5.1 Apples: Griffin FireWave External Sound Card

Griffin Technology's multichannel gift to fruit lovers.

Hey, Mac users: Does it ever feel like your PC-loving "friends" are having all of the 5.1 fun? For you, Griffin proposes the FireWave External Sound Card ($99.99), an outboard Dolby Digital decoder and more, specifically for OS X 10.3.9 and above.

Of course it will enable playback of DVDs in the industry standard Dolby Digital, supporting up to five discrete channels and a subwoofer. Powered multimedia speakers are provided by you, as the FireWave is not an amplifier, rather it puts out a line level signal. It is also handy for the latest cross-platform OpenAL surround sound games, and it will allow iTunes, QuickTime, or any stereo content to be presented in Dolby Pro-Logic II, since it also incorporates a DPL2 encoder. For those new to Pro-Logic II, this is Dolby's outstanding expansion technology which extrapolates five full-bandwidth channels from any two-channel source. FireWave also plays well with the Audio MIDI Setup utility of Mac OS X.

The FireWave device and application (contained on the enclosed CD, along with the manual) offer various listening modes and speaker configurations, with downmixing and bass management too. Surround trim can set the volume on rear channels, and delay to the rears can be adjusted to accommodate room size and personal taste. A dynamic range setting boosts soft dialogue while restraining explosions, while the "Generate Subwoofer for Music and Games" option does pretty much what it promises, creating an on-the-fly LFE track. (This feature is not active in Dolby Digital or Pro-Logic II.) There's even a test tone generator, just to make sure everything is hooked up correctly.

No separate power supply is needed because the FireWave draws its juice directly from the computer, via the included three-foot FireWire cable, and the twin 1394 ports assure that this hardware won't monopolize your Mac's FireWire connections. The lightweight yet remarkably sturdy plastic and metal box also provides three stereo mini-jacks for Left/Right, Center/Subwoofer, and Left Surround/Right Surround output, in addition to nifty indicator lights along the front: the Dolby Digital, PL2, and "Fallout Shelter"-looking FireWire logos.