If you're not an audiophile but you are looking to upgrade beyond a two-speaker setup, the $70 Hercules Gamesurround Muse Pocket USB is an easy entry point to the world of 5.1 PC surround sound. Laptop users who need more advanced sound and desktop owners with limited space or technical acumen for upgrades will benefit from this product. It's not the most high-end audio option available, but it is easy to transport and install, and at $70, it won't break the bank.
With the appearance of a disembodied stereo volume knob, the 12.4-ounce device connects via a standard USB input. Front, center/subwoofer, and side audio-output jacks ring the bottom, complemented by headphone, microphone, and line-in jacks. Turning the top knob adjusts the volume level, and pressing down on it turns the mute off and on.
Since it is so small and weighs so little, the Muse Pocket makes a good traveling companion for laptop users. If you run your system on battery power most of the time, however, be aware that the Muse Pocket draws its power from your laptop. Its easy installation makes it a good fit for desktop users who want surround sound on their PC but are afraid to crack open the case and install a sound card. Our Windows XP Home test system recognized the device instantly after we disabled the onboard sound chip and plugged in the device. Further easing installation and your desk's glut of cascading wires, a second power cable is not needed, because the device draws its power from the USB connection.
The Muse Pocket's &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Esensaura%2Ecom/" target="_blank">Sensaura audio chip provides 5.1-channel surround sound with the appropriate speaker set. You can set the volume level for each audio channel via the driver software; the drivers even come with 23 reverb presets for filtering output through a simulated audio environment, such as a concert hall or a stadium.
The Muse Pocket and its 16-bit/48KHz output and recording resolution can't compete for sound quality or overall functionality against similar products, such as the 7.1and its 24-bit/96KHz capability. There are no digital output or FireWire jacks on the Muse Pocket, and you won't find Dolby Digital decoding or other advanced audio certifications other than standard surround-sound and DirectX9 support. Overall, the device is adequate for gamers and those with modest home audio/video needs, but audiophiles will find it lacking as a serious audio component.
With its brushed-aluminum finish, the Muse Pocket has an upscale appearance, but the volume control was missing an adequate degree of fine-tuning between volume levels, and the knob's flimsy-feeling tactile response while twisting it is not very satisfying. Further, we wonder how hard it would have been to include some advanced-configuration options to the software for using the Muse Pocket as an alternate interface device. Similar in form factor, though not an audio adapter, Griffin Technologies' &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Egriffintechnology%2Ecom%2Fproducts%2Fpowermate" target="_blank">PowerMate product is a particularly flexible distant cousin, in that you can integrate it with just about any application you want. Still, the Muse Pocket affordably delivers decent, portable PC sound exactly as intended, and for that we can recommend it.