echo Cancellation
      • FX
      • Focus
    • Speaker/Headphone Switch: Software Controlled
    • Dolby Digital Live: Encoding
    • DTS Connect: Encoding
    • Upmixing of Stereo to Multi-Channels: SBX Surround
    • DTS & Dolby Digital Decoding via Cyberlink PowerDVD Download: via 3rd party software download
    • Scout Mode: Yes
    • EAX: EAX 5.0 HD
    • Max.No. of 3D Voices: 128
    • ASIO: ASIO 2.0 support at
      • 16-bit/44.1kHz
      • 16-bit/48kHz
      • 24-bit/44.1kHz
      • 24-bit/48kHz
      • 24-bit/96kHz with direct monitoring
  • Compatible With: PC – PCIe x1 Connection
  • Operating System: Windows 7/8
  • Warranty: 2-year in EU, 1-year worldwide

Creative Sound Blaster Z

The back of the Sound Blaster Z boxCreative Sound Blaster ZxThe back of the Sound Blaster Zx box

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  • Mikoyan Gurevic

    With Soundblaster Z series, Creative improved its drivers to the best level. Back to 2009 I stopped using them (X-Fi) because of poor drivers performance and issues. I’m satisfied and no need to use the onboard Realtek anymore. But the only negative issue is that this card (ZX) doesn’t works on Linux. This is a negative vote for creative. I had SB16, PCI64, PCI128, Audigy ZX and X-Fi Music before the purchase of Zx.

  • Franpa

    This review doesn’t seem to mention the audio quality from the Audio Control Module for the Soundblaster Zx. If you’re an audiophile, you should be aware that although the Z and Zx feature the exact same soundcard, the Audio Control Module it self contains an amplifier in addition to the one present in the sound card.

    It would have been nice to see the review mention what headphones through the ACM sounded like compared to headphones plugged straight in to the soundcard.

    There is a very distinct audio quality improvement when I plug my Sennheiser HD 215 and Sennheiser HD 380 Pro headphones directly in to the integrated soundcard on my motherboard compared to plugging them in to my Logitech Z4 ACM’s Headphone Jack.

    • Frank Honest

      with the alc1200 the cans will still sound crappy (vs using something like the asus dsx/dx running uni drivers).

      • Franpa

        There will be a difference sure, I remember switching from Creative X-Fi & Auzentech soundcards to integrated audio and it was a huge change (I was only using the Logitech Z4 headphone jack at the time). That being said, the HD380 headphones sound fantastic when directly connected to the integrated ALC1200 audio where as the HD215 headphones are lacking a significant amount of warmth when directly connected to the integrated soundcard and the equalizer can’t really (or at least easily) resolve this.

        The HD215 sounded pretty decent with the Auzentech Forte and Creative X-Fi Extreme Music sound cards when the headphones were connected to the Logitech Z4 headphone jack. I stopped using these headphones though because I got sick of dealing with Creative powered shit that dies after 1 or 2 years and eventually the Logitech Z4 speaker’s developed a fault in the headphone jack.

  • Terry Perry

    To me a good 200 $ M.B. has some of the best on board sound. I bought a 120$ head phone for 80$ and wow with the new sound cards on the M.B. Many are now separating the on board sound card with a red line static line, so static can’t affect the music. I would rather spend the 100 $ on a Very Good M.B. or head phones than a sound card.

    • Iluv2raceit

      The integrated sound card on ALL existing motherboards are only 16-bit and totally suck compared to the current generation of 24-bit 5.1 and 7.1 dedicated sound cards. Also, another advantage of a dedicated sound card is that almost all of them include a headphone amp that can support the newer higher impedance headphones (i.e. Sennheisser G4ME series). An integrated motherboard soundcard just can’t compare to a dedicated sound card.

      • Κωνσταντίνος Κ.

        mine seems to have 24bit option(Asrock Fatal1ty 990FX Pro) ..maybe it’s an emulation or something but it has it as an option and have it enabled, not sure if I’ll notice any sound difference to my 2.1 logitech speakers

        • Frank Honest

          as soon as you use 150$/up headphones or thx speakers. you can.
          every time the last 5 builds i tried using onboard, for a few month. then back to dedicated.

        • Κωνσταντίνος Κ.

          My reply was about 2 years ago and I was like ….who reply me and for what heh. Look I’m happy with the SB BUT ….drivers are crappy. I do get from time to time no sound when booting on win10(I need to restart to get the sound work properly).

    • Frank Honest

      even the 300-500$ range will still have the same onboard chip, maybe the xfi software, but the chips are still the same.
      and until i got my asus dsx, my 150$ cans didnt sound what i paid for.

  • Anders

    I bought a Gigabyte board with the X-Fi MB package, hoping I could get away from needing an add-on sound card – my hopes were only partially realized. The package offers a functional equivalent of the Sound Blaster Z. All the software options of the Z are present, Scout Mode, Pro Studio etc, and the sound is clean. But the Realtek chip and Creative software just can’t match the positional audio precision or the fullness of the EAX environments provided by the card – it’s not even close. If you don’t have a 5.1 setup or use optical in/out you probably wont notice. It may be unfortunate, but the Sound Blaster Z still spanks on-board sound, even those with Creative Software.

    • Any idea how the Z compares to the Sound Core3D implementation on the Gigabyte Z170X Gaming 7?

      • Anders

        I can’t speak to that exact model, but I have a Z97 Gaming G1 with that chip (the supporting software is Recon3Di), it’s not as pure as my Soundblaster Z but it’s much better than the software only XFi-MB. If I were upgrading this cycle I’d get that Gigabyte board, I would expect the sound to be at least as good as that one the G1. I’d take all the white plastic crap off it tho.

  • Seb

    I had the SB Z until Windows 8.1 decided it was the Recon3D and I never got the proper drivers installed. I now have the Asus Xonar Essence STX and couldn’t be any happier!

    • jimbob

      I have the same card, will never buy creative again.

    • Iluv2raceit

      No, you are wrong. Windows 8.1 didn’t decide that. You decided to NOT download the correct drivers. Knucklehead. I am running the SoundblasterZ in WIndows 8.1 Pro 64-bit and have absolutely no issues whatsoever. I also used an Asus Xonar DX2 card, but Asus stopped supporting that card a couple years ago and no new drivers were ever developed or released. I switched over to the SoundblasterZ about 6 months ago and love it.

    • gaspar

      Yes, Asus Xonar Essence STX lacks of support, barely get update, did you read the Asus forum?, lots of problems with games with EAX, audio cut, they sound lifeless.

      I bought this card, for gaming this was night to day change.