USB Audio: The StarTech ICUSBAUDIO Adapter

Once in a while I find a product which meets all my expectations. Such is the case with StarTech’s ICUSBAUDIO adapter.

I recently upgraded my Dell Latitude D630 to Windows 7 64bit. Dell is not officially supporting Windows 7 on the D630, so I was forced to seek the drivers myself. Fortunately I was able to find drivers for most of the on board peripherals including what I thought was the correct audio driver. It installed, but still no audio. The internal microphone was working, but not the speakers nor the headphone jack. Dell offers no audio drivers that will work with Windows 7 64bit.My only option was to find some alternative to the on-board sound circuitry.

My first thoughts were to find a PC-Card sound card, however PC-Cards appear to be disappearing and when they do exist they are expensive. That’s when I began looking for a USB solution.

Years ago, I experimented with USB sound devices. At the time, all the devices I tried left something to be desired. Either the sound quality was poor, they suffered from dropouts or both. I was jaded from this experience and really didn’t expect that I could find a suitable device.

I first turned to my old faithful service, eBay. An eBay search turned up hundreds of USB sound “cards”. The problem with eBay is that you can’t read reviews on products and even though most of the eBay items were cheap, I really didn’t want to spend any money on something I wouldn’t be happy with, no matter how inexpensive. So I turned to my other online vendor of choice, Amazon. A quick search on Amazon returned dozens of USB sound cards, many of which were identical to what my eBay search returned. The best part is that many of them had reviews!

The reviews in Amazon led me to the StarTech ICUSBAUDIO Adapter. The ICUSBAUDIO Adapter is a plug-and-play USB 2.0 Audio Adapter which supports a single microphone and stereo output. The device itself is a little bulky and if plugged directly into a dual USB port on most laptops, it would render one of the ports unusable. Fortunately Startech saw fit to  include a short USB extension cable eliminating this as a problem.

Included with the package is a CD containing drivers and software. If you take the time to load them (about 30 seconds and a restart), you are rewarded with a tray application which allows you to take full advantage of the device, including SPDIF output, Dolby 5.1, Dolby 7.1, environment selection, a customizable equalizer, karaoke control, etc. If you don’t load the drivers, you’ll do yourself a disservice.

Once I had everything installed, I plugged in my headphones and launched my mp3 player. The default sound is quite adequate. I imagine this would be equivalent to what you would hear if you didn’t use the included software. The driver and control panel application work together to allow you to tailor the output in a plethora of ways. After a bit of tweaking, I had the sound just where I like it.

Bottom line: If you can’t find drivers for your sound card, your sound card in your laptop has failed or you just need and additional sound input/output, you can’t go wrong with the StarTech ICSUBAUDIO Adapter. The average price is $12.00 to $15.00.

About Mark Andrews

Software Engineer, Geek, Family Man
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