The X-Fi (for "Extreme Fidelity") was released in August 2005 and comes in XtremeMusic, Platinum, Fatal1ty FPS, XtremeGamer and Elite Pro configurations. The 130 nm EMU20K1 audio chip operates at 400 MHz and has 51 million transistors. The computational power of this processor, i.e. its performance, is estimated as 10,000 MIPS (million instructions per second), which is about 24 times higher than the estimated performance of its predecessor – the Audigy processor. It is interesting to note that the processor’s computational power is optimized for the work mode selected in the software. With the X-Fi's "Active Modal Architecture" (AMA), the user can choose one of three optimization modes: Gaming, Entertainment, and Creation; each enabling a combination of the features of the chipset.
The X-Fi uses EAX 5.0 which supports up to 128 3D-positioned voices with up to four effects applied to each. This release also included the 24 bit crystalizer, which is intended to pronounce percussion elements by placing some emphasis on low and high pitched parts of the sound. The X-Fi, at its release, offered some of the most powerful mixing capabilities available, making it a powerful entry-level card for home musicians. The other big improvement in the X-Fi over the previous Audigy designs was the complete overhaul of the resampling engine on the card. The previous Audigy cards had their DSPs locked at 48/16, meaning any content that didn't match was resampled on the card in hardware; which was done poorly and resulted in a lot of intermodulation distortion. Many hardcore users worked around this by means of resampling their content using high quality software decoders, usually in the form of a plugin in their media player. Creative completely re-wrote the resampling method used on the X-Fi and dedicated more than half of the power of the DSP to the process; resulting in a very clean resample.
October 2006 saw a minor rebranding: the X-Fi XtremeMusic edition, which was in fact a highly capable gaming card, as it offers hardware decoding and EAX support, was replaced with the XtremeGamer model. The revised model featured half-width PCB, non-gold-plated connectors, optical out instead of the digital out and digital I/O module jack, and lacked the connector for users wishing to purchase a separate X-Fi I/O box. Functionality is otherwise the same.
The market segment occupied by the XtremeMusic was moved downwards, with the introduction of the (cheaper) 'Xtreme Audio' and 'Xtreme Audio Notebook' products, which, despite the "X-Fi" label, are the only products in the X-Fi line not using the EMU20K1 chip (CA20K1) (CA0106-WBTLF) and thus lacking the hardware acceleration of 3D sound and EAX sound effects, gaming and content creation features and the I/O extensibility of all the other X-Fi models. Despite the name, the Xtreme Gamer card offers a better signal-to-noise ratio and lower total harmonic distortion than the Xtreme Audio, and is hence a better card even purely for music use, though the marketing of the two products suggests that Creative believes the cheaper product to be adequate for most users.
The other new product introduced was the X-Fi 'XtremeGamer Fatal1ty Pro', identical in function to the Fatal1ty FPS, but made more affordable by the unbundling of the I/O panel and remote control.
Creative also released an external solution (named x-mod) in November 2006 which is listed in the same category as the rest of the X-Fi lineup, but is only a stereo device, marketed to improve music playing from laptop computers, and with lower specifications of the internal offerings.
The 130 nm EMU20K1 audio chip operates at 400 MHz and has 51 million transistors. The computational power of this processor, i.e. its performance, is estimated as 10,000 MIPS (million instructions per second), which is actually about 24 times higher than the estimated performance of its predecessor—the Audigy processor. It is interesting to note that the processor’s computational power is optimized for the work mode selected in the software. With the X-Fi's "Active Modal Architecture" (AMA), the user can choose one of three optimization modes (Gaming, Entertainment, and Creation), each of which enables a different combination of the features of the chipset. The Xtreme Audio model lacks the EMU20K1 chip and thus only supports the "Entertainment" mode via software emulation, while all other models support all three modes. X-Fi models that support "Gaming" mode use EAX 5.0, which supports up to 128 3D-positioned voices with up to four effects applied to each. The X-Fi, at its release, offered some of the most powerful mixing capabilities available, and made it a powerful entry-level card for home musicians.
The audio processor on X-Fi was by far the most powerful at its time of release, offering an extremely robust sample rate conversion (SRC) engine in addition to enhanced internal sound channel routing options and greater 3D audio enhancement capabilities. A significant portion of the audio processing unit was devoted to this resampling engine. The SRC engine was far more capable than previous Creative sound card offerings, a limitation that had been a major thorn in Creative's side. Most digital audio is sampled at 44.1 kHz, a standard no doubt related to CD Digital Audio, while sound cards were often designed to process audio at 48 kHz. So, the 44.1 kHz audio must be resampled to 48 kHz (Creative's previous cards' DSPs operated at 48 kHz) for the audio DSP to be able to process and affect it. A poor resampling implementation introduces artifacts into the audio which can be heard, and measured as higher intermodulation distortion, within higher frequencies (generally 16 kHz and up). X-Fi's resampling engine produces a near-lossless-quality result, far exceeding any known audio card DSP available at the time of release. This functionality is used not only for simple audio playback, but for several other features of the card such as the "Crystalizer", a technology that claims to improve the clarity of digital music through digital analysis (supported by all X-Fi models, including the Xtreme Audio and X-Mod).
The 20K1 chip can use a significant amount of RAM to store sound effects for faster and improved processing, just like the previous E-mu 10K-series and E-mu 8000. This feature, dubbed X-RAM by Creative and found on the higher-end models in the X-Fi line (the Elite Pro, Fatal1ty and XtremeGamer Fatal1ty Pro Series), is claimed to offer quality improvement through audio processing capability enhancement, in addition to further reduction in host system CPU overhead.
The Sound Blaster X-Fi presents the following features, which are usually implemented with the aid of the X-Fi DSP or in software, in the Xtreme Audio model.
Creative Labs states that primary function of the 24-bit Crystalizer is to "restore portions of the sound which were lost during compression" . In theory this can be done by advanced interpolation techniques. In practice, the Crystalizer is a dedicated, dynamic equalizer (Exciter). Its main function is to enhance the high and low frequencies of the input audio. Other functions include modifying a certain range of frequencies in order to achieve better perceived sound quality on a wider array of equipment such as headphones and speakers, and also to digitally increase the volume by about 3dB. As a consequence of enabling the Crystalizer, the original signal is altered, and whether the result improves upon the original audio is purely a matter of perception and can depend on the type of audio being played.
This feature is intended for both headphones and speakers. CMSS-3D consists of 3 settings depending upon what equipment is used. With 2 speakers, CMSS-3DVirtual can be enabled for virtual 3D audio. If surround sound speakers are used, CMSS-3DSurround can upmix stereo sources up to 7.1 channels. There is also CMSS-3DHeadphone for virtual 3D audio when using headphones. Whether the results are desirable can depend upon speaker equipment and personal preference.
Environmental Audio Extensions is designed to be enabled by game developers within a game to enhance the "simulated-reality" the user is modifying. There are also 8 built-in EAX effects which can be enabled by the user.
This is Smart Volume Management. It is a compressor or normalizer that tries to keep the volumes of various audio sources equal. It does alter the original recording so it may or may not be a desired option. It can be useful depending upon what audio is being played, or if two audio sources are being played at once.
This function divides music into ten frequency bands, which can be adjusted using the sliders.
There are multiple volume adjustments for different inputs and outputs on the system. The master volume affects all of these settings. The default and recommended value is 50% for all sources, which actually equates to a 0 dB amplification (none), while a 100% value causes a 6 dB amplification.
This setting controls the DD sound decoder.
This setting is the same as Dolby Digital Bitstream Out, only with DTS sound instead.
On September 24, 2007 Creative Labs released a closed source unsupported beta driver providing Linux 64-bit OS support for the following Sound Blaster X-Fi series sound cards:
An open source driver is available with OSS v4 build 1013 and above. As of July 2008, ALSA does not support the X-Fi series. However, datasheets were provided to the ALSA team and drivers are now in development.
Crystalizer is similar to many plugins that are available for digital audio players. Since the technology is proprietary, Creative has not released a great deal of information into the technical workings; only to describe it as a "signal-dependent, dynamic EQ", where as other testing has determined it's closer to a multi-band compressor. Whether or not the effect is beneficial is a qualitative measurement unique to each individual, and depends on the type of audio being played back.
Drivers for Linux have been available for the X-Fi series since September 2007. Intended to be closed sourced beta, the decision resulted in a huge backlash from the community, as the drivers would only work for Linux systems built to use the older Slab allocation method and fails to load if the kernel is a SLUB kernel, and only worked if the kernel is of x86-64 architecture. It is thought that Creative have finally gave in to the community as the ALSA developers have reported as of August 2008 that they have received documentation of the card as well as sample hardware from Creative and that work to support the hardware has started . Also, there are open sourced drivers for the X-FI from , available for all major unices.
Furthermore, users have reported that it slows down some applications and games, and that rear sound in games (all) is muffled and of profoundly low quality. Thus, even if the card is marketed as part of the X-Fi line, it does not belong to it technically, just like the Audigy SE doesn't technically belong to the Sound Blaster Audigy series. The card is not marketed as supporting the "X-Fi Gaming Mode" (but is still marketed as "X-Fi"), and there are no official implicit or explicit statements regarding its having hardware acceleration or not.
The newly revised EMU20K2 chipset used by the Titanium line of cards is said to solve the problem, further confirming the above PCI bus related fixes. New titanium line of cards has its own problems like microphone input not working etc.
|Card||Release||signal to noise ratio||Chip||RAM||I/O Console||I/O Drive Box||Remote control||Notes|
|Prelude||Aug'07||120dB||EMU20K1||64MB||-||High-end X-Fi product designed and marketed by Auzentech with Creative Labs' collaboration|
|Elite Pro||Aug'05||116dB||EMU20K1||64MB||included||-||included||additional software included|
|Titanium Fatal1ty Champion||Jun'08||109dB||EMU20K2||64MB||-||included||optional|
|Titanium Fatal1ty Professional||Jun'08||109dB||EMU20K2||64MB||-||optional||optional|
|Fatal1ty||Aug'05||109dB||EMU20K1||64MB||optional||included||included||also known as: Fatal1ty FPS / Fatal1ty Edition / Platinum Fatal1ty Champion|
|XtremeGamer Fatal1ty Pro||Oct'06||109dB||EMU20K1||64MB||optional||optional|
|XtremeMusic (Discontinued)||Aug'05||109dB||EMU20K1||2MB||optional||optional||still widely available as OEM product|
|Digital Audio (Discontinued)||Sep'05||109dB||EMU20K1||2MB||optional||optional||Japan-only variant of XtremeMusic with additional jack extension|
|XtremeGamer||Oct'06||109dB||EMU20K1||2MB||-||optional||Low profile card (half height), replacement for XtremeMusic|
|Xtreme Audio||Oct'06||<109dB||CA0106||-||-||optional||Low profile card (half height), does not contain the EMU20K1 chipset used by the rest of the series. Is based on the same chipset as the Audigy 2 SE and SB Live! 24-bit. It also has Crystalizer and CMSS-3D. Also available for PCI Express and ExpressCard.|