Pros: Powerful headphone amp, excellent sound quality, excellent stereo connectivity
Cons: Noisy mic input, cant use without daughter board
The Soundblaster ZxR is a 3 piece package:
The ZxR itself
The DBPro Daughterboard
The ACM (Control Module)
I purchased this card based on the following requirements:
- High quality amp driven headphone out
- Volume control at your fingertips along with headphone & mic input
Sound is very clear and punchy. The creative soundblaster control panel software is very easy to use and much better than the X-Fi offerings of yesteryear. Various effects can be controlled easily and the software headphones/speakers switch works very well.
I use a pair of Beyer Dynamic DT990 Premiums 250ohm and my first question was whether this card has the headphone amp to drive them well enough. YES! It certainly does, easily as well. You are able to put the headphone amp in 'Normal' or 'High Gain' modes. High gain being for headphones around 600ohm, it gives a considerable boost to output level. I am having no trouble driving my DT990's loud in the Normal gain mode. Windows volume always stays at 100% for me, and I use the knob on the ACM to control the volume, in which case all I need is around 50-60% in this configuration. Excellent amp!
I was very impressed by its ability to drive headphones, it reminds me very much of the Xonar Essence STX headphone amp I used years ago, but thanks to the ACM, with more convinience thanks to the inline volume knob on the ACM.
Now for the negative....
The built in microphone on the ACM only produces acceptable levels when boosted to +30dB. Unfortunately at this level there is so much noise and static that you are forced to use the CrystalVoice noise reduction. Although this does a good job at stopping noise, it also negatively effects the sound of your voice to the point where you sound like you are using a terrible mic, whilst underwater, if your words are not cut off short anyway.
Unfortunately this is also true when using my Modmic V4 with the built in mic input as well. Boosting to 30dB which is needed for levels creates unusable amounts of static noise. I have since started using a cheap USB sound dongle for the mic input and it is MILES better.
The last point to touch on is the DBPro daughter board. This board screws into an expansion slot on your case and connects to the main card with an ugly black ribbon cable. Since the DBPro card only provides a bunch of IO that I am not going to use, I would have liked it to be optional. However its not. You have to use it.
Anyway. Overall this is an excellent sound card, particularly for those who want to drive a good set of headphones and have volume control on their desk. Shame about the mic input, but thats a common problem and is easily solved with a cheap USB dongle.