Product Reviews

Product Reviews

In Brief

This clever device bypasses your computerís low-fidelity sound card, letting you play audio files of any type directly on your high-quality stereo system. Your MP3 files have never sounded this good. Device installs in seconds, and thereís no software to install. Xitelís HiFi-Link should be standard equipment in every college dorm room.


Price

$49.95

Xitel
Austin, Texas


Competition

Thereís more competition than youíd think. Check out these products from Harman Kardon, Stereo-Link, and Creative Technology. Two companies, Terk and Kima, offer wireless products.


Key Specs

4Weight: 2 oz.

4USB connection only

43.5" W x 1.1" D x 2" H

4Operating systems:
Windows XP, 2000, Millennium Edition, 98; Mac
 OS 9.0.4 or later

multimedia gear

Xitel HiFi-Link

Rating:

By Joel Shore

September 5, 2002

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.

This is one of the simpler, and more elegant products youíll come across thisóor any otheróyear. 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.

6

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

5

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. Distortion, dull 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 it.<

 
Yeas & Nays

Yea:

4No software to install, no power supply to plug in

4Superb sonic quality

Nay:

4Itís so easy, thereís nothing to dislike

4User guide skimps on educating users how it all works
 

Software Free

No, we donít mean free software, we mean software free, as in ďhey, thereís no software.Ē Hereís a product that ships without a CD-ROM. Thereís no software for you install.
 

In the Box

ē HiFi Link unit

ē 30í audio cable with gold-plated jacks

ē USB cable

   

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