Tweaking Windows 8.1 For Audio and Music Production

The secret sauce of the audio PC builder, here are our tweaks for Windows 8.1 to get your system humming along nicely. To be honest Windows 8 doesn’t need mu…

Sound Blaster Z PCIe Gaming Sound Card with High Performance Headphone Amp and Beam Forming Microphone

  • Includes an external high quality dual-microphone array standard with card
  • Features Sound Core3D Audio Processor for accelerating advanced audio and voice technologies
  • SBX Pro Studio sound technologies create unprecedented levels of audio realism including stunning 3D surround effects for your speakers and headsets
  • Delivers 116dB SNR, plus audiophile-grade capacitors and gold-plated I/O connectivity
  • Use the Sound Blaster Control Panel just toggle between you headphone and speakers system with a flip of a switch
Creative Sound Blaster Z SBX PCIE Gaming Sound Card with Beamforming Microphone
View larger Creative Sound Blaster Z SBX PCIE Gaming Sound Card with Beamforming Microphone This Sound Blaster Z is an ideal all-round solution for your PC gaming and entertainment needs. It comes complete with the Sound Blaster beamforming microphone for crystal clear voice communication. Our Sound Blaster product philosophy comes from a total system approach. We've designed the Z series cards to give the best experience for not only those wishing to experience content, but those wanting to create it as well. This includes optimizations for voice chat and recording in addition to all of the amazing SBX Studio Pro audio output enhancements. High-Quality Connections The Z card is equipped with gold plated connection points to ensure the card delivers the best possible audio signal. 3.5mm gold plated headphone jack driven by the 600 Ohm Maxim MAX97220 amp 3.5mm gold plated microphone jack

List Price: $ 119.99 Price: $ 79.99

Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't be fooled, onboard audio is NOT "good enough"!, December 1, 2014
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This review is from: Sound Blaster Z PCIe Gaming Sound Card with High Performance Headphone Amp and Beam Forming Microphone (Personal Computers)
Loving this sound card. Recently upgraded my computer, and sadly wasn't able to use my old sound card (X-Fi Fatal1ty Professional PCI) because my new motherboard (ASRock z97 Extreme6) doesn't have any PCI slots. Anyway, I did some research, and after several inquiries I decided to take people's advice and stick with onboard audio (Realtek ALC1150 "Purity Sound 2"). I mostly game but I also listen to music (high bitrate MP3 and some FLAC). I don't have audiophile headphones, but I have a decent gaming headset (Sennheiser HD350). First thing I noticed with with onboard audio was that it wasn't very loud at all. I played with all settings I could find and my audio simply wasn't loud. It sounded okay, and volume levels were acceptable, but it wasn't LOUD. Games seemed fine, no real complaints.

Anyway, I got this sound card during Black Friday 2014, and immediately I noticed a HUGE difference upon installing it. It sounds absolutely AMAZING! I'll be honestly, I didn't do alot of comparative testing between this and onboard, but after using onboard the last month I had a pretty good idea of what I had going on. Going to this new card was night and day difference. Obviously, right? Dedicated sound card -vs- onboard.

The purpose of my review is to help people who were in a position similar as me. Basically, if you have an old dedicated sound card and are wondering if your brand new motherboard's onboard audio is going to be good enough or better. I'm here to tell you that the answer is more than likely going to be "no". If you had a dedicated sound card before, then you should probably upgrade that also because you WILL noticed a big difference when you go back to onboard audio. Even if it is "newer" onboard audio. There is simply no comparison. Realtek's ALC1150 codec is supposed to be a very capable sound card, at least I was told by several people. Don't fall for it. If you can afford the $75 for a sound then I highly suggest paying the money. The difference is huge, at least it was for me.

My only real complaint is the BRIGHT RED LEDs on this card. Like, seriously, they are a very tacky touch in my opinion. I know some people like them, which is cool, but I really think Creative should have made these LED's controllable through software. Thankfully you can remove the shroud and cover them up with electrical tape, but still.
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82 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Creative Sound Card to Date, January 8, 2014
This review is from: Sound Blaster Z PCIe Gaming Sound Card with High Performance Headphone Amp and Beam Forming Microphone (Personal Computers)
As both a gamer and audio enthusiast, I have always chosen a sound card over an integrated audio chip for two reasons.

1) A decent sound card generally features higher quality DACs (Digital audio converters) and Amps than an integrated solution, allowing for cleaner, richer, more accurate sound.
2) Hardware DSPs (Digital Signal Processors) provided mixing capabilities that offloaded mixing tasks from the CPU. This allowed for hardware accelerated 3D positional audio in games where all audio effects were processed directly on the card. This was particularly important in the early days of gaming when CPU cycles were at a premium.

Unfortunately the advantages of such cards aren't nearly as clear today. Microsoft eliminated hardware accelerated audio from its audio stack in Windows Vista and it's been that way since. As such, most applications (including games and the OS itself) perform all mixing in software by default. Although it is still possible to bypass the Windows mixer and send audio data directly to the soundcard to be processed, only the most audio conscious applications can do this.

So is there any reason to purchase a dedicated sound card in today's day and age? And if you're an existing sound card owner, is there any reason to upgrade?


I was skeptical at first, but then I took a chance and picked up this card when Amazon dropped the price (I had Best Buy price match it for me). Unlike the Creative sound cards that came before it, the Z was designed to over come the aforementioned challenges. Let's see how the Z still covers the two reasons to own a sound card listed above.

1) The Sound Blaster Z has excellent Burr-Brown DACs, capable of outputting a maximum resolution of 24-bit / 192Khz audio with a SNR of 116dB. This pushes the theoretical limits of human hearing, and provides a crystal clear, balanced sound that you won't get from most integrated audio chips. The DAC is one of the most critical components in reproducing an analog sound that is as close to the original as possible.

Previous Creative cards featured decent Cirrus Logic DACs that could output close to that resolution. However, a few major problems often prevented the sound from ever reaching the DAC in "bit-perfect" condition, and failed to achieving the highest resolution the DAC supported. For one thing, the DSP which provided the advantage of hardware accelerated mixing also came with a price: it could not achieve the true 24-bit / 96 or 192Khz audio that the DAC supported. Another problem was that Windows would resample the sound before sending it to the sound card DSP where it would get resampled again (unless the user or application used an API to bypass the Windows mixer). Multiple sample rate conversions can introduce artifacts into the sound.

Although the Z still has this problem with its DSP (the SoundCore 3D chip), the Z's much improved driver package offers a method (called "Stereo Direct") that allows you to bypass the DSP altogether, allowing for bit-perfect playback providing you bypass the Windows mixer with ASIO, WASAPI exclusive mode or OpenAL. This is great for music playback unless you want to let the Z enhance the sound in some way (upscale to 5.1, use the crystallizer to enhance lossy music, use virtual surround for headphones, etc). Either way, you can enable and disable the DSP as you please. When the DSP is disabled and the Windows Mixer is bypassed, the sound goes straight through the DAC to your speakers unaltered. Be warned if you do this, however. Not even Windows nor the Creative SBX control panel can alter the volume in this state, but that's usually what audio purists want.

2) Now what about when you want to take advantage of the DSP? Aren't all DSP effects handled in software unless you bypass the Windows Mixer? Yes and no. When Creative made Vista / Windows 7 / Windows 8 drivers for the Sound Blaster X-FI, they implemented most DSP effects for gaming and music (like EAX and CMSS3D) in software. As a result, things like CMSS3D and EAX effects would drop as soon as you switched to WASAPI exclusive mode. The only way you could get the DSP to apply these effects in hardware was by using OpenAL.

With the Z, most effects are applied in hardware even when bypassing the Windows Mixer (assuming the DSP is turned on). With the Z I was still able to have CMSS3D and other DSP effects when using WASAPI exclusive mode. The same could not be said for the X-FI where those DSP effects were only handled by the hardware when using OpenAL.

But does that even matter? I think so. I'd rather have the high end hardware on the Z process the sound than let software do it (especially Windows). As for games, DSP effects such as EAX will still be handled in software if the game uses Direct Sound for audio. Nevertheless, as I understand it, other gaming DSP enhancements in the... Read more
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576 of 621 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars VERY IMPORTANT if you are looking into buying this...Please Read, March 30, 2013
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There is a major flaw with the more expensive ZX model of this product. The Audio Control Module (ACM) that you are paying about $50 more, LOWERS the QUALITY of the audio signal versus plugging your headphones directly into the back of the sound card.

Seriously, how has no one else caught this? I checked online and found no one complaining about this. So, I thought my ACM was defective. Amazon kindly sent me a replacement. I got the replacement and plugged the new ACM into the back of the sound card and then plugged my headphones in the ACM. SAME ISSUE. (I tried both the 3.5mm and 1/4in plugs) I then changed out the sound card with the new replacement card and reinstalled the software and drivers just to be sure.....SAME ISSUE.

If you already own this.....and you love the most likely did not compare it to the sound when your headphones are plugged directly into the back of the sound card.

I noticed this dramatically because I did not use the ACM for the first week or so. I did all my initial testing in music and gaming without it. As soon as I plugged it in I thought something was wrong with my headphones or the sound card went bad on me. I quickly discovered that it was solely the AMC.

- The sound is significantly softer making me believe that the built in AMP is being weakened by the ACM. This is a bigger issue for those that have high impedance headphones

- Second it affects the balance and quality of sound. For example: While playing COD Black Ops 2 - I immediately noticed that the sound of my gun was muffled and recessed even at the same volume level. I then plugged my headphones directly into the back of the sound card...and it is so much better! Everything is louder, clearer, and precise. Don't believe me, try it out for yourself. I also immediately noticed that my music sounded worse playing through the ACM. The surround sound effect through the ACM sounds more tinny and echoy.

So bottom line....the ACM degrades the sound quality significantly (I tested this with two ACMs). It baffles me that both Sound Blaster and Consumers have not noticed this issue with the ACM. I did find a forum of audiophiles debating if the ACM would degrade the sound quality and amp....but there was no definite answer and the topic ended with the assumption that it did not since Sound Blaster said it is the superior model.

Please mark this review as helpful so others can see it before spending the extra money on this model...and if they do, hopefully they will do the sound test themselves and compare the sound difference. How knows, maybe I got two bad AMC in a row? I highly doubt it though.

The Sound Card itself is very good and I highly recommend the Sound Blaster Z (not ZX)purchase to anyone. Great PC sound and software for customizing your preference of sound. You can plug in your gaming console via Toslink/spdif cable and and use the software for superior virtual surround effect (compared to Astro Mixamp or DSS/2)and customize your console gaming sound as well. The only down side to that, is that you need your PC to be on while you play a console game. Again, I highly recommend the Sound Card. Save yourself $50 and get the Z model.

UPDATE - 4/20/13

So, I have brought this issue up with others on Head-Fi (audiophile website forums). Many others have tested this out for themselves and have reported back with the same problem. There have been many differnt headphones used and the problem exists with all of them (Superlux HS668b, Ultrasone Pro900, Sony V-6, Sennheiser 558...ect).

It is worth noting that while the ACM degrades audio quality, the built in microphone on the ACM is better than the microphone on the Z model. I have tested out both mics and compared them with my Zalman Zm-Mic1 ($8) and the Zx mic is on par with the Zalman - while the Z model mic is not as good.

Also, it seems the people with the ZxR model ($250) are not noticing a big difference in audio quality with the ACM. That does not mean it does not degrade the audio - but those I have conversed with on Head-fi stated that the audio was not significantly affected. So, MAYBE the ZxR model has a better ACM.

UPDATE: 6/6/13:
Here is a link to the Head-fi forum where I first started this conversation. The conversation goes on for several pages of the forum. My username on Head-fi is Povell42

Link: [...]

Here is a link to the same forum (pg 31) where others agree with me and the user phrozenspite confirms that the same issue happens with his ZXR Model.

Link: [...]
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  1. my fl 11 keep freezing when i try to render in 8.1 :(

  2. Thorough tutorial thanks for sharing. 

  3. very good tut, thanks for sharing.

  4. I’m sorry, if you guys really needed this tutorial, you had no right
    insulting Windows 8 in the first place. 18:30 is a good example of this; so
    many people diss the start menu. If you only put the things you need on it,
    it is actually usable. 

  5. Good straight forward advice for Windows 8. I thought about writing a blog
    about the same issue seeing most of what was touched upon in this Youtube
    vid is similar in Windows 7 the regedit info was invaluable. I use an i5
    with a LGA1156 motherboard and upgraded the drive to an SSHD. Really happy
    with the performance in Windows 8.1 . I’d like to add buying and after
    market cooling fan. It drops the cpu temperature down to a level where you
    will not get Not responding errors during the summer time in hotter
    climates. The other thing is to use the same type of memory. And if it
    fails memtest replace it!!!

  6. the only problem i have is when i am running fl studio in ASIO 4 ALL sound
    mode and in the middle emiddle of production fl seems to shut down the
    sound setting and then restarts icann see it because the tiny logo goes
    gray the same color as when you tick auto close device and then you clikc
    on the desktop it has the same behaviour and i dont know how to fix this
    its rather going on my nerves now :/ any idea what could it be ?

  7. Tweaking Windows 8.1 for music production – we show how you do it –

  8. Thorough tutorial thanks for sharing. 

  9. thanks for the tips! good work! 

  10. can i do the cpu bios tweaks on my Levono y580 laptop? are there any tweaks
    i cant do on a laptop? 

  11. Honestly, I don’t think touching those BIOS settings are a good idea,
    you’re usually fine with the default settings, not to mention unlocked
    overclocked CPUs. By disabling those on a overclocked system would be
    potentially dangerous and unhealthy to the CPU regardless it’s overclocked
    or not.

  12. 9:19 your product key is showing, you might want to blur that :D

  13. I had some problems in FL Studio using the ASIO4ALL interface. When I was
    making a song everything sounded good to me inside the DAW, but when I
    exported the song it just sounded weak and really ugly, I looked for help
    but I didn’t find anything about it, just one guy with the same problem
    that me, and after trying to fix this, he just turned off the ASIO4ALL and
    turned on the main card of his system, so do I and everything runs ok now,
    but I still want to understand what was the problem with that. Could you
    help me on this case?

  14. Thanks, this is a great video, i’ve been looking for something like this
    for a while. Just wish you had explained in greater depth the reasons
    behind some of these tweaks for those of us less knowledgeable 

  15. Essential Windows 8 tips for music production ->

  16. Thank you so much! I especially loved the part about the start menu =))

  17. what kind of sound interface do you use? and hows your latency in protools?
    ps. great job on the video. i loved the one on the touch monitor. 

  18. can this same settings apply to a laptop running windows 8.1?

  19. thank you someonoe with intelegance xD

  20. Thank you! That was worthwhile.

  21. there.. ;)

  22. Thank you for the tips! Very helpful. Shortcut you may enjoy – from the
    desktop hold Windows Key + X – this brings up that menu in the lower
    left-hand corner, also, most of those menu items can be launched with a

  23. I’m guessing that’s the Intel 4770k. It kicks ass. Maxing out all your
    CPU settings will lower the life of the CPU. At least that’s what they
    say. Not sure how true this statement is depending on how long before you
    upgrade your machine. 

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