Call me old fashioned but when I see the comforting glow of a vacuum tube I know that I'm in for some sonic pleasure. And that's precisely the thinking behind the aim AS301DTS USB audio tube headphone amplifier. OK, so the vacuum tube doesn't actually work, it's designed that way to trigger the very mental connection I opened with. That done, the tiny device then promises to deliver bass-enhanced surround sound to just about any pair of headphones attached to it. Sweet.

The first thing you'll notice when you plug the aim AS301DTS into a USB port is that tube-like glow from the blue light sitting inside the 18 carat gold-topped glass casing. Of course, just like the overall design, it's just for effect and is aimed to establish a mental association with quality sound. The audio enhancement is delivered courtesy of integrated DTS Surround Sensation Headphone Technology.

Along with the VT1610 audio chip, DTS Surround Sensation gives users simulated five-speaker surround sound audio through just about any headphones, while the capacitor-less construction of the aim AS301DTS is said to offer improved performance at the low frequency band. The 0.9 x 1.77 inch, 0.4 ounce device certainly left Gizmag with a positive impression after some limited testing at Computex recently.

The gorgeous audio tube, developed by Taiwan's Formosa21 Inc, is compatible with numerous operating systems as it works from a system's standard USB driver, although users will need to install the software to benefit from the DTS enhanced features. It's connected to and powered by a laptop or computer via an included 90 degree USB adapter and there are sockets for stereo out (for headphones/speakers) and stereo line/mic-in (for its voice clarification feature).

The aim AS301DTS took top spot at the prestigious Computex Taipei Design & Innovation Awards 2010 and will be available shortly for an estimated retail price of JPY3000 (about US$32), although there's no word on availability outside Japan.

The following overview provides a functionality snapshot: