X-Fi Crystalizer, multi-zone support, streams any type of musicincluding encrypted songs.
Creative takes another stab at wireless audio streaming with the Creative Wireless Receiver, an AC-powered 4.0x2.75-inch block that you plug into powered speakers or your hi-fi system. The $70 device receives audio streams from a transmitter, such as Creative’s Xmod Wireless or X-Fi Notebook card (purchased separately), connected to your PC.
We used the Sound Blaster X-Fi Notebook ($90) for our tests, plugging it into the ExpressCard slot in HP’s monster-sized Pavilion HDX9000 notebook PC. The combination sounded great—at close range, at least. We placed the notebook and the sound card in a bedroom and streamed to several locations in a 2,700-square-foot single-family home. Point your browser to http://tinyurl.com/6js8o6 for more information about how we tested.
Creative claims the receiver (which operates on the 2.4GHz frequency band) has a range of 100 feet. They’re very optimistic. In our first test, the receiver had no problems synching to the transmitter inside the wooden entertainment center in our media room and streaming high-bit-rate MP3s, WMA Lossless tracks, and even WAV files. We experienced no signal drops and the remote control was able send commands (play/pause, track forward/back, mute, etc.) to several different media players on the host PC (including Creative’s Media Source and Windows Media Player).
The distance between the transmitter and receiver in this scenario is only about 12 feet, but the media room is a room-within-a-room design that has proven very hostile to wireless devices. The receiver also performed well in the kitchen, which is about 28 feet from the transmitter with one wall in between.
We weren’t surprised when the receiver couldn’t establish a connection when we moved it to the front porch (about 20 feet from the transmitter) because the media room is in between, but the receiver couldn’t connect in the dining room (also 20 feet from the transmitter) or the laundry room (40 feet away), either. We had better luck on the back patio (18 feet away), but walking infront of the receiver was enough to cause dropouts. There’s no other way to say it: The range of the Wireless Receiver (and/or that of the X-Fi Notebook) sucks.
The range issue is unfortunate, because there’s plenty that we do like about this system, especially the 24-bit Crystalizer signal processing. It’s a relatively cheap solution, too; especially if you need to cover multiple zones (although you’re limited to four). Then again, zones don’t matter much if you can’t reach them in the first place.