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Creative has a flair for producing affordable versions of high-end headphones. Its in-ear EP-630s were similar to the more expensive PlayGear Stealths, and the Creative HN-700s, were just as effective as pricey noise cancelling headphones from Bose. These HQ-2300Ds are a similar concept to the Portable Home Theaters but cost almost half the price. How do they fare?
As with the HCTs, the Creative package consists of a set of headphones bundled with a decoder featuring Dolby Headphone technology. This small box of tricks is the real heart of the package. Creative should know a thing or two about making surround sound decoders, having included them with its speakers sets for an age. However, this is the first time it has offered anything with Dolby Headphone. What this technology does is give you 5.1 sound experience using any pair of headphones. And it does work. Creative has its own surround technology called CMSS-3D but this requires the power of an X-Fi sound card and it's not physically or economically possible to shrink down an X-Fi into a small decoder box that you can attach to any headphones.
The decoder box is an elongated oval sporting the Dolby Digital, DTS and Dolby Headphone logos. It’s powered by two AA batteries with a set included in the box. Creative claims that they’ll last for 10 hours of continuous use but I did find myself wishing that the decoder has an auto-off ability when it detects no input for a certain amount of time, as it’s all too easy to leave the decoder on and unnecessarily run down the batteries.
At the top of the decoder are two 3.5mm inputs – one for analogue sources and one for digital, the latter of which will also accept an optical input. At the base are two inputs for connecting up to two pairs of headphones, so you can listen in with a companion. On the right are two buttons, one for enabling and disabling the Dolby Headphone filtering and another to enable or disable Dolby Pro Logic II, though this is only relevant for, and can only be applied to, stereo signals. On the left side is a volume control and a slider for powering the unit on and selecting between optimising the sound for music and for movies and games.
In the vacuum sealed package, (which is by the way difficult to open without a nearby lightsaber) you get an RCA SP/DIF to mini-jack cable, for connecting to any coaxial source. You also get a regular stereo audio cable and an RCA to stereo adaptor.
The way the decoder works is quite simple. If you input a Dolby Digital or DTS signal, once you press the Dolby Headphone button this will be processed to optimise the surround effect for headphones. However, Dolby Headphone will only work its magic on 5.1 sources so if you input a stereo signal then it needs to be upmixed. This is where the Dolby Pro Logic II button comes in – – press it and it upmixes to 5.1 enabling Dolby Headphone to do its work.