The Bottom Line
Feb 1 2012 - The Sound Blaster Recon3D Fatal1ty Professional certainly is a card that is aimed at a specific demographic. There are a number of features that gamers will particularly like in the new card including improved simulated 3D surround thanks to the new THX TruStudio Pro and the built-in headphone amplifier. Some features like Scout Mode aren't all that great when used through. Creative also did a great job of simplifying their drivers from the mess that existed with the X-Fi series. The card has a number of major issues through. The biggest is the price as for just $100 you can get practically the same features and performance from the standard Recond3D. In addition, the audio quality and lack of some speaker and sample rates will deter audiophiles who also like to play PC games from wanting this card.
- Good 3D Simulated Audio With Headphones
- Built-in Headphone Amplifier
- Vastly Improved Drivers
- Does Not Support 7.1 Speaker Setups
- Audio Output Falls Short For Audiophiles
- Overpriced For Features
- Creative Sound Core3D Audio Processor
- 5.1 Audio Support
- 24-bit 96KHz Audio Support
- 102dB Signal-to-Noise Ratio
- EAX HD Support
- THX TruStudio Pro, Dolby Digital Live
- 600ohm Compatible Headphone Amplifier
- Front/Rear/Center Mini-jacks, Headphone Mini-jack, Microphone/Line-In Mini-jack, TOSLINK Output, TOSLINK Input
- Stereo Microphone Included
- PCI-Express x1 Interface
Review - Sound Blaster Recon3D Fatal1ty Professional
Feb 1 2012 - Creative has been a major player in the PC audio market for years and it has been many years since their last big audio processor, the X-Fi, was released. This was a hugely successful chip that went through many revisions. Back in May of 2011, they announced a brand new Sound Core3D processor that would feature four audio cores in a single chip to be their next product. They finally made it to market with little announcement at the very end of 2011 with product availability really only at the end of January 2012.
The Recon3D cards are certainly not designed for audiophiles or entertainment lovers so much as for gamers. This can be found when you look at the stats for the audio processor and what it supports. For instance, the 102dB signal-to-noise ratio is actually quite low compared to many other competing cards. In fact, it falls well behind Creatives own Titanium HD by a large margin yet that card costs just a bit more than this one. Similarly, it only goes up to a 96KHz audio sampling rate while many other cards can go as high as 192KHz. In addition, Creative only supports 5.1 speakers while most cards offer up to 7.1 speaker support. This is even available on many motherboard audio solutions. This could be very disappointing for anyone that was hoping to use it to watch Blu-ray audio with 7.1 speakers.
So, what advantages does this new quad core Sound Core3D processor have? The main ability is to do a greater level of audio processing within the sound chip. Creative has done this in the past with its Crystalizers and CMS3D audio in the X-Fi but this card goes beyond that. For starters, it uses a new THX TruStudio Pro engine that gives it a greater range of capabilities. This incorporates the simulated surround, crystalizer, smart volume and dialog enhancer functions. Of these, the simulated surround worked very well and is far better than the old CMS3D. Gamers with headphones will really appreciated this. The dialog enhancer also did a a good job with movies that tend to have soft dialog but overpowered sound effects. The crystalizer and smart volume features are more subjective and I found them to distort the audio a bit too much.
Gamers with high end headphones or headsets will also be pleased by the inclusion of a built-in headphone amplifier. The headphone jack on the back of the card can support up to 600ohm impedance amplifier. With a good set of headphones, the audio quality is greatly improved over the traditional headphone jacks. Just be warned that this amplifier only works with the rear headphone jack and that the front panel connector uses the standard amplification style. This actually allows users to hear the difference between the two. Another warning is that the headphone amplifier used with lower ohm rated speakers can cause extreme distortion unless you turn the speaker volume levels very low. For instance, I need use use the volume at roughly 20% with 32ohm headset to prevent distortion or blowout.
One feature that Creative touts heavily for gamers is the Scout Mode. When this is enabled, it is supposed to give gamers an edge in terms of hearing more distant sounds in games to give you an edge in detecting enemies. When it is enabled, it does a decent job of improving distant sound but frankly it isn't all that useful. In fact, it seems that what it does is simply amplify the audio in the processor before it is sent to the headphones or speakers. What this does is introduce a fair amount of audio crackle which can also be distracting. It seems like if it were that important, gamers might as well just turn up their speakers for the same effect.
Many people have complained out Creatives drivers for the X-Fi series for its complicated set of controls and loads of extra software that are installed. Creative seems to have finally listened to owners and have redesigned the drivers into a much more simplified single Recon3D Control Panel. This one control panel allows for controls of all the different features from the various tabs. It also allows for profiles if you wish to save your settings for a particular style of audio. The drivers still do needs some work though as I did have difficulty at times with the Dolby Digital Live feature being unable to properly transmit the encoding when it was switched between modes. The only way to correct it was to close out all audio related programs, reset the drivers back to default and manually step through the configuration again.
The Sound Blaster Recon3D Fatal1ty Professional is the middle tier product with a suggested retail price of $150. Frankly, this price seems a bit odd as the feature set between the same between the two except for the included microphone, some red LED lights and a metal shroud over the board. Frankly, this seems a fairly minor difference in features for a $50 more. As a result, it isnt' really a very good deal. Most buyers would be better suited with the standard Recon3D board that can do pretty much all the same things as this one.