X-Fi Crystalizer, multi-zone support, streams any type of musicincluding encrypted songs.
Creative takes another stab at wireless audio streaming with its 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) -- that's connected to your PC.
For our tests, we used the Sound Blaster X-Fi Notebook ($90), 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 music to several locations within a 2,700-square-foot single-family home.
Creative says the receiver (which operates on the 2.4GHz frequency band) has a range of 100 feet. That's a very optimistic claim. In our first tests, the receiver had no problems synching to a transmitter located inside a wooden entertainment center and streaming high-bit-rate MP3s, WMA Lossless tracks, and even WAV files. We experienced no signal drops, and the remote control was able to send commands to several different media players (including Creative’s Media Source and Windows Media Player) on the host PC.
The distance between the transmitter and receiver in this scenario is only about 12 feet, but it's important to note that our media room is a "room-within-a-room" design that, in the past, has proven very hostile to wireless devices. So kudos to Creative for making the connection. The receiver also performed well in the kitchen, which is about 28 feet from the transmitter with one wall in between.
But a 100-foot range? Not in our tests. Now, 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 our media room is in between. But the receiver also couldn’t connect in the dining room (also 20 feet from the transmitter) or the laundry room (40 feet away). We had better luck on the back patio (18 feet away), but walking in front 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 card) sucks.
The range issue is unfortunate, because there’s plenty that we like about this system, especially the 24-bit Crystalizer signal processing. It’s a relatively cheap system, too -- especially if you need to cover multiple zones.
Then again, zones don’t matter much if you can’t reach them in the first place.