SRS HD Audio Lab
If you've used Windows Media Player, you're probably familiar with SRS Labs. The company's WOW and TruBass technologies are included in WMP to enhance the audio experience. I use them a lot with older material, and they're very addictive. SRS HD Audio Lab takes those technologies and adds more that you can use to enhance your audio with virtually player you choose to use.
Though the sound field expander WOW isn't specifically included in SRS HD Audio Lab, the extremely similar 3D Space level is present. Its 3D Center Level adjunct also serves to move the focus of the sound to the back or to the front. TruBass is on hand to deepen sound, and a speaker control shifts bass tones upward in hertz to match the resonance of different sized smaller speakers. The Focus level is described as moving sound field up and down to match your ear level and SRS Definition had the effect of clarifying the sound. There's also a limiter that lets you can clamp down overly loud sounds such as explosions in movies.
SRS HD Audio Lab includes presets for music, movies, and gaming as well as optimization presets for headphones, laptop speakers, and normal speaker setups. The latter includes separate settings for 2, 2.1, 5.1, and 7.1 speaker arrangements.
Ah, but how does SRS HD Audio Lab sound? Pretty darn good, and spatially, far better than the SRS FX in WMP. Older material recorded in stereo gains the most, but it will make anything sound better. Even old black-and-white movies benefit, although they're recorded in mono and won't gain much in the way of bass. Of course, you can also muck things up with so many controls, but the "Reset configurations" option lets you can retreat to square one if necessary. For some odd reason, the install program couldn't start the SRS service on an Acer Aspire One Windows 7 netbook; however, on a full-sized Acer 5920 laptop the difference was such that I'd actually listen to music and movies without headphones. You can actually feel the bass thumping when you touch the body of the notebook.
The SRS HD Audio Labs interface is easy to use, if a bit... let's just say "young" for my taste. I chose to disable the animations and much prefer the look of the company's more understated SRS Audio Sandbox. Also, I found no way to auto-run the program at boot in its minimized state, just full-sized. Hopefully, SRS Labs will add an option to start in the background quickly.
Despite its youthful look, there's nothing in the least juvenile about what SRS HD Audio Labs does. If you want the best possible audio experience from your computer, it's well worth checking out. Hopefully, you'll have good luck with it on your hardware.
Note: You'll need to switch the default Windows audio device to SRS HD Audio Lab for seamless operation. Otherwise, you'll need to perform that switch in any program for which you want the FX available.
--Jon L. Jacobi