First of all, I will be testing this sound card in a gaming environment; even though this card has features that would be useful for an audio engineer.
Once your PC is turned on, the black box with the Fatal1ty logo lights up with a mean-looking red backlight, which looks pretty cool; especially if you have a windowed case.
I used the driver CD to install everything that the card has to offer. Included in this epic install, was Creative Mediasource. I personally would never use Mediasource as my audio player on my PC, but it does have options to use the features of the sound card that wouldn’t be offered in a third-party player (e.g. WinAmp). Mediasource also comes with the audio converter that is one of the most useful applications I have found for converting sound files. It takes a simplistic approach to changing audio file formats that I have never seen elsewhere.
Also installed is the Entertainment Center, which the remote controls. This is a program that uses the same song database that Mediasource creates. You can also set it to use Windows Media players’ database. The program is opened with the ‘On’ button on the remote control, and is essentially Windows XP Media Center. You can play songs, watch videos and see picture slideshows all from this one program. The remote control acts as the mouse/keyboard so you can sit over the other side of the room and change song etc. I found this, personally, to be a bit of a novelty rather than a useful feature, but I can see where people would use it for its true purpose; especially when watching a DVD.
The remote control also changes the volume, and modifies the
24-bit Crystalizer effect amount, the amount of CMSS-3D, EAX volume and the amount of 3DMIDI. These are all useful features, even if you are sat at your PC as you have instant access to them. However, changing any of these brings up a graphically intensive window that lags terribly in games and is only slightly better on the desktop.
The control center for the sound card has three modes, Audio Creation, Gaming and Entertainment. Switching between them tells the X-Fi what you are doing and where to put the audio processing power. Each mode has its own method of changing the sound. I found that the Entertainment mode was capable of everything that I normal user would need. You have to change the sound card to Gaming mode if you want to use EAX 4, or 5 in a game however. The table below shows the differences between the modes:
|EAX ADVANCED HD 5.0||Limited||Limited||Yes|
|EAX ADVANCED HD 4.0||Limited||Limited||Yes|
|EAX ADVANCED HD 3.0||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Number of Auxiliary Effects||2||4||4|
|Maximum Number of Reverbs||1||2||4|
|ASIO Out Channels: Dry||1 Pair||5 Pairs||1 Pair|
|ASIO Out Channels: FX||No||4 Pairs||No|
|ASIO In Channels: WUH||8||8||8|
|ASIO In Channels: Basic||2 (1 Pair)||2 (1 Pair)||2 (1 Pair)|
|ASIO 2.0 Support||Limited||Yes||Limited|
|ASIO 2.0 Direct Monitoring||0||12 (6 pairs)||0|
|CMSS-3DVirtual (2 Speakers)||Yes||No||Yes|
|CMSS-3DVirtual (4 Speakers)||No||No||Yes|
|Graphic EQ||10 Bands||10 Bands||10 Bands|
|Smart Volume Management||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Each mode also allows you to change the sound card features in a different way, laying out the settings in a new way, which is more attuned to the mode you choose.
The Creative Console allows you to change pretty much everything that the card has to offer. Including bass and treble adjustment, CMSS-3D effect, 24-bit Crystalizer to name a few.
I tried the card with Doom 3, Prey, Half Life 2: Episode One and Battlefield 2142.
Playing games was easy, stick the X-Fi into Gaming mode and start up the game. First I tried Doom 3. I tried to turn on EAX but the game would just crash every time. I then tried playing Prey, which told me that I needed updated audio drivers. I was taken to the Creative page and I downloaded the 50mb driver update. After this was done, Doom would let me run with EAX enabled.
Doom 3 sounds much better and the sound card is easily worth the money if all games sound that much better. Unfortunately, the game itself has to support EAX for there to be any effect. Most modern games do however. Prey sounded a lot better, and with 24-bit Crystalizer, and CMSS-3D enabled it really was immersive game play.
I also tried Battlefield 2142 which has three modes for audio rendering; Software, Hardware, and Creative X-Fi. This shows that the game really was created with the X-Fi range in mind. The sound was better than before, and in places you can really hear the difference.
Using the X-Fi as the sound renderer gives a very slight improvement to the speed of the game, which is awesome considering as its also adding all the features of EAX, the 24-bit Crystalizer and CMSS-3D. The improvement is due to the X-Fi taking the sound rendering responsibility away from the CPU.
However, in some games, including Doom 3, the frame rate actually suffers slightly when using EAX. That said, the EAX enhancements are easily worth the slight loose in the frame rate department.