Sound Blaster Audigy Player
The Audigy is the latest advancement in the technology of Creative's ubiquitous Sound Blaster series; taking over the role of flagship from Creative's 'Live!' range, which previously championed sound technology for gamers. Audigy appears to take on where 'Live!' left-off and as such Creative will be hoping for similar success. But has the new Audigy Player got what it takes to sweep gamers off their feet into a swoon of gaming-audio ecstasy? Creative Labs sent Ferrago a board so we could find out…
First things first, I was pleased to note that installation was relatively easy, and despite my usual technical incompetence it was pleasing to note the clarity of Creative's instructions. Location of the board into a free PCI slot having been completed as-per numerous upgrades, it was a huge relief to see that the hardware was detected successfully and installation went without a hitch.
Browsing around the software that came with the Audigy board I was impressed by the level of customisation offered by the Audigy software, which allowed me to perfect the balance and volume between my front and rear speakers, as well as whole host of more clever and technical stuff, which those of you who are inclined as a perfectionist will no doubt enjoy tweaking with.
The card is pleasingly feature heavy too; the addition of the SB1394 socket allowing for the easy connection of compatible devices such as cameras, as well as networking capabilities between compatible sockets on other PC's. Making home networking a lot easier, in a manner offering higher performance and better economy than USB networking; a feature clearly designed to appeal to the gaming audience Creative hopes to lure with this card.
The new EAX HD Advanced technology also allows for a boost to overall music and audio performance, Creative claiming the board can clear-up clicks and "hiss" from digital recordings (such as MP3), as well as offering those who like to tinker with their recordings numerous playback and editing options through the software provided. This fits in nicely with the Home Studio software included which is pretty powerful and adds yet further value to the package. Of course whether the sound is a vast improvement over the 'Live!' range in this respect is questionable, though the 'hiss' is noticeably lower and the playback quality that notch crisper and clearer.
Now, what are Creative planning for gamers? Well, this is really where the Audigy comes in to it's own, deluging gamers with a veritable fit of features which will make their games sound much better; providing they've got the speakers to match the card. Raw processing power is apparently up four-fold on the 'Live!' boards and the advantages for this come in the complexity of audio games designers will be able to produce - the card should also improve the way games run overall, as the card uses 50% less CPU power than the previous model. The multi-environment technology now supports four simultaneous environments immersing the gamer further into the game of his choice. Anyway, enough of this techno-stuff, suffice to say the board holds a whole host of promise for gamers looking for a fuller audio experience in games, as the 3d audio support, environmental panning and filtering, create a tangible audio reality that is very convincing. The advantage a card like this combined with good speakers can add to the experience of a decent game is quite staggering; a trait you'll notice instantly, especially if you're upgrading from a lame 16bit card, or a basic 'on-board' that came with your PC. It is then the technology can really be appreciated. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending this board to gamers in this situation.
I mentioned earlier the speakers; you are of course going to need more than two of them and a sub-woofer to get the best of this card, as it is necessary for the card to create the audio environments and use the 3d-stuff (I'm finding the jargon rather confusing and tiresome by now), that brings the world to life. Fortunately, as Creative would be quick to point out they also have an excellent budget range of speakers, designed with this card in mind, the Creative Inspire 5.1 range (a review on which can be found here). Such a combination as Ferrago are fortunate enough to possess affords the very finest audio-gaming experience.
Here's the technical details of the card for those of you statistically inclined:
32-bit Professional Quality Effects Engine
· Creative's Audigy™ patented effects processor
· Support for real-time digital effects like reverb, chorus, normalizer, pitch shifter, or distortion across any audio source
· Capable of processing, mixing and positioning audio streams using up to 131 available hardware channels
· Full 32-bit digital mixer maintains all sound mixing in the digital domain, eliminating noise from the signal
· Customizable Plug-In Effects Architecture allows new audio effects to be downloaded via CreativeWare from the Web High Definition Audio Quality
· Playback of 64 audio channels, each with its own independent sample rate
· 24-bit Analogue-to-Digital conversion of analogue inputs at 48kHz sample rate
· 24-bit Digital-to-Analogue conversion of digital sources at 48kHz to analogue 5.1 speaker output
· 16-bit recording with sampling rates of 8, 11.025, 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1 and 48kHz
· Supports Sony/Philips Digital Interface (SPDIF) format input signal of up to 24-bit/96kHz quality
· SPDIF output up to 24-bit resolution at selectable sampling rate of 44.1, 48 or 96kHz
· Low latency multi-track recording with ASIO support EAX® ADVANCED HD™, Advanced Audio and 3D Audio Technology
· Optimized user-selectable settings for headphones, two, four or six speakers and external A/V amplifiers
· Dolby® Digital audio decoding to 5.1 speaker channels in both analogue and digital modes
· Upgradable 3D audio architecture for future improvements
· Hardware acceleration of EAX® ADVANCED HD™ for games
· Creative Multi Speaker Surround™ (CMSS) technology places any mono or stereo source in a 360o audio space
· User-selectable EAX® ADVANCED HD™ music presets, pre-configurable DSP modes simulating various acoustic environments
· Advanced time-scaling functionality increases / decreases playback duration without altering pitch of original content
· Audio Clean-up functionality removes noise and 'clicks' from playback of vinyl disk or cassette tape recordings
· High speed connection to IEEE1394-enabled devices with up to 400Mbps transfer rate
· Hot-plug support for ease of connecting or disconnecting external devices
· Interconnection of up to 63 devices for peer-to-peer communication
· SB1394™ Certification Program thoroughly tests and certifies participating vendors' 1394-enabled devices with Sound Blaster® Audigy™ for optimal performance and ease of use.
My god. That was more technical than even I expected. Anyway, the up-shot of all this cunning new audio technology is a sound card that offers gamers very good audio performance at a rather good price, and should be especially recommended to those gamers who haven't got an advanced sound card at the moment. Those who have will have to evaluate the performance of there own versus the advancements in this, though the price is commendable to those in possession of older sound cards. A highly recommendable sound card overall, offering superb sound quality, especially in games. Afterall, that's what it's all about, right?