Not everyone hears the same as each other. People’s ears are different and each person has his or her own preference. A variety of headphones and headsets were used while listening with the Sound Blaster ZxR though by far, the most used was the Grado SR80i, well renowned for its great response, detail, and energy.
Those upgrading from onboard motherboard audio should immediately notice the improved audio fidelity the Creative Z cards provide. The difference can be more drastic for owners of high-quality audio equipment. The Z and Zx have a powerful bass and treble character with tight responses across all frequencies. For some music, the bright sound can come off as harsh as the Z-series cards are tuned for an aggressive and unforgiving on-time sound. Comparing the Z/Zx and ZxR, the former has more some more powerful bass.
A rather special feature to the Sound Blaster Z-Series cards is the post processing effects that can be added to the outgoing audio. SBX Bass in particular not only raised bass frequencies for a more immersive experience, but also simulated the characteristic sound of the low-frequency rumbling noise in a real movie theater. Movie watching was perhaps the only computer task were we consistently used any SBX effects.
Creative’s hardware virtual surround sound downmixing for headphone has already impressed us which we shared in our Sound Blaster ZxR review. Movie watching and gaming gain the most out of this capability since obviously these are the few applications that produce surround sound audio. Compared to other virtual sound implementations, the unnamed technology used in the Sound Blaster Z-Series cards produces the most convincing illusion of simulated rear channels. Of course headphones and headsets can’t compete with real surround speakers as far as positional audio is concerned.
Those upgrading from onboard motherboard audio should expect a modest improvement in sound recording quality which is still more than acceptable for gaming and casual voice chat. In addition, the CrystalVoice processing effect equalizes the recording by targeting speech frequencies in case you find that useful. Users optimizing their microphone should still experiment with the various settings including volume and boost.