I got mine yesterday. It bests my old X-Fi Platinum and my onboard Realtek ALC885. The driver installation doesn't install bloat (like that annoying product registration), unlike Creative's X-Fi offerings. There aren't as many background tasks with the Prelude's drivers (only two now), unlike with Creative X-Fi cards (four or five, some of them useless). Don't, however, try disabling the two tasks, one of them is essential for either audio console to work and the other only uses around 1.5 MB of RAM anyway. The drivers work pretty well on my Vista x64 based system, though there are a few slight bugs (but they don't bother me that much).
When you first install the card, you probably don't want to turn the bass and treble balance up that high, as it will make the sound very distorted (at least it did in my case). However, this distortion goes away after 2-3 hours of burn-in. The bass is much fuller than my X-Fi Platinum's.
The Crystallizer now does something more than distort your sound with the Prelude. The Creative X-Fi just doesn't compare. Of course, it's still an effect that colors the sound and changes the feel of it, so audiophiles are going to keep it turned off anyway. (Myself, I turn it on when I want to change the listening experience, but I turn it off if the effect it has on the sound is bad.)
I haven't even tried EAX and games yet, but I thought it kicked *** with my old X-Fi Platinum, and the experience should be even better with the Prelude. As for the whole "no ALchemy" thing, it's not really true, you can use either ALchemy 184.108.40.206 or the cracked ALchemy 220.127.116.11. The only difference between ALchemy 18.104.22.168 and ALchemy 22.214.171.124 is support for the X-Fi XtremeAudio card.
Its a tough choose, new stuff is always buggy, drivers etc so i have to decide to wait or just get the Sound Blaster X-Fi™ XtremeGamer Fatal1ty Professional.
My aug 2 plat ex just died a few days back so im using my old sb live card, still sounds ok. Hopefully my new Log Z5500 will come today finally. Then we can start testing some sounds out.
I got a X-Fi™ XtremeGamer Fatal1ty Professional for 79$ AfterRebate shipped- I think its worth it, considering the Prelude is 200$, roughly 120$ more....that's another pair of decent speaks, or 2GB or highend ram...or a solid PSU..or..you get my point XX
it does seem that the price should come down below the suggested $200 price around the time the drivers are finished anyhow (it was on newegg for $230 just a day or 2 ago)
but, with a 7.1 HT setup attached to my system, this definetly looks to be the card to get, to replace my audigy 2 zs... when it does come down in price anyhow, by then drivers should be fairly optimized even, with all included features officially supported too.
the card was released prematurely, forced by creative... so technically the card shouldnt even be available yet.
Any new reviews of this card, Tomshardware referred to it in thier latest High End Build although they said it wasn' t available when they were building, the fact that it uses less CPU power is appealing.
I've had mine for a couple weeks now and I have some definite opinions about sound cards and speakers. I have had x-fi cards as well as currently have the Auzentech X-plosion in my 2nd pc. I have a set of Z5500's and a receiver and 7.1 speaker setup that I put together myself that is worth roughly $1200. I am a Musician and like all Musicians I am a cocky bastard when it comes to musical refinement and thinking I know what sounds good, I also have a small studio setup that I run with some pro equipment So i have experimented on that side of things. that being said..... I can hear a noticeable difference in sound quality between the 3 cards i have owned and I would say it looks like this Prelude > X-plosion > X-FI Extremegamer. Nothing against the X-fi... It is a great sounding card , and nothing against the z-5500's they are great sounding speakers. But the reality of the sound world is you get what you pay for, usually. When I owned just the extreme gamer and the Z-5500's I was honestly blown away by the setup, it sounds great in games and at the the time I thought that sound heavy in bass and treble was most enjoyable to my hears. It wasn't until I upgraded to the auzentech.. and then after the yamaha setup.. and most recently the Prelude that I really noticed the difference. The setup I use the prelude is in my media room.. I play games and watch HD content on a 92" screen with my HD projector. So big sound to match the image is important to me. I run the analogs out to the discretes on my reciever to use when gaming (eax isnt available over optical) and then I run the optical out for my movies.. etc.
The sound you will get from the prelude plus a custom speaker setup will handle any situation very well. But if you are less of a sound enthusiast in things like music and movies and games is your big thing... I would say stick to the X-fi and the z-5500's. It will be a cheaper option that will have plenty of muscle.. and games will sound fantastic and I gaurantee you will love either setup.