Solid sound enhancement at a low price; powerful hardware; works with both PCs and consoles.
No support for 5.1-channel speakers or headphones; less potent than an internal soundcard.
Is Creative buying into the notion of the post-PC world? The Sound Blaster Recon3D is a powerful USB audio device based on Creative’s all-new Sound Core3D chip. But you can also connect the Recon3D to an Xbox 360, PS3, or even an Intel-based Mac. Creative tells us the Sound Core3D doesn’t boast the naked power of the company’s previous-generation audio processor, but that it is extremely efficient—it draws all the power it needs from a single USB port.
The Recon3D has an optical S/PDIF input, a 1/8-inch audio output to drive a pair of speakers or headphones, and a 1/8-inch input to support a wired headset’s microphone. It can also be upgraded to support Creative’s new Tactic3D Omega wireless headset. All the cables you might need are included in the box.
We found that the Recon3D delivers plenty of bang for the buck, especially for gaming. While it’s technically not a soundcard—the Sound Core3D chip at its heart consists of several digital signal processors; a 24-bit, six-channel DAC (digital-to-analog converter); and a four-channel ADC (analog-to-digital converter), but no waveform generators—the Recon3D can perform amazing tricks with whatever audio you feed it. Creative, for its part, describes the device as a “USB audio enhancer.”
The Recon3D can decode a Dolby Digital bit stream, and it runs several audio-processing programs, including THX TruStudio Pro, Crystal Voice, and Scout Mode. THX TruStudio Pro is a software suite consisting of programs for producing virtual surround sound on stereo devices, such as headphones; for enhancing the sound of compressed audio material, such as iTunes tracks and MP3 files; for enhancing the dialog in movie soundtracks; and for boosting bass response for playback on small speakers. Crystal Voice is great for online games and VoIP calls. It has a noise-reduction algorithm that we found to be extremely effective at blocking background noise—from cooling fans to keyboard taps—from being picked up by our headset mic. An echo-cancellation feature prevents echoes during Skype sessions, and if you swing from speaking in hushed, tense whispers to violent outbursts, Smart Volume will equalize your voice so that it comes across at a consistent level. Lastly, there’s a real-time effects mode that can transform your voice to match your character—your game character, that is.
Scout Mode is one of the Recon3D’s most original features. Designed primarily for FPS players, this algorithm boosts faint sounds in games—such as the footsteps of an enemy sneaking up on you. We found the effect somewhat noticeable, but not immediately useful. Pro gamers looking for the slightest edge might find Scout Mode more satisfying, but regular Joes shouldn’t expect it to deliver miracles.
We like the audio-processing suite, and if you’re using onboard audio, you’ll absolutely hear a difference when you plug in the Recon3D. Onboard audio has improved considerably over the years, but we still prefer discrete hardware. And on that score, a true soundcard—such as Creative’s X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Pro—doesn’t cost much more, provides most of the same features, and delivers slightly better sound quality.
But if your primary computer is a laptop, or if you frequently game on a laptop, Recon3D is a great choice. The same goes for PS3 or Xbox 360 gamers and those who play on both PCs and consoles, because it's possible to create user profiles on the device that work on both platforms.
All that makes it difficult to assign a final verdict, so you should consider this a qualified buy recommendation. The Recon3D is a solid audio solution; but if you have an open PCIe slot in your machine, stick with a true soundcard.