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Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi 5.1 Pro review

Kat Orphanides
27 Feb 2011
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
57
inc VAT

This little external sound card is a good buy for laptop users, although it doesn't support maximum DVD sample rates

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At just under £60, the Sound Blaster X-Fi 5.1 Pro is at the cheaper end of Creative's range of sound cards. The compact black USB audio device is small enough to sit comfortably on top of your PC or shove into your laptop bag. A pair of RCA phono connectors on the back output the front stereo audio channel when in 5.1 mode. Alongside them are 3.5mm stereo jacks for the rear and centre audio channels.

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi 5.1 Pro ports

On the side are a dedicated 3.5mm headphone output as well as line and mic inputs. An optical S/PDIF output allows you to send digital audio to a compatible surround-sound amp and a driver option can encode PC game audio into a Dolby Digital Live stream, so you can stream 5.1 gaming audio over S/PDIF to your amplifier. There's a volume knob on the top and a tiny remote control to adjust the volume and skip tracks from across the room.

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi 5.1 Pro ports 2

The output bit- and sample-rate is 24-bit/96kHZ on the stereo phono outputs, but only 16-bit/48kHZ on the other surround channels. Our surround sound test movies and games still sounded good, with plenty of detail and clarity, but the sample rate limitation means that you can't listen to a 96kHz DVD audio track at full quality on all channels. When it comes to stereo music the 5.1 Pro does a very credible job of playing everything from Tchaikovsky to power metal. We particularly appreciated its clear reproduction of subtle tones at low volumes. We also noticed some of the characteristic brightness on cymbals and hi-hats that we've heard from many recent X-Fi cards.

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi 5.1 Pro remote

Although many USB sound cards are designed with audio production in mind, the X-Fi 5.1 Pro is a more modest consumer affair. It can record at up to 24-bit/96kHZ but there's no dedicated ASIO driver for low-latency recording. It's fine for internet telephony and voice chat, but don't expect to be using it to record the masters for your next album.

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