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Review and Measurements of SoundBlaster X-FI HD

amirm

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#1
This is a review and measurements of the SoundBlaster X-FI HD DAC/ADC and headphone amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member and it retails for USD $100 from Amazon with Prime shipping.

The box itself is plastic but doesn't look too bad:

Soundblaster X-FI HD SB1240 PC Sound Card Review.jpg

The volume control is a rotary control of some sort with the worst feel positive. It is stiff with no notches and of course no indicators.

Connectivity is good though with headphone and microphone inputs in front and line out/in plus phono input in the back. We also have our usual set of USB, S/PDIF and Toslink inputs.

Plugging in the device into my Windows 10 did nothing so it is not UAC2 compliant. Went to get the driver and it is a 150 megabyte or so of what we used to call at Microsoft, "crapware." I used the custom install and disabled a bunch of stuff it wanted to install. Good news was that it also came with ASIO driver making it easier to test with my Audio Precision hardware.

Let's get into the measurements and see what we have here.

Measurements
Since the X-FI HD has RCA out, I started by testing its DAC portion alone:
Soundblaster X-FI HD SB1240 PC Sound Card RCA Measurements.png


Excessive harmonic distortion pushes the distortion specs to merely "OK." Reducing the digital level improved the situation by just a dB or two. Here is how the SINAD (signal over distortion and noise) rates compared to recently reviewed gear:

Soundblaster X-FI HD SB1240 PC Sound Card RCA SINAD Measurements.png


It is at the bottom of tier 3 so nothing to get excited about.

I jumped then to headphone output measuring its performance with a 300 ohm load:
Soundblaster X-FI HD SB1240 PC Sound Card Headphone 300 ohm Measurements.png


We start-off OK but then distortion sets in at just 1 milliwatt of power. Max power is a weak 13 milliwatts.

Switching to 33 ohm load did not improve the picture:

Soundblaster X-FI HD SB1240 PC Sound Card Headphone 33 ohm Measurements.png


Distortion takes over now at just 0.1 milliwatts and max power before clipping is just 25 milliwatts.

Worst news was still to come in the form of headphone output impedance:

Soundblaster X-FI HD SB1240 PC Sound Card Headphone Output Impedance Measurements.png


At 36 ohm, the frequency response and hence the balance of tones will be impacted by SoundBlaster X-FI HD. We like to see 1 ohm or lower here to avoid this effect.

Instead of torturing myself or you all I decided to test the ADC but that was not meant to be. The Soundblaster driver reported that line in and microphone in were not operational. Selecting the ASIO driver as input just hug my Audio Precision software or did nothing useful. Oh well.

Conclusions
Seems Creative is still sailing on the reputation of their PC audio products from decades back with no effort to produce a high-performance device. While the DAC portion is OK, the headphone output is a disaster. And who knows why the ADC doesn't work.

Needless to say the pink panther is not happy and I can't recommend the SoundBlaster X-FI HD.

------------
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Headphonaholic

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#3
I remember building computers in the late 90's and early 2000's with sound blaster cards. At that point I would say they were a definite household brand. Nowadays I feel most people probably just use whatever integrated solution you get with the motherboard or computer. I don't think Soundblaster has the presence they had back then anymore. Only Soundblaster product I've used in a long while is the E3 portable amp.
 
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#4
Oh man, this was my first USB DAC back in college in 2010. I had no idea what output impedance meant at the time, but to my untrained ears, it was so bass-y as to be unlistenable from the headphone port. Fortunately, I only really needed it to drive speakers, which it did a very reasonable job for.

I also used it as a S/PDIF DAC for my Xbox 360, but it needed to be plugged into a computer with that driver package running to work. One pretty cool feature of the drivers, though, was that you could use them to mix S/PDIF and USB input, and to record to the S/PDIF input.

The reason I eventually ditched it for desktop use was that its oscillator was only capable of 48kHz, so I couldn't run exclusive mode on it without resampling, which some of my software could not do.

Honestly though, in the context of a 10 year old device, these measurements are very respectable (with the exception of the output impedance). This is an artifact from the pre-nwavguy days, when most devices measured terribly. I am, however, totally shocked that it's retailing for the same price a decade later, when it is very much NOT current technology.
 

bigx5murf

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#5
I think I have the older version of this, the X-fi 5.1.

Not really surprised by the findings. I remember back when they actually had a legit competitor to Aureal, and chose to compete through never ending litigation instead of releasing quality products.
 

exaudio

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#6
@amirm , I'm bummed about the ADC not being recognized. Any chance you could try it with a shorter USB cable? I think that device may very sensitive to the voltage drop across longer USB cables. I'd forgotten it was flaky like that. When it's working properly Windows should see it without any of Creative's drivers. The ADC with phono input is why I bought that thing.
 

amirm

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#7
The device is recognized by Windows. It is just that it says it is not available. I suspect the hardware is telling the driver nothing is plugged in there or some such thing.
 
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#9
lol sound blaster is now a sub par name :(((
 

Sythrix

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#10
lol sound blaster is now a sub par name :(((
Honestly, they now sell products to graphically triggered gamers who are looking for anything to optimize their setup.

The page for this product on their website isn't working at the moment, but just go to their website and look around. The RGB auras and slick styling are what sells their products, not quality engineering. The entire PC gaming industry has become overrun with a particular art style, pursuant to how modern PCs look, and it's more about image than ever before.

They don't have to sell quality audio, they just have to convince a gamer it's the next, best upgrade for their inferior "built-in" sound using the same colors and artistic techniques being used all over the gamer landscape. It's no wonder they don't know how to actually make a decent audio product.
 

Headphonaholic

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#11
The entire PC gaming industry has become overrun with a particular art style, pursuant to how modern PCs look, and it's more about image than ever before.
I only partially agree with you. Neon lighting and such was very popular early 2000's. The PC gaming industry has always been about making something that looks cool, and hopefully performs well. After the neon lights it was all about water cooling. Now it's leds.

They don't have to sell quality audio, they just have to convince a gamer it's the next, best upgrade for their inferior "built-in" sound using the same colors and artistic techniques being used all over the gamer landscape. It's no wonder they don't know how to actually make a decent audio product.
Honestly, gamers generally know squat about hardware in any regards. Many are always trying to jam 2 or more video cards in their systems thinking it means literally that many times more the performance, which fun fact, it isn't. Sometimes it actually hurts performance, depends on the game. That industry is full of misinformation and generally uneducated folk just the same as the audio industry. Further proof is that some company was selling gaming computers with AMD Threadrippers in em, a processor I would never recommend for gaming but would be fantastic in a workstation machine. The company was just catering to the crowd that buys bigger numbers blindly.
 

Jimster480

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#12
Honestly, they now sell products to graphically triggered gamers who are looking for anything to optimize their setup.

The page for this product on their website isn't working at the moment, but just go to their website and look around. The RGB auras and slick styling are what sells their products, not quality engineering. The entire PC gaming industry has become overrun with a particular art style, pursuant to how modern PCs look, and it's more about image than ever before.

They don't have to sell quality audio, they just have to convince a gamer it's the next, best upgrade for their inferior "built-in" sound using the same colors and artistic techniques being used all over the gamer landscape. It's no wonder they don't know how to actually make a decent audio product.
This isn't all true.
Back in the day UV reactive cabling and cathode tubes were all the rage.
Computers "looked cool" aswell as performed.
Its the same in the gaming world today with RGB.
But consumers are just less informed as a whole and buy garbage because of marketing.

Thankfully we have this site to be able to learn and discuss quality vs junk.

Soundblaster has been junk for a long time already IMHO, this products poor performance is right in line with what I would expect.
 

syknetz

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#13
I feel bad to subscribe to "defend" a product, but I really feel that people around here are (seriously) going all-in on a brand based on a poor product. I'm not saying this product is good, because it does have critical flaws. But is it indicative of Creative as a brand overall ? I don't think it's a very fair assessment. Even back when this was released (2011), this was a more "budget" option, since it "only" costed 99$. Does it make much sense to say that the company as a whole has declined and now only produce junk based on a cheaper product designed 8 years ago ? Not really.
I was just reading reference-audio-analyzer measurements of the Soundblaster G6 (which I do own for its convenience), and the two biggest flaws I can see (high output impedance and low output power) are fixed, with a 1,1ohm output impedance and output power which, while likely current-limited in the lower impedance, gets a much more satisfying 87mW at 300 ohm, which, for a USB-powered device is alright. So while its performance doesn't look stellar overall, it looks like it could fit just right in with most audio companies product, and the price point isn't outrageous either. So really, for an "average joe" consumer product, it looks pretty fine.
Does not being competitive with the absolute best value on the market is "resting on its laurels" or "junk" ? I don't think so. I just feel that they should cull their products once in a while not to keep garbage like that on sale. The E5 or G5 seems to do everything this does, except better.
 

Jimster480

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#14
I feel bad to subscribe to "defend" a product, but I really feel that people around here are (seriously) going all-in on a brand based on a poor product. I'm not saying this product is good, because it does have critical flaws. But is it indicative of Creative as a brand overall ? I don't think it's a very fair assessment. Even back when this was released (2011), this was a more "budget" option, since it "only" costed 99$. Does it make much sense to say that the company as a whole has declined and now only produce junk based on a cheaper product designed 8 years ago ? Not really.
I was just reading reference-audio-analyzer measurements of the Soundblaster G6 (which I do own for its convenience), and the two biggest flaws I can see (high output impedance and low output power) are fixed, with a 1,1ohm output impedance and output power which, while likely current-limited in the lower impedance, gets a much more satisfying 87mW at 300 ohm, which, for a USB-powered device is alright. So while its performance doesn't look stellar overall, it looks like it could fit just right in with most audio companies product, and the price point isn't outrageous either. So really, for an "average joe" consumer product, it looks pretty fine.
Does not being competitive with the absolute best value on the market is "resting on its laurels" or "junk" ? I don't think so. I just feel that they should cull their products once in a while not to keep garbage like that on sale. The E5 or G5 seems to do everything this does, except better.
That would be an interesting product to test.
Its also $150 so it would have to go up against things like the NX4 DSD.
 

gz-

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#15
this is a very very old product, not a fair fight against the dx3! i would love to see measurements of newer products like the creative E5 or the creative G6 though!
 

maxxevv

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#17
Some of those results for the AE-5 look surprisingly good at 300 Ohm loading.
 

exaudio

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#18
@amirm, I think the ASIO driver is playback only. I'm not sure why Windows didn't recognize it as a generic USB audio device. It should have been able to use the generic USB audio drivers. There's definitely no need to install Creative's bloated crapware. It can be picky about USB cables but two feet should be plenty short. Oh well.
 

amirm

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#19
@amirm , I'm bummed about the ADC not being recognized. Any chance you could try it with a shorter USB cable? I think that device may very sensitive to the voltage drop across longer USB cables. I'd forgotten it was flaky like that. When it's working properly Windows should see it without any of Creative's drivers. The ADC with phono input is why I bought that thing.
OK, after much fiddling, I found the issue.

Turns out if you have any other input devices (e.g. motherboard inputs) enabled then the Soundblaster device shows up as "unavailable." I disabled those and Microphone input started to work (line out stayed unavailable). Unfortunately the ASIO driver Creative provides seems to only handle output, not input! Selecting ASIO4ALL would let me see the recording devices but none would do anything.

So I resorted to just playing the 1 kHz tone from my analyzer and capturing the audio using Adobe Audition (pro audio recording app). This is what I got:

Soundblaster X-FI HD SB1240 PC Sound Card Microphone Measurements.png


The second harmonic is dominant and sets the SINAD (signal over distortion and noise) to the tune of 72 dB. This means you are 20 dB short of CD transparency if you use this input as I did.

Sorry this is all I can do. :)
 
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