Improve the sound quality of your computer
The Creative Soundblaster X-Fi HD promises to improve the audio quality of any PC, being better quality than the built-in audio equipment.
Even better, it connects using USB so it's ideal for laptop users or those who don't want to open up their computers' cases. It fills a niche for those who want the best possible sound quality – normally found on specialist sound cards for recording artists – but without the XLR microphone sockets that are not needed by many users.
Along with the device and USB cable the box contains a phono-to-audio-jack converter, useful for connecting to speakers that don't use phono plugs. The back panel has an optical input and output for connecting to Minidisc players and home cinema setups and a pair of phono plugs for attaching other devices including record players – there's also a grounding point that some record players will require.
The front has a volume dial and headphone and microphone sockets, though the latter two are large 6.3mm variety, an odd choice given that most headsets use the smaller 3.5mm plugs. Adapters are fairly cheap (£2 each from Maplin) but it's still inconvenient.
A driver disc is supplied but not required: Windows will detect the X-Fi HD as a standard audio device. The drivers give access to the various audio effects supported by the X-Fi HD (see below), and a separate disc includes utilities for recording, cleaning up music, editing tags and converting between formats.
On installing the X-Fi HD we heard an immediate improvement to the computer's sound. It's hard to objectively pin down the difference but playback of music and other audio was audibly brighter and cleaner compared with our test computer's built-in sound card.
The Creative Audio Control Panel can be used to adjust the audio effects. The first, called EAX, mostly adds reverb effects and is probably best left alone unless you want the impression of listening to music in a theatre.
The THX Tru Studio effects are far more useful and worth playing with - they include a dialogue enhancer and a ‘crystalliser' to improve lower-quality recordings.
The Creative X-Fi HD is a worthwhile upgrade if sound quality matters or you want to copy old vinyl records.
Read more reviews
Not cheap but a good quality sound module that is ideal for the music enthusiast rather than the musician
Excellent sound quality; record player inputs; optical input and output; works without extra drivers
Large jack sockets for headphones
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