Review: Audiotrak OPTOPlay

I talked about improving my computer sound volume a while ago.

After thinking about it a bit, I decided that rather than just amplify the mediocre sound, I'd upgrade to something better. I came across a few USB sound cards, and after looking at the various offerings, settled on the OPTOPlay from AudioTrak. It does more than I need - I don't need the digital output - but that really didn't add much to the price, which was about $50.

One disadvantage is that NewEgg didn't carry it, so I had to wait about 10 days for it to show up.

On Monday, I brought it in, plugged it into my dev machine, switched to it, and started listening to a song. It sounded great...

... for about 10 seconds, at which point the music dropped about 30dB and got hissy. I stopped it, and tried again...

It played for 7 seconds, at which point it began playing a full 50 mW of white noise into my headphones.

After trying a few things with no luck, I left a message on their tech support forum. The answer I got was that certain Intel chipsets had problems with audio data, and that if I plugged the device into a USB hub, it might fix the problem.

And it did. For someone who has been into audio for a while, the notion that adding another device in the chain will fix problems is an interesting notion.

So, onto the sound quality. I can only describe it as outstanding. Very clear, with plenty of power.

I was going to write a sentence or two on how the sound compared to the on-board sound, but decided not to. I came up with a few analogies ("like Eddie Van Halen vs. your nephew Josh"), but it didn't seem fair. The average on-board sound system is optimized to match the quality of computer speakers, which means that it's simply awful. When confronted with the hostile electronic environment and fiscal constraints of on-board sound, the designers understandably nipped out early for a pint.

Acoustical memory is notoriously unreliable, but I think that the sound is slightly better than my iRiver h120.

Definitely recommended.

Comments (4)

  1. Is the USB hub powered? Perhaps the thing wasn’t getting enough power from the motherboard’s USB connector.

  2. Karol says:

    Well, I’ve got hte same problems with Optoplay plugged into my Dell Latitude laptop. Please write what kind of USB hub do you use.


  3. ericgu says:


    I’m using my Dell LCD monitor as a hub, which probably isn’t an option for you…

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