Compared with the X Plosion, there is literally no difference in sound quality, so excuse the second copy and paste:
The driver software that the Theatron comes with doesn’t look as pretty as the Creative ones, but then again you don’t have to switch modes to play a game. Beauty is only skin deep and having less ‘pretty’ means less to go wrong, and less resources used which is one of the X-Fi’s downsides.
Testing consisted of a load of music and a bit of film watching to get to grips with the sound card.
I ran through the following:
Black Sun Empire – Arrakis (bass heavy)
DJ Tiesto – In the dark (high notes with some sweeping bass)
Hixxy – 2 Dream (Clubland X-treme hardcore) (high notes with bass testing for bass dropout)
Hardcore Trance X-Plosion mix (seemed appropriate for the name of this card)
Linkin Park – In the end (I just like the song)
After doing all the tests it becomes obvious which features are pointless. For one, the DSP modes which are meant to upmix stereo sound to surround don’t really work if you are using stereo speakers and makes it sound like you are listening to the music in a sewer. DTS NEO:PC is better, but still suffers from sounding like the music is echoing rather than surrounding you. Creative’s CMSS-3D does a much better job here, although this isn’t DTS’s purpose. These modes have a strange knack of staying turned on even when you have asked them to be disabled. Re-enabling and then disabling sorted out the problem.
The environments are also a little pointless too; it’s more of a gimmicky thing rather than a truly useful feature as all of the environments change the sound for the worse. When I listen to a song I want it to sound like the artists wants, rather than what this card thinks the song would be like in a quarry.
The EQ is useful to a certain extent, although all of the presets wash out certain parts of the music for the worse. Picking your own favoured EQ is possible with the 10 channel mixer, you can also save your preset allowing you to flick between them at a single click.
The card isn’t very loud when using unpowered speakers or a headset, and if you push the volume to the max, you run into a more annoying problem. If you set everything to max volume, and have WinAmp at 100% too, you get bass dropout. This is where there are high notes and bass played at the same time, the bass sucks all the power and the sound loses volume resulting in disjointed playback. This is only really noticeable if you have a truly hardcore track playing, such as Arrakis or any trance/club tune.
If you choose 50% volume you don’t lose much volume (in fact 60% to 100% sounds the same) and the bass dropout is less obvious although is still there to a certain extent. While this is not a problem to anyone with powered headphones, or speakers, if you use headphones at above average volumes you’ll get annoyed. If you’re a gamer you probably always use a headset and hence this presents a major problem to you. Either buy some powered headphones/speakers or settle for a lower volume. If you have externally powered speakers/headphones then you can choose a lower volume on your PC (removing the bass drop out) and then turning up the volume separately on your speakers/headset.
For a song with repetitive bass, for example any club/trance tune, then this will really begin to wind you up. After every beat there is a few seconds delay as the volume returns to its original level; it’s like someone is constantly twiddling with the volume knob. If you are gaming, any large explosion with bass will knock down the volume too; which isn’t as noticeable as you are concentrating on other things.