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Creative Audigy2 ZS Sound Card

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On September 30, 2003 Creative held a press conference in Moscow to introduce its new multimedia products that extended all product series of this company. Creative unveiled a whole number of active speaker systems with two-way satellites. Besides, the sound card series were changed significantly as well. Now Live! 5.1 is to be replaced by 5.1-channel Audigy LS with 24/96 format support, while Audigy and Audigy2 — by Audigy2 ZS.

For the full information visit the company's website. Besides, a useful comparative summary table is published at www.soundblaster.com.


Before you read this article, we recommend you to read other review related to Audigy2, if you haven't seen them yet: Creative Audigy2 Sound Card Family, Creative Audigy2 Platinum eX Sound Card Review. These materials offer the detailed description of the DVD-Audio format as well as many other useful things that we'll omit in this article.

Let's briefly list the key differences between Audigy2 ZS and Audigy2:

  1. The new analog output mode (7.1) added to the existing 6.1;
  2. 108dBA SNR instead of 106dBA (claimed for analog output at 2V signal with AES17 filter);
  3. DTS ES support in addition to Dolby Digital Surround EX;
  4. ASIO2 support, the additional 24/96 mode (offered by A2 Platinum eX);
  5. Bundled software changes: the new THX settings panel, multiband equalizer, karaoke mode;
  6. New EAX4 (still virtual; to be actually implemented closer to the year-end alongside updated drivers).

That not bad at all, deserves to be named Audigy3 already! However Creative chose Audigy2 ZS and also introduced confusing Audigy LS (5.1-channel card — actually an Audigy without IEEE1394) and Audigy2 NS (an external 5.1-channel USB device supporting 24/96).

Audigy2 ZS: appearance, comparison with Audigy2

Comparing to Audigy2, the new ZS model is almost the same. It has the same circuitry, as Player and Platinum models, except for another analog output.

The additional 7th and 8th channels are routed via the third signal terminal in the 2nd and 3rd analog output. So, unlike all other 7.1-channel solutions, it requires special mini-jacks and cabling.

By the way, Creative incorrectly names the surround channels "side channels" (for the right terms and the description of 6.1/7.1-channel audio visit www.dolby.com or read our article Creative Inspire 6.1 6700 Active Acoustic System).

Audigy2 ZS (SB0350) — the new card; also in the Platinum variant

(SB0240) — the previous-generation card for comparison

If you look closer, you will notice the last marking letters on the primary DSP and DAC have changed: now it's CA0102-ICT instead of CA0102-IAT and CS4382-KQ instead of CS4382-KEP.

DSP is still called Audigy2, without "ZS" postfix. It's also interesting that "KQ" that appeared on Audigy2 Platinum eX DAC migrated to DACs of all the new ZS cards. I haven't found any information about the difference between KEP and KQ versions in the Web (including the official website). And ADC is the same Philips UDA1361T.

However there are differences between the older and newer top-end external models — Audigy2 Platinum eX and Audigy2 ZS Platinum Pro. The latter has Sigmatel STAC9721T codec along with AUX_IN and CD_SPDIF connectors absent in the lower-end models. This is very strange, considering their faint usability and the manufacturer's claim that these have been removed to improve the sound quality of Platinum eX.

Audigy2 ZS Platinum Pro (SB0360) — the new top model
(coupled with external module)

Audigy2 Platinum eX (SB0280) — the previous-generation top model
for comparison

The external module remained the same as Platinum eX had (see Creative Audigy2 Platinum eX Sound Card Review). The conducted experiment indicated the complete interchangeability of "newer" and "older" modules. And even the "106dB SNR" related to Audigy2 is still there!

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