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Creative Labs Sound Blaster Extigy

With the Sound Blaster Extigy, Creative Labs gives computer music fans seven outputs and five audio inputs of pretty much every kind. With this external sound card attached via USB, your computer can send and receive audio to and from MiniDisc players, DVD players, home-theatre systems, surround-sound speakers, microphones, guitars, MIDI drum machines and almost any other audio device you can think of, in digital, analogue, or Dolby Digital surround sound. Plus, you get clean sound on all ports and a remote control -- all for the price of about 10 CDs.
Written by Eliot Van Buskirk, Contributor on
extigy-thumb.jpg
9.0/10

Creative Labs Sound Blaster Extigy

Outstanding
Pros
  • Lots of clean-sounding inputs and outputs remote control supports Dolby Digital 5.1.
Cons
  • Doesn't output Dolby Digital 5.1 optically.
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

With the Sound Blaster Extigy, Creative Labs gives computer music fans seven outputs and five audio inputs of pretty much every kind. With this external sound card attached via USB, your computer can send and receive audio to and from MiniDisc players, DVD players, home-theatre systems, surround-sound speakers, microphones, guitars, MIDI drum machines and almost any other audio device you can think of, in digital, analogue, or Dolby Digital surround sound. Plus, you get clean sound on all ports and a remote control -- all for the price of about 10 CDs.

The Extigy adds a long list of input and output jacks to your desktop. On the front, you'll find optical in, optical out, line in, mike in with hardware-level control and a line/headphones out with hardware-volume control. The back panel houses a USB jack, MIDI in, MIDI out, S/PDIF in, S/PDIF out and three jacks for outputting Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound (front, rear, and centre/subwoofer). With all of these ins and outs, you can connect pretty much any audio device to the Extigy -- and we did.

Installation is ridiculously easy -- a refreshing change from the audio-hardware headaches we've encountered with PCI-card-based solutions. You can put the Extigy on your desk either horizontally or vertically using two rubber feet. When it's connected, the Extigy replaces your sound card. But to prevent configuration issues, your system reverts seamlessly back to your internal sound card when the Extigy is disconnected or powered down.

Since the Extigy sits outside your PC, attaching cords is a great deal easier than having to reach around to the back of your computer every time. The fact that it is an external device also renders your audio free from the PC's internal electrical noise. The digital-to-analogue and analogue-to-digital converters are of a very high quality (more than a 100dB signal-to-noise ratio and up to 24-bit 96KHz in and out), so whether you're listening to PC-based MP3s on your headphones or recording onto your hard drive from an LP, the Extigy delivers remarkably hiss-free sound. Analogue stereo input and output volume levels can be adjusted using knobs on the front of the Extigy, via the taskbar mixer or with the Creative Audio Mixer.

The Extigy is perfect for recording from an external source, but due to the latency caused by the USB cord, it's only just passable for amateur musicians wanting to record multiple tracks of audio. People who want to tackle multi-track recording or MDI work should go with the Sound Blaster Audigy instead since its latency is 2ms or less, as opposed to the Extigy's 40ms.

We encountered more difficulty using the Extigy while watching DVDs. Since the Extigy can't send Dolby Digital 5.1 to a home-theatre system optically, the only way to get Dolby Digital 5.1 out of the DVDs you play on your computer is to use the six-channel analogue outputs or to connect the S/PDIF output to Cambridge SoundWorks or Creative's own Inspire Dolby Digital 5.1 speakers. With stereo recordings, the button-accessible CMSS function can up-mix the stereo recordings to convincingly simulate surround sound. Other than the Creative and Cambridge speakers mentioned above, the Extigy should be used with only surround-sound computer speakers since they have the correct analogue inputs. When we tried this approach, the results were excellent -- fully immersive surround sound. The Extigy also supports EAX and DirectSound3D, so video games with those capabilities will sound the way they should. We tried Half-Life, which uses EAX 1.1, and noticed that the sound was smoother and clearer with the Extigy than with the standard-issue sound card on our test PC.

Since this device has so many inputs and outputs, it's only natural that it comes with no fewer than nine different applications to parse everything coming in and out: Audio Stream Recorder, which is like an MP3 VCR for streaming Internet radio; PlayCenter, which encodes and organises MP3s; Creative Remote Center (more on that below); WaveStudio, for recording and editing high-quality audio; Audio Mixer, for selecting input and output types and levels; Diagnostics, for testing drivers and the mixer settings; MiniDisc Center, for recording from PC to MiniDisc; Recorder, for making simple recordings; and MixMeister 3.0, for DJ-ing sets of MP3 music. Interesting points here include the fact that the MiniDisc Center inserts pauses between songs so that your MiniDisc unit separates the tunes. WaveStudio is a pretty respectable stereo WAV editor, with on-board effects plus automatic compatibility with whatever DirectX plug-ins you have on your system. And MixMeister impressed us to no end, with its smart fade-ins, fade-outs, Webcasting abilities, normalisation and automatic beat matching. It turns even the most tin-eared music fan into a pro DJ.

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The remote that comes with the Extigy is a godsend, even though it controls only Creative Labs' own software. It displays volume bars and song titles in large text that can be read from across the room. It also makes your computer feel more like a TV since you can adjust volume from the couch. Speaking of which, if your stereo isn't right next to your computer, you can daisy-chain up to five USB ports together with 15-foot USB cords, putting the Extigy up to 75 feet away from your PC.

Overall, the Sound Blaster Extigy is a fine product that everyone who uses a computer for entertainment should consider. It has every input and output that most people would ever need, as well as clean sound, an amazing software suite, and, at £149.99 (inc. VAT), a fair price tag.

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