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Nearly Every PC user aware of today's big contenders dreams of having a sound system from Creative Labs. Creative are the most recognised and successful sound company that's geared towards multimedia refinement on your everyday PC. They produce sound cards as part of their wide range, and that's what we're going to talk about.
It comes in a few different variants, but the one that hits the most appealing score is the OEM version, sitting on the lower end of the price spectrum, but missing out on only a few niceties, most obviously being the official box. OEM versions (of any PC component at all) are simply the bare bones of the product. No fancy packaging and whatnot, but the pure basics. Nonetheless, the OEM Audigy 2 is still as user-friendly as they come, and installing this baby is a short and simple job. The driver disk included presents itself with the nicest interface i've seen in ages. It asks you simply, whether you want to install the drivers, or Mediasource, or both. Easy as pie and as quick as gravy, anyone can do it.
Mediasource? What's Mediasource, i hear you enquire. Well, I'd say that Mediasource is Creative's answer to Windows Media Player. Designed to playback any major type of media, it's a good idea, but Unfortunately it might be a bit weird to get to grips with if you've been used to WMP for so long, but the program itself is highly commendable, packing lots of quality and unique features that make it an entirely viable option. The Drivers, however, are excellent. They come with a long list of features and specialist programs that not all of us will use, but some will, so everyone has been considered. The program list includes a Minidisc centre, Wavestudio (WAV editor), the EAX consoles, and plenty more. The Audigy 2 features EAX 4.0, CMSS 3D and quite a few more. All of them combine to make a great audio experience that actually IS noticeable.
The things that REALLY make this card stand out is the fact that it was made by people that frequently go above-and-beyond for us, and really do put hard work into every product they make. This one's no exception, but is the result of years of trial and error. It boasts a 192khz, 24-bit output. you might not know what they mean, but just think of how you've sometimes looked on the back of a product box and seen the EAX or 24-BIT logos on the back of a box. They're talking about the Audigy 2, baby!
This was one of the first sound cards that I bought and amazingly, it is still used in my most recent setup today. I got this card back in 2005 when it was still priced around the £100+ mark and was a bit sceptical about spending that much on one piece of equipment, but it has defiantly proven to be worthwhile. I'll go through some aspects of the hardware and then give you an overall summary of the product.
So this card comes with 5 different audio jacks, all of these accepting TRS input. I think the best way to describe these jacks is that although they are all designed for a specific use...
-Orange (Surround Center + Sub)
-Light Blue (Line In)
-Red (Microphone In)
-Green (Normal Stereo Speakers)
-Black (Surround Rear)
The most recent firmware for these allow you to plug into any port and then select what you have connected onscreen, which is a really nice feature.
The card also comes with a firewire 400 port (the original speed one) and a MIDI/Game Port, although the MIDI port comes on a separate 'card' meaning that you will have to have another bay for it to connect to.
Installation of the card is very easy, same as most PCI cards, and just involves opening up your box (make sure that all the power is off etc.), shoving it in and then powering back up. Chances are that Windows will just install a generic driver for this, but recent drivers are still readily available on Creatives website that enable all of the extra features of the card.
The main reason that I got this card was two fold - firstly I wanted a good soundcard that could handle a 5.1 system, and at the time this was one of the best about and I wasn't disappointed. Secondly, I had started recording music through midi interface into programs such as 'Sibelius' and wanted to continue this at home, this amazed me even more with the card as the improvement over inbuilt sound card midi banks is amazing - the difference in sound quality is more than could ever be expected.
Shifting back to today and away from fond memories of playing with this card when I first got it, looking about - you can now get this same card for less than £50 which is an absolute steal! Yes, it may not be the top of the line card any more, and yes some motherboards do come with 5.1 support built in - but trust me, if you have a free PCI port then this is defiantly worth a shot - you wont be dissapointed.