It’s been over six years since Creative first introduced its range of X-Fi sound cards. Since then, Creative’s X-Fi range has expanded to 14 different models and the technology has been licensed to companies such as Auzentech and Asus’ motherboard division. However, now that the X-Fi sound processor is long-in-the-tooth, it’s time for some innovation: the Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D is the first product to sport Creative’s new Sound Core3D audio processor.
Click to enlarge - The new Recon3D (left) and its PCB feature the Creative Sound Core3D audio processor
However, as you’ll no doubt have realised, the Recon3D is an external sound card, connected by USB rather than the PCI or PCI-E bus. Don’t worry system builders – Creative will be bringing the new chip to PCI-E cards soon, but this first product is targeted at bringing Creative’s audio technologies to both the Xbox 360 and PS3 in addition to the PC.
The Sound Core3D chip at the Recon3D’s heart is much, much smaller than the old X-Fi audio processors, but boasts a four-core design that combines a digital signal processor (DSP), digital-to-analogue converters (DACs) and analogue to digital converters (ADCs) that enable it to handle audio as ably as its PCI-E, resistor-covered forebears. Cracking open the Recon3D also reveals a VIA 8-channel audio controller chip and a low-end ARM processor, both of which are used when handling the audio from consoles. Otherwise the PCB is surprisingly sparse.
Click to enlarge
The unit itself only has a few connection options, but this belies its versatility. Audio output is only possible via a 3.5mm headphone jack, so there’s no option to connect the Recon3D to a digital or analogue surround sound setup. The headphone jack is joined by a 3.5mm microphone jack, as well as a mini-USB port and a 3.5mm input that doubles as an S/PDIF input. The source of the audio is altered by a switch on the Recon3D’s flank; in PC mode audio is transferred via the USB connection, but when connected to your console the USB connection is only used for power. Instead, Creative recommends using its optical S/PDIF cable which enables you to supply the Recon3D with unmolested 5.1 audio.
Click to enlarge - The new Recon3D's is tiny in comparison to a first gen X-Fi, yet offers more features and comparable audio quality, albeit via fewer outputs
The Recon3D is then able to take the 5.1 audio and down-mix it using licensed THX TruStudio PRO technology, creating a virtual surround effect over stereo headphones. It's a feature that's been available to PC gamers for years via Creative’s CMSS3D technology, but it's a new option for console gamers.
The effect is surprising; typically we’ve played our console games via headphones or the two channel speakers on a TV, but the difference was staggering when using the Recon3D. We’ve never heard games on the Xbox 360 or PS3 sound so good, with a real feeling of immersion from the audio. While a 5.1 set-up is superior still, for those who take their Halo 3 or Call of Duty with a side of headset, it makes a huge difference.
Processor: Creative Sound Core3D CA0138
Interface: USB 2
Maximum Channels: 2 (analogue)
Maximum Sample Rate: 48KHz
Inputs: Micro–USB, 3.5mm mic, 3.5mm Stereo aux in, 3.5mm optical S/PDIF in