Whether or not all this user choice is worth the effort depends on how you like your music. For instance, the CMSS-3D software allows you to move a singer's voice either more to the front or more to the rear, but we quickly came to the conclusion that the best place for Seth Lakeman's vocals was just where the producer had put them to start with. Ditto the differences between the loud and quiet bits of La Traviata. Verdi scored it that way for a reason.
Tweak the sound like you're in the Royal Albert Hall
For film and games buffs, the card makes far more sense. You can download a free copy CyberLink's PowerDVD application complete with Dolby Digital and DTS decoding. Allied to CMSS-3D, it makes watching a DVD on your laptop with headphones quite a bit more entertaining from a purely audio point of view.
CMSS-3D also makes for great positional sound effects during gameplay, while Creative's EAX Advanced HD makes things that go bang go with a bigger bang if a quick romp around Red Faction 2 was anything to go by.
Of course, all these modifiers work better with headphones than speakers – though you can set the X-Fi control panel to favour either, and it has a handy set up feature for standalone surround sound speaker systems. Creative reckons a pair of its Aurvana X-Fi cans are what's needed to really blow your socks off, though at £150 a pair we would hope for nothing less.
The PC card's integral wireless transmitter allows you to stream music to Creative's Wireless Receiver, a 95 x 60 x 25mm black box with RCA and 3.5mm audio out jacks at the back. The receiver comes with a handy little remote that allows you to alter the volume, change track, and enable or disable the various X-Fi sound modifiers. There are also a few wholly useless buttons as it's the same remote that ships with other Creative products, such as the Xdock.
Stream music to four zones
Set up of the Wireless Receiver couldn't be more simple. Plug it in, connect it up, switch on and wait for it to pick up the signal from the Sound Blaster X-Fi Notebook. Sound quality is not at all bad. We hooked our unit up to the Edifier speakers and to an LG 5.1 home cinema system and the resulting sound from both showed little if anything in the way of distortion or degradation.
Wake me up when Creative finally brings back A3D 3.0 in one of their cards...
Handy for gamers?
If you're gaming on a laptop its going to be a fairly decent spec. The onboard sound is going to beat the pants off this.
Muzak to my ears?
I just bought a 13 quid Asonic box for my laptop. Mainly so I could hook up a TOS link cable for digital surround sound when playing HD movies on my parents HDTV and surround sound receiver when I stay over.
But wireless would be handy. That's if I could also send AC3, DTS, TrueHD, HDMI etc. Oh but they want several hundred quid for those.
With a new version of windows around the corner...
and after the way Creative handled the transition to Vista (i.e. 2 years after the release, and my then-1-year-old sound card still has a beta-quality driver and none of the advanced features available on XP), I will be avoiding Creative like the plague.
The same Creative that attempted to charge customers of one of their product lines for a driver update ( http://www.reghardware.co.uk/2008/05/08/creative_frees_alchemy/ )
And send a "Cease and Decist" to a community member who was providing third party drivers superior to the ones Creative were supplying ( http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/04/04/creative_restores_home_brew_vista_driver_links/ )
They eventually surrendered in both cases - but why should you have to fight for stuff like that.
Already doing the streaming thing, as are many others!
For a few years now I have been streaming music via my Apple Airport network. Never a problem, linking to digital amps via optical out on my Airport Express as well as normal hi-fi.
Now got an Apple TV in on the act too. Works well - and there are so many other options out there too - Phillips Streamium, and Sony included.
Whole house has the same stuff playing - which I can control remotely via my iPod Touch....
Oh St Steve - we love you!
/hold breath wait for Webster...