Creative SoundBlaster Audigy LS
In recent years sound has taken off, and Creative has always been at the forefront, offering quality options. The SoundBlaster name is one that people the world over recognise. I decided to upgrade my old SoundBlaster 16 that shipped with my PC, with the Audigy LS, a mid-range soundcard with some of the latest features. I'm not the most technical user, so this upgrade was very much a lesson in basic PC upgrading on the hardware side as well. The upgrade was performed twice - once in Windows98 and then in Windows XP, just for the sake of process comparison. The differences were surprising.
So what does the Audigy LS deliver? Well, if you start browsing the range of soundcards out there, you'll soon discover that there are many different trademarks and functions, making it a veritable minefield of choice. So let's start with the important parts: this soundcard costs £60 at the time of writing, and delivers Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround Sound, full 24-bit. For that price, you'll want some performance out of it. Our version was also bundled with Hitman 2, if that is an incentive to buy. So lets get down to the detail - how easy was the upgrade?
The supplied instructions and drivers support Windows 98 upwards. Following the instructions to the letter, the card was installed in Win98. Soon into the installation there was a problem, and a subsequent restart. The system we were installing in to had a TAD connection to the modem - during the change, the modem set up managed to get changed. Not a significant problem, but unexpected, and typical of W98. When installing the card in Windows XP there were no problems at all and it was smooth and easy. The supplied CD provided all the drivers and software.
The supplied software includes Creative Media Source player - another media player that will do all the things that the others will. It seems that everybody wants you to use their player. You also get the EAX console, which provides you with a range of audio features that some might find useful, and some not. EAX enhances the sound in many newer games, providing a more exciting 5.1 output. The EAX console can allow you to alter the audio as you like - bass boost, the ubiqutous graphic equaliser, and audio clean-up function, to remove noise from MP3s of old recordings, 'SVM' which will match the sound levels across music tracks and the EAX effects which gives a range of advanced audio effects, like reverb and so on.
This card is very much aimed at the media user who wants 5.1 sound, and listens to a stack of MP3s on their PC and intends on doing a hardcore amount of gaming. At the price, you need to have a decent set of speakers to support it and take advantage of the 5.1 - especially the advanced functions. There are a range of higher spec cards for those wanting 6.1 or 7.1 sound, but then you really do need suitable speakers, or you're just wasting your money on sound you'll never hear. Luckily there are plenty of cheaper cards on the market, and its best to select what you need, by what you want to do. Overall, I was impressed with what the card can do, despite the hiccups in Windows 98 installation. To alleviate sub-Windows XP issues it's best to check Creative's site for the latest drivers much like a graphics card.