BenQ’s new Zowie range focuses mainly on mice and keyboards, but the Vital is an external headphone and speaker amplifier. It’s completely driver-free – just plug it into your USB port and away you go.
All controls are accessed via a touch screen on the front, allowing the user to adjust volume, bass, and treble on the fly. Apparently it also has some sort of virtual 3D surround, but BenQ wasn’t able to tell us which version it uses, and there’s no way to disable it via the control panel. Dual 3.5mm stereo minijacks mean you can plug in both speakers and headphones, along with a microphone in. This makes switching between the two a breeze – just tap the headphone button and they’re enabled.
Unfortunately for the Vital, it’s going head to head with Sound Blaster’s E5 amp, which is very similar, and identically priced. However, the E5 has 24-bit 192kHz playback, while the Vital is only 96 kHz/24bit, so it’s not quite as crisp and clear. The bigger issue though is the power of the amplifiers. The Vital tops out at 250 Ohm, while the E5 more than doubles this to 600 Ohm. We really noticed this with both speakers and headphones, with the Vital being noticeably quieter.
We love the touch controls, multiple audio jacks, and driverless install, but sadly the audio components simply aren’t up to the same quality as the Sound Blaster E5. It’s something we noticed during our time with the Zowie, and will be of special importance to those with high impedance headphones.