Who is you favourite soundcard manufacturer? In fact, can you name any other than Creative? No, neither can we.
Creative has been so dominant in this sector that it's now hard to think of any sound card product in a PC that it doesn't make. And actually, the only threat to Creative's command in the PC sound field comes in the form of onboard motherboard sound.
But really, for anyone who's the least bit discerning, onboard sound just doesn't cut it.
If you use your PC to listen to music or play games, and if you've got a nice set of speakers or headphones, you're going to need a good soundcard. And this one here is the best of the best.
New X-Fi generation
First announced in May 2008, the new X-Fi Titanium series (taking over from the X-Fi Platinum series) comes in two different flavours. The first, cheaper option, is the PCI Express Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Professional Series, which you can currently pick up for around £95.
And the second is the PCI Express Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Champion Series, which is the version we're reviewing.
The only difference between the two products is that the £160 Fatal1ty Champion Series card comes with an additional I/O drive for quick front panel connection to headphones and headsets. The actual sound card that comes with both packages is identical.
Unlike previous versions of this break-out box, this one offers the choice of placement in either a 3.5-inch (floppy drive bay) or 5.25-inch (DVD drive) bay. The 3.5-inch drive features mic-in and headphone-out connections. This drive slides inside the 5.25-inch drive, which adds RCA line-in connections. It's up to you which drive bay you choose to use.
Excellent sound quality
As you'd expect, the sound quality of this card is absolutely fantastic. It's marginally better than the X-Fi Platinum cards in fact. X-Fi crystallisation works better than ever, while CMSS soundstage expansion also works superbly.
One thing to watch out for here is that the Titanium series is only available as a PCI-Express card. So if you're running an older motherboard, you'll need firstly to check that you've got a PCI-E slot on your board, and secondly that you're not already using it.
Older boards like the nForce 650i have only one PCI-E slot, so if you're running two graphics cards in SLI mode, for instance, you'll already have used up that one slot. But those people with newer motherboards shouldn't have any problems finding a spare one.
Installation of the cards is a fairly simple process, although if you're already running a Creative soundcard inside your system, we highly recommend you uninstall all drivers and software associated with that product before you put this one in.
Once you've done that you need only slot the card into a spare PCI-E slot, put the I/O drive in a spare bay and then join the two things together inside your case using the bundled cables.
Once you've got the software and drivers installed, set-up is also very easy. As with all X-Fi cards there are three basic modes to choose from: gaming, entertainment and audio creation. You can flip between them using the buttons on the front of the I/O drive (in the Champion Series version) or by opening the Audio Console in the Windows Control Panel (both versions).
Here you can change settings, and decide whether to switch on X-Fi Crystallisation and how far to crank it up.
Crystallising is great
X-Fi does a cracking job of making MP3's sound almost as good as CD's. If you're got a terrible MP3 ripped in 128kbps, X-Fi can't fix that. But if you're listening at 320kbps or there abouts, you'll notice that X-Fi is able to restore many of the highs and lows lost during compression.
The X-Fi Titanium series cards also do a brilliant job of pumping out 5.1/7.1 audio for movies and gaming. The audio is smooth, crisp and defined.
Both of the cards also feature Dolby Digital encoding, and a digital-out port for single-cable connection to home theatre systems.
The cards are also now THX-certified, and you can optionally install a THX control panel which gives you new options such as bass boost etc.
These really are two fantastic soundcards. And for £95, the X-Fi Professional Series card is certainly good value. But you have to question whether it's really worth forking out the extra cash for the I/O drive.
If you need front panel access then go for it, but if you're not bothered, we reckon you might as well just go for the cheaper option.