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Review of iQ: Internet QSound 3D Enhancer

by David Yee

    iQ: Internet QSound 3D Enhancer is a cool little piece of software that appreciably enhances most forms of wave sound. The $24.95 iQ comes from QSound Labs, the company famous for QSound 3D audio technology. Although iQ is aimed at improving Internet audio, MP3s and all other forms of wave audio (except 4 bit ADPCM sound) are supported. Keep in mind that non-wave audio such as MIDI and external line-in and CD music are not enhanced, however.
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    As you can see above, the control panel is quite simple.  Although you can adjust the QXpander slider, there is little perceivable difference between the maximum and minimum settings.  Disabling QSound turns off all effects so you can instantly compare iQ-enhanced and normal sound.  The Mono to Stereo feature worked quite well.  With it on, I listened to an AM radio station through Real Audio and observed (actually, heard) pretty decent stereo emulation.  The bottom right of the control panel tells you the whether the sound being processed is mono or stereo, as well as displaying the sound's sampling rate and frequency.

    The "3D" in Internet QSound 3D Enhancer is somewhat misleading. Although the stereo imaging is beautifully improved, iQ did not go as far as allowing 360 degree sound immersion. But since many multimedia products are adding 3D to their name with little justification, it's really not such a big issue here :-).

    Although iQ worked flawlessly on my Pentium II 300, it manhandled my poor Cyrix 6x86-P150+ machine as audio breaks were frequent during the playback of a MP3 song.  According to the readme file, the minimum CPU requirement for iQ is Pentium 90, but since the floating-point capability of the 6x86-P150+ is like that of a Pentium 60, the audio hiccups were to be expected, especially when playing CPU-intensive MP3s.

    I compared the quality between audio enhanced by iQ and Sound Blaster Live!'s Environmental Audio (EA) technology.  I must say that the more-customizable EA sounds better (more depth and presence), but it is really not a fair comparison since EA uses 4 speakers and iQ only needs two.  In addition, iQ is able to convert mono sound to stereo, while EA cannot.

    If you want to enhance the way your PC and Internet wave audio sound, iQ is a terrific, inexpensive alternative to upgrading to a more costly sound card and speakers.

What's Cool
Impressive stereo sound field enhancement and mono-to-stereo sound-conversion

What's Not
Too CPU-intensive for the lower-class Pentium computers.  Cannot enhance MIDI, CD, and line-in audio