Add-on sound dongles are not new, but Terratec has added a couple of extras to its Aureon Dual USB stick which make it particularly versatile and easy to use. Looking much like any USB memory drive, the high-gloss black device slips easily into a pocket. The removable cap at one end hides a standard USB plug and there are two miniature audio jack sockets at the other.
The first of these sockets takes a standard mic plug from a microphone or headset, while the other can be connected as an output to headphones or a separate speaker system. This socket has a dual function, though – as in the name of the device – as you can connect the supplied optical adapter in place of an audio jack plug, to connect to any digital device which can accept optical input.
Getting the sound stick working could hardly be easier; just plug it in. The drivers are held in on-board memory, so when you plug the stick in, it’s detected and the drivers are automatically installed. On the Windows XP machine we used for testing, the device was made the default sound device, too, so started working immediately.
The brief installation instructions do warn you may have to select the device explicitly within Control Panel, Sounds (or System Preferences, Sound on a Mac). This CD-free installation is one of the stick’s neatest features, as it means you can add it to just about any PC or Mac without having to fuss with software setup.
Sound quality is very good, certainly up to the majority of sound chips you find on PC system boards. It’s good for music and games and through speakers or earbuds, though the output is only stereo. If you’re addicted to 5.1 or 7.1 sound, you may miss the extra presence provided by rear and side channels.
The only snag with this product is not in its function or the sound quality it produces, but just how much a market there is for it. Virtually all desktop and notebook PCs produced in the last five years have more than adequate sound systems, often with multi-channel outputs.
If you have a business desktop which relies on a single internal speaker or a piezo-electric beeper as its only sound output, this breathtakingly simple-to-install USB device is ideal for adding quality stereo sound. We just wonder how many of those systems there are around.
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