Creative has never skimped on features but in trying to be all things to all people sometimes gets into difficulties. All flavours of the new cards share the same core X-Fi processor and have common headline features. Thereâ€™s CMSS-3D and 24-bit Crystalizer, which together are referred to as Xtreme Fidelity and then thereâ€™s EAX Advanced HD 5.0. The two higher-end cards also add X-Ram to the feature list. This is 64MB of on board memory dedicated to audio. This can be likened to local texture memory on a graphics card, enabling developers to place onto the card directly. This will in theory speed up access compared to using system memory and enabled the use of more and higher quality sounds without affecting the frame rate.
The install process will be familiar to anyone who already has experience with Creative cards with a ludicrously long list of software applications. Iâ€™m sure thereâ€™s capacity for some rationalisation and amalgamation here. Once installed, playing with the Creative volume panel emphasises how removed they now are from the default Windows sound mixer. There are three different operating modes, each of which actually alters how the processing power of the chip is shared, depending on whether the mode of listening is orientated towards games, home entertainment or music making. This means that there are a lot of options to become familiar with but the driver design is reasonably clear, if a little on the large size. With all the graphics and obligatory fade effects, the mixer applications feel a little sluggish. Donâ€™t even think about using a resolution less than 1024x768, particularly if using the cards in the Audio Creation mode. An option for a slimmed down version of the mixers would be appreciated in a future software update (as would improved stability).
Running the Xtreme Music and Elite Pro through the benchmark tests gives some hard numbers on which to judge Creativeâ€™s claims about the quality of reproduction. For both tests, we used the standard RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.5 and ran three sets of tests covering 44.1kHz 16-bit, 96kHz 32-bit and 192kHz 32-bit.
For chip lovers amongst you, the converters on the Xtreme Music appears to be using a single Cirrus Logic CS4382 chip to deliver the eight channel audio with the Elite Pro using four stereo CS4398 chips.
Comparing the Audigy 2 results with the Elite Pro shows an impressive improvement in noise levels and dynamic range, not far off the claimed 116dB dynamic range when operating at the highest sampling frequency. The Xtreme Music however, performed more like an Audigy 4 with no real difference between the 96kHz and 192kHz test. Nor was there a substantial difference even between 44.1 and 96KHz.