As a gamer without sight, audio is crucial to my experience of a stream and that's not just true from the viewing side. I want everything to be as easy to control from my side as well when I'm broadcasting my gameplay too, including being able to change levels of audio in my headphones without impacting the experience for my viewers.
Having purchased a Go XLR after hearing good things from various other gamers in similar positions to myself, I thought I'd review the product as well to see just how workable this is and how much sighted assistance you might need.
Let's start with the unboxing.
In the main section of the package, held in place by foam material, is the Go XLR (GX hereafter) itself. Lifting it out requires a little manoeuvring, after placing a hand each side to get underneath it, but if done right and with enough care, it should come free very easily.
Plugging in the device moved the faders of its own volition, quite the spectacle if you've never seen things like that happen before. Downloading the software, however, which I had to do in order to get any audio to appear (as the device isn't plug and play as might be hoped for), required me to go down to the bottom of the browser window I was in and click "agree" a couple of times on different dialogue or checkboxes to start the download.
This was arguably made all the more infuriating as it had just appeared initially that the download wouldn't start in the first place.
After extracting the zip file, I started what turned out to be a very accessible install process, where the app was installed and the driver began to follow suit.
Unfortunately, after this was where the problems started. NVDA was automatically moved to the GX's own audio system, meaning I had to unplug my headphones from the Antlion soundcard and try to see if I could get sound to come from this new piece of kit. After a little tweaking of what I hoped was the system fader, I was able to hear my screen reader again, but not until after I got sighted assistance to finish the setup process just to be on the safe side.
Surprisingly, using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) worked relatively well on the firmware and device update screens, but when it came time to set up my mic (a key point in the GX getting started process), I couldn't do anything other than getting sighted assistance to make sure everything would work.
Should you be feeling extremely adventurous, you could always look at the GoXLR-A11Y Wiki, found here, but when trying to follow the instructions they didn't seem to work for me with profiles not saving without sighted assistance to save to the active one. Other users have said they had it work fine for them, so I'll just say your milage may vary here.
Once everything was set up the way I wanted it though, I still had one unexpected point of contention: my ModMic didn't sound how I'd expected it to.
Being uncertain of just how well the mic could work with the built-in 3.5mm mic port on the Go XLR, I wanted to test and see if the signal was stronger with an actual XLR converter. It turns out that Antlion produce just the piece of equipment I was looking for in their own XLR Power Converter.
Putting a finger underneath it, pull the insert out and you should be able to lift the adaptor out easily enough.
If you're set on using a Modmic or other 3.5mm connected mic and you'd rather use the power of XLR, this adaptor will definitely be a useful addition.
Personally I have a number of different ones set up usually for specific lines or scenarios for comedic effect. However, I did have to have sighted assistance to calibrate them. Once done though, it's pretty much fire and forget, which is certainly appreciated.
As for fader assignments, though the manual advises you to set up the device a specific way for streaming purposes, I decided to leave it as it was, at least initially. This means that my mic gain was the first fader, Music the second, Chat the third and System the fourth.
What this actually meant in practice is that I could assign devices that I wanted to be able to control to differing channels through their own routing capabilities to modulate their volumes smoothly and easily, rather than having to go into Windows own sometimes inconsistent sound settings. For instance, I have my screen reader's synthesiser outputting to the Music channel and everything else set to system. If I have a YouTube video playing and need my screen reader to be louder or the video to be quieter, all I need do is reach over and move the associated fader.
Unfortunately working with things like the audio routing table was something that I required sighted assistance for too, which was frustrating but something I personally learnt to work around and likely won't be a dealbreaker unless you plan to constantly use things such as the line-in port for controller audio.
If the app were accessible to screen readers, which I've been informed is now possible (thanks to the toolkit used to develop it getting screen reader support), it would greatly improve what the device is capable of. It's now on the shoulders of the developers working on the app to make the necessary adjustments.
That being said, the device has greatly improved my workflow, allowed me to adjust audio on the fly and give my content a new element of character and, especially as a streamer, that power and fluidity can't be understated.
I was tagged in a Tweet announcing that the Go XLR On Linux project had just released a new build, with the emphasis on that build being, in part, on screen reader accessibility. When I looked at the information on the page itself (linked above), I discovered that the majority of functionality was apparently working as intended, meaning that in theory, I could negate the need for sighted assistance with my current setup at least for the most part.
Not wanting to break anything, particularly as I had a stream planned for the next day, I resolved to test things out over the weekend.
The weekend came around and, following the instructions for installation, as well as not restarting my PC until I'd installed and configured everything to the best of my ability and disabling the official Go XLR app from starting up so that the new accessible client would start instead (as per the instructions on the page itself), I was at first a little intimidated, then elated to find that most of the things I wanted to do (even down to changing profiles and adjusting volumes) was accessible.
For now though, if you wanted to test it out (with the understandable disclaimer that this is, again, a community project in development and will likely contain bugs), I would encourage you to look into it. Of course, you should back up all your profiles in advance (just your whole Go XLR folder (under "C:\users\username\documents\GoXLR" by default) would suffice) before you start doing anything, as those profiles can then, accessibly, be imported into the web-based interface and then tweaked into new iterations if desired.
This is a great addition to the experience as a gamer without sight and, though I'm not sure how exactly this would work with a fresh out of the box install alongside the official driver (which this project has permission to "talk to" courtesy of TC Helicon), it has so much potential to give the sense of independence that was so desired on this device when I first started using it.
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