Restore the audio glory of digital music and video files that have been compressed.


Creative's Xmod can put the sparkle back into compressed MP3 or AAC audio, as well as enhance the overall quality of movies, CDs, and any other audio content. Unfortunately, it can also introduce distortion when you least expect it.


The Xmod uses its Crystalizer processing module to compensate for the downsampling of digital songs from higher bit rates to lower ones, such as the losses that occur when music mastered in 24-bit is converted down to the 16-bit Red Book audio CD standard. The device's CMSS-3D processing module handles the daunting task of moving stereo sound to a surround-sound system, or conversely, playing surround-sound sources (such as the 5.1 tracks on a DVD movie) on two speakers or stereo headphones. The hardware itself is a small, stylish USB device. There's a large, smooth volume control, status LEDs on top to indicate the active processing modes, and switches on the side to turn the Crystalizer and 3D modes on and off.


As with any audio-enhancement device, your results will depend on the initial quality of the audio files. Most of the time, we found that the extra treble and bass oomph truly added more body and richness to just about any musical content, from jazz and classical to the roar of hard rock guitars and drums. Music can lose some impact after processing for compression, but the Xmod can bring some of that impact back. However, listening to Elliott Smith songs resulted in noticeable distortion to the trailing edge of Smith's voice, and the same thing happened with Thom Yorke's vocals on Radiohead tracks. We really liked how the CMSS-3D module added a sense of proper space and sonic stage separation to DVD movies on stereo speakers, though we did run into some more distortion problems with specific sound effects passages while viewing The Patriot.


The bottom line. The Xmod promises to improve digital sound in many cases. In others, it does more harm than good, which could be said of any device in this category.


COMPANY: Creative
CONTACT: www.creative.com
PRICE: $79.99
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.4 or later, USB
Inexpensive. Generally makes many movies and music sound fuller and more pleasing.
Adds artifacts and distortion to certain program material.





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