Although it's barely larger than a USB memory stick, Creative's latest external sound card, the Sound Blaster X-Fi Go! Pro, is packed full of the kind of audio acronyms and certifications you might normally associate with more imposing gear.
There's a coveted THX badge, for example, as well as support for Creative's own EAX 5.0 in-game environmental effects and a clever noise-cancelling software feature for chatting on the phone.
What it lacks is complexity. There's a switch on the side of the X-Fi Go! Pro that converts the headphone socket to a line-out, but essentially this is a two-port sound card without digital or surround outputs. In its simplicity, the question you'll be asking is: what does it really add to on-board sound?
It's a well-established fact that even those who demand high performance from their PCs are abandoning the desktop in favour of the current generation of powerful dual- and quad-core laptops, even gamers and HD movie buffs and editors. The problem is that most laptop sound is very basic, hence the need for a USB soundcard.
The X-Fi Go! Pro, though, is particularly useful for laptop gamers: credit where credit is due to Creative, the quality of in-game effects and positional audio is almost always better via a soundcard that supports EAX than it is through the rival system from Dolby.
Compared to the USB soundcard built into the Corsair HS1 headset or included with the Sennheiser PC 333Ds, for example, the sound effects from the X-Fi Go! Pro are clear, accurate and realistic where others just sound like extra reverb added on.
It's also incredibly portable, and the fact the USB cover is attached to the main body, so you can't lose it, is a thoughtful touch.
If you're not a gamer, though, there's not a lot of benefit in owning the Go! Pro. The THX suite adds in a handy equaliser for tuning music and the 'Crystaliser', which is a one-touch way of brightening up compressed audio, but it's not exactly 'pro' spec.
Without a digital out, it's no real improvement for hooking up your laptop to an external hi-fi either. You'd be better off with a cheaper plug-in card that can offload processing to a dedicated surround amp via S/PDIF, or if you use headphones, something with a built-in amp.
For what it is, and the price it is, though, the Go! X-Fi is a worthwhile investment for gamers who want an aural environment that's richer than the flat, bland or artificial effects that come with built-in sound.
There are cheaper USB sound cards around, but few of them add anything to a built-in sound chip. The X-Fi Go! Pro may be a bit pricey for something with only one output port, but it's worth it for the EAX soundscape in games alone.
Despite the name, it's not really 'pro', and outside of games struggles to justify its price. You're much better off with a cheaper internal card and built-in headphone amp if you're on a desktop.
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