|Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro PC Sound Hardware|
|Home Theater Accessories Accessories|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Monday, 01 December 2003|
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Despite its enormous name, the Audigy 2 is a worthy successor to the original Audigy and, in addition to prodigious capabilities aimed at the pro or semi-pro musician, it also is the first computer-based system to play DVD-Audio discs. The Audigy 2 ZS is a complete kit for Windows PC (there is no Macintosh version), incorporating an external I/O hub, audio card and accessories, which include a compact IR remote. The card fits into a PCI slot in the usual way, and you can also install the included joystick/MIDI bracket in an adjacent slot if you wish.
The I/O box is the coolest (and most visible) part of the system, providing inputs and outputs, with the exception of speaker connections, for the system. The box is 7.75 inches by eight inches by 2.25 inches in size (WDH). It is linked to the installed card via a dual cable, one leg with special high-density connectors. One is labeled “AD_LINK 1” and the other, presumably a Firewire extension cable, carries IEEE1394 Firewire data between the I/O box and the port on the card. The box has a front panel with IR receptor and indicator LED, master volume control and an array of I/O connectors including Toslink optical digital I/O, Firewire, one-quarter-inch jacks for Line/Mic in, a second Line In, a Headphone out and an input gain control. On the rear of the unit is a stereo line level input on two RCA connectors, MIDI in and out, S/PDIF (digital coax) I/O on phonos, a main digital speaker output (for example, to drive Creative Inspire 5.1 or generic 2.1 speaker systems), and a Firewire port, in addition to the ports connecting back to the card referred to earlier.
As well as plugging in the PCI card in the usual way, the card requires power from a drive connector internal to the PC. Cables are provided to carry analog and/or digital audio from the CD or DVD drive to the card. Two drives (one analog, one digital) can be connected simultaneously. The system will of course work with a CD drive, but quite honestly, unless your intention is to make music rather than play discs, you’ll want a DVD drive. In the old days, Creative supplied kits that included DVD-ROM drives, but these are now common, so your existing DVD drive is no doubt supported.
When it comes to options, this kit really excels. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the speaker department. You can connect digital speaker systems, either 2.1 or 5.1, to the mini-jack socket on the back of the I/O unit. However, it should be noted that these will not work during DVD-Audio playback because, as with most high-resolution players, the digital output is not allowed to output high-resolution signals. Alternatively, you can connect anything from stereo to 7.1 speakers to the analog outputs on the card using the three mini-jack multipole connectors on the card itself. The first of these sockets also doubles as a stereo line-level output.
A prodigious selection of software accompanies the unit, including an expanded surround mixer for controlling the input levels of the different available devices: the MediaSource Player, which is used to play most file formats, a very similar-looking Mediasource DVD-Audio Player, a start bar that allows access to the various control panels and your other applications, speaker configuration systems, THX calibration panels, a thing to rip tracks to your MiniDisc player, a control panel for EAX DSP audio and gaming sound environments – very nice when you’re creating your own music but not much good on anyone else’s – graphic EQ, and goodness knows what else. You also get Limited Edition versions of some heavyweight applications, such as Steinberg’s brilliant MIDI/audio recording package Cubasis VST, and a neat device called FruityLoops that enables you to create all manner of loop-based dance stuff and really annoy the neighbors. There’s Creative WaveStudio which is a bit like a basic version of Adobe Audition (formerly CoolEdit) for recording and editing in stereo, and an organizer to keep all your music files where you can find them, though iTunes blows it, and anything like it, clean away. Usefully, there’s also an audio stream recorder that will capture material like an online radio station and save it to MP3 or WMA files on your computer. Also useful is the ability to record anything coming out of the system with the “What U Hear” capability. You also get a basic version of InterVideo’s WinDVD5, which is an effective and expandable software DVD player – I’ll come back to this later.