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Vantec USB Audio Adapter

Product Application:

USB 5.1 Audio Adapter

Product Provided by:

Vantec

Available at:

NewEgg.com

Estimated MSRP:

$34.99

Availability:

Now

Review by:

Joe

Edited by:

Darren & Scott

Review date:

August 15th, 2007

Crucial System Scanner
 

 

     Package Front

     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!

Package rear

Features and Specifications:

According to Vantec, this is what the Audio Adapter claims:

·         LED indicator

·         USB Plug-and-play Simplicity

·         5.1 Ch. stereo and surround sound

·         Dramatically improve your PC audio quality

·         Supports suspend/resume and remote wake-up

·         Full-duplex playback/recording audio stream without sound card in PC

Package Includes:

·         USB 5.1 Channel Audio Adapter         

·         Application Software CD

·         Quick Installation Guide

System Requirements:

·         IBM compatible PC or Mac with one USB port

·         With one of the following operating systems:

·         Windows® 98/SE/ME/2000/XP

·         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*

Contents

Installation:

     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 minutes.  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. 

Adapter

     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 connections:  Front speakers, Rear speakers and Center/Subwoofer.  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 default.

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 any system.

Software:

     Let us take a minute to go over the software options:

Volume Control

     The software loads a small application that can be accessed via the task tray, known as “Sound Station”.  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. 

Effects Tab

     The next tab over is our “Effect” tab.  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. 

Remote Controller

     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 releasing. 

Record

     Next on the docket is the “Record” tab.  In this section, we can record from the Mic or Line-In jacks and save the recording as a .wav file. 

Wave Converter

     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. 

Performance and Testing:

     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 fare?  Surprisingly, 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 more flexible.  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. 

End

Conclusion:

     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 effective.   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 around anyway.  Any road warrior that needs more audio flexibility should definitely look into the Vantec Audio Adapter as a solution.

Pros:

  • Cheap

  • Brings 5.1 audio support to any PC with a USB port

  • Portable

Cons:

  • Manual switching of 6 channel upmix

  • Poor Vista x64 support for the software

Innovation:

9.0 out of 10

Performance:

8.0 out of 10

Quality:

9.0out of 10

Stability:

N/A

Overclocking:

N/A

Software/Drivers Pack:

8.0 out of 10

Value:

9.0 out of 10

Overall Rating 8.5

8.5

Project Skill Level
(10 being most difficult)

2 out of 10

 


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