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Abit iDome and AirPace Music
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Date: May 30, 2007
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Michael Lin
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Introduction

Abit is normally associated with enthusiast-class overclocking motherboards and to a lesser extent their now discontinued line of Radeon graphics cards. Most people would not think of abit as a manufacturer of multimedia speakers. So it was to our surprise when abit announced a new line of speakers late last year. Dubbed "iDome", this new product line consists of three products that, when used in combination, represent abit's vision of a "personal digital theater". The product line currently consists of the iDome DS500 digital stereo speakers, the iDome SW510 digital subwoofer and the AirPace WAD-01B wireless music access point.

To allow you to listen to your music anywhere in the house, abit has designed the AirPace music 802.11g wireless access point.
The Airpace unit includes software that will act like sound drivers and allow any system to stream sound wirelessly over the network to the abit AirPace unit. The AirPace unit has a variety of digital and analog audio outputs that allow you to directly connect your speakers so they can play your wirelessly streamed music. While only stereo analog outputs are offered, the AirPace is capable of streaming 5.1 via an optical S/P DIF digital output. This is great if you want to position your speakers further away from your computer than your cables will allow or you could stream music to your home theater receiver in the living room from your computer in the den. The possibilities are nearly endless. The AirPace unit comes with a infrared remote and it can also function as a standard 802.11g wireless access point.

While the AirPace is a pretty innovative product, the real stars of this product line are the DS500 digital speakers and the SW510 digital subwoofer. Abit claims they have produced the first digital multimedia speakers on the market. The speakers are capable of directly connecting to digital S/P DIF optical outputs, a feat other multimedia speakers cannot match. One of the most obvious advantages of being able to tap a digital output is that high-end discrete sound cards and integrated motherboard audio are both equally capable of providing a digital bitstream. This means that the iDome speakers should be able to provide equal audio quality, regardless of the sound card used. The iDome speakers also possess a wide range of analog inputs so they can be connected to nearly any multimedia audio source from your computer, to your mp3 player and even your TV.

 Personal_Digital_Theater.jpg


Now that you've heard the pitch and seen the pretty picture, your probably thinking "well thats just dandy, but what about the sound quality?". Funny, because that was exactly what we thought so we obtained one of each of the three products that make up abit's new multimedia product line and evaluated them over the course of several weeks. Read on to find out if motherboard manufacturers are any good at making speakers, but first, a short primer to explain all the fuss surrounding digital speakers.
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Analog vs. Digital
Abit's Personal Digital Theater is built around the concept of a digital speaker system. Traditional speaker systems are analog and rather simple in comparison. An analog signal representing the sound to be played is passed to the speakers where it drives the speaker's cones, which in turn creates sound waves that our ears perceive as sound. While this is the basic concept of a speaker, an actual sound system is much more complicated. Additional steps must be considered, such as the generation of the analog signal being passed to the speakers as well as amplification and processing of the signal to control various aspects of the sound like intensity and the amount of bass present.

In a computer, the task of signal generation and processing is handled by a sound card / chip and the process is digital since your computer is a digital device and the sound that is to be played begins as a digital file or stream on the computer. However your ears, and sound for that matter, are fundamentally analog. So at some point the sound signal must be converted from a digital signal to an analog signal. Unfortunately, this conversion is never perfect and a certain amount of information is always lost in the process. This also means that the more you convert the signal between analog and digital, the more it's degraded. In a computer, this conversion is usually handled by the sound card, which has one or more built-in digital-to-analog converters (DACs). The quality of a sound card's DACs is one of the main determinants of the sound card's quality.



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Analog Speaker System

The transmission of analog signals also has many problems which all sound systems must deal with. The inherent problem is that it is extremely difficult to perfectly transmit an analog signal through a wire without signal degradation due to interference or signal loss. The severity of these problems depends on many factors such as the length of the wire that is transmitting the signal, the level of electromagnetic interference the wire is exposed to, the conductivity of the material that the wire is made of and the purity of the material. While a digital signal cannot completely escape from these problems, resulting in misreading and data loss, it is significantly more resilient than analog signals. It's also possible to correct most data lost during transmission with the use of error correction algorithms and except in extreme cases, digital transmission can be thought as being relatively immune to signal degradation.

After being converted from digital to analog form by the sound card's DACs, a sound signal inside of a computer must contend with a great deal of interference generated by the other components in the system. Then it must survive the journey through a wire to the speaker, all the while being subjected to interference from external sources and signal degradation due to impurities in the wires and connections. Sometimes the signal might also be converted back to digital form again to allow for further processing before being converted back to analog form. Ultimately what this means is that a significant amount of information is lost on the way from the signal source to your ears and a certain amount of extra junk is added to the signal. So the sound you end up hearing isn't quite the same as the original recording.


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Abit's Digital Speaker System

Abit attempts to minimize these problems with their digital speaker technology by decreasing the number of times the signal is converted and by reducing the distance the signal must travel once it's been converted to analog. To accomplish this, the iDome speakers take advantage of the digital S/P DIF optical output found on most modern sound cards and many onboard solutions. The signal passed through the S/P DIF output has skipped the sound card's DAC and is in its pure digital form. It is also relatively safe from further degradation on its journey to the speaker since one of the primary advantages of optical fiber technology is that the signal is transmitted via light and is totally immune to electromagnetic interference. Amplification and extra processing is done locally by the iDome while the signal is still in digital form, and then when the signal is ready to be converted into sound waves, the signal is passed through a DAC and then immediately transferred a very short distance to the speaker cones. Theoretically, these precautions should ensure that there is minimum signal degradation and you hear the sound "the way it was meant to be heard".

Although abit has gone to great lengths to ensure that the sound signal that arrives at the speaker is as true to its original form as possible, that isn't the only factor that affects sound quality. The quality of the DACs and speaker cones also greatly affect the sound quality, not to mention various environmental effects once the signal actually gets converted to sound waves.
Read on to find out if abit's strategy has succeeded in creating a superior set of speakers.
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iDome DS 500 & SW 510

The iDome product line currently consists of two multimedia speaker sets, the DS500 digital speakers and the iDome SW510 digital subwoofer. These two units are sold as separate products and they are designed as independent units, each with their own controls and each capable of receiving, decoding and playing digital and analog audio sources. This means you can purchase either the DS500 or the SW510 to supplement your existing sound system, or you can use the DS500 separately in a 2.0 setup or combine them to make a 2.1 speaker system. You could even purchase two DS500s to make a 4.0 or 4.1 setup. Both the DS500 and the SW510 offer pass-through outputs so you can daisy-chain them together, allowing you to connect multiple speaker sets to the same S/P DIF optical output.

Abit has emplyed their uGuru branding once again with the iDomes, but instead of helping you overclock or monitor your temperatures and voltages, the uGuru chip found in the DS500 and the SW510 afford you limited EQ settings. The SW510 only gains the ability to adjust bass levels, but the DS500 gets that as well as treble adjustment and five EQ presets. The EQ presets are Jazz, Rock, Movie, Music and Game. There is also a "normal" setting that disables the EQ. While the bass and treble controls are a welcome addition, we found the preset EQ settings to be somewhat of a gimmick and rather limited in practice. We don't think the settings improved our listening experience much, and good speakers shouldn't require you to adjust them depending on what your listening to.



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iDome DS500

iDome SW510

Total Output Power

50W RMS (25 per channel)

50W RMS

Drivers

1” tweeter + 4” mid-range per satellite

6.5” woofer

Frequency Response

20-20,000 Hz

16-160 Hz

Impedance

4 ohm

Signal to Noise Ratio

86 dB

93 dB

Input Connections

S/P DIF In

RCA In (Left & Right)

Output Connections

S/P DIF Out

RCA Out (Left & Right)

Controls

Power Button
SFX Control Knob
Treble Adjustment Knob
Bass Adjustment Knob
Volume Knob
Power Button
Treble Adjustment Knob
Bass Adjustment Knob
Volume Knob

Enclosure Material

Medium Density Fiber Board (MDF)

Dimensions

186(D) x 135(W) x 250(H) mm

320(D) x 200(W) x 350(H) mm

Special Features

24bit/192KHz Internal DAC

Abit uGuru Technology

Magnetically Shielded

LED Lighting

Street Price

 $117.60

$106.40 


While the current street prices for these units may seem very high, they are not unreasonable considering each unit contains a high-spec internal DAC, MDF cabinet construction, built-in adjustments for treble and bass and the wide variety of input and pass-through output connections. The iDome product line is not lacking when it comes to features.  

The iDome DS500 is a two-piece speaker set that consists of two slick looking ported satellite speakers. The satellite speakers are very large for multimedia standards and resemble a small home theater bookshelf speaker. Each satellite is rated at 25 watts RMS and contains a 1" tweeter as well as a 4" full-range. The tweeter handles high frequency sounds while the 4" full-range speaker is on a crossover that only feeds it mid and low frequencies. This two-way approach traditionally works much better than using a single full-range driver to do everything and usually results in better sound quality. The satellite cabinets are made entirely from MDF with a plastic front facade and they are supported by a transparent plastic stand.

The connections for the duo are located on the right channel satellite and it also contains the decoding hardware as well as the uGuru chip which gives the DS500 several preset EQ settings. The power button, power LED, EQ selector switch, bass knob, treble knob and the volume knob are all located on the front of the right channel speaker. The two satellite speakers are connected by standard speaker wire which is held in place by a set of spring clips on the back of each satellite. It seems the right satellite speaker got all the fun because the left satellite speaker has no controls, LEDs or connections of any sort besides a set of spring clips. Unfortunately, the DS500 does not sport a headphone jack. A headphone jack should be a standard feature on any multimedia speaker and the lack of one on the iDome, especially considering its cost, is disappointing.



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The transparent stand on the right channel speaker is illuminated by a red LED which is recessed into the speaker cabinet. This creates a cool effect since the light from the LED is spread out relatively evenly by the transparent plastic, causing the engraved "iDome" logo to glow red. Unfortunately, since the left channel speaker does not have its own power source, it does not contain any LEDs. Since only one of the speakers glows, it greatly diminishes the cool-factor of the effect. Luckily the red LED can be disabled by a switch located on the back of the right channel satellite speaker.

The SW510 subwoofer shares the same aesthetic theme as the DS500 speakers. Its cabinet is made entirely from MDF and it also has a glossy black plastic front facade. In the center of the facade is the SW510's power LED, which glows red. At the top left corner of the facade are the controls; a power button, bass knob and volume knob. The fact that the DS500 and the SW510 are controlled independently is both a blessing and a curse. It means you can tweak the volume and bass levels of the speakers and the subwoofer independently, but it also means that turning down the volume on your speakers will have no effect on your subwoofer.


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The SW510 is rated for 50 watts RMS and since the SW510 is designed as a stand-alone product, it features the same set of inputs and pass-through outputs as the DS500. It is also capable of decoding digital signals, just like the DS500. The SW510's 6.5" driver is located on the rear of the unit, above the connection panel. While the driver is rear firing, the enclosure is also ported on the bottom. The port on the bottom of the unit is recessed by about four inches, which gives it additional room to breathe. Instead of transparent plastic, the SW510 sits on four rubber legs which should do a decent job of keeping it planted and absorbing vibrations.

Both the DS500 and the SQ510 come bundled with the necessary cables to get you hooked up, with analog and digital sources. The DS500 and the SW510 both come with a power cord, TOS-Link optical S/P DIF cable, and an analog cable that has RCA connectors on one end and a standard 3.5 mm stereo jack plug on the other end. The DS500 also includes a 2 meter length of standard bare-wire speaker cable for linking the two satellite speakers.

Considering the emphasis on digital sources, we are surprised that neither the DS500 nor the SW510 have coaxial S/P DIF support, only optical. While you can purchase an adapter to turn your coaxial source into an optical one, we wished abit had included coaxial connectors. We have seen several motherboards that only have coaxial S/P DIF so it would have been nice if the iDomes supported both types of digital connections right out of the box. While both the DS500 and the SW510 have digital and analog connections, you can't use both types at the same time. You must choose whether your using analog or digital inputs with a selector switch found on the connections panel of the DS500 and the SW510.

Overall, we thought both the DS500 and the SW510 felt very well constructed and except for the lack of coaxial S/P DIF inputs, the iDomes possess an impressive feature set. The promise of digital speakers is that they will be able to deliver equal sound quality regardless of the sound source, provided it is digital. This is because almost every sound card, from the highest-end discrete sound card to the lowly integrated solution are equally capable of passing through a digital bit stream from their S/P DIF ports. While this may be true, ultimately, sound quality hinges on the quality of the speakers. It won't matter that the iDomes use a digital source if they sound like junk.

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Sound Quality

To help give you an idea of how the iDomes sound, we tested them with a wide variety of movies, games and music. While the DS500 and SW510 are separate products, they are also sold together as a bundle so we tested them together as one unit. We tested the iDomes over a period of several weeks to allow the speakers to properly "burn in" and reach their full potential. This extra time also allowed us test the iDomes with a very wide range of material.


Music

After the iDomes had a chance to burn in, we begin our music listening tests with Miles Davis' quintessential jazz album, Kind of Blue. The first track on the album, titled "So What", begins with a piano and bass introduction. While normally an enjoyable experience, the bass during the introduction seemed lacking and quiet and we were barely able to make out individual notes in Paul Chamber's expertly played bass line. Increasing the volume on the SW510 subwoofer helped things to a point, but the bass quickly became muddy when we cranked the SW510 past 2/3 volume.  Things improved significantly once things picked up as Miles Davis joined in on the trumpet. We noticed immediately how well the DS500s handled the highs, they were crystal clear and very revealing. We were able to hear every nuance in the upper ranges of the music and the mids were also present in abundance. Overall, our first taste of how the iDomes perform was pleasant, although we wished the bass had been more detailed.

Next, we changed gears and moved on to some classic rock. AC/DC's "You shook me all night long" sounded great on the iDomes. The highs were crisp and the bass finally showed signs of life as we had no trouble hearing Phil Rudd's drums. Eric Johnson's virtuoso instrumental "Cliffs of Dover" also sounded great on the iDome's, each note from Eric's Gibson ES-335 sounded crisp and full-bodied, like it should. Moving on to some more modern rock, we queued up Rage Against the Machine's second album, Evil Empire. The iDomes handled the heavy guitars with ease and showed off a solid mid-range which contributed to a very "full" sound.

We then tried out a couple of tracks from several metalcore bands such as As I Lay Dying and Killswitch Engage. Metalcore is a cross between heavy metal music and hardcore punk and this is a genre of music that is characterized by heavy guitars, sparse usage of melody juxtaposed against brutal, often screamed, vocals and frequent employment of rapid machinegun-like double bass. This genre of music is very demanding of speakers and it is a good test of how "tight" a set of speakers are since an especially "melow" or "loose" set of speakers wouldn't be able to keep up with the music's extremely rapid pace. Unfortunately, the iDomes didn't quite pass the test. While the DS500 speakers performed well and the highs and mids were as crisp and full as always, the SW510 subwoofer fell flat trying to reproduce the extremely fast double bass found in the music of many metalcore bands. The bass would often become very muddled to the point where it was near impossible to make out individual drum beats. While listening to metalcore music, we often found it was better to turn off the SW510 altogether since it often made a mess of the bass line.

So far we were very pleased with the performance of the DS500 but we weren't at all impressed by the SW510's sloppiness. We decided to throw some hip-hop and electronic at the iDomes to see if the SW510 was better suited at producing slower, boomy bass. We were rewarded as the iDomes sounded great playing rap albums. We also listened to The Prodigy's latest album and the SW510 filled the room with hearty bass. Overall, we were very impressed by the performance of the DS500 speakers, they produced crisp and clear highs, full mids and sounded great with everything we threw at them. We weren't as impressed with the SW510 which we found to be "loose". We finally found the SW510's forte with rap and electronic music, but even then, the bass wasn't as deep as we would have liked although it did produce abundant volume.


Movies

We watched a number of movies while putting the iDomes through their paces. While the 2.1 iDomes weren't able to compete with surround sound setups when it came to positioning and immersiveness, we didn't expect them to. Considering it is a 2.1 system, the iDomes had excellent positional capabilities. We were able to locate things on screen from the sounds they made and it added greatly to the
immersiveness of the experience. The DS500's crystal clear highs and full mids made speech easy to discern and brought out details in the sound that helped to make the movies more realistic and believable. Since we like our movies to be theater-loud, we quickly found out that the iDomes were also capable of very impressive volume, given their size. Overall, the DS500 speakers performed well with movies, lending a satisfactory level of imersiveness to our movies.

As with music, we found the performance of the SW510 subwoofer to be a bit less than satisfactory. It simply didn't have the same floor shaking impact that we demand from our movies. Explosions and crashes didn't have enough depth or force as we would have liked. While the bass was certainly present, it wasn't out in force. We also wished the bass was deeper. While we didn't experience the same muddiness that we had with music, the bass often felt "loose" and slow. Overall, we wouldn't say that we were disappointed with the SW510's performance, but we were certainly unimpressed.


Games

In games, we believe that the most important quality that we expect from a set of speakers is spatial positioning. This is especially true for 1st person games of all types (not just shooters), where being able to hear what is happening around you is a great asset. For this reason, a surround sound setup is usually more desirable than a 2.1 setup when it comes to games. However, that doesn't mean that you need a surround sound setup in order to have a sonic edge over your opponents in a game, as anyone who has played Counterstrike with a good pair of headphones will attest. Once again, the DS500 digital speakers shined. The crystal clear highs, full mids and good positioning really helped us pinpoint the source of sounds in our games. We played a couple rounds of Counterstrike with the iDomes. In a tactical shooter like Counterstrike, being able to hear where your enemies are is a huge asset and it really gives you a tangible edge over your opponents. Luckily, the iDomes didn't let us down as we were able to pinpoint, with relative accuracy where enemy gunfire and footsteps were coming from.

While we were once again impressed by the DS500, the SW510 subwoofer let us down again. As with our movie experience, the bass was definitely present, but it wasn't particularly deep or powerful. The explosion of a grenade or the impact of the rocket just didn't have the same satisfying boom as with other speaker sets in this price range, like the Logitech Z-2300s.
Ultimately , as with our movie experience, we weren't too disappointed but we definitely weren't impressed either.


Onboard vs Discrete


One of the potential draws of a digital speaker system is the possibility that they will sound equally good connected to an expensive high-end discrete sound card as they would connected to a "free" integrated solution. We put that to the test.

First, we hooked up the iDomes to a Creative Xi-Fi discrete sound card using the optical S/P DIF output. Then we connected the iDomes to the optical S/P DIF output of the Realtek integrated sound card on our motherboard. We were unable to tell the difference. It didn't matter if we were listening to music, watching movies or playing games, the two sound sources sounded identical on the iDomes when we were using the optical S/P DIF connection. Next, we tried the same comparison between the integrated Realtek sound card and the discrete Xi-Fi while using analog connections. The difference was obvious and immediately apparent. There was no mistaking it, the Xi-Fi simply sounded better.

So does this mean that you don't need to buy a sound card if you have the abit iDomes? Yes, for the most part. While the sound quality between the integrated Realtek and the premium Xi-Fi was identical, the Xi-Fi has the advantage of EAX support. However, if your interested in the iDomes, your primary concern probably isn't to play games anyway, so you probably won't miss EAX too much. Since you don't need a discrete sound card to make the iDomes sound good, you can "save" money when you purchase the iDome since you won't need to purchase a discrete sound card. Considering the iDome's relatively high price, for a multimedia speaker set, the fact that you don’t need to purchase a discrete sound card is definitely a plus.

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AirPace WAD-01B

At its heart, the AirPace WAD-01B is a 802.11b/g wireless access point and it has all the amenities you would expect from such a device. It even looks like a normal wireless networking device from afar, but once you get closer, you notice a couple things you won't see on any other wireless access point. On the back panel of this otherwise innocent looking networking device are analog and digital audio outputs. Even stranger still, the AirPace is the only networking device I know of that has a remote control. It needs all of these additions because the AirPace is a wireless audio access point.


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In addition to normal wireless access point features, the AirPace is also capable of operating as a wireless client that can connect to an existing wireless network. The AirPace is equipped with a standard RJ45 Ethernet jack that can connect to an existing wired network or it can be connected to a nearby computer to lend it wireless capabilities. If the feature list stopped here, the AirPace would be a very versatile little device but we haven't even gotten to the key feature yet. While in client mode (wired or wireless), the AirPace unit is capable of receiving audio streams from other computers on the network and it can output the audio stream using its compliment of analog and digital audio outputs. That means that as long as the AirPace unit is hooked up to a set of speakers and connected to your network, you can play audio from any machine on the network and listen to it wherever the AirPace is.

The concept of streaming audio over a network connection is nothing new. Slim Devices Inc. has been offering similar functionality since 2001 with their Squeezebox network music player. Where the AirPace shines is in its chosen implementation. While the Squeezebox is strictly a network music player, the AirPace is a wireless access point with audio streaming functionality tacked on and can be used as a standard access point. Both the Squeezebox and the AirPace require software to be installed on any computer that wishes to stream audio over the network. However, Squeezebox's software limits you to certain audio file types while the AirPace client software acts like a sound driver and allows all audio to be streamed.


A Closer Look

The AirPace WAD-01B is made of plastic with a high-gloss piano black exterior. It resembles a compact wireless router. On the front are activity and status LEDs that indicate power, Ethernet activity, wireless activity and audio stream activity. On the rear is a row of connections and a detachable antenna. The AirPace unit has three different audio outputs; a S/P DIF optical output, 3.5 mm analog audio output and a stereo RCA analog audio output. While the AirPace is capable of receiving surround sound audio streams, it is merely a pass-through device. It does not have any decoding capability so it cannot offer analog surround sound outputs. Luckily you can connect the S/P DIF optical output to a receiver capable of decoding surround sound signals. However, the utility of wirelessly streaming a surround sound audio signal is questionable.


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Bundled with the AirPace is a very compact IR remote and a short Ethernet cable to get you started. The little remote only has six buttons and is meant to be used with the AirPace unit when it is configured as a wireless audio system. The six buttons control various multimedia functions like volume, changing the track, playing and pausing the music. The remote doesn't work as you might expect. When the AirPace unit has established an audio connection with a computer running the AirPace client software, commands from the remote are relayed to the computer, where the AirPace client software then performs the appropriate actions. Think of the buttons on the remote as a portable, wireless version of the media buttons found on many "multimedia" keyboards. Unfortunately the small size of the remote makes it especially easy to misplace and we wished the AirPace unit had a similar set of controls on the unit itself as a backup. The remote is also completely useless when the AirPace is not being used as a audio system.

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AirPace: Testing

We tested the AirPace both as a standard network device and as a wireless audio system. When used as a wireless access point, the AirPace performed admirably and we observed similar range, signal strength, and connection speed as other entry level wireless access points. The AirPace supports in-browser web administration and offers a rudimentary set of administration options like a DHCP server, MAC address filtering, and support for WEP, WPA and WPA2. Overall, we thought it was a pretty typical entry level wireless access point, which isn't necessarily a bad thing since access point functionality is merely a bonus feature.

In order to stream audio, the AirPace must be in client mode. Once in client mode, the AirPace can connect to your existing wired or wireless network and will appear as a standard network device. You will also need to install the AirPace client software on any computer on your network that you want to stream audio with. The client software includes a special sound driver and UI interface to control the audio streaming process.


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To start streaming audio, you must first select "wireless audio" instead of "PC speaker" in the AirPace client software. By default, this effectively routes all the audio to the special AirPace sound driver and it also means that your sound card is now deactivated. Luckily, switching back and forth is quick and painless. Once you've routed audio away from your sound card, you need to select from a list of available AirPace units on the network (yes, you can have as many as you like) and connect to the desired one. When you've established a connection through the network, all the audio generated by your computer will be played by the AirPace unit you're connected to.


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Although it is really that simple to get up and running, there is some room for tweaking your experience and the AirPace client software offers two option windows called "Buffer Setup" and "Advanced Setting". The buffer setup window lets you choose the size of the audio buffer and there are two available presets; "movie/game" and "music". A larger buffer means more transmission delay, but you get a more stable connection and the chances of broken audio due to wireless signal interference are reduced. During our testing, we found that the "music" mode gave us perfect audio, but at a very
noticeable half second delay. This means that there is a half second difference between what we hear and what is being played. While this isn't an issue for music, it is a huge problem when the sound needs to be in sync with video such as in games and movies. Setting the buffer to movie/game mode decreased the delay enough that we weren't able to notice it but we would occasionally experience a momentary drop in audio due to wireless signal interference.

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The advanced setting window has a couple of interesting options. By default, using wireless streaming means that your computer's sound card is no longer active so there is no local audio. If you want to stream audio to the AirPace and hear it locally, there is an option to do so in this window. Another default behavior of the AirPace unit is that it can accept multiple audio stream connection at once. This means that if I am listening to music on my computer, and someone else is watching a movie on theirs, and we both connect to the same AirPace unit, then the AirPace unit will simultaneously play both of our audio at the same time. You can force the AirPace unit to only accept one connection at a time from the advanced setting window. Lastly, the AirPace client software is launched automatically when windows starts, this behavior can also be toggled from this window.

Overall, the AirPace performed well as both a wireless access point and as a wireless audio system. The software and drivers did not give us any trouble and everything worked as it should. The performance of the AirPace as a wireless audio system was quite good. The sound quality of the streamed audio was perfect and streaming audio created no
noticeable network traffic congestion. We set up the AirPace unit right next to our computer and with the help of a splitter, we connected both our computer and the AirPace to the same set of speakers. We were unable to notice a difference in sound quality between a direct connection and streaming the audio through the AirPace.
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Our Summary and Conclusion

Abit iDome DS500 Digital Speakers

The abit iDome DS500 Digital Speaker system is an excellent product. It boasts a very stylish high quality design and 100% MDF enclosure construction. The bass and treble controls are very handy and although the built-in EQ presets weren't particularly useful, they don't hurt either. While we liked the DS500's design, we wished it had a headphone jack, which is essential for multimedia speaker sets. We also would have liked to see both speakers light up instead of just one, but we thought the iDomes looked fine with the lighting disabled.

The real strengths of the DS500 are its sound quality and its digital capabilities. The DS500 sound great and the quality of the highs and mid-range certainly make up for the speaker set's $100+ cost. While the DS500 lacked deep bass, that is to be expected when dealing with 2.0 systems. We also really liked the DS500's ability to utilize digital audio sources. The ability to get equal sound quality from a "free" integrated solution compared to a premium discrete sound card is a huge plus and it also helps to make up for the DS500's cost. However, considering the emphasis on digital connectivity, we would have liked to see the DS500 sport a coaxial S/P DIF connection, in addition to the existing optical connection.

If you’re looking for a nice set of speakers to add to your sound system or a stand-alone stereo unit, the DS500 should definitely be on your audition list. These speakers offer a very detailed and clear sound that is sure to please any music enthusiast. However, we recommend you pair the DS500 with a decent subwoofer to supplement the bass, an area where it is decidedly lacking.

  • Crystal Clear Highs
  • Full mid-range
  • Can Use Digital Connections
  • Two-way Speaker Design
  • 100% MDF Speaker Enclosure
  • Bass and Treble Controls
  • Stylish Design
  • No Coaxial S/P DIF Connections
  • No Headphone Jack
  • Only Right-channel Speaker Illuminated By LEDs

Abit iDome SW510 Digital Wubwoofer

While the DS500 digital speakers excelled in our sound quality tests, the SW510 didn't do nearly as well.  We think the SW510 is a rather mediocre subwoofer that suffers from loose and boomy bass that isn't as deep as we like. Its saving grace is the ability to accept digital connections, a trait it shares with the DS500. Unfortunately this advantage isn't enough to justify the $100+ cost of the SW510. If you're in need of a subwoofer to add to your system and you absolutely have to have digital connectivity, then the SW510 is one of the only games in town. However, if analog connectivity will do, then we recommend looking into a low-end home theater subwoofer instead. For the price, you might be able to find something a bit better than the SW510. 

  • Can Use Digital Connections
  • 100% MDF Subwoofer Enclosure
  • Can Achieve Good Volume Levels
  • Bass Level Control
  • Loose, Boomy Bass
  • Bass Not Very Deep
  • No Coaxial S/P DIF Connections

Abit AirPace WAD-01B Wireless Audio System

The abit AirPace wireless audio system is a very interesting piece of kit. On one hand, it offers some very cool features that some people will find extremely useful. Its ability to stream music to just about any point within wireless range of your network is very cool and its secondary functionality as a 802.11b/g wireless access point is a welcome bonus. We also liked that the software and hardware worked flawlessly and exactly as it should right out of the box. On the other hand, most people won't have a use for the AirPace's somewhat unique abilities. To make matters worse, the AirPace is almost impossible to find. We weren't able to find any US retailers that carried them, although abit assures us that they are out there...somewhere. Abit also claims that some retailers bundled the AirPace unit with the iDomes, although we were unable to find any retailers that do. However, if you absolutely must have one, there are several European retailers selling it and if your willing to stomach the cost of shipping, one can be yours for about $80 Euros ($108 USD).

  • Wirelessly Stream Audio Accross Your Network
  • Basic 802.11b/g Access Point Capability
  • Compact Design
  • IR Remote
  • No Built-in Multimedia Controls
  • High Cost
  • Extremely Low Availability!

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