Behind X-Fi, Creative’s popular sound blaster, is the 24-Bit Crystalizer. It is among the brand new generation of processors that became a subject of heavy controversy. Because the manufacturer introduced it as one of the only two revolutionary soundcards, it received severe criticisms. [no_toc]

In a way, these criticisms, as well as the negative feedback, are informative. They address particular issues with the sound processor. These issues, when given attention, can contribute to the significant improvement of the product.

The 24-Bit Crystalizer: How It Works

X-Fi’s 24-Bit Crystalizer works by addressing the concerns of the listener who desires to take the listening experience to the next level. The goal is to determine ways to modify particular settings to make audio tracks sound livelier and fuller. The goal is to take into account the limitations of the typical 16-bit quantification and make particular corrections.

The Crystalizer follows particular concepts. Among these concepts is frequency analysis. It says that to produce music of a desirable quality, the thorough assessment of the audio is best.

Other vital concepts:

  • Restore original audio quality
  • Reference should be musician productions
  • Consider all sound processing procedures – from the process of recording the original audio to home reproduction

crystalizer reference

The Subject of Re-Mastering

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One of the fundamental aspects of X-Fi, as a sound processor, is the size of the amplitude’s linear zone.

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The size should be equal or somewhere along the desirable dynamic range. For example, a large linear zone comes with a large dynamic range. Conversely, with a small linear zone is a small dynamic range.

Consideration for the size of the amplitude’s linear zone is important if you prefer high-quality recordings. Typically, you should select one with a relatively small size. By selecting a small size or reducing the dynamic range, you can create a desirable recording. Particularly, this is because the speakers find it easier to produce sounds that are more pleasant.

This is where re-mastering enters the picture. While many FM stations use maximizers, it is a must that sound recordings should be mastered with dynamic range in a studio.

In this case, compression is also involved. It is how any user can improve a recording by selecting various modes. The instruments that are affected the most by compression are transients.

The most practical solution is a typical sound engineer’s approach. This solution goes as follows:

  • Compress transients to fit into a 16-bit quantification
  • Distinguish between more sustained sounds and transients
  • Correctly alter transients

Take for example a previously re-mastered track. How can a reasonably priced soundcard compete with a high-priced mastering station? And, let’s say that this mastering station can analyze and peruse a costly 64-bit process and multi-pass record.

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Understanding Distortion

When understanding the 24-Bit Crystalizer, you should also understand distortion. Because it is often unwanted (save for special cases), a goal of sound engineers is to minimize or eliminate distortion.

After sound processing, the amount of distortion should be noted. In the case of two mastering processes (aggressive processes), how much is the distortion used after consecutively performing these two mastering processes?

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While it is said that it usually expands (from 16 bit to 24 bit), you should always be mindful of the figures of X-Fi’s Crystalizer. For example, take into account experimentation performed in RMAA 5.5.

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After playing both 16-bit .wav and 24-bit .wav on the X-Fi, conclusions have been drawn. If a recording is performed via another 24-bit sound interface, you should always take note of the comparison.

perceived loudness chart

The Goal

The goal of the 24-Bit Crystalizer is to improve a playback’s quality. Particularly, it improves a playback’s quality by modifying dynamic range limitations. It offsets the gap of the 16-bit content to produce high-quality audio.

While it is quite forceful, the goal of the 24-Bit Crystalizer is achievable. This is a great solution because a 16-bit audio content can come with issues (such as low quality and incompatibility) when used in a 24-bit sound processor. Granted adequate components are in place, it can compensate for the limitations.

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Addressing Problems

Let’s take into account a mix of audio tracks – individual audio tracks. The audio tracks in this mix is each subject to unique dynamic range compression before mixing.

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It follows that the audio (found on the CD) does not contain usable information. More importantly, the audio does not reveal compression-related information. Alongside, it does not reveal the volume levels of the individual audio tracks.

Therefore, the lack of information is conclusive. It is conclusive in two aspects:

  1. Reverse engineering is physically impossible.
  2. The recording process is not subject to easy manipulation.

Nevertheless, designing post-processing is possible. It is possible to produce a recording of a similar quality to an ideal recording. This post-processing goal should focus on these modifications:

  • No perpetual alterations of the audio — any aspect of it
  • Absolute levels of transients
  • The enhancement of transients

Proprietary Solution

Because it is signal-dependent, the 24-Bit Crystalizer is a dynamic EQ (or equalizer). It is a smart product that analyzes front-end values. Among the important values it calculates are:

  • High-frequency flux signals
  • Low-frequency flux signals

The calculation of these signals are based on input audio streams (non-linear processing). To improve quality, these signals are weighed proportionally. Then, they are designed to apply transient boosts.

There are critical elements to the dynamic EQ. One is the EQ’s proportional response. The other is the EQ’s analytical design (particularly, the front-end analysis). Somehow, the EQ’s static component also contributes to the change. These elements allow the alteration of audio signals without objectionable artifacts coming into play.

How about Actual Listener Response?

It is advantageous for the majority of the actual listener response in the general user market to be positive. While there are few complaints, many are highly satisfied with Creative’s X-Fi – particularly with the 24-Bit Crystalizer. This is suggestive of an average actual listener’s complacency with the product.

While it cannot reach extravagant goals (such as transforming CD or MP3 audio into DVD), the 24-Bit Crystalizer re-defines the standards of sound processing. For one, it improves the legacy of audio via proprietary signal processing. With the goal to make major improvements, MP3 music sounds better than audio in a CD – especially when combined with CMSS-3D.