Date: Tuesday , September 20, 2011
For twenty years, Creative has manufactured and sold some of the world's most popular consumer-grade PC sound cards. If you consider yourself a seasoned gamer or a PC audio enthusiast in general, then you may have had a Creative-branded sound card in your PC at some point in time.
Last October, we reviewed Creative's Titanium HD PCI-Express internal sound card and it received our Editor's Choice gold award for its performance. That sound card's audiophile-grade components and improved software and drivers have lured back many of the customers that Creative had previously lost to its biggest rival, ASUS.
While our review may have piqued your interest in that sound card, an SLI or Crossfire video card setup or water cooling solution for your system may block the necessary expansion slot that the Titanium HD or any other dedicated internal sound card would require. Gamers with a micro or mini-ATX case or even laptops will simply not have adequate case space or free expansion slots inside their systems either. If you face any of the above situations, then you are usually forced to settle for the low quality analog sound reproduction and poor gaming performance that onboard sound chipsets typically provide.
The X-Fi HD USB's packaging states, "Audiophile Performance-USB Simplicity." We decided to put those marketing terms to the test. Today, we will tell you if this compact, external sound card provides a PC sound experience better than onboard sound chipsets or at least one comparable to dedicated internal sound cards.
Amazon.com sells the X-FI HD USB sound card for $81.99 with free ground or prime shipping. Newegg.com lists the card for the same price of $81.99 but ground shipping will cost you another $4.99.
One important thing to note about the X-Fi HD USB sound card is that, outside of North America, the card is known as either the Sound Blaster Digital Music Premium HD or Sound Blaster X-Fi HD depending on what region of the world you live in.
If you were to see this sound card and its prominent "SoundBlaster" and "X-FI HD" branding displayed on a shelf in a retail store, you may mistake it at first glance for its older sibling, the X-Fi Titanium HD. The Titanium HD has a black perspex shield protecting its internal components and similar, but not identical, connectivity options on its back plate.
A closer look at the product's shape, its external volume knob and audio jacks on its front panel, and the word "USB" in small print in the top-left corner of the product box should tell you that this card is indeed external.
The back and side panels of the box show the device's analog and digital connectivity options, technical specifications, playback and recording functions, and gaming API compatibility.
Creative includes one RCA to stereo-mini female adapter, quick start guide, and driver and application CDs.
Creative offers a one-year warranty for the X-Fi HD USB sound card. Although, ideally, we would like to see a warranty that lasts two or three years, one year seems to be Creative's standard for its newest products.