Top positive review
Outstanding sound quality, possible DDL hitches on newer computers
January 14, 2019
The Sound Blaster Z is an impressive sound card and delivers quite an outstanding sound quality, whether you are using a surround speaker system or headphones. It definitely blows my onboard sound out of the water (Realtek S1220A on an ASUS Prime X470-PRO) no matter which system or which headset I used with it. Be aware that the card is red and contains 2 bright red LEDs within the casing, both of which cannot be turned off without manually removing them or blocking them. Personally, I don't mind the red glow they emit at the bottom of my case.
The drivers installed flawlessly on Windows 10 and have been trouble-free for me, although the look is outdated and could do with a makeover. That's only cosmetic however, as the control panel is still very easy to use, to understand, and to work with. There are plenty of features allowing for a very wide range of sound adjustments.
I tried using Dolby Digital Live (paired with an Astro mixamp), and while it did work, the sound would suffer from frequent micro cuts. After extensive research, I came to the conclusion that the DDL encoder, at least on this card, seems to have trouble keeping up with the speed of newer components, causing it to hitch. I'm not entirely sure if this can be fixed via a driver update, but a quick search shows that the issue does exist, and sadly nobody really seems to know how to fix it. Unfortunately I could never find if this was due to components, Win10, or drivers. I even tried changing it from a PCIe x1 to a PCIe x16 without any luck. Some people do report having it working properly, so I'd consider this a gamble.
I didn't drop my rating too much as I consider DDL less relevant than it used to be, especially since this card will be purchased mainly by gamers who will use USB or AUX, defeating the purpose of a card with DDL. That, and outside of this, the card presents an excellent range of features and possess amazing sound quality.