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Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D Specifications
Minimum System Requirements
Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D Tools and Features
The Recon3D features a quad-core sound and voice processor and promises to "Upgrade your computer to 3D surround sound." It comes with its own software where you can adjust various options such as the amount of surround sound you want, crystalizer, bass, and more. The option to optimize the quality of your voice is present as well. The tool they call "CrystalVoice" has noise reduction, acoustic echo cancellation, and the ability to focus on your voice over outside noise. There's also an FX feature, which lets you change what you sound like to a variety of "voices" including elderly, orc, elf, and scrappy kid, to name a few.
One of the tools I was excited about when I opened the box up was "Scout mode." This analyzes the sound coming from the game and highlights footsteps so that you can more easily hear people from farther away. Pretty cool feature, if you ask me; I'll go more into it a little later.
The rest of the features contain mixers and equalizers, where you can further customize the sound output, but it's pretty run of the mill as far as equalizers go.
Thoughts on the Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D
You can tell an immediate difference in sound quality upon putting the card into your computer, as you'd expect. So much so, that when I was comparing the integrated sound card to the Recon3D, I made a disgusted face when I shifted back to integrated. The change in sound isn't really that big of a difference necessarily, but it's the little things that have the most significant impact. On TV shows, the voices seem to have another layer that makes it sound as if the person is right next to you, and like you're two feet away from the symphony when listening to music (I used a lot of Immediate Music to test this).
The hardware was incredibly easy to install, outside of my two graphics cards in SLI requiring me to move one of them so I could safely install the device. Other than that, it was just a matter of plugging it in and turning the computer on. I have no qualms with the hardware aspect of this card, but I did have some problems with the software.
The software seems a little too ... finicky for me. The settings are easy to change, and almost everything is dummy-proofed so that people who don't know much about sound are able to efficiently adjust settings. Profiles are easy to create and manage for quick switching; they are able to be imported and exported if you decide to move your profiles to another computer. However, there are a few features that really bug me that I can't let slide.
In CrystalVoice, the FX proved to be troublesome. When I was testing it, I would change one setting and then change it back and things wouldn't work as they had before. For instance, I left with my speakers to go take a shower. Five minutes later, they would no longer work unless they were configured as a surround-sound system (they're stereo speakers). Not only that, but it took me about ten minutes of tinkering around with the settings to get my microphone to function. It was working and then all of a sudden not. I still don't know what I did to get it to work again. The software is unstable, which really brings down my overall impression of the sound card, especially since it is such an impressive piece of equipment.
This brings me to the largest complaint I have about the Recon3D: Scout mode. I was very excited for this feature; even though I'm not the best at FPS games, I can appreciate hearing an enemy before they can hear you. First thing I noticed before I even tried it out: the hotkey configuration doesn't work. I could be doing it wrong, but whenever I go to enter in a hotkey or hotkey sequence to turn Scout mode on or off, the key I enter disappears. I figured that it was being saved anyway, so I gave it a try to no avail. When I finally tried turning on Scout mode manually and played Battlefield 3, I noticed the difference immediately -- but it wasn't a good difference.
Scout mode did indeed enhance footsteps, but not others. My own footsteps were enhanced to the point that I couldn't hear what was going on in my immediate area. Not only were my footsteps enhanced, but the sounds of vehicles and explosions were also enhanced to the point where I had to tear my headphones off because it hurt so much. As far as I'm concerned, Scout mode works in that it does indeed improve footsteps and decreases ambient noise it sees as unimportant. I can't say that it doesn't work properly for other games, but in his review of the Recon3D external sound card and Tactic3D Omega, Daniel Starkey ran into similar issues with Scout mode with Skyrim.
When I was trying out the card over my Bose Companion 2 Series II speakers, I didn't notice a huge increase in sound quality. I know the limiting factor was the speakers, but it was still a little bit of a letdown all the same, as I was hoping for a better result. After plugging in my pair of Tactic3D Sigma headphones, the Recon3D really stepped its game up. The sound was bass heavy -- in a good way -- and I could almost feel the bass reverberating in my head. At higher volumes, I could feel the headphones vibrating on my ears. There was some minor sound bleeding at very high levels which wasn't too bad (all volume settings were turned up to 100% before I heard any noticeable bleeding).
To review the Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D Internal Sound Card, I used the following test system, provided by NVIDIA:
Software can be easily improved and changed, and shouldn't detract from this otherwise impressive sound card. The Recon3D is an excellent piece of hardware and creates a noticeable change in how games, TV shows, and movies immerse you. That said, it's not for everybody.
Although it does improve audio, I can't justify the cost unless you already have the sound system required to take full advantage of this card, be it a full surround-sound stereo system or a quality pair of headphones. Since I don't have a surround-sound setup myself, I used the Tactic3D Sigma headphones and they took the Recon3D to an entirely different level that makes the card worth the price.
Keeping that in mind, I can only recommend the Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D PCIe if you either already have the speakers or headphones necessary to make this card shine, or are willing to buy them along with the card. Coupled with the sub-par software, I do not recommend this card to those who don't have the speakers or headphones already, as the price isn't justified by the performance increase. On the other hand, if you already have a stellar set of headphones or surround sound system, the Recon3D is the card for you and won't disappoint (except those aspects of the software mentioned before).