Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in
Your question

Asking for advice before buying X-fi Elite Pro

Last response: in Components
Share
January 26, 2007 12:18:52 PM

Hello everybody,

I'm planning to buy an Creative Elite Pro sound card, and wanted to ask for a bit of advice beforehand. Feedback is better than reviews... :) 

To explain my situation: I hardly watch any movies, don't do any recordings, and won't need a new card for gaming. However, I *am* listening to lots of music (classical mostly) on the computer, even more than on the stereo system. Most of it is in mp3 format, which makes the Elite Pro very attractive (because of the quality it's supposed to bring while listening to mp3s.) I'm also interested in the phono entrance on the I/O box, as I have quite a big LP collection, and it'd be nice to be able to listen to them with a clearer sound.

What I'd like to ask is whether in your experience the card is really as good as the ads say, and whether any of you had had experience with listening to classical music with it and with playing LPs.

Thanks!
January 26, 2007 12:39:48 PM

Quote:
However, I *am* listening to lots of music (classical mostly) on the computer, even more than on the stereo system. Most of it is in mp3 format, which makes the Elite Pro (because of the quality it's supposed to bring while listening to mp3s.) very attractive


First problem here, is I want to know what reasons you've come to believe that the Elite Pro is a good idea for music?

Here's reason's I can think against it:

1) MP3 music is primarily in 44.1KHz sampling rate. All Creative sound cards natively resample all input audio into 48KHz. So that means if something isn't at 48KHz, it gets stretched or crunched to fit the bill. This is really not a great idea for waveforum accuracy for so many reasons it's hard to list. One of the more obvious things is very obvious high frequency distortion. Although might not be as obvious with single-driver PC speakers that don't have great treble performance to start with. This leads to point #2:


2) You said "(because of the quality it's supposed to bring while listening to mp3s.)"

If you are talking about the "Crystalizer" (which is nothing more than a simple EQ that boosts bass and treble, regardless what the Creative marketing department wants you to think), then I'll have to ask "what speakers do you own?"

If you own inexpensive speakers, especially one's with only one driver, I'll respond "maybe", but "only with certain types of music." Music that is naturally bass or treble heavy will not sound good with the Crystalizer. Speakers with only one driver will naturally have problems with treble or bass playback. In that case, it's not that the Crystalizer is "bringing out the details" in the mp3, it's more that it's adjusting your speakers so it's outputting closer to the real waveform. The problem with heavy EQing like the Crystalizer, is that you get massive distortion. But, if you can't get accurate sound in the first place, the Crystalizer can get you closer, albeit with a cost.

If you own good speakers, and I'd like you try out the Crystalizer for yourself to see if you like it or not. I wouldn't really need to say anything, because more likely than not, you wouldn't like it at all.

Here is what the Crystalizer is:


This is merely what's known as a "Smiley Face Equalizer." It's also been called "West Coast Sound," but that's an ancient history lesson not worth describing. There's nothing "hi-tech" about it at all. It just pumps up the bass and the treble. You could do that by yourself with Winamp or Windows Media Player. This just does it for you automatically.

Most musical purists believe in "input=output". That your speaker system should output the input waveform as accurately as possible, in order to properly represent what the artist wanted. Now, I agree, sometimes you might want to play with the sound or the EQ, and might even prefer it if it sounds better to *you*. BUT, I dunno about you, but I'd rather have an accurate system that I can change the settings when I want to, then a system that's not accurate at all in the first place. Having a pre-set EQ like a "smiley face" doesn't seem to me any better of a way to "Get the sound out of an mp3" than a monkey playing with an EQ; if you don't like it, you'll have to turn it off and mess with an EQ yourself anyway. This ties in to my final point.

3) Cost. For $20 (maybe even less) you can get a sound card that's bitperfect (outputs what the input is, at 44.1KHz, if its called for), instead of spending $300+ on a sound card that handicaps you to an crunched/stretched version of the input signal. Everyone has a different opinion, sure, but I believe the former is a closer representation of "accurate music playback" than the latter.

Additionally yeah, the Crystalizer can be "useful" as a pre-set EQ (instead of having to set an EQ yourself with boosted bass and treble). But I dunno if I want to pay extra for that, when I can get a cheaper sound card that does what I need in the first place--play music accurately.

Still, you might prefer the Creative sound card. Maybe resampling to 48KHz doesn't bother you. But is having a preset EQ (Crystalizer) and a bevy of various software features enough to outweigh the rest (including the price tag?) You decide.
January 26, 2007 1:28:06 PM

Quote:
1) MP3 music is primarily in 44.1KHz sampling rate. All Creative sound cards natively resample all input audio into 48KHz. So that means if something isn't at 48KHz, it gets stretched or crunched to fit the bill. This is really not a great idea for waveforum accuracy for so many reasons it's hard to list. One of the more obvious things is very obvious high frequency distortion. Although might not be as obvious with single-driver PC speakers that don't have great treble performance to start with. This leads to point #2:


Hmmm...You know that the 48 kHz is just one of the sampling rates, don't you? The X-fi Elite Pro can sample at the following frequencies:

8, 11.025, 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48 and 96kHz
Related resources
January 26, 2007 1:28:19 PM

I think I see what you mean. Thanks for the detailed answer. The reason I decided it was good for music, are the reviews which are mostly raving about the clarity of the sound the card outputs, and how good music sounds once they listen to it with an Elite-Pro. As far as speakers go, I have very simple 2.1 speakers at the moment, with an upgrade planned.

Two more questions:

1) Currently I have a Creative Live! card. Does it mean that it also resamples every mp3 to 48 kHz?

2) Which card would you recommend, if the primary requirement is good music quality (disregarding the speakers)?

Thanks!
January 26, 2007 1:32:47 PM

I went with the X-Fi Elite Pro more for the input/output options of the external box, as well as the recording capabilities for my keyboard and guitars.. However, there is a definite improvement in mp3 playback and gaming with it over the Audigy2.. I've got no regrets buying it. I'm using Logitech Z-5500 speakers as well..
January 26, 2007 1:45:29 PM

Quote:
I think I see what you mean. Thanks for the detailed answer. The reason I decided it was good for music, are the reviews which are mostly raving about the clarity of the sound the card outputs, and how good music sounds once they listen to it with an Elite-Pro. As far as speakers go, I have very simple 2.1 speakers at the moment, with an upgrade planned.

Two more questions:

1) Currently I have a Creative Live! card. Does it mean that it also resamples every mp3 to 48 kHz?

2) Which card would you recommend, if the primary requirement is good music quality (disregarding the speakers)?

Thanks!


1) 48 kHz is just one of the sampling rates, don't you? The X-fi Elite Pro can sample at the following frequencies:

8, 11.025, 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48 and 96kHz

2) Don't know if going with the X-Fi Elite Pro would be the best option just for listening to music. You should try this one:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E1682...

It's about 3 times cheaper than the X-Fi Elite Pro and will sound the same for listening to music.
January 26, 2007 2:03:32 PM

Quote:

2) Don't know if going with the X-Fi Elite Pro would be the best option just for listening to music. You should try this one:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E1682...

It's about 3 times cheaper than the X-Fi Elite Pro and will sound the same for listening to music.


As far as I could understand (from Tom's Hardware review), the Elite Pro uses different (better) circuits, than all the other cards from the X-Fi line.
January 26, 2007 2:27:58 PM

i have an X-Fi Fatality edition card, and i only got it because of the ram it had on it (since i've never had a dedicated soundcard before, and since i don't plan on getting another one for a VERY long time) and i'll just say that with my ear-covering headphones, the difference from onboard to this card was vast. I'm very pleased with the card, listening to MP3's, movies, or my games with EAX. It simulates 8 speakers on my headphones very accuratley. I also dabble a bit in Fruity Loops 6 XXL edition (i'm a fan of techno and hip-hop) and it handles 96kHz easily. It handles anything above that fairly well too but you have to increase the buffer length if you don't want underruns - and as far as the sampling rate goes there's really no difference anywhere above 44.1khz to me and my headphones.

And just a PS: Maybe it's just because i like bass, but my headphones could hardly cough before i had the card, and afterward on some songs it would actually vibrate :D  and with fruity loops 6, there are loads of very fine sounds and the card plays them very nicely. I actually heard the music i made differently because i heard different sounds that weren't apparent with onboard sound.
January 26, 2007 3:25:58 PM

Okay I myself own a Soundblaster X-Fi Elite Pro card with the box...

Before X-Fi I had a Audigy 2 and the difference was very big! My X-Fi card sounds much better than the Audigy 2 card and I have the Crystalizer turned on, and it does it jobb very good. I have connected a 5.1 system that has it peak at 1010W and is THX-certified and it doesn´t have any problem with the crystalizer. Some guy said that it was like an normal EQ, but it isn´t! The crystalizer makes every song better, doesn´t matter if it is Techno (with a lot of bass) or a normal Radiohit... Every MP3 sounds a lot better on this card.
I and some friends played games on a lan for some weeks ago, and my system just ate the others systems. It sounded really bad on any motherboard-inbuilt-soundcard compared to my X-Fi system. Even the Audigy 4 got beaten a lot. They just sounded crappy and old, compared to the X-Fi. 2 out of 5 friends at the lan-party have already bought themselfs new X-Fi:s!

About all the connections, yes it has it all. You can run a anything with the Elite Pro... I am currently running my Digital-TV through the box and it works flawlessly. You can skip recivers, cd-players and loud speakers, if you have a normal-sized room, then just get a computer with a DVD-player, X-Fi Elite Pro and a 5.1 THX-certified surrondsystem and it will be enough for everbody.

The Crystalizer turnes every sound from it original Bits to 24-Bit, and that makes it all!

My settings for the X-Fi:
24-bit Crystalizer: ON (Maximum)
CMSS-3D: Enabled at Stereo Surround (Upmix: Auto)
EQ: Off
EAX Effects: ON
Dolby Pro Logic: ON
Dobly Digital EX: ON
Dynamic Range: ON
DTS-ES: ON
Output: Set to 96KHz

So what happendes with the sound. It is changed from original-Hz to 96KHz and from original-bits to 24-Bit. And that makes a hell of a difference!
January 26, 2007 3:52:59 PM

The usual argument for X-Fi is EAX support but if you don't need that there are many other manufacturers to look at. Personally I'd be looking at something from M-Audio ie a 2496 or 192. For high quality music, I'd trust a card designed for musicians much more than a card designed for gamers.

I don't know if there are any cards with turntable inputs.

If you do get a good card, have a look at ogg or better still flac instead of mp3.
January 26, 2007 4:49:31 PM

The only thing the Elite Pro offers over, say, Elite Platinum / Premium is an external breakout box and higher quality connectors. The connectors will provide you with a greater sound quality if you have a better sound system.

If you're just listening to music while doing normal office stuff on your machine, consider using your onboard. If you have a system like the 680i, the RealTek is pretty good. If your board has AC97 audio... probably not so fun to listen to.

If you're going to go for a Creative, I'd suggest a cheap Audigy. A step up would be the X-Fi. Don't waste your time with the really expensive versions. You aren't going to care about the stupid remote control or any of that stuff. I would also suggest checking out some other options for music. Especially if you're willing to spend about $250. Creative offers a lot of gamer specific stuff which is where the value lays. If you want just music and are a bit of an audiophile, you might want to look at professional range cards used for composing music and such. One good card I've been trying to hunt down is the Phase 24 FW from TerraTec. It's about $250, has a breakout box, great connectors, sounds awesome...

But if you're like me and you can't spend hours upon hours speaking about the specific tonal quality and nuances of each and every sample we hear played across various devices, then just go out and get yourself a sub-$100 Creative card or something.
January 26, 2007 11:07:26 PM

Quote:

1) 48 kHz is just one of the sampling rates, don't you? The X-fi Elite Pro can sample at the following frequencies:

8, 11.025, 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48 and 96kHz


You are looking at the music creation feature, not the playback.

If you are talking about the ASIO 2.0 support, that's purely for digital playback, which plenty of sound cards are capable of of. Seeing as digital playback doesn't even use the soundcard's DACs, it wouldn't matter if you had a $20 soundcard like the Chaintech AV-710 or the $300 Elite Pros, they are both entirely capable of sending out bit-perfect digital signals, with bit-perfect meaning "it's the original signal, bloated drivers aren't screwing with the sound".
!