The Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi line is just one of the company's many high-end series of sound cards, and it is one of its best sellers. The unique design and full feature set give it an edge over most of the competition and make it ideal for audio enthusiasts.
The Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi series of sound cards has a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of at least 109 dB, which is a little lower than some of the higher-end cards, but it's still above the overall average of on-board sound cards. The premium versions in the X-Fi series reach as high as 116 SNR.
The total harmonic distortion (THD) on these cards drops as low as 0.0004 percent, which is quite low – and lower is better – when compared to much of the competition. This level will ensure less sound distortion when you're listening to songs with a lot of bass or with higher notes. The frequency range these cards produce is from 10Hz to 46kHz at 96kHz, which is a much broader range then we humans can hear.
The Sound Blaster X-Fi series took a hit on its sample rates. The resolution is 24-bit across the board, but aside from stereo playback, DAC (digital-to-analog) conversion and analog playback, the rest dropped to a rate of 96kHz rather than the standard 192kHz. In some cases, you may not notice a whole lot of difference between those two rates. However, sound quality depends on more than just the sound card itself, so unless you have good resample software, you may not end up with a nice pure sound that you'll love.
The input and output ports offer a good combination of speaker and headphone options. You get up to four 3.5 mm outputs for connecting a set of computer surround sound speakers with these sound cards. Some cards in the X-Fi line have a separate jack for headphones and a photo with preamp inputs for turntables.
Some of these Sound Blaster cards plugs into a PCIe (PCI Express) slot, while others are made for PCI slots, so be sure that you have the slot necessary for the card you purchase. Also, for any audio files that have been compressed, the X-Fi cards come with the Crystalizer, which basically revitalizes compressed sound to ensure that little to no quality is lost during the recovery process.
Lastly, these Sound Blaster cards have a nice set of API support options. For 3D audio positioning, Creative provides both OpenAL and CMSS-3D. For enhanced audio, specifically for gaming, CMSS-3D provides realistic surround sound. This means that whether you're using speakers or headphones, you're at the center of the sound and you can hear everything around you – including the footfalls of an enemy while you're playing a PC video game.
The Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi series of sound cards has a decent set of hardware specs as well as a nice set of features. They may not be the most powerful cards in the industry, but they clean up audio and give you a close version of the original recordings, and provide surround sound for pure immersion.