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Creative Audigy2 Platinum eX Sound Card Review

August 27, 2003




The Creative Audigy2 Platinum eX sound card coming with an external unit is the most expensive and advanced model of the Audigy2 family and it's launched half a year after the Audigy2 Player and Audigy2 Platinum. The manufacturer promotes the Platinum eX as a solution for musicians and gamers underlining the studio quality of its external unit. 

Here's what distinguishes the Audigy2 Platinum eX from the Audigy2 Player/Platinum: 

  1. Apart from 48 kHz and 96 kHz the digital-out got one more mode of 44.1 kHz. (I must say that the Audigy1 also had it but the Audigy2 was deprived of it for some reason. Since the sound goes through double resampling in this case (44-48-44), it's really doubtful whether such mode is needed.)
  2. Three analog stereo inputs Line1/Mic, Line2, Line3 on the external unit, two having a jack-type connector, can work as three stereo or 6 mono. 
  3. The card's redesigned. All inputs are moved to the external unit, and now there are only analog-outs for speakers left onboard.
  4. Two firewire ports instead of one.
  5. Changes are brought into the ASIO2 driver. Apart from 16/48 there is one mode for recording and reproduction - 24/96, which can be selected with a special virtual device.
  6. Quality of demo programs is improved, the software suite is extended.

The box contents

  • sound card;
  • external module;
  • cables;
  • remote control and two AAA batteries;
  • bracket with a joystick connector;
  • power supply adapter;
  • CD with drivers and other software;
  • Feature Showcase Demo CD;
  • new DVD-Audio demo disc;
  • user manual.

Appearance and connectors




The card doesn't differ much from the Audigy2. It's assembled on the same black textolite, has the same controller and codec. Nonetheless, there are no CD in, S/PDIF in, Aux in, TAD in connectors. A noisy AC'97 codec and ADC from Philips are also removed. The company says that these measures improve the sound quality. 




The design of the external module reminds that of the Creative Extigy USB device. But the external unit of the Audigy2 PlatinumEX is more massive and comes with more connectors. One of the interesting moments is muting by pressing the volume control. There is also the CMSS activation button. Everything works synchronously with the card's software mixer.   

Card's outputs Front
Rear 
Center/LFE 
Center rear 
Card's additional connectors AD-Link1 
AD-Link2 
Internal connectors for power supply for IEEE1394 
for joystick



Unit's outputs IEEE1394 
Digital optical 
Headphones 
Digital coaxial 
Digital 4-pin minijack 
MIDI 
Unit's inputs IEEE1394 
Digital optical 
Digital coaxial 
Line In 1/Mic 
Line In 2 
Line In 3 
MIDI 
Additional connectors AD-Link1 
AD-Link2



Remote control




The remote control is identical to that of the Audigy2. 

Hardware features

Digital controller Audigy2
Converters Three 24bit stereo ADCs Burr-Brown PCM1804
(SNR >111 dB, THD+N: -102 dB ) 
24bit 192kHz stereo DAC Cirrus Logic CS4392
(DR 114 dB A, THD+N: -100 dB) 
24bit 192kHz 8channel DAC Crystal CS4382
(114 dV A for 24bit mode; 
97 dB A for 16bit mode. 
THD 0.001% for 24bit mode; 0.002% for 16bit mode)

Unexpectedly, the ADC maker was changed from Philips to Burr-Brown. But it's not enough to replace converters or improve their specs to raise the sampling quality. Creative mentions that an external unit is protected from pickups a card is exposed to inside a PC case. But the experience shows that external devices have no advantages over internal ones except the fact that it's easier to reach them. Quality entirely depends on realization. 

Software features

Gaming features EAX2, EAX3, 64 DS/DS3D streams
Professional features ASIO 2.0 in 16/48 and 24/96
Other features EAX Advanced HD

There's still no 16/44 in the ASIO. The mode of 24/96 is realized in software via a virtual ASIO device. 




During installation of the Cubasys VST you will be warned that the ASIO should be used in the 16/48 mode. The sequencer can actually quickly convert all files from 44 to 48 kHz, and the EMU Sample Rate Convertor comes bundled with the card. But such conversions do not raise quality at all. 




The professional software coming with the card looks dated. It's very inconvenient to work in the old-fashioned Cubasis VST, and it doesn't realize capabilities of the ASIO2 in full. The Wavelab Lite doesn't support the ASIO at all. 

Utilities

The card management software suite didn't change since the Audigy2 Platinum (the review of which describes it well). 




As I said above, there's only 44.1 kHz added. 




Demo programs

In this respect Creative is praiseworthy. All demo programs are new, and interactive presentations are fully remade. 

After installation of the software and rebooting we were offered to look through the information on purchasing and to listen to a sample in the format of 24bit 192kHz. Other card makers do not offer such pleasantries. 




All card's features are described in detail in special interactive presentations. 




There's even a 3D graphics demo where you can walk in a medieval castle, listen to EAX3 effects and adjust parameters. 




Also, you can compare 16/44 stereo and 24/96 5.1 on-the-fly switching from one format to another while a composition is playing. 

There's even a DVD-Audio. However, Creative's DVD-A player can't play its video part, and graphics and text records weren't shown. We could see it only on the Pioneer 757Ai DVD-A/SACD player. 

RMAA 5.1 tests

Measurements were taken with the Lynx Two reference card (117 dB SNR) with a short low-noise microphone cable, Proel, with gold-plated connectors. The input sensitivity of the Lynx Two is standard: -10 dB V. 

Front-out

In the RMAA 5.1 we changed IMD test frequencies from those recommended by the CCIF standard for SMPTE since some of multimedia cards with the frequency fixed at 48 kHz had problems of clipping the 16bit grid because of too much distortions at 44kHz. Now the test more adequately estimates distortions from intermodulation related with non-linearity of the analog section, as well as combination distortions and flaws caused by operation of the conversion algorithms in the audible range. (The test with the previous CCIF preset still makes sense for testing quality of digital filtering and oversampling of high-quality and professional devices.)

Mode of operation: 16 bit 44 kHz 
 

Frequency response (40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.06, -0.18 Very good
Noise level, dB (A): -97.0 Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A): 95.3 Excellent
THD, %: 0.0037 Very good
Intermodulation distortions, %: 0.0081 Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB: -95.1 Excellent

General performance: Very good 

The detailed results for the front output for 16 bits 44 kHz are here




The frequency response diagram in the 44kHz mode makes almost a straight line
 
 


The IMD (SMPTE) spectrogram reveals parasitic components at 44kHz
 


The THD spectrogram indicates that there are harmonic distortions at 44 kHz

Mode of operation: 16 bits 48 kHz 
 

Frequency response (40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.02, -0.09 Excellent
Noise level, dB (A): -97.0 Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A): 95.7 Excellent
THD, %: 0.0025 Excellent
Intermodulation distortions, %: 0.0077 Excellent
Channel crosstalk, dB: -96.7 Excellent

General performance: Excellent 




The IMD (SMPTE) spectrogram shows that the 48kHz mode is not deprived of some pickups

See the detailed results for the front output for 16 bits 48 kHz. 

Mode of operation: 24 bits 96 kHz 
 

Frequency response (40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.02, -0.09 Excellent
Noise level, dB (A): -98.8 Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A): 98.6 Excellent
THD, %: 0.0022 Excellent
Intermodulation distortions, %: 0.0088 Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB: -97.8 Excellent

General performance: Excellent 

See the detailed results for the front output for 24 bits 96 kHz. 

Mode of operation: 24 bits 192 kHz 
 

Frequency response (40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.01, -0.08 Excellent
Noise level, dB (A): -97.4 Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A): 97.3 Excellent
THD, %: 0.0023 Excellent
Intermodulation distortions, %: 0.630 Bad
Channel crosstalk, dB: -98.0 Excellent

General performance: Very good 

See the detailed results for the front output for 24 bits 192 kHz. 

So, the main problem of the Audigy2 family is the lack of a mode of signal passage without forced processing. That is why the potential of the high-quality DACs is not made used of. Another interesting fact: the measurement results of the Audigy2 and Audigy2 Platinum eX installed into the same test system coincide. 

Line-in

As you can see, it brings no advantages to place the ADC outside a PC case. The card is of little use for professional purposes and quality recording. 

Mode of operation: 16 bits 44 kHz 
 

Frequency response (40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.10, -0.23 Very good
Noise level, dB (A): -87.8 Good
Dynamic range, dB (A): 88.0 Good
THD, %: 0.0020 Excellent
Intermodulation distortions, %: 0.010 Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB: -81.9 Very good

General performance: Very good 

See the detailed results for the line-in for 16 bits 44 kHz. 

Mode of operation: 24 bits 96 kHz 
 

Frequency response (40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.02, -0.19 Very good
Noise level, dB (A): -89.6 Good
Dynamic range, dB (A): 89.4 Good
THD, %: 0.0021 Excellent
Intermodulation distortions, %: 0.0095 Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB: -80.6 Very good

General performance: Very good 

See the detailed results for the line-in for 24 bits 96 kHz. 

Digital-out

The data transfer with bit accuracy is possible only in the mode of 24 bits 96 kHz and only for data in the format of 24 bits 96 kHz when the signal passes by the DSP algorithms. That is why we recommend the software sample rate conversion (SSRC). 

Mode of operation: 16 bits 44 kHz 
 

Frequency response (40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.06, -0.19 Very good
Noise level, dB (A): -95.2 Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A): 94.0 Very good
THD, %: 0.0030 Excellent
Intermodulation distortions, %: 0.0093 Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB: -96.0 Excellent

General performance: Very good 




The THD spectrogram shows that the signal goes with distortions at 44kHz

See the detailed results for the digital-out for 16 bits 44 kHz. 

Mode of operation: 16 bits 48 kHz 
 
 

Frequency response (40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.02, -0.12 Excellent
Noise level, dB (A): -98.0 Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A): 96.3 Excellent
THD, %: 0.0024 Excellent
Intermodulation distortions, %: 0.0071 Excellent
Channel crosstalk, dB: -96.0 Excellent

General performance: Excellent 




The THD spectrogram demonstrates a bit better scores at 48 kHz

See the detailed results for the digital-out for 16 bits 48 kHz. 

Mode of operation: 24 bits 96 kHz 
 

Frequency response (40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.00, -0.00 Excellent
Noise level, dB (A): -101.0 Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A): 100.9 Excellent
THD, %: 0.0003 Excellent
Intermodulation distortions, %: 0.0037 Excellent
Channel crosstalk, dB: -100.8 Excellent

General performance: Excellent 




Fortunately, the signal is transferred bit to bit at 24 bits 96 kHz

See the detailed results for the digital-out for 24 bits 96 kHz. 

RightMark 3DSound Tests 

DirectSound diagnostics

Device: SB Audigy Audio [8400]

Features:
DirectSound 3D Hardware present 
DirectSound 2D Hardware present 
EAX 1 present 
EAX 2 present 
EAX 3 present 

Rates:
dwMinSecondarySampleRate 4000 
dwMaxSecondarySampleRate 192000 

Free buffers stats:
dwFreeHw3DAllBuffers 62 
dwFreeHw3DStaticBuffers 62 
dwFreeHw3DStreamingBuffers 62 
dwFreeHwMixingAllBuffers 62 
dwFreeHwMixingStaticBuffers 62 
dwFreeHwMixingStreamingBuffers 62 

Max buffers stats:
dwMaxHwMixingAllBuffers 64 
dwMaxHwMixingStaticBuffers 64 
dwMaxHwMixingStreamingBuffers 64 
dwMaxHw3DAllBuffers 64 
dwMaxHw3DStaticBuffers 64 
dwMaxHw3DStreamingBuffers 64

CPU utilization




Windows XP SP1, DirectX8.1, Athlon XP 2100+, KT333, DDR333.


  M-Audio Revolution 7.1 Audiotrak 
ProDigy 7.1
Audigy2 
(drivers supplied with card)
Audigy2 (latest drivers)
DirectSound 3D 
16 buffers 
10/1.2 5.9/0.3 1.7/0.3 1.9/0.3
DirectSound 3D + EAX2 
16 buffers 
12/1.2 11.0/0.5 2.1/0.3 1.9/0.3
DirectSound 3D 
32 buffers
12/1.4 9.8/0.4 3.6/0.7 3.8/0.6
DirectSound 3D + EAX2 
32 buffers
21/1.3 17.0/0.4 4.0/0.7 3.8/0.6

CPU load (%) is given for different modes of operation and for a different number of DirectSound buffers. The average value and dispersion go after the slash (mean of distribution and standard deviation) for the 2-minute test and with accidental releases of the system discounted (swap etc.). 

Creative now frequently updates drivers with performance optimization. We have tested the Audigy2 card with the drivers bundled with it and with the updated version AUD2DRVLB030425. 

Subjective tests

The Event 20/20bas active monitors were used in the comparison tests. We noticed no difference between the Audigy2 Platinum and Audigy2 Platinum eX, - the Platinum eX leaves the same impression as the Audigy2. You can read about quality of the Audigy2 and its comparison with other modern sound cards in the following reviews: Audiotrak Prodigy7.1, Terratec Aureon 7.1 Space, M-Audio Revolution 7.1

Conclusion

The Audigy2 Platinum eX an a perfect choice for a gamer, but wouldn't suite an audiophile or a professional musician. We'd recommend to have a separate card for such purposes and leave the Audigy2 for game applications. 

Highs

  • beautiful design;
  • excellent software (interactive presentations, DVD-Audio, high-quality demo sample 24/192);
  • EAX3.0 support, the best quality in games (it concerns the whole Audigy2 family);
  • ASIO 2.0 24/96;
  • remote control.

Lows

  • relatively expensive;
  • DACs are not made use of in full (in the whole Audigy2 line);
  • lack of bit-by-bit transfer of the digital-out;
  • no quality improvement as compared to the ordinary Audigy2;
  • no DVD-Video player;
  • reproduction of graphics data from DVD-Audio unsupported.

 


Grigory Liadov (grigory@ixbt.com

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