by Sergey Samarin
05/06/2005 | 01:41 PM
What do you think? What version follows the second one? The third? I also thought so. However, Creative Labs didn’t think too long about the succession rules and announced Sound Blaster Audigy4 Pro after Audigy2 ZS sound card. This was a quiet event, without too much hullabaloo around it in the mass media, and some hardware information sources just mentioned the release of the new top model in a couple of paragraphs. For a number of objective reasons I will also not spend so much time reviewing Audigy4 Pro, as I did with all other previous solutions.
In fact, I think I could end up this article right here and right now by saying that the new Audigy4 Pro does not differ from the Audigy2 ZS.
However, if you are a true fan of Creative labs products, then it would definitely make sense to take a closer look at the new solution: maybe we will manage to find something interesting and new about it.
Creative Sound Blaster Audigy4 Pro in retail box.
I have already provided a big detailed table with the technical specifications of this product in the article called Sound Blaster Audigy2 ZS Platinum Pro Sound Card: New Top Model Arrived! It doesn’t make much sense to post it here again, as you can always check out this page of the previous review and get all the details. The changes touched only upon one single item: Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) now is set to 116dB. For details you can as well check the official company site here.
What did we find inside when we opened the box?
First of all, let’s check out the functional peculiarities of the Audigy4 Pro sound card according to the manufacturer:
Audigy4 Pro sound card
The PCB of Audigy4 Pro sound card doesn’t differ that much from the predecessor. It is also manufactured of dark-brown textolite with gold external connectors. As for the electronic components installed onto the PCB, they are almost the same as those on Audigy2 ZS.
As for the hardware differences between these two sound solutions, I have to say that Audigy4 Pro is equipped with a pretty up-to-date high-performance DAC: CS4398 from Cirrus Logic (Audigy2 ZS Platinum Pro had them only in the external unit). These converters have been developed for professional audio devices, they support 24bit/192kHz mode, and 120dB dynamic range. We are not providing the detailed technical specification for these microchips here, because you can check it out on the official Cirrus Logic web-site if you follow this link.
The processor marking is hidden under the sticker.
The new sound processor is marked as CA 10200-ICT (if you remember, Audigy2 ZS had a CA 0102-ICT processor). We didn’t remove the sticker from the processor, but we are pretty sure that if we had, we would have found there an etched Audigy2 marking. It reminded us of the Creative E-MU 1820: when we were testing this solution we removed a sticker like that and could distinguish the marking of the very first Audigy there.
As you may see the order and the functionality of the connectors on this bracket is exactly the same as by Audigy2 ZS. The function is engraved on the bracket under each connector, and the corresponding sticker with the color codes is enclosed into the package. Here are the connectors laid out there and their functions:
Switchover unit (I/O Hub)
All Creative Labs sound cards targeted for the top price group are provided with switchover units. And the models from the Pro series have always been shipped with external units. Audigy4 Pro is also no exception here. However, I will not dwell on the details of this device today, because Audigy4 Pro simply inherited the switchover unit from the previous model as is.
Remote control unit
The universal infra-red remote control unit also remained the same. It is the good old RM-1500 solution with excellent functionality and ergonomics. It is powerful enough to control the sound card and the entire computer system from up to 4-meter distance. The infra-red receiver sensor is located on the external switchover unit.
The sound card is bundled with a huge software package containing four CD disks:
The list of software components
The software installation takes about 15 minutes. After that you will need to restart the system, so that the changes could get into effect. From then on you have access to Creative’s brand name software package, which you are very unlikely to be willing to update. The thing is that the company doesn’t support “hot” updates, when the user can copy a small digital file upon request. Instead of this, Creative is offering pretty large files, which you will have to download. I don’t think you will be bale to find out how useful or useless they are before you actually download them. This is one of the questions the users would keep asking in Creative forums as well as the request to make something similar to Live Update system, which could save the users a lot of time and trouble.
Well, if they do something about it, you will definitely be the first one to know. And now let’s take a closer look at the main software components we have just installed:
Surround Mixer: Basic settings
Surround Mixer: Advanced settings
The standard mixer page is split into two parts: basic settings, where you can adjust different Ins and Outs, and advanced settings, where you can adjust the volume levels for acoustic system components.
THX Setup Console
THX Setup console is an individual application. This control system is almost identical to the Speaker Settings utility, however, it offers much finer tuning options for the acoustic system. As you can see, there are three sections here: Speaker Selection, Calibration and Bass Management. On the first page the users selects the type of the acoustic system, indicates the location of the central satellite (relative to the monitor), tests the connected equipment, etc. In the second page, Calibration, you can set precisely the location of all acoustic system components by outing in their distance, height and angle relative to the listening center. Here you will have to be patient and motivated to do something with your own hands :)
In the third page you can set the cutoff frequency:
One of the most important utilities is the Graphics Equalizer. However, I think that 7 bands are far not enough for a serious sound card like that. For example, I would expect the bass frequencies to have more flexibility, actually.
The most powerful piece of software from Creative is the MediaSource Player. I personally was very happy with the number of options it offers, its ability to playback absolutely any audio formats and to enable fast enough the audio effects implemented in Creative Audigy4 Pro.
EAX Console utility contains audio environment settings. The section consists of five pages:
When the sound volume is changing, the following information window pops up on the screen over all other windows. Its location can be adjusted with the help of the following utility:
You can set the screen volume level indicator location manually.
Well, just like in the entire Audigy sound card family, we once again saw high functionality of the brand name software bundled with the card. Right now Creative Labs offers the best software for its sound cards from the functional point of view.
For you to enjoy the advantages of the ADVANCED HD 4.0 technology, the package also includes a DVD disk with full versions of the well-known games, such as Thief: Deadly Shadows and Hitman: Contracts.
We decided to run some tests on our Sound Blaster Audigy4 Pro sound card. However, we didn’t use the most powerful system for that purpose. Here is the system configuration:
To evaluate the system performance drop during sound processing we ran Comanche 4 Demo benchmark. The results show that the hardware power of both processes is similar, and the slight difference in the obtained results can be regarded as a measuring error.
So, it wouldn’t make much sense to run the tests in 3DMark03 this way.
In order to get numeric representation of the sound clarity and crispness we resorted to SpectraLAB (v.4.32.17) test. You can check out our earlier articles to read more about the testing approached we use with this benchmark. During the tests session with Creative Sound Blaster Audigy4 Pro we complied with Creative’s recommendations. The results given below correspond to the LineOut 1 – LineIn 3.
Here are the spectrograms for the Sound Blaster Audigy4 Pro:
Determining IMD at 44,100Hz/16bit
Determining IMD at 48,000Hz/16bit
To tell the truth, I haven’t noticed any significant difference between the sounding quality of the graphics cards. Frankly speaking, during this entire test session I honestly failed to figure out why they released it at all. I assume there were purely marketing reasons for this launch.
But anyway, it is out and it provides excellent quality, just like the predecessor.
Well, let’s sum up a few things now. Creative Labs replaced the converters with better quality ones and pushed the product into the market. Therefore, the actual hardware of the sound card got only a few small changes. It would be fun if next time Creative launches not the fifth version but maybe the tenth right away, why wait? Maybe the next offspring will be designed for PCI Express, but I am not quite sure about it yet, because in this case they will have to completely modify the CA-102-ICT, which implies additional financial investments in RND.
I don’t think you should upgrade your Audigy2 to Audigy4. All you might want to do is update your software. Of course, Audigy4 Pro will be an ideal choice for a wealthy gamer, but under no circumstances for a music professional.
In most cases, when all contemporary mainboards come already bundled with integrated sound of pretty high quality, it will get harder and harder to make users invest into add-on sound cards.