On today’s edition of Club
Overclocker, we bring to you the latest accessory from Vantec: the
NBA-100U USB 5.1 Audio Adapter.
So, you may ask yourself, what is the Audio
Adapter and what can it do for me?
In short, the Audio Adapter is a USB-based
external sound card that features full 5.1 support, as well as
microphone and line-in connections.
On top of that, it is also capable of
taking 2-channel output and re-mixing it to full 5.1 output.
Sound too good to be true?
Let us dissect the Audio Adapter, on
today’s episode of ClubOC!
According to Vantec, this is what the Audio Adapter
5.1 Ch. stereo and
improve your PC audio quality
suspend/resume and remote wake-up
playback/recording audio stream without sound card in PC
USB 5.1 Channel
IBM compatible PC
or Mac with one USB port
With one of the
following operating systems:
Mac™ 9.X/ 10.1*
*Notice: Under the Mac system,
the volume buttons of the adapter are not functional and there is
2-channel playback only Mac™ 9.X/ 10.1*
Installation of the Audio
Adapter is as straightforward as can be; much like any other USB device,
all you need to do is plug it in, let Windows detect the device, and
then install the software using the built-in wizard.
The entire process takes less than 5
I installed the unit on both my laptop,
which is running Windows XP SP2, and on my desktop, which is running
Vista Ultimate x64.
The laptop install works flawlessly,
however the Vista install is clearly not fully supported, and while the
device still worked, I could not resample 2 channel data to 5.1.
Fortunately, many media players can be
configured with plugins to re-sample audio to 6 or more channels anyway.
Once the device is configured,
the next step is to attach speakers and/or microphone.
As you can see from the jack, there are 3
1/8” minijack plugs for speaker
Front speakers, Rear speakers and
The other two connections are for a mono
Microphone and stereo Line-In.
The device itself also has volume control
as well as an indicator LED.
A lot of people don't realize that Windows does not
care how many sound cards you have installed. Running dual sound cards
sometimes presents some nice opportunities, ie run your games off of
your X-Fi to your kicking surround sound, and then use your onboard
sound for Ventrillo or Teamspeak and pipe it to your headphones.
The Vantec is essentially like a USB sound card. You can use it as the
primary sound source or a secondary source. In Vista, its super easy to
swap the sound cards around, though it is a little buggy yet.
In XP, set your default output and input in the Sound options in the
Control Panel. Now, every program will look to that as your default.
However, you can tell many programs to use something "other" than the
For example, in X-Fire go to Tools -> Options -> Voice Tab. You can
change which soundcard X-Fire uses for its VoIP. So now, while your
tunes are cranking on your main card, X-Fire can use the Vantec Audio
Adapter to feed sound to some headphones to talk to your friends. If you
just want to use the Mic, you can even tell it to take an input that is
different from the output.
As you can see, adding the Audio Adapter can add a lot of flexibility to
Let us take a minute to go over the software options:
The software loads a small
application that can be accessed via the task tray, known as “Sound
The first tab is the “Volume Control”
function, as is very similar to the Sound Devices area in the Windows
Control Panel, in that it allows independent volume control for various
inputs and outputs.
The next tab over is our
This is where we can enable re-sampling of
2 channel data to a 5.1 output.
We can also independently adjust volumes
for all channels, as well as change the Low Pass Filter, here designated
under the “Bass” heading.
On the “Remote Controller” tab,
we have some functionality for remote control support.
The manual makes no mention of this
function, so I will have to surmise that support is likely for the
NBW-100U wireless presentation remote that Vantec is on the verge of
Next on the docket is the
In this section, we can record from the Mic
or Line-In jacks and save the recording as a .wav file.
If for any reason, you need to
take your recorded .wav files and convert them to a different frequency,
you can do so here.
Most of the common frequencies are
supported, and go from 22.05KHz to 48KHz.
The fun part about testing
audio equipment is the subjective analysis of quality.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really a
benchmark that definitely tells you if Sound Card A is better than Sound
Card B and by how much.
Luckily you have your handy ClubOC reviewer
(in this case, me) to guide your way.
So how did the Audio Adapter
it sounds quite good.
I tested multiple types of media, from a
standard mp3, to a DivX movie, and even a native 5.1 channel DVD.
While the Adapter won’t have me throwing
away the X-Fi on my desktop any time soon, I found it to be more than
sufficient replacement for my laptop’s onboard sound.
The beauty of the Adapter is
that it makes the previously inaccessible audio signals of a laptop much
Since most laptops are stuck with headphone
jack for audio out, I can imagine the Audio Adapter filling the needs of
anyone who has wanted to use their laptop as a hub for their work
presentations, or even the weekend warrior who makes the occasional
movie for a social gathering.
The resampling function seemed
to work well in XP, with one caveat.
When switching from 2-channel data to
native 6-channel data and back, you have to manually switch the filter
on or off to correctly output the signal.
Since many media players support plugins
that allow automatic 6-channel upmixing for 2 channel data, using the
plugins is less of a hassle.
The Audio Adapter may not blow
your socks off with extreme fidelity audio, however at $35 I would not
expect it to.
What it does do is provide a slick way of
enabling any PC to have 5.1 audio on the cheap.
The device itself is easily transported in
a laptop bag, and does not require any external power.
The software is simple, efficient and
In reality, the only qualm I have is Vista
support, however since 5.1 upmixing plugins can be easily found, the
lack of software support is not really a problem that cannot be worked
Any road warrior that needs more audio
flexibility should definitely look into the Vantec Audio Adapter as a
out of 10
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Overall Rating 8.5
Project Skill Level
(10 being most difficult)
out of 10