The first thing most people go to when testing anything that outputs sound is music. So that’s exactly what I did. I fired through several albums to begin with, and over the past month have listened to quite a few more. Now the sound from the 5.1 analogue ports was fine, but nothing special if I am honest. However coming out of the optical out and also the powered headphone socket the sound was very impressive. I found there was good clarity and separation in instruments, and there was a real verve and drive to the music. Most of all I thought that once all the software processing was turned off, there was great neutrality to the music. So the Recon3D wasn’t adding any unwanted colouration to the music.
The Recon3D is not sold as an audiophile card for music purists, so with this in mind, I thought it performed admirably here. I found myself listening to songs longer than intended as I flicked through as it really was bringing out extra detail via the headphones as opposed to when those same headphones are plugged in and using a USB connection. Digital output was pretty much the same, but then it’s digital and you only ever have the same combination of 0s and 1s. So no difference was expected.
Moving on games and this where the Recon3D really started to shine and show its true colours. Battlefield 3 through the headphone port was just immense. You got huge weighty explosions, crisp snappy gunshots, gigantic deep bass rumbles in the distance. This really let the game audio shine and that’s exactly what you want. Both the 5.1 analogue and the digital out shone here too.
Something only slightly more subtle in Star Wars: The Old Republic also sounded phenomenal. The unmistakable main Star Wars theme blasting out had plenty of attack in the distinctive brass section, and the game action had a great punch to it. Every time a lightsaber was unsheathed you could almost feel that energy pulsing. Very impressive.
The enclosed beam-forming microphone was also very good. I used it to talk with friends over TeamSpeak 3 and Skype, and all commented on it being extremely clear. Great work from such a small microphone. The only issue I had with it was the length of the cable. It was only 6ft, so was a real stretch to get it into a comfortable position in my normal gaming space.
Moving onto films and the card sounded good, with plenty of power again for those loud action moments. The only thing that really let it down here was the lack of support for Blu-ray audio formats such as Dolby Digital HD or DTS Master Audio. In this day and age you really need a card that can at least output these in a Lossless PCM (LPCM) format to a suitable home cinema amplifier. This is where the graphics card option has this dedicated card beaten, as most graphics cards in this generation can do this. Really time to catch up here Creative!