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superklye
01-15-06, 02:36 PM
As many of you may remember, I reviewed the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Elite Pro for nV News back in the beginning of December (http://www.nvnews.net/reviews/creative_sb_xfi/index.shtml) After a number of months of having this spectacular card, I believe I’ve found the perfect settings in terms of how music and movies sound to me and I’d like to offer up my settings to any that would like to experience music and movies at the pinnacle of auditory pleasure.

I like my music to attack me with menacingly low bass rumbling through my body, shaking me to my core and making my chest feel like a second, 100 watt heart is beating the hell out of my ribcage. I want cymbals that crash like broken glass and sparkle in a fashion similar to how one’s kitchen floor looks after a run-in with Mr. Clean. And with a combination of three equalizers—Winamp 5.12, 4Front EQ10 and the one in the X-Fi’s drivers—and the tweaking of a few other key features offered by the X-Fi, I’ve reached that level of sound quality I so desperately crave, or have come close enough to satiate the audiophile beast within.

To make sure I was at the perfect levels for each of the EQ bands, I used a smattering of music to test. “People = ****” and “Left Behind” by Slipknot; “Milk It” and “tourette’s” by Nirvana; “March of the Pigs,” “Big Man with a Gun,” “Eraser,” “Reptile,” all from The Downward Spiral 5.1 surround sound mix on the DualDisc rerelease; and “Terrible Lie,” “March of the Pigs,” “Gave Up,” “La Mer,” “The Mark Has Been Made,” “Wish,” and “Head Like a Hole” from Live: And All That Could Have Been. The songs were chosen due to the range of sounds that each displays. Slipknot covers the extra-heavy end; the two Nirvana tracks feature some of the most intense drumming and, in the case of “Milk It,” most menacing bass lines I’ve ever heard. Then, to round out the rest of the spectrum, Nine Inch Nails covers the synth, symphony, so-many-layers-I’m-lost, and lighter side of rock categories—at least compared to the other bands I used to test.

Keep in mind, these are all setting that I have found to be the best, the settings that I prefer. This is completely subjective and is by no means a memorandum telling X-Fi users how to use their card. I just wanted to give an option for sound that I think shatters everything else I’ve ever heard. Now, these settings are all for a set of Logitech Z-5300 speakers. I would assume that they would sound as good on the 5500s, but the budget sets are a whole different beast and other brands are completely up in the air, so take everything you read here with that in mind.

Also, due to the position of my desk, my room is not conducive to having my speakers actually set up in a 5.1 environment. My desk has the desktop that is about three feet deep. About two feet back from the edge I sit at, there are two podiums raised six inches from the desktop, about one square foot each, that each house a 17” monitor. There is a lowered platform that runs between these two that is three inches high. On that, my front left, right and center speakers sit. Down on the desktop, in front of the two podiums, my rear speakers sit. So I’ve basically got a wall of sound coming at me. It’s great for music since 99% of music is just stereo (NIN being the only exception I know of) and gaming is okay, too…the positional audio works wonderfully, but is lost on me, just as surround sound movies are. But since the walls are too far away, this is what I’m stuck with.

On to the settings…

Entertainment Mode Home
As you can see, I’ve got my speakers set for 5.1 surround and the CMSS-3D, 24-bit Crystalizer and EQ are all on. I’ve got my master volume set at 57% and will elaborate on that more later. The bass is at 66% and the treble is at 60%.

http://nvnews.net/reviews/creative_sb_xfi/images/entertaiment_mode/entertainment_main.jpg


Speaker and headphone settings
I keep the speakers in 5.1 surround mode all the time, since that’s what I paid for. Synchronization with the control panel is key for a hassle-free listening experience. Too many times in the past, Windows would reset my speakers to being stereo, even though I was always putting them back to 5.1. Now, there’s no more worries. Clicking on the THX symbol right next to that brings us to arguably the most important area in the drivers.

http://nvnews.net/reviews/creative_sb_xfi/images/entertaiment_mode/entertainment_speakers.jpg


THX settings
Again, the speakers are set in 5.1 mode and the FlexiJack mode is set for my headset mic that I use for the occasional call on Google Talk. Digital output sampling frequency is at a crisp, refreshing 96KHz for the best quality sound this card can offer.

http://nvnews.net/reviews/creative_sb_xfi/images/entertaiment_mode/entertainment_thx.jpg


Moving to the next screen, Calibration, I’ve just left everything at the default settings. I found that the distance set for the speakers has no impact on the sound when all are the same distance. When ones are set further back from others, they are given a boost to make them louder. Since my speakers are basically a wall in front of me and the distance setting didn’t matter, there was no need to change the settings. Those with speakers that ARE farther away and set up in a 5.1 environment may want to mess with these settings more. I also played with the angular settings and didn’t find a difference when the angle was increased or decreased. Again, this may have much more of an impact in a true surround environment, I just don’t know.

http://nvnews.net/reviews/creative_sb_xfi/images/entertaiment_mode/entertainment_thx_calibration.jpg


Finally, we come to bass redirection. Until last week, I didn’t really understand how this worked, I just knew that when I turned it on, everything sounded muddier and the bass would sound REALLY overworked. CaptNKILL filled me and many others in on how it works. Basically, it redirects audio from a specified level and above to your satellites while sending the rest to the subwoofer. That way, the sub is only putting out the low-end sounds it’s supposed to and the satellites are only handling the mid- and high-range that they are supposed to. Mine is set at the THX recommended 80Hz and it sounds SPECTACULAR. Changing this setting alone made more impact than any other aspect of this card. Sound has become so much clearer and crisper and I’m hearing things I never did before in NIN songs because now the speakers aren’t being overburdened with frequencies they shouldn’t be outputting. But, besides that…cymbals sound crisper and bass is no longer so muddy. What I used to think was sound perfection was muddy garbage compared to how the speakers sound now with redirection on.

http://nvnews.net/reviews/creative_sb_xfi/images/entertaiment_mode/entertainment_thx_bass.jpg



EAX Effects
I’ve never found these useful. All they seem to do is add varying levels of reverb and that’s the last thing I want to have on my music and movies. EAX is off.


CMSS-3D settings
I’ve found that the Stereo Surround mode is the perfect mode for MP3 listening. It takes a stereo signal and pumps it through both pairs of the front and back speakers and then combines the stream for the center channel. Stereo Xpand actually attempts to create a 5.1 output from a stereo input which I have found sounds pretty weak and muted. Why force something to be 5.1 when it’s only meant to be 2.1? This way, you’re effectively tripling the output of your speakers since instead of just the front right and left playing the MP3s, you’ve got the back left and right AND center. With my speaker setup, this makes for a formidable wall of sound, even at relatively low volume settings.

http://nvnews.net/reviews/creative_sb_xfi/images/entertaiment_mode/entertainment_cmss3d.jpg


24-bit Crystalizer settings
This is probably my favorite feature on the card. The Crystalizer makes everything sound so much more amazing! Cymbals are ear piercingly sharp and bass is bowel-looseningly low. The Crystalizer enhances sound in a way that an EQ could only dream of doing. Everything sounds so much more dull and flat without the Crystalizer on. There really is nothing more I can say about this. It’s amazing and is alone worth the price of the card.

http://nvnews.net/reviews/creative_sb_xfi/images/entertaiment_mode/entertainment_crystalizer.jpg


SVM settings
The Smart Volume Management is a complete waste of a feature. It acts as a normalizer, but unlike other normalizers that either boost or mute a track to keep volume levels the same across an album, for instance, this normalizes a song to itself, scanning for the highest and lowest points and finding a happy medium. Except, for instance, take the song “With Teeth” off the album by the same name as NIN. There is a VERY quiet piano/synth breakdown in the middle of an otherwise loud and chaotic song. Turning on SVM just dampens everything to a point of me having to crank the volume way beyond any level I should have to. Stay away from this.


EQ settings
The EQ is on and set for “rock.” I made no changes to it since it varies drastically from the way Winamp’s EQ works. I tried other EQs and none gave me the bass and cymbal sounds remotely close to what I like to hear, so, even though the Rock setting in the Creative drivers is marginal at best, it’s much better than the alternatives.

http://nvnews.net/reviews/creative_sb_xfi/images/entertaiment_mode/entertainment_eq.jpg


Mixer settings
The only volume control I really mess with in here is the Wave volume. I’ve got it set to 90% to keep it loud, but still avoid distortion. Otherwise, I believe everything is default, since I’ve never touched it. The only other setting I used on this screen is mute for the microphone when I’m not using it.

http://nvnews.net/reviews/creative_sb_xfi/images/entertaiment_mode/entertainment_mixer.jpg

The Dolby Digital, DTS and Digital I/O settings have all been left at driver defaults.


Winamp
Using the built-in Rock preset, everything is left default on that. I used to put the 60Hz band down to 0 because the bass was just too distorted. But now that I’ve got redirection on, I’ve put the bass back up to where Winamp recommends, and it thunders gloriously clear now.


4Front EQ10
Officially known as the OSPI DSP Plugin API made by 4Front Technologies, I find it much easier to just call it the 4Front EQ10 (and they do, too, apparently, since that’s the name in the window title bar). Anyway, this is a free plugin for Winamp 2, 3 and 5 (unofficially), as well as WMP, RealPlayer, Sonique, J.River Media Player Jukebox, MusicMatch Jukebox and Jet Audio with support for more coming soon.

http://nvnews.net/reviews/creative_sb_xfi/images/entertaiment_mode/4front_eq.jpg

To say this EQ is powerful is an understatement. To say that saying that the 4Front EQ10 is powerful is an understatement is an understatement. Make no mistake about it: the EQ10 is a professional caliber piece of software that delivers incredible control over 10 frequency bands of sound. The included preamp also boosts already boosted frequencies to help you find the perfect sound.

The only negative part of the 4Front EQ10 is that there aren't any numbers that you can use to remember settings...just those little notches (and there are a number of notches in between each of the marked ones, to truly give you precise and exact control over your sound).

I then have my speakers around 1/10-1/3 of the max volume, and the subwoofer level is set at about 55%. This is how I listen to and love my music and movies and I hope this has been of some help to others. Please ask any questions you may have and offer up any advice or alternate configurations you may have. Thanks. :)

jolle
01-15-06, 03:03 PM
Great write up..
a note tho, SVM is what some refers to "Night mode", and for that its great stuff..
I was watching some episodes of Rome the other morning at about 4am, instead of sitting with my remote lowering the volume and then raising it to hear people talk again, I just enabled SVM and the volume level is constant, I can hear people speak without a sonic attack from louder scenes to wake up the building..

but for anything else, its "keep off"...

superklye
01-15-06, 03:08 PM
Great write up..
a note tho, SVM is what some refers to "Night mode", and for that its great stuff..
I was watching some episodes of Rome the other morning at about 4am, instead of sitting with my remote lowering the volume and then raising it to hear people talk again, I just enabled SVM and the volume level is constant, I can hear people speak without a sonic attack from louder scenes to wake up the building..

but for anything else, its "keep off"...
Wow...you know what? That's a great idea! It never even occured to me. There have been so many late nights that I wanted to watch an episode of South Park or Lost or the The Shield or something else I had on my machine, but can't because these things are so loud and bassy and I live in an apartment with paper-thin ceilings/floors.

Thanks for the heads up. ;)

Roadhog
01-15-06, 03:53 PM
Very nice job. :D

What mode do you recomend using for all around use. Like gaming and listening to music.

keith33
01-15-06, 04:01 PM
Just wondering if this is possible, I want my music in iTunes to be Xpanded but at the same time I want CS Source to be surround sound simultaneously, is there a way to make this happen??

EDIT: Very nice guide BTW, you're my new hero of the week.

superklye
01-15-06, 04:02 PM
Well, to be honest, I don't use headphones for gaming. It makes me nervous to do so, like there is stuff going on elsewhere in my apartment that I'm not hearing, so I just use my speakers. And, really, apart from having some of the settings stripped away in Gaming Mode, it and Entertainment appear to be exactly the same.

Now, that's just on the surface...what is actually happening inside with the card, I don't know. I'm sure when X-RAM is fully utilized by future games, Gaming Mode will be key in order to get the most of the card, but right now, I notice no difference between the two modes, except that with my microphone in gaming mode, I don't hear myself through my speakers and in Entertainment Mode, I can't hear anything BUT myself. So, if I'm going to be using the mic, I switch to gaming mode, if I'm just going to be playing a single-player game or a game that I don't feel like using the mic for, I just leave it in entertainment mode, and I can't tell a difference between the two.

superklye
01-15-06, 04:05 PM
Just wondering if this is possible, I want my music in iTunes to be Xpanded but at the same time I want CS Source to be surround sound simultaneously, is there a way to make this happen??

EDIT: Very nice guide BTW, you're my new hero of the week.
Heh, thanks and thanks to everyone else's kind words.

I honestly don't know about your question though, keith. I never listen to music while gaming, unless it's on my bookshelf system. Winamp is something of a resource hog and I'd rather give games all the power I have. Plus, I can't hear people if they're sneaking up on me in CS:S if I were to have music on.

The way I think the card works is that having the CMSS-3D Stereo Surround or Xpand modes on, they will only apply to audio sources that would use them (i.e. stereo), so if you have a surround source coming through, Stereo Surround/Xpand would be bypassed since the source is alread surround. Have you tried it and it doesn't work?

CaptNKILL
01-15-06, 04:16 PM
Im curious, is there any real difference between the three different modes? I just have mine on game mode with all the settings that sound best to me and it seems to work great in movies, games and music.

Is it more just a way to have 3 different presets for your sound setup?

superklye
01-15-06, 04:18 PM
Im curious, is there any real difference between the three different modes? I just have mine on game mode with all the settings that sound best to me and it seems to work great in movies, games and music.
Have I noticed one? Not really. Is there one? According to Creative, there is, but what...I'm not sure.

Gaming mode just seems to be a crippled Entertainment mode.

Is it more just a way to have 3 different presets for your sound setup?
Not that I know of, but I think it would be pretty nice if you could at least save out the settings you have into some kind of file so that you could either a) send them to someone else, or b) easily reinstate the settings you had if you had to reformat your machine or something (which I do tonight or tomorrow. sigh...thank God I got this guide all finished before then. :D)

sharangad
01-15-06, 04:26 PM
Very nice job. :D

What mode do you recomend using for all around use. Like gaming and listening to music.

That would have to be Gaming mode as in Entertainment mode only EAX 3.0 is supported. In game mode, you get EAX upto version 5.

Some games like "Prince of Persia: Sands of Time" lacks EAX in anything other than game mode ( as it need EAX 4).

superklye
01-15-06, 04:30 PM
That would have to be Gaming mode as in Entertainment mode only EAX 3.0 is supported. In game mode, you get EAX upto version 5.

Some games like "Prince of Persia: Sands of Time" lacks EAX in anything other than game mode ( as it need EAX 4).
Really? It's not that I don't believe you, but do you have a link or anything that shows that? It seems weird the the card wouldn't have EAX 5.0 support in all modes.

CaptNKILL
01-15-06, 04:43 PM
I think game mode has the most features... I dont see any quick way to access the subwoofer crossover frequency in multimedia mode. There doesnt really seem to be anything extra in multimedia mode except for the bass\treble controls, but thatd just screw up my EQ settings so I'll stick to controlling it on my reciever.

keith33
01-15-06, 05:44 PM
Heh, thanks and thanks to everyone else's kind words.

I honestly don't know about your question though, keith. I never listen to music while gaming, unless it's on my bookshelf system. Winamp is something of a resource hog and I'd rather give games all the power I have. Plus, I can't hear people if they're sneaking up on me in CS:S if I were to have music on.

The way I think the card works is that having the CMSS-3D Stereo Surround or Xpand modes on, they will only apply to audio sources that would use them (i.e. stereo), so if you have a surround source coming through, Stereo Surround/Xpand would be bypassed since the source is alread surround. Have you tried it and it doesn't work?

Thanks again for the advice, I tried with Stereo Surround and moved the bias from the front to the middle and CS positonally works fine but I also get full music through all 5 speakers. NICE. Thanks. :D :D :D

EDIT: One more thing, the gaming mode is signiifcantly louder than the Entertainment mode, try playing an MP3 in gaming mode with the bias set to the middle compared to stereo upmix in entertainment, HUGE sound difference.

jolle
01-15-06, 06:08 PM
Really? It's not that I don't believe you, but do you have a link or anything that shows that? It seems weird the the card wouldn't have EAX 5.0 support in all modes.
Yeah I saw some table on the features over the different modes, cant seem to find it again.
but Gaming mode supports all EAX versions, Entertainment and Audio Creation are a bit limited there (seen some thread of people who couldnt get OpenAL to work right in Q4 for example, who forgot to switch back to game mode).
ASIO only works in Audio Creation I think etc..
ill give google another whirl..

EDIT: found it:
http://www.guru3d.com/article/sound/246/8/
they got a table there with features over the different modes.

einstein_314
01-15-06, 06:10 PM
That would have to be Gaming mode as in Entertainment mode only EAX 3.0 is supported. In game mode, you get EAX upto version 5.

Some games like "Prince of Persia: Sands of Time" lacks EAX in anything other than game mode ( as it need EAX 4).
I remember reading that somewhere too. There was a table comparing the 3 modes and what features are enabled/disabled/limited in each of the modes. I'll see if I can find it again...


EDIT: AHA!!! Success... Scroll down on this page a bit to find the table.Click Here for the goods (http://www.anandtech.com/multimedia/showdoc.aspx?i=2518&p=5)
EDIT #2: Changed the link to one from Anandtech.

CaptNKILL
01-15-06, 07:04 PM
What the hell is hi resolution audio-playback? :p

jolle
01-15-06, 07:30 PM
What the hell is hi resolution audio-playback? :p
playing 24bit/96khz 5.1 sound @ 1600x1200+ I would hazard..
hehe

superklye
01-15-06, 10:52 PM
Thanks for those chart links...most of the differences I can understand, but the EAX one just doesn't make sense, I guess. Whatever. It's not like I need EAX 5.0 for listening to music, but it just seems weird that's one of the features that isn't the same across the board.

acrh2
01-16-06, 12:12 AM
Thanks for those chart links...most of the differences I can understand, but the EAX one just doesn't make sense, I guess. Whatever. It's not like I need EAX 5.0 for listening to music, but it just seems weird that's one of the features that isn't the same across the board.

There's another difference between gaming and entertainment modes that I found (not sure if it's been mentioned). It has to do with 2-channel configurations where one would use CMSS 3D to simulate 5.1 sound through headphones or 2/2.1 speaker setups:
entertainment mode will only simulate 3D effects in the horizontal plane (2D as in left/right/front/back effects), while gaming mode will also simulate vertical plane in addition to horizontal (full 3D).

Saintster
01-16-06, 01:21 AM
Nice write up SK.You are very CORRECT...that bass redirection just made all the difference in the world. I listen to similar types of heavy metal rock and it just made the differencer. Hatebreed ..Crossbreed..Svendust and all of music now sounds puffect. ThankS!

Scunner
01-16-06, 01:32 AM
Rockin' follow-up, Kyle. I've noticed some nice improvements with the bass redirect and Stereo-Surround settings.

Looking forward to turning up the volume when the wifey isn't asleep. :)

CaptNKILL
01-16-06, 02:50 AM
Hey Kyle, thanks for crediting me on the bass redirection thing, I just spotted that :)

Superfly
01-16-06, 07:10 AM
Nice guide SK - I found we were using very similar settings already - guess we both have good taste then :-)

The differences between the 3 modes were very interesting - they are all quiet different.

Looking forward to seeing what people use on there game mode setting......?

superklye
01-16-06, 12:03 PM
Hmm...I don't know what to tell you. Apart from the microphone sounding different when I use it (hearing my self in EM vs. not hearing myself in GM), the modes sound exactly the same to me. I guess I can give it another whirl and see.

And thanks for the feedback guys. :) Glad you like it.

And Capt...of course I'm going to give you credit...that was huge and I'm not about to act like I knew all along what the redirection did and that I should be using it. :)

Zips
01-16-06, 09:33 PM
Great tuning guide here. I just picked this up tonight after years of on-board sound and so far just without tweaking anything it's a huge improvement.

I'll go through this step-by-step tomorrow.