X rated explosives
The X plosion comes in an eye-catching box with a hooded figure on fire in the background with the title taking up most of the box real-estate. The rear of the box is filled with facts and figures explaining the ins and outs of the card.
The reason why this card is something to make Creative’s X-Fi sweat is a little something called DTS Connect and Dolby Digital Live.
These technologies will give anyone with a high-end audio setup something to shout about. They take your standard stereo audio and upmix them with crazy electronic trickery to 7.1 surround sound, encoded and set by single-cable (coaxial or optical). The X-Fi can do similar with its CMSS-3D feature which uses the shape of your ear to make stereo headsets sound like surround sound, or indeed go straight to surround sound speakers. However, this signal and upmixing can’t be shined out the S/PDIF port meaning that you have to use a whole load of cables, rather than one optical digitally encoded cable. The X plosion can.
Another benefit to this, and one of the reasons why optical cables are used for audio, is interference. An optical signal can’t be muddied, changed or in any way altered by external radiation as it’s simply a flashing light. It can’t be changed with electro-magnetic fields etc. meaning the signal that comes out of the optical port is the one that the device on the other end receives.
Other features of the card that stand above others are the removable OPAMPs which means that if you find the sound of the card lack lustre, you can pop down to your local dual type DIP 8 pin OPAMP shop and grab your favourite variety. Nice little feature, but writing this on the back of the box makes it sound like the ones supplies with the card aren’t up to par from the day one.
Amusingly the system requirements on the box explain how this card needs an ‘Intel, VIA motherboard chipset’ which knocks out anyone with nVidia mobo’s, and also an ‘Available PCI 2.1 or higher compliant slot (unshared) for the audio card’. An unshared slot is rare as the PCI specification explains that every slot is shared by the very nature of the interface. PCI bus is shared between the available slots, and each one is given a short amount of time to use the bus (you can change this length of time in most BIOS’s). What they are essentially saying is that if you have other cards installed, don’t expect this card to work.
Once out of the box you’ll find the card itself, a TOSLINK optical cable, a 2 pin internal S/PDIF cable, a driver CD and a leaflet that explains that you have to go online if you want to read the manual. Bit annoying but it does allow for immediate updates to the information.
The card itself is a one-of-a-kind type with none of the usual jumpers or missing components for the next card up in the range. This is a PCB layout designed for this card. The PCB has lots of high-visibility labels allowing you to connect the right cable to the right hole every time.
All of the capacitors have a distinct green tinge to them and there are a lot of them on the board. This card is powered by a C-Media CMI8770 chip that should be able to do everything the box boasts.
The internal pins allow for a lot of interesting connections with a CD_IN for your optical drives, AUX_IN for opticals and other audio devices, CD_SPDIF for optical drives with S/PDIF out for digital output and loopback and MIDI_IO for use with a external midi PCI bracket allowing for synthesisers and the like.
The rear of the card has line in (3.5mm), mic (3.5mm), front (3.5mm), side (3.5mm), rear (3.5mm), center (3.5mm), coaxial out and optical (S/PDIF) out. All of the 3.5mm jacks are the standard stereo type rather than the 3 wire type that are beginning to take there place in the industry.