Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD review
The increasing popularity of both internal and USB sound cards means we've seen a number of very expensive "audiophile" cards recently, aimed at people who want to use their PC as the heart of their home music and entertainment system. You'd have to be very serious about the quality of your PC audio to look at Creative's £158 Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD.
The Titanium HD is so specialised that you don't even get the option of analogue surround sound. On the back of the card are two pairs of stereo phono ports: one pair for analogue output and another which can serve as an analogue line input or be reconfigured as an optical S/PDIF input and output. The S/PDIF output can be connected to a compatible speaker system or AV receiver if you need a surround sound output, but it's digital, so you won't benefit from any of the Titanium HD's analogue sound processing. There are also dedicated 3.5mm ports for headphone output and mic input.
Creative hasn't scrimped with the components. The board has swappable operational amplifier chips (op-amps). The op-amps drive and amplify the analogue sound that you output to your headphones or speakers. Most people won't want to replace their own op-amps, but the option's there. Between the X-Fi processor and quality Burr-Brown Digital-to-Analogue Converter (DAC), the card has a Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) of 122dB with a maximum output sample rate of 192KHz at a 24-bit resolution.
Although Creative now has THX branding on its software, you actually get a similar set of driver options to any other Creative sound card, such as virtual surround sound and audio interpolation that attempts to improve the quality of low-bitrate MP3s. There's hardware support for EAX 5.0 and OpenAL environmental gaming audio, as well as DTS Connect and Dolby Digital Live driver support for surround sound upmixing. The card also comes with an Audio Stream Input/Output (ASIO) driver. ASIO drivers are used in professional audio editing software to reduce latency, but have no significant advantages when it comes to listening to your MP3 collection.
The card certainly sounds good, with rich, vibrant bass tones, crystal-clear high notes and a wide sound stage, but we nonetheless preferred the sound of the Asus Xonar Essence STX, and would have preferred a more defined mid-range and slightly less emphasis on low notes.
Unless your PC is the centrepiece of your home audio system, playing lossless audio files through a high-end amp and speakers or headphones, there's no reason to spend this much money on a sound card. Most people will be better off with the £30 Asus Xonar DX, which sounds great, has outputs for up to 7.1 analogue surround and driver support for environmental audio and virtual surround sound.