Enermax DreamBass Genie review
Enermax isn't the first company you'd associate with sound cards, or any form of audio hardware, for that matter, being best known for cases, power supplies and cooling kit. The DreamBass Genie USB sound card is part of a move into selling peripherals – there’s also a version that comes with a pair of headphones.
The DreamBass Genie looks smarter than a lot of budget USB sound cards which, at their most simple, look like generic USB dongles. The DreamBass is instead designed to look like a valve of the sort used in analogue amplification circuits. Looks are deceptive, though - this little audio processor is entirely solid state. It has 3.5mm headphone and microphone ports and can deliver up to 96kHz 24-bit stereo sound. The audio processor is based on the VIA Envy VT1620A codec (a combined DAC/ADC chip) and uses generic operating system drivers, so will work automatically with any current Windows 7, Mac OS X or Linux operating system. A blue LED inside the unit's casing starts to flash when you plug it into a USB port.
There's a built-in pre-amp which is designed to add a bit of bass boost. It definitely succeeds - the sound that comes out of the DreamBass is certainly bassier than that from our high-end reference sound card (a Propellerhead Balance) or our laptop's integrated Intel HD Audio chip. Unfortunately, more bass doesn't necessarily equal better sound - there's a reason we prefer our audio hardware to default to a flat and balanced profile. The bass emphasis comes at the cost of brighter treble tones and gives lower notes a boominess that doesn't sit well with a lot of guitar-based music.
However, our dubstep, drum and bass and psy-trance test tracks did benefit from the added bottom-end oomph - the bass grunted along happily, although we noticed some loss of brightness and clarity at the top end of the frequency spectrum. The enhanced bass makes for a full, punchy sound when paired with a set of budget Logitech 2.1 speakers, even though some euphoric treble lines and female vocals seemed underpowered alongside the heavier bass. We don't recommend listening with bass-emphasising headphones, but the overall effect through speakers sounds good for dance, pop and industrial music - we certainly had fun coming up with bass-heavy tracks to test it with. We also found that it produced some very satisfying explosions in games and movies, too. If your speakers have an underpowered bass, the bass enhancement at the pre-amp stage can help to compensate for this, too.
However, if you want extra bass, most sound cards already output perfectly respectable levels, which you can emphasise by lowering the treble EQ settings on your favourite music software or by connecting speakers with a decent subwoofer. A sound card can provide a massive improvement on integrated audio, but we recommend getting one which by default outputs a flatter but more versatile sound, such as the Creative X-Fi Go! Pro, which also provides you with Creative’s powerful suite of audio optimisation software, which includes bass enhancement.
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