Most laptops have only a 3.5 mm stereo line out, which only supports 2.1 sound. If you want to watch movies in 5.1 surround sound, we will need to upgrade the integrated audio. So how do we do that on something that’s not upgradeable? Let’s find out how.
To remedy the poor quality of the integrated audio found on laptops, Creative Labs have released the External Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1.
The main unit is quite portable, and is powered via a USB connection. With a glossy black finish, it’s very susceptible to fingerprints. The volume wheel in the front is easily accessible when placed on the table next to the laptop. There is also a version available which includes a remote. I chose the one without, as I would be using the system audio settings, to control the volume.
Connectivity on the back is quite extensive. You can output 5.1,4.1 surround sound and also 2.0/2.1 audio using the analog outputs or via the optical/digital out.
Also included in the box is a 3.5mm to RCA converter, to use other external devices.
It has a Mini USB cable, which is used to connect the device to the laptop and power it. They have provided quite a decent length of cable.
The X-FI does provide an increase in audio quality as compared to the on board system.
The setup is quite easy, connect the device to the laptop via a free USB port, and windows takes care of the rest, automatically installing the required drivers.
To output surround sound audio, I was more interested in the Optical out on the device. The optical out uses a fiber optic cable, and laser light to transmit digital audio signals between the laptop and the Amplifier.
I am using the Onkyo SR-506, which is an old amplifier. It doesn’t support HDMI audio and just passes it through. So I needed a solution to be capable of relaying 5.1 or 7.1 audio to my amplifier, and as the amp supports optical in, this cable is just what I needed to save the day. I just have one cable between the Amplifier and the laptop and it takes care of all my surround sound channels, so it’s much easier to install and importantly troubleshoot.
As the signal is digital , there is no loss in quality, and the amplifier detects the encoded format and the decoding in done on the amplifier itself.
So I connect the USB cable to the XFI mini USB port, connect the optical cable to the optical out. Check if the light is on , at the front of the device. You’re done on the system side, now on the amplifier, we connect the optical cable and the connection is complete. Only make sure that you select digital in on the amplifier, so that it switches to the optical input.
That’s it, run your favorite DVD or BlueRay movie on your laptop and sit back and enjoy 5.1 audio from your laptop in all it’s glory.