creative zen x-fi 2 review

So far, so ho-hum then.

But the original Zen X-Fi had a trump card in that it was the best sounding MP3 player out there, so we're expecting similarly impressive performance here. And thankfully, Creative has not let us down.

With X-Fi crystallisation enabled, music and video sound fantastic. Creative has even added a little X-Fi perma-button at the top of the screen so you can turn X-Fi on or off at any time without navigating away from your 'now playing' item.

The Zen X-Fi 2 ships with some high-quality noise-isolating earbuds which are far and away more impressive than the plastic pieces of junk that come with the iPod and most other players.

creative zen x-fi 2 review

X-Fi: Turn X-Fi on and off from the perma-button at the top of the screen

However, to test the sound quality, we used a £200 pair of Shure earphones and compared the sound against both the new iPod touch 64GB and the new 5th generation iPod nano.

The results were pretty much as expected. Sound quality is always a subjective thing, but to our ears the X-Fi 2 sounded better than both iPods when crystallisation was set to about 75 per cent. However, with X-Fi switched off, sound quality was below that of the iPods.

The X-Fi functionality does take a certain degree of audio processing, and as such uses more power and decreases battery life. Still though, we can't think of a single reason to not have it enabled, at least when listening to compressed music files like MP3 and WMA files.

Virtual surround sound

The other benefit of X-Fi is its 'expand' option (also known as CMSS-3D in X-Fi soundcards). This is designed to simulate a virtual 3D soundstage, and to bring flat music to life. Essentially, it makes music sound like the band is playing out in front of you, instead of flat music being played into your ears through earphones.

The results have always been a bit hit and miss, and vary wildly between different recordings.

The 'expand' setting on the original X-Fi was nothing short of a disaster. It just didn't work and made music sound horrible.

Thankfully, this is not the case with the X-Fi 2. The expand setting does, in most cases, improve the sound of the music. Still, it's very subjective so it'll be up to you whether you want it switched on and with which types of music.