I just barely inserted my Soundblaster Z in the box so I can't really say how it compares, but at least it works and sounds reasonably good. And gives a nice red glow inside the box ;-)
For now I'm running Foobar2000 1.2.2 under Windows 8 Pro x64, I've installed the latest driver from Creatives supportsite(dated 20121224), and nothing from the disc. I opted for choosing what components to install, and unchecked the speaker configuration component as it is said to mess upp any "HiFi" ambitions of the card from others experiences.
I disabled ALL sound enhancements in the driver control panel, and choosed "direct sound". That leaves only two options for resolution in the Windows 8 control panel, 16/192 or 24/192. I opted for 24/192. So, I had to use the resampling plugin in Foobar2000 to get any sound at all with WASAPI and "Creative direct sound". That means I'm running resampling at 192000(put in manually) in Ultra Mode, and WASAPI(event) Speakers Soundblaster Z @ 24 bit. Exclusive mode. I've only listened to FLAC-files so far, and I've only used the line out(Front), connected to my PC soundrig, which consists of a Sony TA-FB940R integrated 2-channel amp and a 2.1 system(Proson SAT31SA.2 speakers and a Proson R-8.2 sub).
The only soundcard I've compared just a wee little to is Xonar DG, which remains in the same box, there's no doubt that Soundblaster Z with the above settings sounds audibly more clear than the Xonar DG - which in turn sounds attractive and nice but a little muddy. Biggest difference is in the extremes of the frequency spectrum, Soundblaster Z have a really punchy bass and a crystal clear treble resolution the rest is harder to define. There is soundstage though, and the sound lifts from the speakers and is not "left inside the box". Someone complained about just that, but I guess he got lost in the Creative control panel. From what I remember, even though I haven't compared directly yet, the Soundblaster Z is no match for the Xonar ST. There's still a slight agressiveness to the sound in Soundblaster Z, which can be good for some music, like aggressive metal, whereas the Xonar ST is really silky smooth almost ethereal in all music over it's line out(I'm not comparing the headphone out sound, and I will not, as my Sony amplifier has a audibly better headphone output than even the Xonar ST - hence I'm only interested in line out-quality ie DAC-quality).
Anyway, no conclusions yet, but Soundblaster Z sounds good no doubt about it, And apparently it has a slightly different sound than Xonar ST, which also can be a good thing for matching some music. I still have to do more direct comparisons, and also to compare with the M-Audio Audiophile 2496 in the very same box(used for music production, I'm not missing ASIO in the Z as the 2496 has very good ASIO and is already comfortably anchored to my mixer). But Xonar ST seems sure to remain the exclusive choice for critical listening, sitting in it's Linux box, any other conclusion is unlikely from what I can hear but not impossible of course.
It's good to have a high quality source in the Windows gaming box too, I use Windows only for gaming and running a DAW - everything else is done in Linux. The 2496 is a great working tool, but it's DAC-system is getting a little long in the tooth for pure HiFi-listening. And when it comes to gaming, the Soundblaster has a whole array of methods to enhance gaming sound, which no Xonar can match and certainly not the 2496. A nice stepup from the Xonar DG in that particular box. I'll be back when I'm more in the "know" :-)
edit. Oh, and all the caps are yellow with Nichicon written on them :P
edit2. I switched to headphones and one thing is for sure, the really really deep deep bass is excellent with this soundcard. My Philips SHP-8900 cans shouldn't have such impact this deep ~20Hz from previous experience, but they have, I couldn't have guessed because the midbass sounds really tight on the lean side with the Soundblaster Z, not bassy. And the SHP-8900:s normally are slightly boomy. But, now they go deep, with energy while sounding slim. Mids-High are still slightly aggressive, compared to what I remember from Xonar ST, and the sound is on the dry side. But with very high res. It will be interesting to switch back to ST. Now I have tested some other players than Foobar2000, like Spotifys native client and Clementine, by necessity they can't use WASAPI but plays through the Windows 8 mixer and it works very well and sound good while still keeping the 24/192-setting in Windows control panel. The Windows 8 mixer aint that bad. Still using line out of course.
Edited by xeizo - 2/2/13 at 2:56pm