InterActive SoundXchange, M-Mail 3.0. (sound device with card, Windows program for multimedia messaging) (Software Review) (Hardware review) (Evaluation)
by J. Blake Lambert
InterActive SoundXchange Model B is a speakerphone-style sound device that uses a built-in sound card to record and play voice messages on your PC. Using it is as elementary as using a telephone or a tape recorder.
The SoundXchange is available in two models; both have a condenser microphone, amplified speaker, telephone-style handset, volume control, and a headset input jack. The Model A is for those who already have a sound board with microphone and speaker jacks. The Model B reviewed here adds a simple digitized sound recording and playback card. (It's not Sound Blaster-compatible card, so while it can be used for playing sounds from Windows, it's not useful for games.)
The SoundXchange connects to any parallel port--even one already connected to a printer--using the included smart parallel cable. The SoundXchange detects which parallel port you connect it to, making configuration a snap. This pass-through connection works fine, but when a sound sample is playing, printing pauses momentarily, and you may have to tell Print Manager to retry printing.
Recoring is effortless but not sophisticated. You use the Windows Sound Recorder to "tape" the messages on your computer's hard disk in WAV format. If you have a professional telephone headset with a microphone plug, you can use it instead of the SoundXchange's speaker-phone or handset.
Since SoundXchange supports OLE, you can even insert sounds into documents and other files created with various Windows applications such as Write or Word. For example, when you choose Insert Object and select Sound, up pops Sound Recorder. Lift the handset on the SoundXchange, click on the microphone button, talk, click on the stop button, then exit. The sound will then be included in the Word document as a microphone icon. Double-clicking on the icon calls up the Sound Recorder to play the message. This is handy for adding voice annotations (via OLE) to documents that you're sending to colleagues on a network.
If you're looking for a device to record speech and other digital samples, and you don't need music, SoundXchange may fill the bill. Its parallel-port interface means you don't have to open your computer to install it, and you can use it with laptops. The handset will come in handy in office situations, where you might want to listen to your sound samples in private.
A good complement to SoundXchange is InterActive's M-Mail 3.0, a Windows program that is designed to make it easy to create, send, and retrieve multimedia messages over a network.
When you send your message, the recipients are notified, and they use M-Mail to play your message. M-Mail supports OLE, so these multimedia messages can be embedded just like those created in Windows Sound Recorder.
M-Mail provides facilities for creatign text, sound, and image files and for assembling them into messages using some or all of these elements. M-Mail can use the SoundXchange or any other sound board with a Windows 3.1 driver. It plays both WAV and VOC files.
M-Mail lets you change SoundXchange's sampling rate. It defaults to 6000 Hz; at this rate, a message ten seconds long takes about 60K of disk space. This provides clearly audible speech that sounds at least as good as a telephone conversation. You can also compress larger sound files using DPCM compression techniques, record at rates from 2750 to 11,025 Hz, and play samples taken at 2750 to 44,100 Hz.
M-Mail supports TWAIN-compatible scanners and digital cameras (gray-scale or color), and three different video capture boards: Video Blaster, Video Logic DVA 4000/ISA Video Adapter, and New Media Graphics Super VideoWindows.
M-Mail provides only crude editing tools; it's best to use it to combine elements you've edited or acquired elsewhere as part of your messages. The elements of a message are played one after another, so the order is important. For example, it's a good idea to display a slow-loading picture first, then the text and sound that go with it.
Another program, M-Play, lets you save messages onto a floppy disk along with the necessary support files. The messages can then be played by anyone running Windows with an installed sound device or speaker driver.
SoundXchange is a good first step into Windows sound if you don't need MIDI or game card compatibility. With the combination of M-Mail and SoundXchange, you have the basic elements of a network voice-messaging and document-annotating system.