BenQ’s new Zowie range of gaming products may sound like the name was created by a class of first graders, but it’s new external amplifier is actually a ripper of a product. We’ve never seen a device that is so easy to set up – plug it into any spare USB port and you’re good to go. There’s no drivers, no control software, no fluff, no nothing – it just works.
It’s the size of a pack of cards, and the various settings are handled by touch controls on the flat front surface. There’s the usual volume setting, but you can also adjust base, treble and microphone volume on the fly. There’s also a couple of buttons to select which output to use, which is a godsend. Thanks to the dual 3.5mm stereo mini-jacks on the sides, it’s possible to connect both headphones and speakers – simply hit the headphone button to make audio come out of your cans, or vice versa.
Hidden within is a 250Ohm amplifier, which should be more than enough to power even high impedance headphones. We tested with a set of Audio Technica ATH-R70X headphones, mid-range headphones that sell for around $400. There wasn’t a hint of distortion, as to be expected for an external audio device that doesn’t have to fight through the wall of EMF inside a PC case, though we did notice that the Vital doesn’t have quite the same level of grunt as the likes of Soundblaster’s E5, with a slightly lower top volume. This is likely due to the fact that the Vital tops out at 250 Ohm, versus the E5’s 600 Ohm amp. The E5 also claims 24-bit 192kHz playback, while the Vital’s specs claim 96 kHz/24bit, which is noticeably lower. The specs also mention virtual surround sound, but we don’t know which codec they’re using, and there’s no way to disable it.
We love the touch-screen and driverless design of the Vital, but SoundBlaster’s E5 definitely has the lead over it when it comes to specs, especially as they’re both identically priced and have basically the same features.