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In these days of all digital technology, the hankering after analogue gear calls like a Siren's song. Cooler Master's earlier Musketeer devices are built almost entirely on retro geek lust where the looks were more important than the limited functionality they offered.
The Musketeer 3 attempts not only to look pretty in that vague, it's got lights, look at my needle dance, kind of way, but to offer something approaching some genuine functionality. Is the Musketeer 3 the Monica Bellucci to the Musketeer's 2's Abi Titmuss?
Valve technology in PCs could easily be seen as little more than a novelty; something unusual looking to break the dull monotony of the grey box. AOpen had a punt at using valves in PCs with the AX4B 533 motherboard but made the fatal mistake of hiding the little tyke where it's unlikely to be seen, unless you're in the habit of peering inside PCs for fun.
The Cooler Master approach is to ensure that the valve is as prominent as possible by mounting it in a 5.25 inch front bay slot in the knowledge that the majority of the people who are likely to purchase such a device do so on the back of its looks.
Valve amps (also referred to as vacuum tubes) still have a reputation as being the on every audiophiles' wish list due to the way they can colour the sound. Consulting the promotional PDF reveals more about the lack of English speaking proof readers than the device itself.
A good quality valve introduces an element of distortion into the sound, often described as being musical, where a regular digital audio signal will produce a nasty and harsh sound if the level is too high. Valves deal with high volume levels in a very analogue and sonically pleasing way, by gradually altering harmonics in the sound that are related to the fundamental frequency. The effect is often described as being fuller and having more presence than without the valve derived distortion.
The gizmo itself is built well enough with an attractive brushed metal appearance, although the wiring in the PCI bracket looks cheap and flimsy. The valve peers out of a window on the left with a needle volume meter on the right, the kind commonly found on amps a couple of decades ago. Between the two windows is a minijack connection for headphones or speakers.
To install you will need a 5.25 inch front bay slot available, a PCI bracket slot and an internal power connector. Wiring up the device feels a little ‘old skool’ as once the front panel is in place, two 3.5mm stereo mini-jack cables (supplied) run from the PCI bracket into the back of the front bay unit connecting the audio in and audio out connections. Making the connections can be a little fiddly as the front bay unit is not very deep so will require you to dig into your machine.