The segment of classic, once very popular, sound cards is on the brink of survival today, and it is caused by several reasons. First, the onboard motherboard sound is becoming of more and more high quality every year. Second, the card priced at about $100 is still a kind of compromise – the sound and opportunities are better than of onboard ones, though it is difficult to say about professional level. Indirectly, it is confirmed by dynamics of production of similar products, as something new appears almost every year...
However, this niche of the market is not closed completely, and some interesting things are still available. From the latest ones we can recall a card of Creative Z series, presented in 2013. Today we will be reviewing the latest of them - SoundBlaster Z, which differs from the more expensive Zx and ZxR merely in the absence of external adjustment module. In General, the solution is quite similar to the well-known ASUS while D1 and DX, but some additional points still exist.
The card is sold in a very presentable packing.
The set’s content is very modest: Creative SoundBlaster Z, driver disks and a beam forming microphone.
It is obvious, that the final price fell literally at the expense of each trifle, since often the company completes even much less qualitative products with a full set of cables. Here we don't have any cable: either optical or analogue.
The card's outlook is worth separate mentioning. For giving a luxurious effect, the card is enclosed in an aluminum EMI shield with a round window, and there is a decorative slip with lighting over the central chip.
Creative Sound Blaster Z casing – only decoration.
The card Creative Sound Blaster Z is made of black textolite.
All this doesn't have any technical sense, and is made only for the marketing purposes. It is much more pleasant for the user to give money for something allegedly massive and powerful, than for a set of standard chips.
However, if you remove the screen and turn off the plastic, you'll find a tiny chip of Creative CA0132 which doesn't need additional cooling, the screen and lighting... It is DSP processor. By the way, it can be met even as a part of top motherboards, since architecture very flexible.
For frontal outputs qualitative DAC CS4398 is used, that's why here the card bears a strong resemblance to ASUS products. Thus, if considering Creative SoundBlaster Z as a variant for receiving a high-quality sound, it is worth using stereophonic speakers.
There is a separate output for the headphones, theoretically supporting any models with impedance up to 600 Ohms. It can be considered as a great advantage of the card, especially as the output works from the same CS4398, only through other operational amplifiers. We'll speak later about the possibilities of such a solution to compete with the external device.
Analogue jacks are located traditionally very close, therefore there can be difficulties when using high-quality thick plugs. Thus the microphone input is combined with a linear one in one jack. But, unlike many competitive products, Creative SoundBlaster Z is provided with the full-fledged optics (SPDIF receiver CS8416).