Back in the day, when audio solutions weren’t integrated into motherboards, people had to go out and buy their own sound cards. They were large, sophisticated pieces of hardware. Creative is one of the oldest companies known to manufacture sound solutions for all kinds of users, those into music, movies as well as gaming. Integrated solutions improved for a while, but it’s not uncommon to see two or three-year old audio chips being used in most PCs. Gamers and audiophiles are the two groups of users who need a lot more than just the basic audio performance that we’ve all come to expect from audio solution onboard motherboards.
The Recon3D Fatal1ty Champion is the absolute top-of-the-line sound cards from Creative. There are two other similar cards, priced for users with different budgets. The one we’re reviewing, of course, is Fatal1ty branded to attract gamers. Fatal1ty, a well known professional gamer has his branding on a number of other gaming accessories and components, spanning across several brands. The external packaging and the contents are also designed to keep the gamers happy.
The usual 3.5mm audio connects, including two optical ports
The Recon3D Fatal1ty Champion comes with, of course, the card, a PC dock, called the Sound Blaster I/O drive that sits in one of the 5.25-inch slots, where your DVD drives usually go and there’s also a bundled microphone. The sound card is at the heart of the entire set-up. It fits into a PCIe x1 slot and it’ll fit fine on even a PCIe x4 or x16 slot, if you don’t have an x1 slot free. The rear of the card has the usual set of analog 3.5mm audio ports – three for the surround sound speaker set-up, one for headphones, a line-in port that doubles up as a microphone-in jack. The interesting bit is the two optical ports, one for output, which is standard on most audio cards on discrete solutions as well as motherboards. The second is an audio input for those who might want to connect other devices to the PC. There are more connects found on the forward dock for those who want easy access. These include two RCA stereo jacks, a headphone jack and a microphone in jack.
A thorough front panel
The sound card itself has a 24-bit DAC that supports audio sample rates upto 96kHz. There’s also 16 and 24-bit recording capability for sample rates ranging from 8 to 96kHz. The Recon3D is then a very versatile and scalable sound card that isn’t just made for gaming. Creative also boasts of an inbuilt 600 Ohm headphone amplifier, which should interest those with high-end headphones. Such users usually have to depend on external headphone amplifiers.
Drivers and software features
The driver and user interface deserves a clear mention. It’s designed to be colourful, self-explanatory and be feature-rich at the same time. Creative has tied up with THX to offer additional effects, not something an audiophile would like. These are generally enhancements designed to boost certain aspects of the sound. These effects may make the sound more interesting, but it takes its natural tone away. There are surround sound effects, bass boosting effects, auto volume settings as well as a voice volume enhancing feature, called Dialog Plus. The effects come alive and are fun to play with every now and then. However, while testing movies and music, we decided to turn off all these effects.
Power and unified audio connects for the dock
The effects that you can choose and configure can be saved as profiles. There are some profile presets that are bundled with the software. They are all gaming related, specifically for different genres of games. Some of these are for racing, FPS, strategy and adventure games. There’s also an equalizer – nothing new, as it’s found on almost all popular audio solution configuration tools. There’s also volume control for surround speakers.
The sound card itself is quite small, as compared to other high-end sound cards from other manufacturers. It’s hidden away by a metal cover, which has a plastic covering that exposes only the main audio processor. There’s also a red light illuminating the chip. All of this is surely attractive to the LAN gamer who would typically take his PC to many LAN parties. For the rest, it’s just a gimmick, which will never be seen.
Two dials – for the microphone and headphone volume control
The audio dock, itself is much more solid – it’s made of solid metal, but the front panel is plastic, as are the two volume dials. They can be pushed into the dock, making for a nice party piece, but we would like more class and may be some nice metal dials, instead of the collapsible feature. One of the dials is for the headphone volume and the other for microphone volume. The dials control the Windows volume controls and we found close to no delay.
The card was tested primarily on a high-end headphone, the Sennheiser HD650, which is considered by many to be one of the best headphones around. Of course, it’s recommended that a headphone amplifier be used while using these headphones and they should work fine on the SB Recon3D Fatal1ty. We tried all kinds of media – everything from FLACs to MP3s on the sound card. We used foobar2000 as our audio player, setting it up on 24-bit with 96kHz audio tracks. We also used the WASAPI output to try and keep quality as high as possible.
Connectors at the rear of the dock to connect to the sound card
Audio quality is good overall, although audiophiles will find it lacking as far as richness of the sound is concerned. The sound is treated to be sharp, shrill and bassy – and that’s what gamers are looking at. There’s none of the warmth that you find in tube amplifiers or even modern, solid state amplifiers. There is detail and there’s no denying it, but it’s the tone of the output that might not be the ultimate when it comes to movies. For gaming, of course, the effects come in handy and help in direction detection. As for the driving of the HD650 headphones, it’s satisfactory and it’s way better than most of the integrated solutions and also the cheaper sub-10k rupee sound cards.
A slightly expensive package
The Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D Fatal1ty is clearly a gamers sound card. It’s fast, it’s fun to listen to and the effects only help enhance audio as far as surround sound movies and games are concerned. It is pricey no doubt, selling at a maximum price of Rs.14,999. Of course, you’re paying the premium for the front PC bay and the microphone. If you don’t want those, then there are the cheaper Fatal1ty Professional and simple PCIe models that offer most of the features, albeit at a much lower price.
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