Upon looking at the box the Audigy2 came packaged in, it is easy to spot what new features the Audigy2 brings to the table. Especially true 24-bit/96KHz support, DVD-audio and 6.1-channel surround sound are things that look good on a box, for marketing purposes that is. But really, who’s there to compete with? Creative Labs’ sound cards have always been feature-rich, more so than others, and thus they’ll be competing against their own, previous generation, products mostly. With that said it is clear that the stealth launch of the Audigy2 is mostly due to the fact that there aren’t that many new features to be found.
Fig 1. A look at the box of the SoundBlaster Audigy2 Platinum.
Certainly the true 24-bit/96KHz is now implemented properly, no 16-bit down mix this time, but genuine 24-bit DACs (Digital to Analog Converters) are featured on the Audigy2. We wouldn’t have expected anything less though, as otherwise the ‘true’ in ‘true 24-bit/96KHz’ kind of looses all its meaning. But really, isn’t Creative Labs just making up for past mistakes? They’ve gotten a fair amount of flak for the 24-bit support on the original Audigy, and they basically corrected that mistake with the Audigy2. One clear example that Creative Labs means business this time is the THX certification of the Audigy2. The THX certificate is usually not lightly given but in this case we think it is more or less a sales pitch as the THX certification for multimedia devices are most certainly different than THX Select and THX Ultra2 certification used for home theatre equipment. It would be unreasonable to expect a soundcard costing a few hunderd dollars to approach the audio fidelity of a home system costing several times that amount. Nevertheless Creative Labs seems to be willing to go the extra mile to really design and manufacture quality products, so lets hope we'll see more of that in the future.
6.1-channel Surround Sound
The inclusion of 6.1-channel surround sound does put the Audigy2 a notch beyond the original Audigy as it now offers Dolby Digital EX support. Unfortunately the Dolby Digital support is still not in the same league as the Dolby Digital found on Nvidia’s Nforce and Nforce2 chipsets. Both the Nforce and Nforce 2 are capable of encoding a Dolby Digital audio stream in real time and can do this with any audio stream and subsequently output it to a set of 5.1-channel speakers. The Audigy and the Audigy2 are not able to encode in real-time and need a Dolby Digital audio stream to begin with to enable 5.1-channel output.
DVD-audio is certainly an audio standard that’s on the rise, although I can’t see popular bands releasing their new albums just on DVD-audio soon, but many classical music and opera’s are available on DVD-audio and promise an enhanced listening experience. With that said we captured the essence of DVD-audio, as it does exactly that, with the help of a few extra channels and 24-bit/96KHz resolution. Although two-channel support is also there, a DVD-audio track is done much more justice when played back on a quality multi-channel speaker system, we used Creative Labs’ Inspire 6.1 6700 during our tests but that didn’t really do the DVD-audio recordings justice, because after all it is just a PC-speaker system.