What is X-Fi MB
Is a software driver, which adds to your sound processing chain (only on selected chips) some capabilities. Here is the web page detailing Creative X-Fi MB. This is the second generation of software-only EAX implementation from Creative available to other manufacturers, following the first generation called Audigy MB. It seems that X-Fi MB is available only for some models from specific vendors (Dell, Gigabyte, Asus, etc). When it is installed, the driver will disable the current Dolby software, and installs the following applications: Alchemy (to provide EAX to OpenAL library call translation for older games on Vista), MediaSource (some media player/organizer), Audio Console (an application which provides access to Creative audio features), Console launcher (same thing as Audio console, but with a user-friendly interface), WaveStudio and VolumePanel (a system tray control application). After installation on Vista, these Creative features are available:
- EAX environment Effects (echo/reverb for standard applications)
- CMSS 3D (surround sound on headphones, 2 channel to n speakers, etc)
- Crystalizer (improves mp3/movie sound quality)
- OpenAL, supporting EAX up to level 4
- Another dolby encoder, replacing the one bundled by Gigabyte
On Vista, all hardware-accelerated operations are no longer handled by EAX and creative drivers directly, but through OpenAL library, which offers EAX4 compatibility.
The user has nothing to tune at the application level after installation, the software simply installs itself as a driver, all the sound post-processing is done at the driver level (no need to tune each application, and an equalizer is not the same as a DSP)
Why did I installed it
Because before my current motherboard, a Gigabyte EP45-UD3P, i've used a Intel Motherboard DG965OT built with Sigmatel sound chip, bundled with 'Intel Audio Studio' which includes some ddigital sound processing software from Sonic Focus. That piece of software totally changes the way the sound gets to the speakers. Since i've used to this kind of audition, it was difficult to me to 'adapt' to the flat sound coming from ALC889A, especially MP3 audio, and I started searching for methods to improve the sound quality. If you listen music/radio to a low-end speaker set, probably you won't notice any improvement, but Logitech Z2300 or z5500, Genius 6000 or better will do a difference.
It's good to know some other things...
1. Creative entry-level boards are not built with hardware processors like EMU20Kx and not even the older EMU10Kx, and probably nobody will notice any difference from the sound coming from ALC889A + X-Fi MB compared to X-Fi Xtreme Audio / Audigy SE. Even more, X-Fi Xtreme Audio which is very little different from Audigy SE and all the DSP / EAX is done in software on these boards too. So, X-FI MB or Audigy SE or X-Fi Xtreme Audio will offer comparable CPU usage and sound post-processing. I think i'm absolutely right when I say 'X-Fi Extreme Audio and Audigy SE are hardware licenses to use EAX drivers and applications'.
2. There are other implementations for sound post-processing, which offers remarcable sound improvement, I refer to Sonic Focus, which is bundled with the Intel motherboards, at least 9xx series. I've used this software DSP on Intel DP965LT and DG965OT, and the difference is like from moving from classic TV (PAL/NTSC) to HDTV, but translated into music improvement, and it seems to me comparable to Creative's 'Crystalizer'. Anyway, Crystalizer, the way it's implemented on X-Fi MB downloaded from Gigabyte (version 184.108.40.2069) is inferior to Sonic Focus / Intel Audio Studio, Creative only offers a slider where you can select the 'Crystalizing' level, while Intel offers 3 or more, thus providing more flexibility.
3. By default, the 'Crystalizer' feature is enabled at level 50% on X-Fi MB, and I presume that it's the same on X-Fi Xtreme Audio. That's the main reason why Xtreme Audio owners are happy and they 'wont ever use onboard audio again!'.
- I don't like that Gigabyte is not bundling the licenses with their boards, or at least with performance/extreme series, it's a useful piece of software...
- On Gigabyte download page it is not listed Vista64, but the software for Vista32 is working absolutely fine on Vista64, and even including parts specifically for Vista64.
What other options are available
If you don't like to pay $29 to Creative for this software-only solution AND you want dynamics improvement AND EAX4 or higher, you can choose from
- A software (95%) + hardware (5%) solution for some extra $$$: X-Fi Xtreme Audio (these parts are fully licensed for EAX/Crystalizer,CMSS,etc) or Audigy SE, which is almost identical to X-Fi Xtreme Audio
- A software (5%) + hardware (95%) solution from Creative for much more $$$: X-Fi series with EMU20K1/2 chip, see X-Fi lineup.
If you don't care about EAX, you can use a Intel motherboard, but you may be missing some other useful features like overclocking or better CPU support (yes, better official CPU support!).
Don't blame me for not mentioning other boards, I did not use other boards and I don't want to talk about things I don't know about.