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Creative Labs Audigy Platinum 5.1 10/10. Date Posted 24/06/2002.

The Sound Blaster Live was a fantastic card in all it's different varieties. The Audigy builds on the success of the Live range, adding several new features, but not messing with what made the Live so popular. This incarnation of the Audigy, the Platinium 5.1 offers many features both for musicians and also for consumers on-board Dolby Digital decoding. The Platinium also comes with an Audigy Drive. The Drive fits neatly into a drive bay, given instant access to many of the audio ins-outs. In addition it gives you extra ports, such as the SPDIF coaxial and optical digital interfaces which are not found on the PCI card. The Drive also offers mini MIDI ports so you can sync your existing MIDI gear to it. A remote control is included, so you can control your computer. However, the remote is not that good, and only works if pointed directly at the Drive. If you do wish to use the remote control, I would recommend buying a learning remote control, and use that instead. Most importantly, there is also an SB1394 port on the PCI card and on the Drive. This is essentially Creative Labs version of the hugely successful IEEE1394/Firewire interface, that enables connection of digital video cameras etc. to your computer. The inclusion of Firewire gives you a good reason to upgrade from a Live to an Audigy, since buying a separate Firewire card will cost you £50 alone.

Installation of the Audigy took about ten minutes and went very smoothly. Sound cards have previously been notoriously difficult to install.
I tried using the Firewire port with my Apple iPod MP3 player. It took five minutes to setup and it worked very well, using MediaFour's Windows XPlay software. I suspect many users will buy the iPod together with the Audigy. I am sure that Creative Labs would prefer you to buy their Firewire enabled Nomad Jukebox 3 MP3 player, instead of the iPod! As with the Live you have built in EAX effects such as Echo, Reverb etc. which are produced by the Audigy's built in CPU, thus not placing a burden on the computer's CPUs. It's fun to use, especially if you're playing games. What's especially useful for musicians is that you can now access these effects within audio applications, and use them as if they were plugins, but obviously without the CPU overhead. Just like the Live you also have access to SoundFonts, so you can load up new instruments to be played by the Audigy's synth. The size of SoundFonts is only limited by the amount of RAM you have. Something else for the musician are the new ASIO drivers for the Audigy, something that the Live was always lacking. These drivers are specials because they are very low latency, for example if you're trying to play virtual instruments live with a MIDI keyboard. In other words there is no noticable delay between triggering a key and hearing the output.

The overall sound playback quality of the Audigy is extremely good, relying on a 24 bit 96 kHz DAC. There is no hiss or background noise. If you want even better quality audio, you can of course bypass the internal DAC by using a digital output. Unfortunately although the sound card can cope with a digital 24 bit 96 kHz signal, it can't record and playback such an analog signal. In other words, unless you have an external ADC and DAC (which supports 24 bit 96 kHz), you will not be able to record at 24 bit 96 kHz. You'll have to stick to CD quality audio 16 bit 44.1 kHz (or 48 kHz). This is the one area where competitors like Terratec have the edge. I guess you can only squeeze so many features onto a card.

Overall this is a good sound card, and I can't think of much that is wrong with it. Creative Labs had the market virtually to itself with the Live, and I can see that continuing with the Audigy.