Similar in appearance to a USB flash drive, the diminutive Audio Advantage Micro, which measures 2.5 by 0.75 by 0.5 inches (HWD), comes with a USB jack cover, a USB extension cable, a software CD-ROM and the aforementioned optical digital-audio plug adapter. We were a bit frustrated by the 22-inch USB extension cord; it's not quite long enough to facilitate easy connection with a desktop PC's rear-panel USB port, especially if your computer sits on the floor. The Audio Advantage Micro is also totally devoid of hardware-based controls; the absence of a volume knob, for instance, means you'll have to dive into the software to make adjustments. That can be a real pain when you're in the middle of playing a video game or watching a movie, but it's not a deal killer.
Installing the Audio Advantage Micro was straightforward: we simply installed the software from the CD-ROM, then plugged in the device as prompted. The software serves as a preamplifier and configuration tool, including a 10-band equalizer with programmable presets; more than two dozen DSP environments, ranging from Shower to Psychotic; and a virtual-speaker shifter that lets you tweak the speaker positions of a virtual 5.1-channel system.
The Turtle Beach Audio Advantage Micro can transmit DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1-channel audio signals through its optical digital-audio output to a decoder, such as your A/V receiver, but your PC-based DVD player software must support 5.1-channel output. We used CyberLink PowerDVD ($49.95 or $62.95, depending on the version) without a problem.
With home DVD players so inexpensive these days, it's hard to imagine anyone buying the Audio Advantage Micro solely for the purpose of using a laptop to play DVDs through a 5.1-channel home-theater system. That said, when we connected the Audio Advantage Micro's optical digital-audio jack to our A/V receiver, the Audio Advantage Micro flawlessly passed both 5.1-channel Dolby Digital and DTS sound as well as stereo tracks from our laptop to the receiver. You could also use the Audio Advantage Micro to connect a PC to a self-powered, digital, 5.1-channel multimedia speaker set, such as Logitech's Z-5500 Digital, letting you watch DVD movies from your desk in full digital 5.1 glory.
The Audio Advantage Micro really shines when it's used with headphones. For starters, the unit adds extra gain to the signal, which is useful if your laptop's built-in headphone jack won't play loud enough to drive a favorite set of headphones. When we put on a pair of AKG's K 55 headphones and fired up Unreal Tournament 2004, the sound was surprisingly crisp and clear. Although we're not usually impressed by surround simulations, the Audio Advantage Micro's algorithms really did make the game sound considerably vaster and more enveloping without making the sound too diffuse. Its audio quality can't, however, compete with a full-fledged audio adapter such as the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Notebook.