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To test out the card I used a few headphones and my 2 channel speaker system. Unfortunately, I lacked a 5.1 system to test the multi channel performance.
One of the USPs of the Recon 3D core is the so called Scout mode which claims to help the user hear footsteps better during a game which supposedly helps you spot enemies earlier and helps you counter their movements by hearing them before they can fire on you.
It does work somewhat but causes the sound to get a bit distorted, and I felt the overall experience wasn’t very good.
The THX modes do change the sound by quite a bit which is nice since it does artificially enhance the soundstage. I am not a fan of artificial sound enhancements like BBE and such THX modes, but ill have to admit that the differences in sound are radical enough that some will really dig the effect.
Again while I am biased against such enhancements it’s nice that Creative has taken the trouble to bundle so many enhancements as there are definitely people who will like the noticeable changes in SQ.
Coming to gaming the Creative gave a great performance. Good bass, mids, and treble. The soundstage was also very well reproduced and if anyone is doubting whether a good sound card like the Recon3D will make a difference over onboard with even cheap headphones/speakers then trust me it makes a good enough difference.
Music performance was also good, and the card is capable of rendering the bass pretty faithfully so movies also sound good.
So, in a nutshell, the Creative Recon 3D is a well-rounded card with no major flaws but has a lot of plus points.
That said I did test it out against my Music Streamer DAC which is a USB powered sound card without a headphone amplifier. The MS II has noticeably better soundstage, noticeably better treble and a slightly better bass.
However, it lacks a headphone amp and the Creative has a very very good headphone amp. I then tried to test the headphone amp against my $400 custom built headphone amp (custom builds are generally far cheaper than a branded headphone amp).
I was expecting it to be a no contest between the Creative and my dedicated amp (source was the Recon 3D). However, I was wrong! The home amp had a slightly better soundstage and slightly better treble and bass but frankly, it wasn’t easy to tell the differences between them except with my more expensive headphones and with careful listening. A most excellent performance from Creative in this department.