Creative SoundBlaster Audigy 2 review

4.5 out of 5
£100

For

The ultimate standard (until the PCI Express version)

Against

Crap Win98 installation

Creative has always been renowned for its soundcards - from when they dominated the PC industry with its 8 and 16-bit ISA Soundblasters all those years ago to its industry standing today. Times and technology have changed a lot since then, we’ve seen soundcard manufacturers come and go (one, Ensoniq, bought up by Creative itself) and more recently other manufacturers doing a great job in trying to unearth Creative from its throne. But can the Audigy 2 fight off the rivals?

There are two versions of this sound card available - one is the standalone card and the other comes with the breakout drive bay for additional features such as headphone jacks, optical inputs and firewire sockets.

The card itself offers far more than the original Audigy could ever imagine. The main difference though in the two cards is that the Audigy 2 offers a crystal clear 24-bit/192kHz of sound, rather than the 16-bit/96kHz that the original Audigy offered.

In doing so, it opens up a realm of possibilities. Drive permitting, this card is capable of producing DVD Audio, as well as being not only Dolby Digital EX certified, but also THX as well.

The card also now offers support for an extra speaker - a rear centre - and this boosts the total to 6.1. While this isn’t the best offering on the market - see Hercules Digifire 7.1 - it should be enough for most gamers and music fans alike wanting the surround sound experience.

The card itself offers as before Firewire support, useful for plugging in DAC recorders or adding CD-Burning drives, Digital out to connect to the Creative Inspire 5.1 digital speaker system, Line In, Mic In, and 3 Line Out sockets to connect to analog speakers.

Software wise, the Audigy 2 has stacks of it. As usual with Creative products, you’ll find a host of utilities, hardware diagnostic solutions and demos showing off the product. Once again Creative has changed its music player - it seems that with every card there has to be an overhaul - and the software allows to you not only take advantage of the card capabilities but also offers itself as an alternative to the five other music players you have installed. For gamers Creative has bundled Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix from Activision and Hitman 2: Silent Assassin from Eidos, both featuring EAX advanced HD sound and therefore both showing off the card, particularly for the latter’s stunning soundtrack.

Coupled with a good set of speakers - we tested the sound quality with Creative’s 6700s - and received crystal clear results. Games like Vietcong and Delta Force: Black Hawk Down are brought to life with the cards capabilities of providing plenty of information to all the channels.

When it came to movies, films like The Fifth Element and Black Hawk Down the movie, the Audigy 2 came up top trumps with ambient noise being just at the right level thanks to the configuration software. We were unable to test the capabilities of the DVD Audio as we are, like most, without a DVD Audio capable drive, however all other forms of audio aside from movies were clear.

Verdict

While there are cheaper cards on the market, the Creative wins out at the high ground. Installation is simple, while the card offers what it sets out to do. At £100, to some this maybe a little rich when you can pick up a 5.1 Audio card for under £30. That said if you are just starting out in music or want to add that extra depth to your gaming experience then this is certainly worth a look at. In short, the Audigy 2 does it again offering superior sound and features to the PC enthusiast who wants great sound. If you're on a budget though, the £170 saved can go on a speaker set after buying the Live! 5.1 instead.