By Joel Shore
So youíre sitting in the dorm room
cramming for that dreaded math exam. The stereo, with its scads of
power and giant bass-rattling speakers, is blasting over in
that corner. But youíre sitting in this corner playing
your PCís entire library of MP3 files through your Walkman headphones,
or worse, those tiny, tinny speakers built into your laptop PC. You
just know thereís gotta be a better way.
Thatís when your brain cells hit on a brilliant idea: Why canít I play
the music thatís on my PC through my stereo system? Well, genius, you can.
Enter the HiFi-Link from Xitel.
is one of the simpler, and more elegant products youíll come across thisóor
Barely longer than 3 inches and weighing all of two ounces, this little silver-colored device
converts your digital audio files into a high-quality audio signal
that your stereo system can understand. Best of all, it completely
bypasses that miserable-sounding audio card that you had no choice but
to take when you bought that PC in the first place. Itís so cool, they
ought to paint it icy blue instead of silver.
The HiFi-Link works with any audio file, including MP3, WMA, WAV, Real, Liquid,
MIDI, Internet radio, and anything else you can throw at it. And it
doesnít care what application you use to play those files. Windows
Media Player, Winamp, RealAudio Player, LiquidAudio Player, MusicMatch
Jukebox, iTunes, LimeWire, Napster (R.I.P.), Cakewalk, Finale, and all the others will do just fine, thank you.
To get high fidelity,
itís critical to bypass your computerís sound card
and send the audio signal from your hard drive directly
to your stereo system
Skip the card. If you wanted to play your MP3 files through
your stereo system in the past, you had two solutions. First, you
could burn a CD and hope your stereoís CD player knew what an MP3 file
was. The other method was to hook up a cable that you most likely
plugged into the ďline outĒ jack of your sound card (if you had one)
or into your computerís headphone jack. Thatís a pretty crummy
solution, because even a good computer sound card is decidedly
mediocre at best when it comes to delivering true audiophile high fidelity.
treble, muffled bass, tinny midrange, and that annoying hum are
typical of many audio cards. You were wondering if there was a
better way. Yep, thereís a better way.
Because the HiFi-Link is a USB device, the digital signal never
gets routed through your computerís sound card. Instead, the signal
goes through the main system bus where itís directed to the
appropriate USB port, in exactly the same way your word processor
sends that term paper of yours to a printer. Whether itís Nine Inch
Nails or an analysis of Twelfth Night, the file you are processing is
nothing more than a long stream of ones and zeros to your computer. A
specially designed DAC chip (digital-to-analog converter)
in the HiFi-Link does its magic and sends a high-quality, nearly
distortion-free analog signal to your stereo.
Easy set-up. No product will ever be easier to install than
the HiFi-Link. First, you connect the unit to your stereo system. The
included 30í cable has a standard 1⁄8" pin plug
at one end, and a pair of gold-plated RCA plugs at the other end. You
can plug the RCA plugs into any available line or auxiliary input on
your stereo. Second, you connect the HiFi-Link to your computer with
the included USB cable. Thatís it! Thereís no power supply to plug in.
And best of all, thereís no software to install. In fact, the product
does not even include a software CD-ROM. Your PC or Macintosh should
find the HiFi-Link automatically and install the appropriate driver.
Itís as plug-and-play as you can get. Wouldnít it be nice if all
products installed this easily?
The unit has four tiny rubber feet; obviously,
the makers think itís going to sit atop a desk, amplifier, or speaker
cabinet. Thatís not likely to happen. Whatís more likely is that the
HiFi-Link will be suspended by itís cables over a bookcase or stuffed
somewhere out of sight behind a desk. So what we did was to loop both
the USB and stereo cables once around the unit, protecting them from
being accidentally pulled out by securing them with a rubber band.
The HiFi-Link may be most at home in a college dorm or apartment
where computer and stereo are within 30 feet of each other. In a
single family residence, where computer and stereo are likely to be
located in different rooms, the HiFi-Link may not be so quickly
adopted. Thatís a small inconvenience.
Bottom line? Xitelís HiFi-Link is so cool, so affordable, and
sounds so good, every music-pumping, eardrum-shattering college
dorm-room stereo should be equipped with one. Donít leave home without