Creative Labs Z Series Soundcards: Striving for Perfection

If a shrink did some sort of PC hardware word association game with me, and threw out the word “soundcard”, I would blurt out “BANANA”, gather my wits about me, and then go with “Creative Labs“. Asus has been creeping up in the PC audio category for a few years now, but Creative has managed to stay synonymous with the category. And the new Z series looks to solidify that even further.

The Z series, which launched a few months ago, is a direct response to the Xonar series from Asus. Creative’s Ryan Schlieper put that in no uncertain terms this afternoon. “We wanted to smash Asus,” said Ryan. “We looked at the Xonar lineup and asked ourselves “how do we improve upon every aspect?’”

There are three cards in the series — The Z, ZX and ZXR — and the included photos are of the latter flagship model. Along with a robust desktop control wheel (the ACM), 1/4-inch plugs, and CrystalVoice tech for gaming chat and shoutcasting, the ZXR is a two-fold audio solution. The big card handles analog and digital processing, up to 124 dB, and each half is separated by copper wiring. The 3DCore chip found in other Creative Labs offerings is here as well, handling all the audio processing onboard, leaving your CPU alone in the process.

The second card, which connects via a proprietary cable to the main ZX card, is just for audio recording. For the shoutcasters and streamers in the audience, this is the card for you. While it uses an ATX case bracket, the daughter card doesn’t use a PCI slot — perfect for full tower owners with extra space at the bottom of the case.

The ZXR is $249 — expensive for some, but a bargain for the shoutcasting and monetized streaming crowd. If you don’t need the daughter card for voice recording, the mid-range ZX card is more attractive at $149.

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