Although the PC soundcard market has considerably slowed down since the heyday when computers became multimedia devices back in the mid 90s, Creative Labs has remained strong and kept evolving as the leading manufacturer for add-in PC audio cards.
With the popularity of laptops over desktop PCs, and the zillion other portable media devices that interface with your computer rather than with your standard stereo system, it comes as no surprise that Creative is looking for ways to cater to that segment as well.
The Xmod is one of Creative's latest external audio product offerings, boasting support for the PC, Mac and standalone functionality, this little device is meant to sit between your audio source and your speakers, acting in real-time improving your audio output using the different tricks learned from developing those SoundBlaster boards for so many years.
Combined with features we are used to see on the X-Fi series of soundcards such as the X-Fi Crystallizer and CMSS-3D support, is this chocolate bar-sized portable device really worth considering?
Contents, Installation and Connectivity
Inside the box we found the device itself, in-ear headphones, a stereo cable, an USB cable, a carry bag and the users manual.
Notably absent is an optional USB power adapter, such as Creative's own $39.99 Universal Power Adapter which is required for standalone functionality. To be completely fair however, Creative makes no explicit promotion of this capability anywhere on the packaging, so it's unlikely to be a major selling point anyway.
Installing the Xmod on a desktop or laptop PC couldnt be much easier; connect it to a free USB port and to your speakers or headphones, and that's it. No drivers are necessary. In a worst case scenario it's possible that it might be necessary to select the Xmod as the Default device in Sound and Audio Devices in the Windows Control Panel (Mac users may need to do similar).
The Xmod's connectivity is understandably limited - it is a stereo, 2-channel unit after all. The top of the unit features an USB port and Line-Out, whereas the bottom features a Mic/Line-In and Headphone port. It's worth noting that if you plan to use a 3.5mm stereo to dual RCA adapter such as TechLink's, the USB and Line-Out ports are an uncomfortable fit (though it will work in the end).
Considering that no drivers or other software is necessary for use, all features are adjustable on the unit itself. The X-Fi Crystallizer and CMSS-3D audio features are toggled using simple on/off buttons. The top half of the unit can be depressed to switch between making Crystallizer, CMSS-3D and volume adjustments. Adjustments are made using the large silver knob in the centre of the unit; allowing you to control the intensity of the effects and volume.