One geek’s must-have gadget is another geek’s over-the-top gimmick. Where CoolerMaster’s Musketeer III will land on your scale depends on whether you listen to digital music or are stickin’ with your turntable and vinyl.
The Musketeer III is a vacuum-tube-powered pre-amp. That’s right, we said “vacuum tube.” This antiquated technology holds tremendous appeal for many audiophiles and musicians, who claim it lends perceptible warmth to music. It’s impossible to empirically measure such a nebulous quality, of course, but our ears had a difficult time discerning any tangible difference with the Musketeer III in and out of the signal path. One thing we did notice was a minor drop in volume level, which is a little odd because a pre-amp should slightly boost an audio signal, not cut it.
The box mounts in an exposed 5.25-inch drive bay, drawing its power from the PC’s PSU, and a set of internal input and output cables reaches back to a bracket on the PC’s backplane. Using the supplied pigtail cable, you pipe your soundcard’s output to the Musketeer’s input, so that the audio passes through the pre-amp and out to self-powered speakers connected to its output.
From a purely aesthetic perspective, the Musketeer III lends a retro flair to your case; in fact, that’s the single aspect we found appealing. There’s just nothing like the soft orange glow of an authentic vacuum tube and a twitchy backlit analog VU meter, especially when they’re mounted in your PC. In terms of its contribution to our audio experience, on the other hand, we‘re left shrugging our shoulders.