Sound Blaster X-Fi Modding

Jan 29, 2008
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Sound Blaster X-Fi created shock waves when it was first introduced almost 5 years ago, Honestly to this day X-Fi (Proper ones that has the EMU20K1-2) it has no competition for gaming sound acceleration, But the analog sound output of all standard X-Fi models from creative is not of very high quality.

All X-Fi cards (Except for XtremeAudio) has extremely good Digital to Analog converters, they offer near lossless conversion of digital music to analog signals, the sound quality degradation occurs mostly on the analog Amplification stage of the X-Fi, this is due to the fact that creative use Op Amps and Capacitors of sub standard Quality, The one I'm going to mod is the Beloved X-Fi XtremeMusic, Creative fitted it with Jamicon Capacitors, they are known to loose almost all of their capacitance over a short period of time, My first X-Fi XtremeMusic (Model SB0460, this is the same model used one fatality and platinum cards) Failed because the Power Filter capacitor lost most of its capacitance and became a conductor and fried the EMU20K1 DSP.

Operational Amplifiers used on the X-fi are also of low quality, for an example Creative used the same NJM4556 Op amp (for the Line Out) on the Original Sound Blaster Live 5.1 in 1998, its on almost all cheap creative sound cards.

So what we are going to do today is to Replace the Power Filter Capacitor, Remove the Decoupling Capacitors of the Main OP Amp, and Replace the Op Amps with High quality one.

This Mod is done on a X-fi XtremeMusic (SB0460 same as Fatal1ty) changing the Op Amps might work on XtremeGamer and XtremeAudio also (Dont Try the Cap Mods on these cards because they have a different Layout)

Warning : This Mod requires you to have good Soldering Experience, if You don't feel confident in soldering very small electronic components, please try de soldering and soldering on Old Motherboards etc, there's a good chance that this mod can ruin your expensive sound card if you are not prepared.


Tools you Need

1. A Decent Soldering Iron, I use a 30W one
2. De Soldering Braid (Solder Wick), This is a must
3. Thin Flux Core Solder (Get the thinnest one possible)
4. A Micro Wire Cutter
5. Micro Nipper
6. Tweezers
7. Cotton Buds
8. Diluted Alcohol

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Components you Need


1. one 1000uf 16v Branded capacitor I used a Nippon Chemicon one bought from Senith Electronics Borella (Nichicon, Elna, Panasonic, Sanyo, Rubycon, etc)

2. Two LM4562 SOIC Op Amps (Surface Mount, I used two but you can replace all the OP amps if you will) If your Abroad you can get free samples of these from National Semiconductor, visit their website. These cost about 5$ each if you buy it on retail

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This Picture Outlines the Changes we are going to make

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We are going to use the Highly Praised LM4562 to Replace the NJM4556 and ST4558 (Used on surround channels), LM4562 is a High Speed (55Mhz) Ultra Low Noise (THD %0.00003), OP Amp designed specially for High End Audio Applications, Belive me guys the quality improvement this Op Amp bring to the X-Fi is simply Jaw Dropping.

1. Now to Work, We will Remove the Decoupling Caps first (These capacitors are on the Signal Path and Adds Distortion to the Audio these are used mainly for stability but the LM4562 can do without these just fine. there's a saying Best Capacitor for Audio is No Capacitor), and short them out using Wire, Use the De soldering Braid to remove all the solder from, capacitor contact, this is going to be hard because the PCB can really suck up all the heat from the Soldering Iron, Make sure you wont spill Solder in to the contact holes, if you do use the Solder wick on the front side of the pcb, and the solder will be gone in no time.

There Are 16 Decoupling caps (4 for each Op Amp Used) Only remove the ones that you are going to replace the op Amps (I removed the ones of Line Out and Surround Out 1).

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2. Next Remove the Power Filter Capacitor, Replace it with the 1000uf 16v one, mind the Polarity, White Shaded side one the PCB CAP marker is the Negative. You can locate it using the Map image I have posted

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After Removing the Cap Replace it with the New one


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3. This is the Most Important and the Step You have to Be Most careful, Removing and Replacing the Op Amps,

Get your micro Cutter and cut the legs of the Op Amps with care, you cant De solder the IC while its still on the board, After you remove the IC's carefully remove the Remaining Solder and the IC Contact pins using De Soldering Braid And Tweezers, Clean the Solder Pads with Alcohol

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Op Amp Removed and Pads are Cleaned, You can also see the Shorted De Coupling Caps.

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Now Carefully Place the LM4562 in the correct Orientation on the Solder Pads, Push it Gently down using the tweezers and put the Soldering Iron on one leg, the leg will instantly heat up and stick to the Solder pad, DO NOT USE THE SOLDERING IRON ON THE LEGS FOR MORE THAN A SECOND
Now get the thin solder and solder all the legs properly, use only a small amount of solder. do the same steps for the other OP amps you are going to Replace.

This Picture shows the LM4562 Soldered on my X-Fi

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Two Op Amps Replaced, 8 Decoupling Caps Removed and Shorted

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Conclusion :
Sound Quality Improvement after the Mod is simply Staggering, I can hear sounds now Previously not Audiable, Sound stage is very wide and Accurate, I can Pin Point each instrument separately on Tracks like the Lord of the Rings Sound track, Bass is Deep and Punchy, Highs are Very Transparent and Not bright, Vocals are Just right, This mod is a Must if you need the best out of your X-fi.
Thats it for now guys, Remember you can do so many other Mods on this also, This is all I have done for now, I will replace All the Bad caps on the card with good ones eventually, I will keep this thread Updated.

***Update 01***

Removing the Muting Transistors of Line Out 1

Muting Circuits are used to Reduce sudden bursts of sound that occurs during power on and off, but as we know more stuff that's on the Audio Signal Path more distortion will be added to a signal, Transistors are not among the better things that should be in a signal path, so we are going to remove the four Muting Transistors and Bypass them using short cuts, Care fully remove the Transistors and solder the shorts as shown on the photos below, You will be amazed how the sound quality improve after this.

I have Removed the Transistors, Cleaned the Pads

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Shortcuts are Soldered in to Place

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© Wimukthi Bandara 2009
 
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nadman

Well-known member
  • Nov 29, 2006
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    Wow hardcore modding.Respect!
    By the way where did you get that small soldering iron from?
     
    Jan 29, 2008
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    Wow hardcore modding.Respect!
    By the way where did you get that small soldering iron from?
    I got the Soldering Iron from a Electronics shop in Maharagama its near the Bus Stand, Dont remember the shops name tho, sorry mate, You can get good Soldering Irons from Silver Tones and Senith Electronics Also.
     

    nadman

    Well-known member
  • Nov 29, 2006
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    I got the Soldering Iron from a Electronics shop in Maharagama its near the Bus Stand, Dont remember the shops name tho, sorry mate, You can get good Soldering Irons from Silver Tones and Senith Electronics Also.

    Thanks Bro! Will try Maharagama (it is closer to me)I am thinking of fixing up a old 550w psu I have.
     
    Jan 29, 2008
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    Right Mark Audio Analyzer Results the Cable used for loop back is not Audio Grade even tho the results are pretty damn awesome.

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    gayannr

    Member
    Sep 29, 2006
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    The City of Lost Heaven
    Excellent article mate! Big 2 thumbs up!
    Very clean soldering job. I would love to see the RMAA results before the mod, I guess you may not have the graphs though, anyways excellent!.
    Hoping to re-cap my XtremeGamer when it arrives or sell it altogether and opt out with an XtremeMusic.
    Kudos!
     

    SaNDun

    Well-known member
  • May 4, 2006
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    In La Srinka
    wow.. superb machan. wedi wediyen mod karanna labewa :)

    mage nam thiyenne SB Audigy Value Sound Card ekak. ekata karanna puluwan mods ehema danne nadda ?
     
    Jan 29, 2008
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    Thanks machan, I dont have the RMAA data before the mod sadly, to be honest these tests dont show anything about how it really sounds, it just depends on the person listening, hey you can replace the op amps of the xtremegamer I think.
     
    Jan 29, 2008
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    wow.. superb machan. wedi wediyen mod karanna labewa :)

    mage nam thiyenne SB Audigy Value Sound Card ekak. ekata karanna puluwan mods ehema danne nadda ?

    thanks mate, you can try swapping the Op amp with the LM4562 ur card has the same op amp as on other X-Fi models.
     

    Serious_Sam

    Member
    Aug 22, 2008
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    Nice Job! :)
    I don't know much abt PC Hardware tweaking,
    but just had to comment on those very neat macro shots mate :)
    What's the camera you are using ?
     

    nimaz

    Member
    Nov 4, 2006
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    awsm work!!!!
    but i gotta buy a X-FI soundcard first...
    got a creative audigy at the moment...