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Creative Xmod Hands On

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The Creative Xmod is an external solution that utilizes the technology of its stellar X-Fi sound cards. Due to its ability to play nicely with both Mac OS X and Windows, it’s the first product that I’m examining as part of our CrunchGear HiFi series.

The device can fit easily in your hand, but it is capable of upconverting your MP3s to 24-bit. Additionally, it can also introduce CMSS 3D for a surround sound-type experience.

Sounds good right? Let’s see if it performs as we’d all hope.

The most notable part of the Xmod is its simplicity. Seldom have I encountered a device that required so little maintenance. No drivers to install, just plug it in and it works.

It features a large silver volume knob, two output lines and one input. You could use the device to upconvert an audio player, but it would require the use of an AC adapter, which is not included (boo). Out of the box, the unit is powered by USB. Given the size and feasibility of using an AC adapter for portable audio, it seems unlikely to me that anyone will really be using the Xmod for that. The thing I see it being most useful for is with laptops.

I have an X-Fi card in my PC, so I conducted the test on my MacBook Pro. My music collection is almost entirely MP3 based at this point. In the rare event that I buy an actual disc, I tend to rip it immediately. The convenience of quickly scanning through my rather immense collection far surpasses (for me) the quality gained by using CDs.

For my tests I tried a collection of headphones (Sennheiser HD650, Ultimate Ear triple.fi 10 pro, Shure PTH500, Etymotic ER-4) and on each set there was a marked improvement in MP3 quality. And by marked I mean I could actually hear some of the underlying ambient noises in recordings.

During the “The Island” by The Decemberists, for instance, I noted early in the track what sounded like a guitar string snapping. This is a song I’ve listened to an inestimable number of times and I’ve never once heard that before. Now I’m not sure if one should consider being privy to an instrument malfunction as making music better, but if we are to gauge this as hearing more of the music, then it’s a definite success.

The Xmod has been on the market for about six months now and Creative has already introduced a couple of different versions of it, including one built into an iPod dock and one that can transmit wirelessly. At their cores, however, they each use the same technology. Because it’s been around for some time now, it can be had on the cheap. I picked mine up at Best Buy for just $49.99. For that price I’d say it’s definitely worth the purchase.

Can it be improved? Definitely. It’d be excellent if Creative built a mic into the unit. Sure most systems already have mics built-in, but crystallized micage would be pretty rad. All-in-all though, I’m pleased. It’s a great little product at an agreeable price. If you’re looking to enhance the audio fidelity of your laptop, I thoroughly recommend getting one.

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