Swiss semiconductor company Micronas has developed a technology which could render the sound card obsolete on future multimedia PC systems. Its USB audio controller integrates a DSP, DAC, operation amplifier, and a USB controller into an external unit which contains everything required to balance a loudspeaker enclosure and connect speakers directly to a personal computer without the use of a sound card. In addition to cost reduction, the technology offers a number of end user benefits, such as the ability to alter speaker volume and balance on the unit itself and the ability for audio professionals to programme the unit via an Excel spreadsheet interface.

In early 2002 Creative Labs released another USB-based product, and one that continued the theme of maximising connectivity which had proved so popular with their Live!Drive concept. In essence an external version of the company’s successful Audigy sound card, the Extigy’s big advantage over a conventional PCI card was its versatility, both in terms of connectivity and its ability to be used with any type of PC – desktop, notebook or laptop.

The Extigy boasts an array of input and output jacks that will allow connection to just about any audio device imaginable. Across the front panel there are three inputs:

  • a digital optical in (Toslink)
  • an 1/8in line in
  • a microphone in with hardware-level control.

and two outputs:

  • a digital optical out
  • a line/headphones out with hardware-volume control.

The back panel houses three inputs:

  • a USB jack
  • a MIDI in
  • an S/PDIF in.

and five outputs:

  • a MIDI out
  • an S/PDIF out
  • three jacks for outputting Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound (front, rear, and centre/subwoofer).

There was some disappointment that Creative chose to support the somewhat ageing USB 1.1 interface in favour of a higher bandwidth alternative such as FireWire or USB 2.0. A consequence of that is that while it is ideal for recording from external sources and highly versatile in terms of the types of PC it can be used with, it’s questionable whether it up to the job for amateur musicians wanting to use it to record multiple tracks of audio.

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