Creative Sound Blaster Audigy Player
Its not often that a company has such dominance over a market
area so that its very name becomes a byword for the component itself, Creative
have rightfully earned this exact accolaid by continually setting the standard
with PC soundcards. The advances in technology in recent years however have
rekindled interest in the soundcard industry with multichannel Dolby Digital
and DTS setups becoming more and more common in homes the world over. Consequently
the competition for Creatives crown has grown to reflect demand ... its perhaps
not surprsing then to see the launch a new range of soundblaster cards to replace
the ageing Live! series and to embrace newer features ... welcome to the world
of Audigy ...
In this review I'll be looking specifically at the Audigy Player, this is the
cheapest package available and fetures the Audigy card itself with minimal extras.
This base card is however common among the more expensive bundles too although
they vary in the peripherals they contain (more on this later).
As you might expect the back of the box has all those juicy figures and details
to check out ...
If theres one thing the Audigy isnt short on its features, I'll pick up on
all the important ones throughout the text but heres the official list and requirements
for quick reference purposes.
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
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
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
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.
Realistic Wave-Table Synthesis
Creative's Audigy™ music synthesis engine
64-voice hardware polyphony with E-mu's patented 8-point
interpolation technology that reduces distortion to inaudible levels
Uses SoundFont technology for user-definable wave-table
Unlimited sample size can be loaded into host memory for
professional music reproduction (limited to available system memory size)
Scalable PCI wave-table synthesis architecture with multi-timbre
48 MIDI channels with 128 GM & GS compatible instruments
and 10 drum kits
MIDI Interface / Joystick Port
Sound Blaster® Audigy™ On-Board Connectors
Analogue / Digital Out (Analogue Center & Subwoofer
/ 6-channel SPDIF Output)
Line level out (Front) / Headphone out
Line level out (Rear)
Telephone Answering Device in
Analogue CD Audio in
Digital CD Audio in
Expansion header to an external 15-pin MIDI / Joystick port
Internal SB1394™ header to Sound Blaster® Audigy™
Drive (upgrade option)
Expansion header to the Sound Blaster® Audigy™
Drive (upgrade option)
Works with the Following Standards
- Windows® 98SE, 2000 and Millennium Edition
- Sound Blaster® MIDI and General MIDI
- Plug and Play
- Sound Blaster® PCI
- EAX® ADVANCED HD™
- Microsoft DirectSound, DirectSound3D & derivatives
- PCI 2.1 compliant
- AC '97 compliant
- Dolby Digital
Sound Blaster® Audigy™ Audio Performance
- Signal-to-noise Ratio (A-Weighted) = 100dB
- Crosstalk (Left/Right and vice versa) = -100dB
- Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise at 1KHz (A-Weighted) = 0.004 %
- Frequency Response at -3dBr = <10 Hz to 22 kHz
- Genuine Intel® Pentium® 266MHz, AMD® K6 300MHz or faster processor
Intel®, AMD or 100% compatible motherboard chipset
64MB system RAM (128MB recommended)
600 MB of free hard disk space
Windows® 98SE, Windows® 2000, Windows® Millennium
Edition or Windows® XP*
Available half-length PCI 2.1 compliant slot
Available adjacent slot for Joystick/MIDI bracket (optional)
Headphones or amplified speakers (available separately)
CD-ROM drive required for software installation
* Windows® XP drivers are required. These are available for download from
Phheeewww ... did you get all that ?!?! :o)
Before going any further its worth quickly differentiating
the packages in the Audigy range; for the most part they are identical with
the pricier ones differing in that they offer an independant connection unit
(either internal or external)
[all prices in UK sterling and are from creatives
Audigy Player - £76
Comes with the standard card and joystick port plate (more on
The standard card, gameport PCI plate, remote control and 5.25"
drive unit featuring the following;
PCM SPDIF In and Out (RCA/Coaxial Jack)
Headphone Out (1/4" Stereo Jack with Volume control)
Line In 2 (1/4" Stereo Jack, shared with Microphone
Microphone In 2 (1/4" Jack with Gain control)
MIDI In (mini DIN)
MIDI Out (mini DIN)
Optical SPDIF In and Out
Stereo Auxiliary In (2 x RCA/Coaxial Jack)
Audigy Platinum EX - £204
The base card, external connection unit, remote control a modified
gameport backplate (allowing the plugging in of the external unit). Features
the same connectivity as the Platinum unit above.
Lets start by taking a closer look at the card itself ...
Taking a look inside the box you should be presented by the following; the card
itself, 3 CDs (The drivers and the game Giants - more later), a digital CD/DVD
cable and a blanking plate with a joystick port attached.
As with all electrical components you want to be careful of static so ground
yourself before opening the bag :o)
...and here she is in all her glory, what really surprised was just how many
capacitors there are on it, apart from that you can be pretty sure its a sound
card ... lots of sockets !! (Oh and the fact it has Creative Audigy written
The back ... errr not much here ... look at the sticky labels !?!
Going in a bit closer things start to get a bit interesting. First up we have
the main Audigy chip ... this puppy is whats responsible for the 32-bit effects,
multiple environments and real time effects the card can churn out.
One of the most obvious differences between the Audigy and the Live! card is
the redesign of the connections on the backplate. The interesting integration
of the SB1394 firewire socket has meant that the joystick port has had to be
moved to its own PCI plate in order to make room. The SB1394 standard is essentially
the same as IEEE-1394 but creative have been sensible enough to regulate it
with a certification program ensuring compatiblity with all other SB1394 devices.
Now I cant say I've ever used this socket but if it does as well as creative
hope then it could proove a very important addition to the card, the possibilty
of 400Mb/s transfer speeds and its ease of use certainly are appealing. Beyond
that the connections are as expected (from left to right); digital out/center-sub
analogue channel, Line In, Front/Headphone Out, Rear Out and finally the SB1394
port. Its also very nice to see Creative using gold connetors after ditching
the colour coded ones.
The moving of the joystick port to its own plate means that it now has to be
plugged into the main card via a ribbon cable (below) although it doesnt have
to be attached if you dont want or need it. Also of interest to those thinking
about the Platinum packs might be the bank of pins at the back of the card (on
the left below) which are where the connectivity units attach to the card.
The other internal connections are as most other sound cards apart from the
addition of the CD SPDIF (Sony Phillips Digital InterFace)
for high quality CD audio and the SB1394 expansion socket (for connecting to
the Platinums expansion units). As you saw above Creative were nice enough to
include a digital CD audio cable in the bundle (unfortunately neither of my
CD drives support it !!). From left to right CD SPDIF, SB1394, Aux. In, CD In
and TAD In (Telephone Answering Device).
Just to show the card in place ... (the second and third PCI plates from the
Here it is again from the inside ...
Looking at the card is all well and good but you probably want to know what
it can do so next we'll take a look at bundled software and some features of
The main interface with the Audigy is still via Audio HQ as per the live! series
Device controls allows you to specify the output rate of the digital out connection
(44.1, 48 or 96 KHz) - useful if you want to record with something that requires
a certain sampling rate but cant resample itself (such as older minidisc players).
Those of you familiar with the predecessor to the audigy will no dobut recognise
the EAX Control panel (all be it with some minor tweaks). This basically allows
you to configure some of the EAX environment settings to suit your tastes. There
are about 36 parameters between the Reverb and Chorus effects which can be freely
altered as well as the master volume for the effect itself. I cant say that
I felt any need to go beyond the presets with either my old Live! card or this
Audigy however its still nice to have the option.
Not hugely new or interesting is the keyboard (might be due to my total inability
to play a tune on it!!) however its still good fun to muck about on sometimes.
If youre serious about making music on the computer there are undoubtedly better
programs out there though.
Next up theres the soundfont configuration box which is where you selecct which
MIDI bank to use as well as having some minor configuration options.
The creative mixer has had a bit of a makeover (much nicer colours - I like
blue !!) and is integrated with the EAX selection panel as well as the speaker
The EAX aspects are essentially a cut down version of the main EAX control
panel where you can select the effect you want. The speaker part is where the
configuration of the cards output occurs and allows for headphones, 2, 4 or
5.1 speakers. Its also here that you have to check the digital out box if it
thats what youre using to connect to your speakers. The other speaker options
allow you to adjust the individual volumes of the center and subwoofer channels
aswell as allowing bass redirection and the cards onboard AC3 decoding. The
first two are self explanitary however bass redirection refers to which frequencies
are sent to the satellites and which to the subwoofer, ticking it activates
the crossover frequency slider above which is where you can set what is sent
where. Unchecking the AC3 decode option is for people who intend to use an external
decoder (such as Creatives DTT3500 or Inspire 5700 speakers) which they would
like to handle the Dolby Digital decoding aspects instead of the main card itself.
Finally theres the balance/fader configuration which now combines the front/rear
and left/right controls into a single drag box. If your listening postion is
off center you can simply grab the yellow dot in the middle and move it to whichever
aspects need to be louder, combine this with the center/sub volume sliders and
you can tailer the position of the sound to your individual needs.
Creatives playcenter will also be familiar to current soundblaster users all
be it with a bit of a makeover. Apart from the basic features it also has some
new ones to increase the enjoyment.
Not new but still quite cool are the EAX effects, once again theres a control
panel for them here to select whichever you want (Environments, Advanced EQ
or Special effects). While these are interesting to test out I personally always
seem to end up going back to the original, as far as music is concerned I'm
not huge EAX fan.
Next up is time scaling, this provides the ability to alter the speed at which
the music/sounds are played without altering the pitch ... still not convinced
how useful this is but its quite fun to play with !!
One of the new features is DREAM (Dynamic Repositioning of Enhanced
Audio and Music) which I dont quite understand the point of but
again its quite cool to play with. It basically takes whatever youre listening
to and rotates it around you, its pretty much designed for surround sound speaker
setups but isnt limited to them. The best way to describe it is to imagine yourself
in the center of a carousel not moving, DREAM effectively sticks the band/singer
on the outside part of the carousel going around you playing their tune. Its
more clever than that though as you can alter the speed and direction of either
low, mid or high range frequencies independantly too. The final result is really
quite amasing but after a few minutes I found myself turning it off, still it
may appeal more to other people I guess.
Finally we have audio clean-up which removes unwanted noise from your files,
I cant say I really noticed all that much difference with or without it (even
listening solely to what had been removed). I recorded all my MP3's myself though
so theyre of quite a high quality generally. It would be interesting to try
a recording from analogue tapes or vinyl like they suggest to see what it can
really do unfortunately I dont have the ability to do that here at the moment.
Lastly we have the creative taskbar, I've never been a fan of cluttered desktops
so I've never been too keen on these especially when all it really does is allow
(yet) another way to acivate EAX effects, a nice thought but not for me. That
said I can see that for a lot of users this would be the prefered EAX interface
due to its relatively clean appearance and ease of use.
Moving on to third party software we firstly have the Oozic player. While there
isnt actually anything wrong with this player it didnt really grab me, its a
bit cluttered, not overly simple to use and worst of all had an advert - not
a good start. Beyond that though it has some really nice visualisations going
on and it works as well as can be expected its just that with so many music
players about it doesnt really do anything to make it stand out above the rest.
Creative were also nice enough to give us a free game too ... Giants; Citizen
Kabuto. Normally free games are associated with graphics cards so its nice to
see creative following suit with soundcards too. I've not actually had a chance
to play much of the game myself (too much work unfortunately) it appears to
actually be pretty good though (Gamespot
UK gave it 9/10) so they obviously thought about which game to include.
Reading back over what I've written above some of it might sound a bit negative,
the fact is that the Audigy is a sound card and doesnt really need all these
extra features to be able to perform it job. While I personally might not use
the extra features it doesnt mean others wont so its nice to see Creative making
the effort and having them available for those who want them. Its true that
some features of the Audigy were also present with the Live! cards but I'm glad
they've also been looking at new directions to take such as DREAM or the audio
clean-up. In a similar way theyve also been busy trying to push EAX and the
gaming experience forward too which I'll be looking at next.
Click here to read part two of the Creative Audigy Player review!