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+Included Software Bundle +Control Panel Utility +Overall Value
"Having a big unsightly chunk of hardware in the middle of the cable isn't exactly what came to mind when I think of Sound Card
In A Cable, but the inclusion of AmpliTube 2 Live, tips the scales in favor of the Stealth Plug..."
"I was pleasantly surprised to find that the LightSnake's noise reduction technology (called HSDL or Host Side Data Loss —Ed.)
"I can tell which cable looks worse, but I can't tell you which cable sounds worse since they both stink."
"I find the output monitoring solution built into both of the cables to be an insult to my intelligence in regards to the awful
latency issue. Monitoring a dry signal defeats the whole purpose of using software effects."
"Considering all the small 24 bit audio interfaces from Lexicon, M-Audio, Digidesign, and others, for not much more money,
I don't know why any guitarist would even entertain the notion of purchasing one of these cables once they listened to the sound quality."
May 30, 2007
../ Head2Head: IK's Stealth Plug VS. SoundTech's LightSnake
Several months ago we were contacted by
SoundTech who informed us that they had a
revolutionary new product called the LightSnake that they wanted to send over to us for a
TestDrive. LightSnake?? As the conversation
progressed, we learned that the LightSnake was a "Sound Card In A Cable." Sure! We'll bite.
The LightSnake by SoundTech
In due course, SoundTech sent over their LightSnake and it certainly
piqued our interest when we uncoiled it from the impossible-to-open, plastic clamshell package. A 16 bit 44.1/48kHz A/D converter was
built into the thick and hearty cable with green pimp-daddy LEDs illuminating either end.
What no spinners? Everything was great until we plugged
it in and got a face full of noise.
We contacted SoundTech and briefed them of the problem, which apparently
wasn't a surprise. Seems a "manufacturing glitch" caused a defect in the first batch from the factory, they told us to expect a fresh cable
in the near future.
IK Multimedia's Stealth Plug
In the meantime, the folks at IK Multimedia announced that they were coming
out with the "first audio interface for guitar and bass integrated into a simple, miniaturized, ¼" jack to USB cable." With two companies
claiming to have the first Sound Card In A Cable, it sounded to like these guys were spoiling for a fight! Well, there's only one way
to settle this...
IK Multimedia sent over their nicely packaged Stealth Plug, which they
should have considered calling the Copperhead since it looks a lot more like a snake instead of a Stealth fighter, but with SoundTech
dubbing their product the LightSnake, that probably wasn't an option. Stealth Plug comes with a nine foot cord that has a ¼" jack
on one end and a USB connector on the other. A 16 bit 44/48kHz Analog to Digital converter is housed in the cord's Stealth bulge that
also contains a 1/8" mini-jack headphone output, volume controls and a LED "activity light." Stealth Plug also comes with IK's stellar
Amplitube 2 Live (both standalone
and plug-in versions), Mackie's Tracktion 2.1, SampleTank 2 SE, T-Racks EQ, and 500MB of Guitar, Bass and Drum loops from Sonic Reality.
SoundTech's LightSnake is a handsome, robust 10' cable that looks like it
can take some punishment before succumbing to the rigors of the road. Although quite bright, the lime-green LED lights at either end of the cable are not nearly
as cheesy in person as they appear on the packaging and on SoundTech's website, and actually serve to communicate connection status and
audio transmission. Like the Stealth Plug, the LightSnake has a 16 bit 44.1/48kHz Analog to Digital converter on board with a claimed
20 - 19.2K Hz frequency response. The LightSnake features a second ¼" female output molded into ¼" male end of the cable
for sending the signal to an amp. The LightSnake includes a DVD from Sony with trial versions of most of their audio titles.
The LightSnake's sound quality unfortunately doesn't match the robust construction
Since the intended market for both cables is the guitarist or bassist who
wants a no fuss way to get a performance into their computer, we sent the products to guitarists and bass players, plus one electronic
percussionist (For yuks! —Ed.), to get their feedback on the devices. Several common threads emerged from our Sound Card
In A Cable Tour.
The musicians found the Stealth Plug's construction to be "flimsy" using
"low quality components" that looked "budget." While the LightSnake was "built to last" with "extra insulations and shielding," and
"quality construction," despite the "annoying disco lights."
The Stealth Plug rig
All the participants were elated over IK Multimedia's included software
package, especially AmpliTube 2 Live, which got raves. Users with PCs also gave IK kudos over their Stealth Plug Control Panel. This small
utility gives PC owners instant control over input gain, output volume, monitoring, the sample rate and the buffer size, and went a long
way to enhance the product's ease-of-use on the PC platform. LightSnake only provides a Sony demo DVD with 30-Day Trial versions of
Sound Forge, Acid Pro, Vegas and other titles, which compared to IK's package, users found "useless." Apple owners are left out completely,
since no Mac apps are included with the LightSnake.
The Stealth Plug and LightSnake are both plug 'n' play, class compliant USB
audio devices that don't require drivers when used with Microsoft Windows 98SE or higher and Mac OS X. Evaluators on both platforms found
setting up each one of the devices to be hassle free. Both worked right out of the box with little fanfare, however, one of the more animated
guitarists found that the Stealth Plug's bulge "flailed around quite a bit" when he was jamming and "was a distraction." He eventually solved
the problem by attaching it to his guitar strap with a twisty-tie. Ah,
The sound quality of both cables certainly didn't overly impress any of the
reviewers, nor did it get bitter complaints. Some users described the Stealth Plug's sound as "softer and more forgiving" than the quality of
the LightSnake, which was "fragile" and "slightly brittle." While others felt the LightSnake had a "wider frequency range" and was "less noisy"
than the Stealth Plug.
When we put the cables through the paces in our studio, our biggest issue was
their overtly digitized sound. The Stealth Plug doesn't have the visceral output that the LightSnake does and that does mask the limited frequency
range that we experienced when testing the cable with a six string bass. On the other hand, the LightSnake was quite crunchy on the top end and
never reached the claimed 20 kHz low end. The bottom line is for what these cables cost and their intended market, the sound quality is reasonable.
The biggest problem that users incurred with the cables was latency when
monitoring through a software application. Both cables were designed with outputs that allow the user to monitor the signal before it hits
the computer, however this is a one-step forward, two-steps back solution, especially with the Stealth Plug. You never want to monitor the
dry output of your guitar or bass is when using AmpliTube 2 Live's excellent patches — you play to the patch. Lowering the audio
buffer size to 96 on the PC and 64 on the Mac helps quite a bit, but some users with slower computers may not be able to cope.
The latency problems really put things into perspective for a couple of guitarists
who instantly reduced the cables to just "a great way to rapidly get an idea from your head onto your hard drive." However, one of the guitarists
was remorseful about the problem, "as much as I was digging AmpliTube, my laptop just didn't have enough hamsters on the treadmill to combat the
latency...giving me a brain freeze."
To solve the latency problems the sole electronic percussionist, gave up monitoring
through software effects and experimented with inserting preamps, effects, pedals and seemingly everything else he could find between his instruments
and the cables. "The LightSnake has a solid +20 dB signal boost that worked great through my old vintage pedal collection, but the Stealth always
needed a preamp." The percussionist did find the Stealth Plug's headphone monitoring to be an asset, especially when he "wanted to promptly lay down
a beat for future reference."
Talking 'Bout My Generation
Regardless of who was first to debut the first Sound Card In A Cable, both companies
get kudos for delivering decent first generation products. It's fairly obvious what both companies need to accomplish to take the second generation
of these cables to the next level (See The Future). Given our evaluation and the personal reviews of the musicians, it's hard to declare an overall
winner. For $129 ($99 Street), the Stealth Plug delivers a lot of bang for the buck, especially with the inclusion of Amplitube 2 Live, which is
one of the best guitar effects program on the market. However, the lackluster sound quality and cheap construction are two negatives that are hard
The LightSnake retails for $69 ($39 Street) and blows the Stealth Plug out of the
water with its sturdy form-factor, but doesn't provide any worthwhile software to allow the guitarist to get the most out of the purchase. The
biting sound quality is passable for quickly getting inspiration down on your hard drive, but if you're serious about your playing then stepping
up to one of the many excellent, yet economical, portable A/D solutions on the market is going to make a much bigger impact on your development
as a player and composer. Vocalists should note that SoundTech does make a Mic to USB LightSnake. While we didn't test this model, for $69 dollars
it is a great way to instantly record a great hook or song idea.
For many, the inclusion of AmpliTube 2 Live. may seal the deal, especially on the PC
While we can't declare a decisive winner, we will steer you in a direction if you're
ready to buy one of these cables. If you're on the PC platform, then buy the Stealth Plug. The included software plus the convenient Stealth Plug
Control Panel is just about worth the price of admission. If you own a Mac, then the LightSnake is the way to go. Solid construction, adequate sound
quality, no-hassle integration with GarageBand, and nearly half the price of the Stealth Plug make it an easy choice.
The Future: IK needs to focus on the quality of the actual cable, reducing the
profile of the Stealth bulge, and improving the sound quality. Our Technology Editor, actually took apart the bulge, and discovered many things that
IK could do to reduce the size and enhance the technology. IK is a sharp outfit and probably knows exactly what to do to make this work. With their
ever-expanding guitar effects line-up, spending the time, effort and resources to make the Stealth Plug the best it can be, is a worthwhile investment.
SoundTech should concentrate on enhancing the sound quality of their A/D converter and gain boost for their next generation cable, while simultaneously
developing a strategic alliance with a concern that has a quality guitar effect program, such as Native Instruments. Less bright LEDs in the ends of the
LightSnake wouldn't hurt either.
Both the IK Multimedia Stealth Plug and the SoundTech LightSnake score a unexceptional 60% PowerRating. The Sound Card In A Cable concept has potential, but needs to address some serious deficits to be a viable product category.