Multimedia - Published on Wednesday, 26 October 2005 17:15 Written by tokig
X-Fi Elite Pro is the high end card of the Creative X-Fi-series. This is justified by a remote, a really big console, better DA/AD-converters and an extended software package. We will take a closer look at all the components except the software package as we simply didn't receive it.
The PCB with Elite Pro is more advanced than the other X-Fi-cards which are rather similar compared to its predecessors. The design is clean and the signal paths aren't too long for the critical components.
On the front we can see the memory, chip, DACs and all the other fun stuff and if you check the upper right corner you find a small "box" which only Elite Pro and Fatality FPS have. We tried to guess what the small black box contained and we were quite surprised when it turned out to be just a diode inside which shines through the etching which spells out X-Fi. Not very extravagant but it might look cool if you have a chassi with windows and a general dark environment:
At the top we see a classic floppy power connector for supplying the card with power to the card and console and also a analog 4-pins AUX input.
The rear of the PCB is principally clean, all we can see is the tracing which is looking might nice.
On the PCI-card's bracket we find a series of in/outputs: one "flexi jack" (which can act as a mic input, digital input and line in), three 3.5 mm outputs for speakers or headsets and Creative's 26 pins AD_LINK to connect the console.
The image above shows the X-Fi-chip in all its glory. Thanks to the finer manufacturing process the chip is a lot smaller, physically, compared to the old series. On the chip we see that Creative calls X-Fi CA20K1 but we have so far heard of references to EMU20K1.
The memory that with Elite Pro and Fatality FPS is 64 MB SDRAM and is made by Micron. The memory is simply a TSOP-chip that works at 133 MHz and has a latency at 7.5 ns. We're not sure if the memory has been specially designed for Creative but you can't buy the specific model (48LC32M16A2-75 C) at Micron's homepage. The models available are -75 which is the default chip, -75 L which is a low power version and -75 IT is a version meant for somewhat more extreme temperatures. Presumably the C is short for Creative, but if it possess any specific characteristics we don't know.
The DACs with Elite Pro is made by the American company Cirrus Logic: CS4398. The card has four of these as they are stereo-DACs which is specified for 24 bit / 192 KHz. As input the chips accept PCM in sample rates between 32 and 200 KHz. Besides that they support DSD which is the type of transport SACD (Super Audio Compact Disc) uses. SACD-readers hasn't shown up for PCs yet though which is why Creative has mad much fuzz about it. (If we are to believe Creative there won't be any SACD-readers for PC for some time either). The DAC is specified for a maximum dynamic range of 120 dB and THD+N (Total Harmonic Distortion Plus Noise) is specified at -107 dB.
It is the same DAC that s used by EMU's (Creative's professional sound cards) flagship and also Creative's Audigy 4 Pro.
We haven't been able to find any more information about what other products use this DAC. One of the few things we did found is a sound mod for Denon's 5900 DVD-player where the mod costs 5000 dollar which gives you a hint of the quality.
On the card we see a stereo channel AD-converter from Japanese company AKM called AK5394 which is for the PCI-card's Line In 1/Mic In 1. Just as the DA-converters it is specified at 24 bit /192 KHz and the fact is that it offers a 123 dB dynamic range and -110 dB THD+N. That this ADC is high end is hardly a doubt as it is being used with Pro Tool's HD and EMU1820M. As input the ADC can handle sample rates between 1 and 216 KHz
And then we have the console which offers, except a feeling of luxury, access to a lot of in and outputs and controls.
At the front we see, from left to right; 6,3 mm headset output, 6,3 mm Line In 3/Hi-Z (Hi-Z is for apertures with low impedance, e.g. electric guitars), 6,3 mm Line In 2/Mic In 2, volume control with mute function for Line In 3/Hi-Z, volume control with mute function for Line In 2/Mic In 2, lever for 3DMIDI, lever for EAX-effects, lever for CMSS3D, lever for 24 Bit Crystalizer and volume control with mute function. You can of course turn off 3DMIDI, EAX, CMSS3D and Crystalizer with the levers, the features status is shown with a green LED that shines when they are activated. Mute and activation/deactivation is done through pushing the lever as a button.
On the far right we see the IR-receiver and a blue power LED.
On the rear we see a ground connection for recordplayers, switch for controlling the AUX In or Phono In, nine pin mini-DIN-contact for connecting Creative's speakers with wire-connected remote, DIN-input for MIDI, DIN-output for MIDI, optical SPDIF-input, optical SPDIF-output, electric/coax SPDIF-input, electric/coax SPDIF-output and finally Creative's 26 pin AD_LINK interface for communicating with the sound card.
The DA/AD in the console is different from the the DA/AD-converters which is used with the PCI-card. Since Creative's AD_LINK is only for digital information there are separate DA/AD-converters in the box. For the inputs there American Texas Instrument's Burr-Brown PCM1804 is used. Specified to 24 bit/192 KHz with a dynamic range at 112 dB and THD+N at -102 dB this DAC is not as flashy as the the AKM-circuit used with the PCI-card. We are a bit confused to why use a worse AD-converter, considering the specifications, for the console than it has for the card.
The Burr-Brown-circuits do have a very good reputation which might've influenced Creative, for better or for worse, that these circuits are equal to the AKM-circuit. We haven't been able to locate any commercial products that uses this circuit.
As DA-converter for the headset output Creative has chosen Cirrus Logic CS4392. This DAC is just as the other AD/DA-components specified at 24 bit/192 KHz. The chip receives PCM at sample rates between 4 and 192 KHz and DSD. Specified THD+N at -100 dB and dynamic range at 114 dB. Also here we see that it has chosen to use a component of "worse" quality than you can find on the PCI-card. The fact is that this DAC is the same component that was used with Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro. You can also find this DAC in a few of Marantz' products e.g. its DV8300, a multi-player in the $1500 segment.
To the console comes two feet that makes it possible to mount it vertically.
Last but not least we have the remote, RM-1800, which is considerably larger than previous versions. But with the size comes some new functions. At the top we see four scrolling wheels where you can control Crystalizer, CMSS3D, EAX-effects and 3DMIDI. The scrolls can be used to turn on and off the effects by clicking the wheels.
The rest of the features are the classic playback buttons we see with all remotes, stop, pause, fwd and navigation buttons. The only above average is display, options, return, start and cancel. These are used to navigate and control Creative's Entertainment Center which we will tell you more of now.
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