Almost two years have past since Creative Technology unveiled the X-Fi series of soundcards. In that short span, the series has bagged numerous awards for revolutionary technologies such as the 24-bit Crystallizer, CMSS 3D and EAX 5.0. With these technologies, the Singapore based company was able to bring forth a whole new dimension of PC audio and gaming experience. Facing a growing base of notebook and Macintosh users, Creative has gone on to simplify many of the audio goodness in its high-end soundcard into a small and easy-to-use USB device: the Xmod. Cutting edge audio technology not withstanding, the key selling point of the new gadget is that there are no drivers to battle and that it's priced affordably so everyone can enjoy quality sound on any computer system with a USB port.
Like the X-Fi series of soundcards, the Xmod is also endowed with 24-bit Crystallizer and CMSS 3D, and these can be controlled via two dedicated buttons. By turning on the 24-bit Crystallizer, the Xmod will intelligently restore details that were lost during audio compression (i.e. while producing CDs or ripping MP3 songs and DivX movies) by means of on-chip algorithms. The end result is stronger bass and noticeably tighter note clarity, particularly for percussions.
CMSS 3D on the other hand, works to add a wider audio range to normal stereo source, creating a surreal surround sensation when experienced for the first time. The technology basically creates virtual surround sound through two speakers or your headphones. Sadly, unlike X-Fi soundcards, the Xmod is only equipped with stereo output, which means multi-speaker setups are not supported.
What's most impressive about the Xmod is that it is compact, portable and works perfectly out of the box without any hassle. Simply plug it into an unused USB and the Xmod will be roaring to go in no time. Mac users however, will need to perform an additional step by manually selecting the sound hardware option in the ‘System preference’ to Xmod after installation is done.
The Xmod is also capable of applying 24-bit Crystallizer and CMSS 3D technologies to any stereo audio system via the audio-in connection, but this can only be achieved by purchasing a separate AC power adapter. Sadly, this means the full processing capabilities of the Xmod are also unavailable in 'line-in' mode when powered by a USB port.
It doesn't take much for the Xmod to prove its worth. In our tests, DVD movie “Fast and Furious 3: Toyko Drift” was raced out in full Dolby Digital surround sound. The magic of having 24-bit Crystallizer and CMSS 3D quickly proved invaluable in raising the audio quality and experience of songs and movies. It's very much like having an X-Fi soundcard only it's now served up by a simple USB device.
Needless to say, with the Xmod, PC and MAC notebook users can finally treat themselves to X-Fi quality sound – especially for notebooks fitted with Blu-ray or HD-DVD drive. Looking at where things are going, the next obvious move for Creative is to introduce the same X-Fi goodness in its next generation of PMPs, and when that happens, PMPs will be more enjoyable and exciting than ever.