Creative is rolling out a new family of sound cards at the Gamescom convention this week. The Sound Blaster Z-Series appears to use the same Core3D audio processor as Creative's recent Recon3D cards. However, the new models all add a "high-quality beam-forming microphone array" that works in conjunction with noise reduction and echo cancellation schemes to improve the quality of voice recording for everything from Skype to games.
There are three models in the lineup, starting with the base Sound Blaster Z. This $100 offering has an integrated amplifier designed for headphones with impedances up to 600 Ω. The card boasts a 120-decibel SNR, according to Creative.
The Sound Blaster Zx adds $50 to the price and is apparently "the bad boy of the bunch." For the extra cash, Creative adds an external Audio Control Module (ACM) that combines a volume control knob with headphone and mic ports, plus a dual microphone array. (The Sound Blaster Z's external mic is just that, with no extra ports of volume controls.) To allow the Zx to encode multi-channel digital bitstreams, Creative has endowed the card with Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect support.
The daddy of the bunch is the Sound Blaster ZxR, which surprisingly lacks a Fatal1ty tie-in. Instead, you get all the goodness of the Zx along with higher quality components and sockets for swappable op-amps. The ZxR's DACs have an SNR rating of 127 decibels, says the official press release, and the ADCs are rated for 123 decibels. The ZxR also comes with a daughter card that offers additional ports. Total cost: $250.
Naturally, all the new Sound Blasters support Creative's SBX Pro Studio software. SBX features a Crystalizer function that adds a little oomph to music encoded with lossy compression, a Surround mode for speaker virtualization, and a few other widgets that aren't quite as interesting. Expect to see the Sound Blaster Z on shelves as early as October, with the Zx and ZxR following in December. Looks like we may need to gear up for some more blind listening tests.