Creative Labs Sound Blaster Recon3D PCIe Fatal1ty Professional review
The original USB version of the Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D, is an external sound card that works with both consoles and computers but only supports stereo sound. This latest version is an internal PCI Express card with 5.1 analogue outputs for PC speakers and an optical S/PDIF surround sound output, plus a dedicated headphone port. It even has an optical S/PDIF input, which you could use to record from a MiniDisc player or AV receiver.
Like the external version, the Recon3D uses Creative's new quad-core Sound Core3D audio processor which handles everything from environmental effects to applying live vocal effects when you chat. This takes the weight of your PC's processor. While that kind of processor power is unique to this range of sound cards, the Recon3D's most visible improvement over its predecessors is its driver support. We found the drivers are much easier to use, less bloated and less error-prone than those of other recent Sound Blaster cards.
The drivers provide features such as the previously mentioned voice processing; Dolby Digital Live surround sound for film buffs; THX TruStudio Pro Surround, which creates the impression of additional virtual surround sound speakers, regardless of your actual audio setup, plus the usual bass enhancement, equaliser settings and volume normalisation that you'll find in most audio drivers. There's also a rather nifty Scout mode, which enhances the sounds made by other players - such as footsteps and gunshots - thus making their position easier to pinpoint in multiplayer games. Everything's extremely easy to use and slickly designed, making the sound card's various features particularly easy to configure.
No major sound card on the market produces unsatisfactory sound quality and the Recon3D is no exception - it performed brilliantly in all our tests of music, gaming and movie audio, with a clean, neutral audio output which ensures that it's the quality of your speakers or headphones that'll make the biggest impact upon the sound you experience. Music enthusiasts should note that, unlike the Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD or Asus Xonar Essence STX - our favourite hi-fi sound card for music listening - the Recon3D PCIe range doesn't have dedicated op-amps for each of the main audio channels, but its 5.1 outputs mean that it is much more versatile, in addition to being significantly cheaper.
Although it's a perfectly good sound card, there's no compelling reason to buy the £115 Sound Blaster Recon3D PCIe Fatal1ty Professional over the standard Recon3D PCIe, priced at £88. The Professional edition comes with a metal and plastic shield which doesn't really do anything except look pretty and keep the dust off, plus official approval from professional gamer-cum-hardware-endorser Fatal1ty, but there's nothing else to distinguish it from the cheaper model. When it comes to real value, though, we prefer the Asus Xonar DX. It doesn't have as much processor power, but it sounds great, does everything that even picky gamers or movie viewers want from a PC sound card and costs just £50.