The Elite Pro is built around Creative’s new X-Fi (Xtreme Fidelity) technology. The company are suggesting that this is the greatest technological breakthrough since the invention of digital converters, but it’s actually an extremely powerful processor that blows previous Sound Blaster cards out of the water. To give you an idea, its raw potential is something like 24 times that of the previous Creative benchmark -- pretty impressive!
So what does this mean? Well, the sound quality is excellent, with a fabulous signal-to-noise ratio (minimum 109dB). Unfortunately, the Elite Pro package only provides analogue outputs on a mini-jack connector, which lets the circuitry down a little.
Next up, the X-Fi offers some insanely powerful sample rate conversion. The accompanying literature boasts that the package can convert a 997Hz test tone from 44.1kHz to 48kHz with a THD+N of better than a staggering -135dB.
Impressive stuff, but the noise you can hear is that of ringing alarm bells. Creative boast about enhancing and making your existing CDs and audio files sound better, but while the sound enhancement is indeed spectacular (one games mag described it as “like removing a towel from your speakers”), it is spectacular in a very distinctively processed way. When you’re creating finished musical productions, the goal is clarity and balance -- not stylised ‘colouring’ processing. Like Sony’s old-school MegaBass circuitry, such technologies should be left on consumer sound systems.
Also, if you care about 24-bit, you record at 24-bit, and many commercial samples are available at that resolution too. So, this key technology is of limited practical value to musicians.
Another wasted innovation is the ability to convert stereo signals to surround configurations or adapt different surround configurations to your setup (7.1 to 5.1, for instance). There is some clever processing at work here too -- the system can even make educated guesses about speech sounds that belong in a centre channel -- but it’s almost useless for music production, as there’s no substitute for crafting a proper surround mix manually.
So as fantastic as the Elite Pro can sound, from both the value-for-money and features standpoints it simply isn’t the best option for music production. Almost everything is geared towards being part of a home entertainment hub (the remote control is a giveaway), and though it operates in three modes (Audio Creation, Gaming and Entertainment), this means that at least two-thirds of the design ethos wasn’t focused on music production. What’s more, the whole idea that you can ‘permanently enhance your music to sound better than the original CD’ opens a highly questionable can of worms that we wouldn’t wish to spill onto these pages. Needless to say, you have to question the wisdom of applying a very specific and distinctive type of destructive processing to any type of music -- yours or anybody else’s.
If you do feel you absolutely must have X-Fi technology (and it is pretty special when used on games and films, we have to say), perhaps it's better to hold out for a later product. In the short term, a tidier and cheaper option would be the X-Fi Platinum, which offers much of the same connectivity for less cash but doesn’t come with the over-sized breakout box.
So, the final verdict. If you’re more a fan of games and movies than you are of making music, you’ll love the X-Fi. However, if you want an accurate and highly connectable audio interface to use soley for music making and at a good price, there are better options.