Creative have announced a $130 PC soundcard that’ll bring DVD-Audio playback to all DVD-ROM drives. The Audigy 2 includes THX certification, 24-bit 192kHz D/A converters and Dolby Digital EX processing.
The Audigy 2 card will be available in two versions, the standard version includes one IEEE-1394 port, whereas the $200 Platinum version adds a second to its front-facing (drive bay) interface.
Although the Audigy 2 boasts a signal-to-noise ratio of 106dB, based on previous Creative cards performance is unlikely to be on a par with an ‘audiophile’ stand-alone DVD-Audio player (although we’ll reserve final judgement until hearing a sample). It will however, be superior to the lossy DVD-Video layer formats, Dolby Digital and DTS.
It’s worth stressing that this is an important development for DVD-Audio, the Audigy 2 introduces affordable playback compatibility to all DVD-ROM drives and in the competitive computer peripheral market, other manufacturers are sure to follow. Given the huge explosion in PC-based audio, thanks largely to formats such as MP3, the importance of computer compatibility to the success of a format cannot be underestimated, regardless of whether or not that playback is considered to be of ‘audiophile’ status.
The comparison cannot be avoided: SACD remains alarmingly absent in the world of computer audio outside of two-channel 44.1kHz CD-ROM compatibility, largely because most DVD-ROM drives fitted in contemporary PCs are totally incompatible with the DSD layer and cannot even reliably play the Red-book CD-DA layer. This might not be thought of as an issue by SACD proponents who believe (rightly or wrongly) that their format of choice is taking the ‘higher ground’, but like it or not, it is the mass-market consumer who makes or breaks a format. There is currently no way to replay a multi-channel SACD in a PC, and it doesn’t look like there will be for some time…
Here’s the Creative press release:
Creative Technology Ltd. (Nasdaq: CREAF), the worldwide leader in digital entertainment for PC users, today announced several key breakthroughs in PC audio with the introduction of the new Sound Blaster® Audigy™ 2 sound cards. Millions of PC users who have a DVD-ROM drive on their PC can use the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 to experience Advanced Resolution™ DVD-Audio with amazing 24-bit/192kHz sound quality. The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 delivers 106dB SNR and is the only stand-alone sound card with THX® certification, for cinematic 6.1 [HFR: matrixed 3/2:3.1 actually] surround sound from Dolby Digital® EX movies and unparalleled realism from the hundreds of existing DirectSound® 3D game titles. The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 enables 24-bit/96kHz recording, and also provides digital music enthusiasts with the next generation Creative MediaSource™ player for a variety of digital music enhancements, including up-mix of stereo MP3 music into full 6.1 surround sound. The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 and Sound Blaster Audigy 2 Platinum are both slated for worldwide shipment in October.
“With Creative’s introduction of the Sound Blaster Audigy 2, DVD-Audio has achieved another important milestone,” said Paul Vidich executive vice president, strategic planning and business development for Warner Music Group. “Consumers are experiencing the full sonic power of DVD-Audio on home stereos, in cars and now, on the PC. The music industry’s leading artists have released hundreds of DVD-Audio titles that are playable in more than 60 million DVD-Video, DVD-ROM and PlayStation® players in the U.S. market and that are sold in more than 2,000 retail locations. Creative is the latest industry leader to choose DVD-Audio as the format for advanced resolution, multi-channel audio.”
The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 is the only PC audio solution to enable Advanced Resolution DVD-Audio at 24-bit/192kHz in stereo and 24-bit/96kHz in 5.1. DVD-Audio is the highest resolution recorded music available for the PC. With up to five times the audio detail of CD-Audio, higher sampling frequencies and loss-less compression, DVD-Audio reveals amazingly precise musical elements that are not audible from media such as CD or tape.
“The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 not only propels PC audio forward; it drives a new standard of quality for all audio,” said Creative CEO Sim Wong Hoo. “As we have done many times in the past, Creative has established yet another new platform for the PC with Sound Blaster 24-bit ADVANCED HD™ audio. Yet with the introduction of the Sound Blaster Audigy 2, we are setting an audio standard for the PC that is currently emerging in consumer electronics.”
Sound Blaster 24-bit ADVANCED HD Audio – Vastly Superior to Host Audio
Sound Blaster 24-bit ADVANCED HD audio performance at 106dB SNR in the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 delivers up to eight times better clarity than host audio. The new Audigy 2 chip, premium quality 24-bit/192kHz Digital to Analog converters (DACs), and a true 24-bit ADVANCED HD audio path ensure “hiss-free” audio fidelity and exceptional clarity of 106dB SNR. The power of Audigy 2 processing enables full 24-bit/96kHz audio resolution in discrete 5.1 surround sound with playback of Windows® Media Audio (WMA) 9 Professional, the Web’s first digital 5.1 surround sound audio CODEC from the new Windows Media 9 Series.
“The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 is an ideal way to experience the breakthrough surround sound of Windows Media Audio 9 Professional,” said Jonathan Usher, director of the Windows Digital Media Division at Microsoft Corp. “By supporting Windows Media 9 and Windows XP, Creative is opening the doors to the next wave of home-theater-like digital media experiences on the PC.”
6.1 for DirectSound 3D Games, Dolby Digital EX Movies and Up-mix of Stereo Music
The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 adds support for a discrete rear-center speaker for stunning 6.1 surround sound from DirectSound 3D games, Dolby Digital EX movies, and MP3 and CD audio. For PC gamers who compete in any DirectSound 3D first-person shooter or racing title, the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 provides the competitive advantage of being able to hear an opponent approaching from directly behind. This feature works automatically on any current game that supports DirectSound 3D. For DVD movie playback, the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 brings a cinematic audio experience to the PC with Dolby Digital EX support, which is featured on major DVD movie titles including ‘Harry Potter 2’ and ‘Gladiator’.
[HFR Note: Dolby Digital EX does not offer a “discrete” rear-centre channel. EX is a matrix technology, the surround back content is delivered by surround left and surround right and is extracted by the decoder using a modified Pro Logic II matrix]
Creative MediaSource – Next Generation Media Player
The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 includes the new MediaSource Player, a full MP3 and WMA ripping application with a fresh, clean interface and exciting new MP3 and WMA enhancing features: The first PC media player to enable DVD-Audio playback in 24-bit/192kHz stereo or 24-bit/96kHz in 5.1; SVM™ (Smart Volume Management) matches volume variations across MP3 tracks so no adjustment is needed during playback; Second generation Audio Clean-up removes pops and clicks from MP3 and WAV files or recorded material from vinyl records or cassettes; CMSS® 3D (Creative Multi-Surround System™) plays back all stereo content, including MP3s and Internet audio, in rich 6.1 surround sound and creates a virtual surround sound experience with stereo speakers or headphones; New library “Find” tool allows users to find music quickly by entering the first few letters of an artist or song, for easy searching of multi-gigabyte music libraries; Integrated audio modules enable Internet radio and full bit-rate encoding on MP3s and WMAs and recording with ASR (Audio Stream Recorder) 2.0.
The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 enables multi-channel recording at 24-bit/96kHz, the best digital recording bit/rate available commercially today, allowing a pure recording path and high-performance analog-to-digital converters to accurately capture the full quality and subtle details of any music. It also delivers 16-bit/48kHz multi-channel low-latency ASIO support.
[HFR Note: 192kHz recording is available via some pro-sumer products, the superb Lynx Studio Lynx Two for example.]
The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 adds one SB1394, or FireWire® port to the PC. The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 Platinum includes a second SB1394 port on its front-facing Audigy 2 drive that is positioned in the 5¼” PC drive bay. In compliance with the IEEE® 1394 standard, SB1394 enables a transfer rate of audio or video content of up to 400Mbps, as much as 30 times faster than USB 1.1. SB1394 allows peer-to-peer low-latency networking with as many as 63 different PCs at up to twenty times the speed of traditional 10base T networks. By connecting the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 to the SB1394-equipped Creative NOMAD Jukebox 3 digital audio player, users can enjoy blazing fast transfer of music from the PC at less than one second per song.
Both the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 and Sound Blaster Audigy 2 Platinum allow simultaneous digital and analog connectivity to devices such as MIDI instruments, external digital audio devices and headphones. A remote control is included with the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 Platinum for additional ease of use.
EAX® ADVANCED HD™
The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 supports 64 3D-hardware voices to add incredible detail to games. To achieve exceptional audio and realism in PC gaming, the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 utilizes the powerful Audigy 2 chip to generate high-definition EAX ADVANCED HD effects such as Environment Morphing™, Environment Panning™, Environment Reflections™ and Environment Filtering™ technologies. New game titles included with each Sound Blaster Audigy 2 that feature built-in EAX ADVANCED HD support are ‘Hitman 2: Silent Assassin’ by Eidos Interactive Ltd. and I/O Interactive; and ‘Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix’ by Activision, Inc. and Raven Software.
Pricing and Availability
The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 has an estimated street price of US$129.99; and the Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum 2 has an estimated street price of US$199.99. Both products are slated for worldwide shipment in October.