Laptops aren’t known for the quality of their sound and even upgrading a desktop’s sound card can be fiddly and driver-ridden. Creative’s X-Fi sound systems can produce excellent multi-channel sound and can simulate surround sound through a single pair of earbuds or headphones. The latest version, called the SoundBlaster X-Fi Go! (obligatory ‘!’) is designed like a USB drive, and not without reason.
This USB device is a complete sound adapter with the X-Fi sound system built in. More than that, though, it’s a 1GB USB drive where you can store game parameters, music tracks or simply files you want to carry around with you. Already on the drive is 130MB of sound drivers for the X-Fi system and when the X-Fi Go! is plugged into a USB port on a Windows XP or Vista-based PC, they automatically download and install from the drive.
This is a basic driver install; for the full package you need to run the setup program, again from the adapter’s storage, which downloads more of the support software. The X-Fi Go! is primarily intended for gamers and includes EAX Advanced HD effects and support for CMSS-3D headphone surround sound and Cystalizer.
CMSS-3D produces a virtual 3D sound arena from a standard pair of stereo headphones and Crystalizer enhances percussive sounds to give what Creative calls a ‘punchier’ sound from games, MP3 music and DivX movie soundtracks. The supplied earbud headphones are reasonable and have large, comfortable foam pads.
The adapter is an ideal companion if, for example, you take your laptop to a LAN party and want better sound than the on-board chip can supply. The sound is undoubtedly better than from most stereo sound chips found on system boards. The full frequency range is very clear, with a thumping bass and a crisp mid-range. The stereo image was a little biased to the right at first use, but a tweak of the pan control corrected this.
The adapter itself has a neat, white illuminated X-Fi logo on its shiny black surface, and two mini-jack sockets on the end for headphones and microphone. This strikes us as one shortcoming of the system, as having the adapter and jacks sticking out of the back or side of a laptop by a full 75mm is just asking to have it knocked and the USB socket damaged. This is true of USB drives as well, of course, but the X-Fi Go! is likely to stay plugged in for much longer.
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