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Creative X-Fi - Crystalizer

The one disadvantage of using HRTFs is that they’ve been created using an average head and ear model. This means that its effectiveness can therefore vary greatly, depending on the person. Unfortunately, due to my oddly shaped ears (and pointy head), HRTF impulses have never worked well for me. Playing UT2004, the sounds do come from a wider space with the CMSS effects rather than without but the placement is not clearly defined and certainly no substitute for surround speakers. Despite many previews claiming startling results with headphones I personally found the effect slightly more noticeable when using speakers.

Using CMSS to enhance stereo content is something I’m much less keen on since stereo enhancement technologies typically throw the phase of the recording right out of the studio window. For this review I used some of the music to appear in Konami’s soon to be released game Crime Life: Gang Wars.
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I’m willing to stand alone on this one but I really didn’t get along well with the result. Using a decent set of speakers I found the ‘enhancement’ resulted in artefacts typical of this kind of technology. Certainly the space between the speakers appeared larger but rather than improving the listening experience, the placement of individual sounds became diffuse and blurred. This was more pronounced on headphones than speakers. Over longer periods of time, using CMSS on stereo music was a tiring experience rather than a pleasure although if you’re using cheap computer speakers with very poor stereo separation, you may find the effect beneficial.

The other half of Xtreme Fidelity is the 24-bit Crystalizer feature. The theory here is that moving from 16-bit to 24-bit offers a greater dynamic range. Most music, particularly pop music, is compressed, averaging out the overall volume so that the result is perceptually louder. The Crystalizer function looks for transients in the audio (sharp attacks), such as bass drums, and increases their volume making otherwise masked sounds more prominent. It has its own slider so can be used to different degrees depending on the material being played.

Like the CMSS feature, it’s based on a series of assumptions about the music mix, assumptions that will not always please studio engineers. The results however, are surprisingly effective, particularly on speakers that aren’t studio reference quality. Drums do sound punchier and a high-pass filter helps to push the higher frequencies, both of which typically suffer during conversion to MP3.

Saying this, don’t get sucked in by the claims that Xtreme Fidelity will turn boring old stereo CDs into wondrous 24-bit surround sound remixes. The experience can be qualitatively more enjoyable but it’s not possible to add to a recording something that wasn’t there in the first place.

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