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Maximum PC Staff Jun 25, 2008

Creative Xmod

At A Glance

MP3 Player

The 24-bit crystalizer helps audio sound more...real.

Ghetto Blaster

Only certain songs end up sounding like trash

Being audio purists, we typically piss on products that sit in the midst of an audio stream and manipulate what the artist intended to create. But when listening to music played through Creative’s X-Fi soundcards, we’ve increasingly found ourselves turning on the 24-bit Crystalizer—and liking it!

Creative’s 24-bit Crystalizer converts an incoming audio signal to 24-bit resolution with a sampling rate of 96kHz. This process alone doesn’t improve audio quality—Creative can’t conjure something out of nothing—but the algorithm employed during this near-real-time remastering does make the original recording sound remarkably better: To our ears, instruments and vocals sound more vibrant, punchier, and more “live” when the 24-bit Crystalizer is engaged.

But we listen to music on everything from digital music players to CD players to old-fashioned turntables, and it’s not always practical to pipe these signals through a PC’s soundcard. So we’re pleased to report that Creative has transplanted the 24-bit Crystalizer (along with a few other features) into this stand-alone device, which it has dubbed the Xmod.

So why aren’t we giving the Xmod a Kick Ass award? If you’re using it with a desktop PC or a laptop, the device acts as a USB audio device with an external DAC and draws power over a USB cable. If that PC already has an X-Fi soundcard, the Xmod is redundant. But our real complaint is that the Xmod requires an AC adapter when used with anything other than a PC, and Creative expects you to pay an extra 30 clams for one. We really dig the Xmod, but it would fry our snarlies to pay 40 percent on top of its base cost to use it with an iPod or a Zen.

We can also do without Creative’s annoying CMSS-3D Virtual and CMSS-3D Headphone effects. These are designed to widen the stereo field into surround sound, but when we listened to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” it sounded as though the vocal legend was being flushed down a toilet. Fortunately, you can easily dial down or entirely defeat the CMSS-3D algorithms (same goes for the 24-bit Crystallizer).

THE VERDICT

Creative Xmod

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