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  Creative SoundBlaster Audigy 2 review

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While not to be compared with the ever changing 3D graphics arena, 3D soundcards have also played a very important role in enthusiasts’ priorities for the last few years. And so, even with the variety of PC sound products available in the market nowadays, Creative and the Sound Blaster brand always seem to come first into mind for some reason.

For some, the Audigy 2 is what the original Audigy should have been, however without trying to underestimate Creative efforts, they are bringing us today a revamped soundcard that is set to raise the bar like the original Live! did, many years ago.

You will be happy to know that Creative has taken care of the board quality from the ground up, newer and better DACs are used to ensure 24-Bit/96-kHz/192kHz playback and among the rest of niceties the card offers you have DVD-Audio playback, full 6.1 surround sound, THX certification and the mandatory (for a Creative soundcard) EAX Advanced HD.
Are you in for an Audigy 2? Well, the list of new features offered is extensive to say the least and we certainly put the card through its paces. Read on for a detailed exploration into the Audigy 2.

 

Connectivity

Besides the optional Joystick/MIDI bracket, the Audigy 2 features Line & Mic inputs, 3 Stereo Line Outputs, a single Digital Output and a single Firewire/IEEE 1394 port. Output wise the Audigy 2 is fairly flexible, too, supporting up to 6.1 channel Analog output, with the rear center channel carried on Line-out 3 in addition to the Front center and Subwoofer independent channels (compatible with currently available Creative 6.1 Speaker systems).

Unlike most other Soundcards though, the Audigy 2 can also send a 2, 4 or 5.1 channel signal over it’s digital output using a 4 pole mini-jack. For the most part this will only remain compatible with Creative’s own Speaker systems e.g. MegaWorks 510D, Inspire 5700, etc. while other receivers are likely to output this signal as stereo. During our tests I used both multi-channel Analog & Digital output modes.

The Digital Output is always active except when playing DRM encoded content, at which point it is disabled. This is a requirement of DRM support otherwise the Audigy 2 would simply not be able to play DRM encoded content, e.g. DVD-Audio, as would be the case for other non-supporting soundcards.

Supposedly Creative Labs had to go to great lengths to ensure this was the case and as you’re probably aware it is the only PC Soundcard that supports DVD-Audio playback (Stand-alone DVD-Audio players also only use Analog outputs).

 

Documentation & drivers

Out of the box, the Audigy 2 comes with a printed Quick Start guide to take you through basic installation of the soundcard. If needed, a more thorough PDF Manual is included on the Installation CD with far more information you could ask for.

The Audigy supports most major Windows releases, from 98SE, to XP. As a side note and for informational sake, it is possible to use the Audigy 2 drivers on an Audigy (with a little work) so in the future Creative Labs will hopefully only need to release a single package for the Audigy 2, Audigy and Live! Cards, much in the same ‘unified drivers’ approach we are used to see nowadays.

Compared with earlier Audigy drivers releases, Audigy 2’s proved to be more competent from the beginning. SoundFont support is greatly improved via several bug fixes, Dolby Digital decoding from external sources is supported plus the decoder itself offer more features. OpenAL drivers are included as well.
I should also bring up that with the latest drivers ASIO 2 support has been added. There is some confusion regarding 24-bit/96 kHz recording capabilities with ASIO 2 and the Audigy 2, to clear things up Harvey Fong of Creative posted the following:

The Audigy 2 & Audigy 2 Platinum models that are currently available support ASIO 2 Direct Monitoring. These Audigy products do not support ASIO 2 Word Clock that is necessary for 24/96 recording. This level of support requires a different level of hardware that will be available when the Audigy 2 Platinum EX makes it's debut.

Please note that this is for ASIO 2 and would not be related to other applications that may indeed record at 24/96 levels.



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