Creative Labs has always been one of the most popular manufacturers of sound cards and Sound Blaster X-Fi is their current series of add-on sound cards. Due to the massive amount of readers asking us how to use the digital audio (SPDIF) output from their Sound Blaster X-Fi sound cards in order to connect them to their home theater receivers or digital speakers, we decided to compile this short tutorial listing all Sound Blaster X-Fi models released to date and the available options for SPDIF connection.
On Sound Blaster X-Fi sound cards SPDIF connectors are provided with at least one of these five ways:
- Thru a Digital I/O module that costs USD 15 and is installed on a jack called “FlexiJack” on the rear panel of the sound card (this is always the top-most connector). Besides the connection for this Digital I/O module, this jack also provides Line In and Mic In functions. This is the cheapest way to add SPDIF inputs and outputs to your Sound Blaster X-Fi sound card.
- Thru X-Fi I/O Drive, a multimedia panel that costs USD 80 and provides other features besides SPDIF connectivity, such as MIDI and remote control. This panel can be installed on any available 5.25” bay from you case. X-Fi Platinum Fatal1ty Champion Series comes already with this panel, so with this card you don’t need anything extra for having SPDIF support. Not all Sound Blaster X-Fi cards support this panel and we will list below the ones that support it. X-FI I/O Drive is connected to the sound card through an internal connector called “AD_Ext.” X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Champion Series comes with a different version from this panel, called "Gamer", that uses a different connector on the sound card, thus this sound card isn’t compatible with the regular X-Fi I/O Drive.
- Thru X-Fi I/O Console, an external device that costs USD 180 and provides everything that I/O Drive has plus high-impedance inputs for the connection of musical instruments such as electric guitars and other features. X-Fi Elite Pro comes already with this console, so with this card you don’t need anything extra for having SPDIF support. Not all Sound Blaster X-Fi cards support this device and we will list below the ones that support it. X-FI I/O Console is connected to the sound card through an external 26-pin plug called “AD_Link.”
- Thru optical SPDIF (a.k.a. Toslink) connectors available directly on the sound card, thus not requiring any of the devices listed above. Only X-Fi Xreme Audio PCI Express and X-Fi Titanium (all models) have these connectors. So with these sound cards you won’t need any extra device to have SPDIF connectors.
- With X-Fi XtremeGamer, which does not provide support for any of the above, you will need to buy an adapter that converts a 3.5 mm mini optical jack into a Toslink plug that costs less than USD 2. This adapter must be inserted on the Flexijack jack (which is the top-most one). With this sound card you can only have an optical SPDIF output (no support for inputs or coaxial output) and it only provides stereo output (i.e., only two channels). This sound card will, however, pass DVD audio directly to this optical SPDIF output correctly on 5.1 format.
We compiled the table below showing the compatibility of each sound card with the three Creative Labs products describe above; "yes" and "no" inform if the sound card accepts or not the installation of the product in question.
|Sound Card||On-Board Optical SPDIF||Digital I/O Module||X-Fi I/O Drive||X-Fi I/O Console|
X-Fi Elite Pro
|No||Yes||No||Yes (Comes with the Product)|
X-Fi Platinum Fatal1ty Champion Series
|No||Yes||Yes (Comes with the Product)||Yes|
|X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Professional Series||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Champion Series||Yes||No||Yes ("Gamer" model)||No|
|X-Fi Titanium Professional||Yes||Yes||No||No|
X-Fi Xtreme Audio
X-Fi Xtreme Audio PCI Express
X-Fi XtremeGamer Fatal1ty Pro Series
Now that you know how to have a digital connection available on your sound card, you still need to buy a digital cable to connect your sound card to your home theater receiver or digital speakers, if you don’t have one yet. Here you have two options, to buy an inexpensive coaxial SPDIF cable (a.k.a. RCA mono cable) or an optical Toslink cable (i.e. optic fiber), which is more expensive but is the best way to connect your equipment. Keep in mind that X-Fi Titanium, X-Fi Xreme Audio PCI Express and X-Fi XtremeGamer only support optical connection.
The simply connect your sound card to your home theater receiver or digital speakers. You can learn how this is done through our How To Connect Your PC to Your Home Stereo or Home Theater tutorial.
After connecting your sound card to your home theater receiver or digital speakers (and selecting the correct input on your home theater) you need to configure your PC to send audio through the sound card SPDIF out connector, if you are using the FlexiJack connector (i.e., you are using the Digital I/O module or have an X-Fi XtremeGamer).
This is done through your sound card’s control panel, depending on the mode you are currently running your sound card under:
- Entertainment Mode: Click the Digital I/O icon, then on the next screen, click “Digital I/O.”
- Audio Creation Mode: Click the Settings button, then under Digital I/O click “Digital I/O.”
- Game Mode: Click the Settings button, then under Digital I/O click “Digital I/O.”