Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum eX

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Pros

  • 24-bit/96KHz digital inputs and outputs
  • built-in IEEE 1394 port
  • wireless remote control
  • huge software bundle.

Cons

  • Expensive
  • elaborate installation
  • hard disk recording and playback limited to 16-bit/48KHz resolution
  • huge feature set can be complex to navigate.

Like its previous top-of-the-line models, Creative Labs' Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum eX boasts a huge selection of multichannel sound-processing capabilities, comprehensive I/O options, a wireless remote and an over-the-top bundle of software and accessories. But it also adds cutting-edge features such as a 400Mbit/s IEEE 1394 port, 24-bit/96KHz digital-audio support, a flexible external I/O box, innovative 3D-gaming capabilities and a turbocharged digital-sound-processing (DSP) chip that's over four times faster than earlier models.

The Audigy Platinum eX package consists of three discrete components joined by a variety of cables and connectors. The main PCI audio adapter provides line in, mic in and 5.1-channel analogue and digital outputs. An Audigy Extension daughterboard adds a joystick/MIDI connector, while the external Audigy Drive I/O module offers aux in, MIDI and coaxial and optical S/PDIF connectors, as well as headphone and Mic 2 jacks equipped with dedicated volume controls. All three components also include high-speed IEEE 1394 interfaces designed for devices such as camcorders, external CD recorders, MP3 jukeboxes and other IEEE 1394-networked PCs.

The good news for those whose budgets rule out the £204 (ex. VAT) Platinum eX is that Creative Labs is offering the same Audigy card in two less expensive packages. The Platinum version (£153 ex. VAT) requires internal installation of the Audigy Drive I/O module in a PC drive bay and comes with a slightly less robust software bundle, while the basic Audigy Player (£76 ex. VAT) includes neither the Audigy Drive nor the remote control.

Not surprisingly, installing the Audigy Platinum eX takes some work. The two boards must be connected by multiple ribbon and IEEE 1394 cables, plugged into an open power connector, attached to modem and CD- and DVD-audio outputs, and then routed to the Audigy Drive with a massive multi-headed cable. The software installation is fairly straightforward, but it can take quite some time if you choose to load all of the card's many bundled applications, including music-making software such as Sonic Foundry Acid DJ 2.0, Steinberg Cubasis VST, and Image-Line Fruity Loops.

In our hands-on evaluation, the Audigy's DSP generated outstanding MIDI output, boasting 48 channels, 64-voice hardware polyphony, and the ability to load high-resolution samples into an unlimited amount of host memory. Its 32-bit effects engine and true 24-bit, 6-channel digital-to-analogue converters (DACs) produced breathtaking sound and low noise levels, and the card was even able to record multiple analogue inputs simultaneously. Like earlier Sound Blasters, the Audigy provides a great selection of surround-sound capabilities, including the ability to mix 5.1 channels down to 2, synthesise a huge number of preset acoustic environments, and expand stereo into bona fide multichannel sound. It also offers one-of-a-kind 3D-gaming features such as the ability to render four acoustic environments at once, move and position environments in real time, and create realistic, morphlike transitions between environments.

As terrific as it is, the Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum eX isn't perfect. Despite its complexity and relatively high price, it lacks luxuries such as gamer-friendly front-mounted USB and joystick connectors. Its 24-bit/96KHz audio capabilities work only with devices that are connected to its digital I/O jacks, and the card can record and play files on a PC hard drive at no greater than 48KHz and 16 bits.

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But these concerns seem minor compared to the Audigy's formidable strengths. It can't match the flexibility and sonic excellence of dedicated studio equipment, but for a PC sound card it comes awfully close. If you won't settle for anything less than the state of the art, this is the sound card for you.

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