We haven't heard much from the sound card market in recent years but all that's set to change as Creative launches the X-Fi, brimming with its newest technology.
Last week Creative gathered the European press in Leipzig, Germany to show off its new X-Fi processor and the new soundcards based on it. You might think that a new sound card processor is no big deal and that only minor improvements could be made. Well, to be honest I wasn’t expecting to be to be as impressed as I was by the presentation, which demonstrated that Creative has definitely taken PC sound to a new level. X-Fi is short for Xtreme Fidelity, which may not be the most cunning marketing name ever, but is intended to highlight the fact that the X-Fi is one step beyond Hi-Fi (High-Fidelity).
The X-Fi processor is made up of more than 51 million transistors and has a computational power of over 10,000 MIPS –equivalent to having a 3.4GHz processor in your PC dedicated to audio. Not surprising then that according to Creative, the X-Fi is 67 times more powerful than the Sound Blaster Live!. Add to this the ability to process eight simultaneous real time effects, THX, Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES 6.1 Discrete certification, EAX 5, 24-bit Crystalizer and CMSS-3D and you’ve got some pretty impressive hardware. The 24-bit Crystalizer and CMSS-3D are both new features of X-Fi and have been developed using Aureal and Sensaura based technology in addition to Creative’s own expertise. It’s quite hard to describe how much of an improvement these two new audio enhancing features offer without having heard what a difference they make, so you’ll just have to believe me when I say that I was very impressed by the demos I listened heard.
CMSS-3D is similar to older 3D audio technology but does away with many of the drawbacks. Previously it only worked realistically with speakers and when listening over headphones a sound emanated from a source just on one side meant that no sound could be heard in one ear. In real life a sound like this could still be heard from both ears, and now this affect can be convincingly produced using headphones too.
The 24-bit Crystalizer, meanwhile enhances certain parts of the sound. Part of the demos played to the journalists consisted of MP3 and WMA encoded tracks sounding far better with CMSS-3D and the 24-bit Crystalizer enabled. Stereo sound can also be up-sampled in hardware to offer highly convincing surround sound. For fans of MIDI, Creative has added a new feature – 3DMIDI – which enhances MIDI music in much the same way that the CMSS-3D and the 24-bit Crystalizer does for pre-recorded music.
The good news is that the X-Fi processor will make its way into devices other than sound cards. For example, Creative are in talks with several home cinema amplifier manufacturers to implement the X-Fi processor into their products. Some X-Fi technology will also be implemented in other Creative products, such as MP3 players, headphones, speakers and some yet unannounced products.