So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Creative X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Pro Series
Get better audio from your PC
- Very good sound quality, plenty of filters and settings to play with, ASIO 2.0 support, good 3-D effects for headphone users
- Software takes a long time to install
This card shines for gaming and entertainment, and it's also a good entry point for anyone who wants to start making music on their PC.
Price$ 279.95 (AUD)
PC audio is often taken for granted. Because pretty much every motherboard has an audio chip built-in, most of us don't need to think about what type of sound card we need. However, for keen gamers who rely on sound effects to avoid getting killed, as well as for music connoisseurs who want to hear every frequency with great clarity, a well-rounded sound card is a must.
Creative's X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty is one of those well-rounded cards. It's a PCi Express x1-based card with support for up to eight speakers, and it has optical input and output ports. It's geared more towards gamers — it's the official sound card for the Gaming Championship Series — but it's also got some great features for everyday music playback. It's not cheap, however. At $279.95, it's about the same price as a decent graphics card. However, if you're a gamer then you're already used to spending much more than that on your graphics, so this card should just be the next product in your cutting list for a new system or upgrade.
It really is a great card that can be used effectively for gaming, and also for making music. Its sound quality compared to a high-end motherboard's Realtek High Definition audio codec, for example, is noticeable. You get a lot more warmth in the way the music is portrayed and better flexibility in the filters and volume levels you can employ. One of the card's filters is X-Fi Crystalizer, which is meant to make MP3s sound better and give them more of a dynamic sound. We found that it increased treble and made music sound a lot brighter overall.
Different modes that affect the overall sound of your audio can also be selected, depending on what you're doing. These modes include game, entertainment and audio creation. We found that entertainment mode made music sound hollow, whereas game mode provided a much warmer atmosphere. Audio creation mode offered sound in between these hollow and warm characteristics, and was our preferred mode.
In audio creation mode, you can also use the card's bit-matched playback feature. This ensures that music is played back at the original sample rate it was mastered at. So if you put in a CD, it will play it back at 44.1KHz, instead of up-converting it to 48KHz, for example. With this setting enabled, you'll get the best possible audio quality; music sounds much brighter and better defined.
Conveniently, these modes can be managed automatically, so that if you start a game, game mode will be activated, but once you exit it will go back to audio creation mode.
The card also has a normaliser feature, which gets rid of dramatic volume changes in music, but this isn't a setting we'd recommend using when listening to albums. It becomes more useful if you're playing a lot of old and new songs in the same playlist, which may have vastly different volume levels. But even so, the volume in the quiet areas of tracks will be increased and the volume in the loudest parts of the track will be decreased to maintain the volume level.
Music recorded in analog mode using the card's line input is captured clearly, without any distortion and without any latency issues. If you use a physical audio mixer with your PC (to record live mixes to your PC, for example), you won't notice any lag when you switch from one input on the mixer, to another. The card also has support for ASIO 2.0 programs, for more advanced music creation. There is a vast bank of sounds supplied with the card, including typical piano, guitar and drum samples.
For gaming, the X-Fi supports EAX 5.0, as well as 3-D positional audio through headphones. The latter feature works surprisingly well when you wear headphones for gaming; it'll come in useful for those late night sessions where you don't want to disturb your neighbours. Overall system performance will also benefit from the use of this card, as it will perform all the processing of gaming sounds itself, rather than letting the CPU handle them.
The only drawback of this card is the amount of time it takes to install all its software, which then also requires activation. Apart from that, this card shines for gaming and entertainment, and it's also a good entry point for anyone who wants to start making music on their PC.
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