Sound Blaster Audigy
While cards nowadays no longer need to adhere to being "Sound Blaster compatible", Creative Labs hasn't forgotten its tradition of producing high-quality audio products for the PC. We first saw Sound Blaster products targeted at audio enthusiasts with Creative's Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold. Included were high-definition wave-table instrument sets for MIDI (when MIDI was still commonly used), full wave-table editing and upgrading software, 24 karat gold plated 3.5mm jacks and the inclusion of two left and right stereo RCA jacks.
Today, Audigy comes with all these things and more. Creative targets the Audigy at three distinct markets - gamers, audiophiles, and movie buffs.
Sound Blaster Audigy
400Mbits of pure digital audio
Powered by Audigy
What's important for everyone regardless which package they buy is what the Audigy itself offers. Creative has made sure that its Audigy is the most feature-filled solution available anywhere. Sound Blaster users will remember that Creative acquired E-MU Systems - designer of the EMU10K1 - more than 8 years ago, even before the release of the venerable Sound Blaster 16. This would make Creative Labs the only PC audio company that designs both its own DSP and audio board. This total control allowed Creative to create components that provide the product with the best output quality. If the sound card is using tier 1 components with a tier 3 DSP, you basically have a tier 3 sound card. After all, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Rendered by Audigy
The Audigy DSP is a total solution all on its own, providing 3D positional audio, advanced HRTF support, EAX, and acceleration of DirectSound/DirectSound3D audio streams. For those who were interested in playing games with true 3D positional audio effects, the Sound Blaster Live! was probably their second or third choice -- competing solutions provided far superior 3D audio imaging to the Live!
While Live! had support for DirectSound3D and Creative's own EAX reverb engine, DS3D was only a generic solution and other, more advanced systems were available. Creative argued that its EAX reverb engine created a more immersive experience than true 3D effects rendering, but those who have used Aureal's and Sensaura's solutions know first hand that modeling off the real thing goes a long way.
The Audigy marks the first time in almost three years that Creative has released a Sound Blaster that's based on a new DSP. So with this release, Creative has made sure that it's including everything its competitors have, and more. From the picture of the I/O plate above, you immediately realize that the Audigy is not an ordinary sound card. In fact, each Audigy will ship with full support for IEEE-1394 (FireWire). Like the inclusion of CD-ROM interfaces in prior Sound Blaster cards, Creative is using the sexy high-bandwidth FireWire bus as a value-add against competitors.
Supporting the Audigy's ability to process audio is the quality of its output - 24-bit, 96kHz audio (caveats to follow). Usually you won't find cards that are capable of outputting in 24-bit streams, as they cater to the high-end market, and typically cost more than $300.
Are all these things going to revive the excitement that once was Sound Blaster? Or is the competition improving too fast for Creative Labs to catch up? We think you'll like what you hear.