The software package from Creative also includes Audio Stream Recorder for online content recording. This tool may be useful for those, who have a broad Internet connection for real-time listening to some online radio station, which are numerous on the Web. The program records sound in any format with a defined quality.
For some editing of the recorded audio file there is specialized Creative WaveStudio tool that can be a replacement of SoundForge and the like in some respects.
Audio files playback is left to the traditional PlayCenter that is now called MediaSource Player. Not only its name, but also its skin has changed. The Player can playback and record music, can convert audio tracks from Audio CD into popular digital formats, can address CDDB service and do a lot of other things. Creative made some improvements of the playlist editor. Now you can search and select tracks from playlists much more easily. Audigy2 also boasts a completely new feature leveling out the volume of all the files in a selected playlist. It's called Smart Volume Management (SVM) and is activated by clicking on the appropriate button in MediaSource Player. This option will save you a lot of time and trouble and prevent from running up to your PC every time you want to raise or reduce the volume: all audio files will sound with equal volume level.
Standard Player skin
And the tiniest of all, micro-skin. Choose what you like most!
The fans of various special effects, including dedicated gamers, of course, will be happy to find a separate EAX Advanced HD console. The first tab allows configuring the effects. There are a lot of them there and you can add something new to any default value.
The next CMSS 3D tab allows turning on up-mixing of the usual stereo for multi-channel speaker systems or create 3D effects in stereo headphones. This is done by means of special math1ematical algorithms and they are activated here.
Everyone who has ever listened to old records knows that there may often be some crackling during their playback. To clear the recording from this, you can use the intellectual Clean-up function. Here you can choose the audio source, it may be an MP3 file or an LP Player, connected to the sound card. The "cleaning" parameters are set with three sliders.
The last tab of the EAX console allows increasing or decreasing playback speed without distorting the solo part. This effect is used by DJs to create dance mixes from slow melodies.
We can't omit SoundFont Bank Manager that has become most functional now. The standard interface looks like a virtual keyboard, which helps you to evaluate the sounding of an instrument from the bank and add some effect from the drop-down presets editor.
So what's the most pleasant thing here? Firstly, it's now possible to dynamically allot memory for the sample bank. This allows loading very large banks that couldn't be used before because of the 512MB RAM limitation imposed by Windows 98/Me. Moreover, the user can now choose a desired display mode for the bank indexes.
For professional musicians, who preferred Audigy2 (and they are not few), there is an option to load up several sample banks that would work as a single MIDI bank.
Speaker Systems for Audigy2
Creative just couldn't release a seven-channel audio card without supporting it with an appropriate speaker system. So, alongside the Audigy2, the company launched the first (for PC) 6.1-system, called Inspire 6700. A more expensive variant, MegaWorks 610D, will hit the market in 2003.
We began the "aural" part of our tests with Megaworks 510D. Then we received Inspire 6700, courtesy of the East European division of Creative Labs, and could objectively estimate all the niceties of the seven-channel sound surroundings. Fortunately, we already had a sample DVD with six movie demos in the DTS-ES format and the soundtrack Queen: The Prophet's Song (A Night at the Opera) recorded in the new-fashioned DVD-Audio format (24bit / 96kHz).
The Inspire 6700 system consists of 8W (RMS) speakers, a central 20W (RMS) channel and a powerful 22W (RMS) subwoofer. The transition band here is from 40 to 20000Hz with an over 75dB signal/noise ratio.
All the necessary connectors are situated at the back panel of the subwoofer. There are three analogous inputs: one for the central channel, one for the subwoofer and one for the central rear channel. For connection to the Audigy2, Creative includes provides Inspire 6700 with a special cable. A quite expected detail, as this acoustic system has been specially developed for the 6.1 sound card.
The Inspire 6700 has a switch to change between real and emulated 6.1 modes. So, this system can be used with a 5.1 card (for example, with the first Audigy), too. The sound of the rear 5.1 channels will be mixed onto the central channel in this case. The result is quite acceptable for listening to music and some movies, but the 3D sound sources positioning would be lost.
The system comes with a cord remote control panel to adjust the overall sound volume and configure low frequencies. For easy headset connection, the panel has a corresponding socket.
The aural tests that are a subjective part of any test session like that showed that Creative hasn't just added one more channel, but also improved the amplifier. The speakers now don't remind of themselves by a click when you turn them on. The trebles are more transparent, while the medium frequencies acquired precision in drawing the main elements of the sound picture. The subwoofer uses SLAM technology (Symmetrically Loaded Acoustic Module) and reproduces basses well. Thanks to the high quality satellites, the stereo panorama is good and sound sources are tracked easily. By the way, alongside with its acoustic accomplishments, the Inspire 6700 has a good price-to-quality ratio.
We tested the Audigy2 in comparison with the previous Audigy with the SpectralLAB (v.4.32.17) test set. This program consists of two parts: a signal generator and analytical-measuring part. On the whole, it allows measuring the main parameters of a sound card. Before the tests, we turned off all the audio surround effects, which bring distortion into the output signal (this methodology, i.e. preparing Creative cards for such tests, has been described in detail by the company engineers).
Our testbed was configured as follows:
- Intel Pentium III 1000MHz CPU;
- Chaintech 6ATA4 mainboard (VIA Apollo Pro133 (694X + 686A) chipset);
- 512MB PC133 SDRAM by Hyundai;
- Creative GeForce256 Annihilator Pro DDR 32MB graphics card;
- Quantum Fireball AS40 HDD;
- DVD-ROM: Creative PC-DVD Encore 12x with hardware decoder Dxr3 card;
- Speakers: Creative MegaWorks 510D, Inspire 6700;
- Windows XP Pro SP1.
The point of the test looks as follows. The program's sound generator emitted a 1kHz tone signal. By means of the mixer the signal peak was adjusted close to 0dB basing upon the visual analyzer report, but so that there were no overshoots or non-linear distortions in the frequency spectrum. The analytical part of the test set measured such parameters as signal-to-noise ratio, overall dynamical signal distortions and the like.
The main parameter of any sound card is the SNR value measured in decibels (dB). The SNR is calculated from the frequency peak of the efficient signal (here it's 1kHz) and then the overall noise level in all the frequencies spectrum is calculated. Note, that the higher is the SNR, the better. Of course, no ear can hear any noise at 80dB (for a better comparison: the noise level in an ordinary, non-isolated room is about 55-60dB), but the lower SNR value is important for a quality sound card, when the user works with recording and sound-digitizing programs. SNR=106dB doesn't actually matter when you are just listening to music.
One more important parameter is THD (Total Harmonic Distortion), which is the ratio of the harmonic capacity to the base one. THD is calculated by seeking the peak frequency in the spectrum (base). The overall capacity in separate frequency harmonics is determined relatively to it. The overall noise level is not taken into consideration for these calculations (it's used in the THD+N parameter). Lower value of this parameter (in percents) indicates higher purity of the sound. THD is always calculated with the 1kHz reference signal.
The intermodulation distortions (IMD) parameter shows the percent of distortions when mixing two tones. The typical IMD calculation is done with 250Hz and 8020Hz tone signals with the high frequency tone fading to the low frequency one by 12dB (4:1 ratio). In order for the random noises not to interfere with the results, the IMD is calculated after a series of tests.
The results table is in front of you. We should mention that the difference is not very important to pay too much attention to it. The tests rather showed that Creative eliminated successfully all bugs and the slump in the trebles area.
Audigy (44100Hz / 16bit):
Audigy2 (48000Hz / 16bit):
Audigy (48000Hz / 16bit):
Looking at the spectrogram we see that the Audigy2 does produce a purer sound than its predecessor. This difference is hardly perceivable by the ear, though. The point is that the stereo panorama, fundamental low frequencies, naturalness, or authentic reproduction of the emotion - they all depend on the class of the acoustic system. The sound of a given sound card should be estimated by the reproduction and beauty of the timbres, dynamical contrasts, clear and pure tones. We did enjoy the Audigy2 more. Why? Because of this additional rear channel. To be more exact, because of the stereophonic resolution. That is, the perception of the listener is attuned to the spatial unity of the sound sources and their stability, whatever the sound volume. But this is largely the loudspeaker's honor and we would be more objective comparing two 6.1 sound cards rather than 6.1 vs. 5.1.
The Audigy2 sound card is definitely the "best of the year 2002" in the consumer market sector. It features excellent sound quality, immersing effects in games and rich functions. There are few companies who can make "number one" products for so long. After our Audigy2 vs. Audigy test, we learned the following: Creative has made another big step in the evolution of its sound cards family and added one more successful product to it. But we shouldn't forget that the company has much to do in future to implement some features that are still unavailable in the Audigy2.
So, what do you buy with the Audigy2? It's the true 24bit audio, a lot of analog outputs and excellent software from Creative. The fact that Audigy2 became the first sound card to be certified for THX is impressive, too. It's the sign of the highest quality of the card. We should note, though, that Dolby Digital 6.1 compatibility is good, but you still need an external hardware decoder.
Anyway, we can't find a cause for not naming the Audigy2 a hit, just like Live! and the first Audigy were.
Let's recall, though, that Creative started winning the market from the low-end sector. Today nearly every new mainboard is equipped with an integrated AC'97 sound. This is why many users do not buy an add-on sound card for higher performance or better SNR. Many integrated codecs provide acceptable sound quality and even six-channel audio output. We shouldn't also forget NVIDIA that has released its new SoundStorm audio processor that can compete with the Audigy2 in terms of its features. And the SoundStorm is a chip to be integrated onto mainboards. On the whole, Creative's managers have a lot to think about.
We also wish Creative released new drivers and software updates for the first Audigy. After uninstallation of the Audigy2 we used its predecessor with the remaining drivers and could use a lot of functions in the Creative MediaSource suite. Of course, we could copy the installation CD, but it requires the Audigy2 to work.
By the way, if you own the first Audigy, we wouldn't advise to upgrade. But if you have the oldie Live!, or simply don't like the integrated audio, the Audigy2 is for you.
In conclusion, we would like to appeal to Creative competitors. Do make a competitive product! This would make Creative engineers work harder to open PC sound horizons wider and… reduce the price of such excellent cards as Audigy2.
- Seven-channel speaker systems support;
- A very good and thoroughly redesigned software suite;
- Excellent sound quality;
- Dolby Digital EX 6.1 Surround support.
- Hardware conflicts with the VIA VT82C686 South Bridge when playing DVD-Audio;
- No full processing of Dolby Digital (only pre-encoding is available);
- High price (about $190-200).