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Product Review
 

Creative Labs Audigy2 Platinum Edition Sound Card

February, 2003

Daniel Long - Editor, ASIA (Singapore)

 

Specifications:

24/192 DACs

Digital and Analog Inputs and Outputs

Decodes DD and DTS

106 dB S/N

THX-Certified

 

MSRP: $200 USA

 

http://www.americas.creative.com

Introduction

Founded in Singapore in 1981 by Wong Hoo Sim, Creative Labs is now one of the biggest players in the PC arena on the planet. They make the ubiquitous Sound Blaster, synonymous with PC-installed sound devices or cards.

Since then, it has been continually innovating, with new products that have not always been as successful as their original sound cards. In 1997, they acquired Cambridge Soundworks and became a major player in multimedia speakers as well. In November 1999, they marked the 100 millionth audio product shipped. Early in 2002, they were also invited to take a minority stake in Lucasfilm's THX division.

The Audigy2, a THX-certified sound card capable also of 24-bit/192kHz DVD-Audio playback, 106 dB SNR for playback, recording, and gaming, was launched in the middle of 2002 and looks set to blaze yet another trail for Creative.

System Test Configuration

Creative Audigy2 Platinum Edition Sound Card
Creative Inspire 6.1 6600 Speakers
Microstar KT3 Ultra-2 (VIA KT333 chipset based)
AMD XP2000+
Kingston 512MB PC2700 (333MHz)
Epraizer 16x DVD-ROM drive
Iomega 40x12x40x CD-RW drive
ATI Xpert 2000 Rage128 graphics
Creative Live! Sound Card
Creative Soundstations

The test configuration is a fairly up-to-date system with pretty common components. There was an alternative system based on an Intel Pentium 3 733MHz CPU, which I also used. This was necessary because of a minor problem I will describe later in the review.

Hardware Installation

As the MSI motherboard comes with Avance AC97 on-board sound, this was first disabled and the AC97 device drivers and software uninstalled. The instructions that accompanied the Audigy2 are well written and simple to follow. Make sure you follow the procedures closely, otherwise, it might prove difficult to get the right cables through for connection into the card. Remember this was the Platinum Edition which comes with a Line Drive, a 5.25” form-factor device that goes into a CD-ROM slot, so cables run from it as well as a IEE 1394 (Firewire) connector to the Audigy2 card.

All connections are nicely placed on the top edge of the card, and therefore easy to work with, even when installed. The power connection comes with a splitter as well, just in case you run out of power cables on your power supply. All cables, the Audigy Card, and the Line Drive unit are uniformly sturdy and well-made.

No further documents are included (only electronic ones available) besides the quick start foldout.

Software Installation/Use

I installed the software with some problems, i.e., it hung for the first time during the restart. This happens when the installation program is quit before the OK button is selected on the restart menu below. This happened twice, so when you are told to quit, just be patient and give the installation program some time to ask you. If you click anywhere, you are likely to cause the same problem.

Apart from this, the software hung several more times, once when I tried to play the included DVD-Audio Sampler, another when I attempted to select the analog input off the DVD-ROM drive since DVD-Audio doesn't work when the digital output is used. It hung several more times until the Mediasource Do! Program (quick start menu) was disabled. Since switching to Windows 2000, I have hardly had my computer hang on me, so I think Creative should make a more concerted examination into the stability of their initial software/drivers. I recall the same thing happening when I bought and installed a Live! series card. The software and applications on the Live! CD were horrendous! It stayed that way through several iterations and was only usable (in my opinion) about mid-way through the product life. Same possibility here, I think.

I also managed to get my usually very stable system to hang several more times when I used the Mediasource CD player. This happened very consistently when I changed volume. It caused the same two seconds of whatever was playing to go into an endless loop, and the system would stop responding entirely. Only a cold boot (via the reset button) would resolve the situation. This was not what I expected and quite disappointing. My solution? Use Microsoft's Media Player 9, a much better (and robust) player, at least in my tests.

Sound, CD/DVD-Audio

Great sounds were to be had! This was initially through the 6600 speaker system that Creative sent together with the Audigy2. Highs were nice and crisp without too much sibilance. This was not to say they were the last word in purity, in the sense that I have used many computer sound card and speaker combinations through the years, and none has given me less of what I find most intrusive to normal music listening.

However, you do have to take care to select the right sound mode. This is via software. With the wrong modes, the sound can quickly fatigue or cause you to lose interest in a hurry. Which modes? This will greatly depend on whether you sit near or far, how much you slouch etc. I prefer mine with the front left and right doing most of the work, the center almost turned off, and the rears turned off.

Some CDs I used included

– Beach Boys HDCD collection
– Kenny Loggins "An Essential Collection"
– Eurythmics – "Greatest Hits"
– Elvis – "No.1 Hits"

I initially had some problems with DVD-Audio discs. They wouldn't play properly. I had intermittent playback, with sounds coming and going at regular five second intervals. As this artifact was obviously not on the sampler (which I tried first), I suspected the hardware/software configuration. I switched drives, using a Sony 16X DVD-ROM (which I borrowed). This didn't work at the same software settings either, so I switched my Epraizer back in and fiddled with the operating system. After some experimentation, I managed to get DVD-Audio discs to play. I used the sampler as well as my copies of Grover Washington Jr.'s "Winelight" and the same Elvis album above on DVD-Audio.

The 6600s performed admirably, but I couldn't really say if DVD-Audio sounded better than CD. I decided to “improve” the speaker quality and connected the analog outputs of the card to a Yamaha receiver (actually an integrated Video-CD player/receiver) which in turn drove a pair of nOrh 4.0s. I then compared CD and DVD-Audio. I thought I could almost reliably say that DVD-Audio was better, in terms of resolution and smoothness in that music seemed to come forward in a more relaxed manner (sort of like covering 100km in a Lexus, compared to the same in a Maserati Spyder - not that I've actually done this!) I think my essential conclusion about this exercise was that while the Audigy2 does play DVD-Audio and does it decently, most people will probably not care, since it does such a good job on CDs too.

Movies and Games

A great majority of potential Audigy2 owners will no doubt be using the card with games and the occasional movie. I tried this at length with a couple of current favorites of my family, such as Harry Potter's "Chamber of Secrets" and " The Philosopher's Stone". My wife and kids love these games and spent most of December wrestling Fire Spiders and other weird creatures. And while the movie's are spooky enough to scare the kids even without any surround effects, I was unprepared for the effect the Audigy2/6600 combo had.

While my wife thoroughly enjoyed the difference, my kids stopped playing the games! They were too frightened! Doors creaked and monsters shuffled behind them. Yikes! They would stand behind Mummy when she played but would NOT sit in the chair. I ended up having to turn off the surround settings whenever they wanted a go.

I also spent an afternoon with my son blasting aliens at http://Shockwave.Com. Pretty senseless but lots of fun. The Audigy2 could reproduce the snap and blasts of guns and other weapons, and at high levels too. It was loud enough to warrant some attention from neighbors. This was the case when we put the card into the PC by our bed, where we spend some weekends watching TV. Whether it was with Mel Gibson's "We Were Soldiers", or the new Special Edition of "Beauty and the Beast", we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. There was so much more to the sound tracks accompanying the movies. It was breathtaking, such as in the ballroom scene where the Beast stole Belle's heart. It was simple but brilliant, the use of typewriter keys being struck (Nick Glennie-Smith is responsible for the original music and Lon Bender is sound designer) in incidental music on We Were Soldiers. This heightened the already palpable tension as the Air-Cavs prepared for the battle.

Conclusions

This was the second Creative sound card I've used, having lived with the Live! series a while. The 6600 was also the second multi-channel speaker system from Creative I've had.

With music as well as games or movies, I have nothing bad to say about the Audigy, not when the Platinum Edition of the card retails for $200, and the regular version $130. It is very good value for what it does well. However, I would like to see better drivers and better software that doesn't kill Windows (XP, 2000, both of which are quite stable), even occasionally.

I enjoyed the Creative duo immensely, and recommend it highly. I also look forward to hearing the Audigy2 with the new Megaworks 550 (THX certified).

 

- Daniel Long -

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

Home Theater PC

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