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  Creative SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS review

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Creative has been able to retain certain leadership over the PC Audio market for the last decade or so, however present market conditions are tougher than ever, the market has been flooded with a variety of alternative products (which in the end is not such a bad thing for the consumer) making it more difficult to stand out over competition.

Probably thatís part of the reason late last year Creative announced an update to its Audigy series, the new 5.1 Audigy LS that would finally replace the long-lived Live! while the Audigy and Audigy2 would also get a replacement in the form of the Audigy 2 ZS.

The Audigy 2 ZS currently remains as Creativeís flagship product, sensibly named after the original Audigy 2, the card has received a number upgrades and added features however change hasnít been drastic enough to force over a new generation. Among the new features offered in the ZS we have true support for 7.1-channels, THX certification, DTS ES support (along with Dolby EX which was already present), ASIO2 support and updated EAX HD extensions, now on its 4th iteration, EAX has received wide support by game developers in the last few years.

So itís time to take a close look at the Audigy 2 ZS, you will notice that inevitably we will find ourselves comparing back and forth whatís been changed in the new product, for reference sake you may also want to check our original Audigy 2 review.

 

Connectivity

There seems to be no I/O ports differences between the Audigy 2 ZS and the original Audigy 2, this means that the following configuration remains: 1 Line In, 1 Mic input, 3 Stereo Line outputs, 1 Digital output and 1 Firewire/IEEE 1394 port plus the optional Joystick/MIDI bracket. Although the Audigy 2 ZS differs from the Audigy 2 in that it offers 7.1 output as opposed to 6.1, the additional rear surround channel is carried over the 3rd Stereo line output and as such, it requires proprietary cabling to enable full 7.1 analog output.

All other 7.1 soundcards Iíve tested feature 4 Stereo line outputs, so itís somewhat irritating Creative decided to go against what everyone else is doing in this regard. Now in the other hand it was obvious that Creativeís own Inspire 7700 7.1 speakers do include the proprietary cable.

As with previous cards, thereís whole load of internal connections available for the nostalgic user not willing to move on ;). A few decent soundcards released recently have begun to ditch these altogether and it wouldnít be such a bad idea for Creative to join the legacy free crowd also.

 

Documentation & Drivers

The Audigy 2 ZS comes with a printed Quick-Start guide that takes you through basic installation of the soundcard. A more thorough PDF Manual is included on the Installation CD with far more information than you could ask for. Out of the box drivers support Windows 98 SE and XP, although Creative still havenít exactly got around releasing proper unified drivers, at least the Audigy 2 and Audigy 2 ZS share the same drivers (which can reportedly be hacked to be used with other Creative Soundcards).

DRM support remains unchanged:

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.

At the time of testing, the Audigy 2 & Audigy 2 ZS were the only PC Soundcards to support DVD-Audio playback (stand-alone DVD-Audio players also only use Analog outputs).

It made the most sense to compare ZS drivers with those from previous generations. The most noteworthy addition is DTS-ES decoding support which is now available. As far as I can tell this is the only DTS-ES decoding solution available for the PC as well, which makes it a rather nice feature in Creativeís over-sized hat.

New Drivers also add EAX 4 Advanced HD support (available to previous Audigyís also), although thereís little in way of game support for that at the moment. Overall, the drivers work great however like noted, nothing much has changed since the Audigy 2.

 



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