Sound Card: Creative Labs X-Fi Titanium HD
By: Devin Connors
Make no mistake: the X-Fi Titanium HD is the cream of the Creative Labs crop. From the THX TruSound PC certification to the audiophile-grade components, this card is meant for the true audio freak as much as it is for John Q. Gamer.
The Titanium HD starts with tech already known to Creative fans. The chipset is the CA20K2, a PCI Express-friendly setup (PCIe x1, to be specific) that is also found on the non-HD, more gaming-oriented standard Titanium. The chipset is followed up with 16 MB of onboard memory which should keep system resource hogging to a minimum. But perhaps the most intriguing addition to the Titanium HD are it gold-plated RCA connectors, which by themselves sound standard, until you realize that the connectors can act as analog or digital inputs or outputs (or both at the same time). This kind of combination should get along with whatever recording or sound system you have set up in the gaming nook, office, or recording studio.
For the music lover, Creative's Titanium HD promises to play nice with your headphones. You’ll enjoy pristine audio, since the 3.5 mm headphone output features an amazing 115 dB, 24-bit/96kHz support in HD-quality sound for original playback true to your music. Matched to the right cans (and quality source material), this card delivers very compelling sound quality. Be sure to stop by next week for Part 2 of the gift guide--we have some B&W headphones in that piece that'd make an excellent complement.
So music lovers are covered, but don’t worry movie buffs, there is something for you, too. The onboard Dolby Digital and DTS encoding makes connecting the card to your home theater setup a snap. You’re one optical cable away from streaming HD audio to the receiver and home theater setup of your choice, which makes the Titanium HD a great addition to any HTPC.
Because of all the new tech and software behind the Titanium HD, Windows XP users need not apply (this card is for Windows 7 and Vista only). It’s also worth noting that Windows 7 isn’t hardware acceleration-friendly, so this card is really meant more for the serious audiophile than it is the hardcore gamer. As far as gaming goes, audio has such a negligible impact on system performance these days that it's truly not worth buying an aftermarket sound card in an effort to get higher frame rates, like it used to be.