Sound Blaster X-Fi HD USB

Sound Blaster X-Fi HD USB
Sound Blaster X-Fi HD USB (click to view on amazon.com)

Overview

The Sound Blaster X-Fi HD USB is described by the manufacturer (Creative) as being “designed to satisfy audiophiles and music lovers.” They make all sorts of claims about the quality of the circuitry inside, low noise, high fidelity sound, special circuitry that can make MP3 compressed audio sound better. But my main interest in the X-Fi HD was the phonograph inputs with RIAA equalization (necessary to undo the special equalization used on vinyl records to overcome their shortcomings).

Frustrations

The Sound Blaster X-Fi HD USB came with two CDs in the box. One CD contained the Windows driver software. The other contained software labeled as Media Toolbox 6. The installation instructions say there is an Activation Key printed on the CD sleeve. There was nothing that looked like an Activation Key on the CD sleeve, on the instruction pamphlet, on the box; nowhere. The software could be installed in a trial mode for 30 days without the key, so I installed it in trial mode.

The Media Toolbox is very simplistic software, hardly worth putting any copy protection on. But it also occurs to me that this is a USB device. The whole point of having an external USB device of any kind is being able to move it from one computer to another. Putting copy protection on Media Toolbox essentially locks you down to a single computer.

It took me a week of back and forth emails with Creative support to get an Activation Key. Each email sent had a 24 hour turn around to get a response. First there was the request for proof that I actually bought the thing. Then having to run through the support person’s canned script, “the Activation Key is printed on the CD sleeve (you idiot).” Then the underhanded insult, “did you lose the original CD sleeve?” Then the request for more proof, “If you can send me a photograph of the CD and it’s sleeve, I can send you a new Activation Key.” Then, after sending photos of everything, nothing but dead silence for 3 days. I sent them another email telling them the device was useless without the software, so if they weren’t going to send me a key, please send me a Return Material Authorization. A couple of hours after sending that email I received an Activation Key.

So what additional features did the Authorization Key unlock (besides allowing the software to work beyond 30 days)? It unlocked one additional software module that auto-tags your music using the GraceNote system (something that is included in software like WinAmp for free).

Can it be used for DJing?

Since they make the claim that it makes MP3 compressed files sound better, can it be used in a DJing situation?  It’s bulky.  The driver software is a bit difficult to work with, and the original version of the driver software did not have an equalizer included with it!  (Edit: A couple of years later they added equalizer software)  But yes, it is possible to use for DJing.  In real DJing circumstances I have not noticed a difference in sound quality compared to much cheaper alternatives.  So unless you are planning on digitizing records, save your money and go with something cheaper.