After facing some minor 24-bit soundcard competition last summer (which has since all but fizzled out), Creative Labs could’ve easily settled into a simple holding pattern with its Sound Blaster Audigy 2, the company’s top offering. But the recently released Audigy 2 ZS Platinum—while not a major upgrade—proves that Creative doesn’t take its market dominance for granted.
For example, the Audigy 2 offered 6.1 speaker support while its main competitors could accommodate 7.1 setups. And although the Audigy 2 offered awesome audio when using DVD-Audio, M-Audio’s Revolution 7.1 had slightly better sound quality. And the Audigy wasn’t quite capable of producing 24-bit on all its seven channels. The Audigy 2 ZS corrects these shortcomings with support for eight-channel audio sets, full 24-bit/96kHz audio on all its channels, and improved audio.
The Audigy 2 ZS sports the same digital audio converters as its predecessor, but Creative says the signal-to-noise ratio has gone from 106dB to 108dB in its newer card. Creative attributes the higher SNR to a redesign of the PCB and its consequent cleaner sound. We tend to believe the claims as our subjective listening tests of 24-bit/96kHz material favored the Audigy 2 ZS’s sound quality over that of the once-superior Revolution 7.1 card.
The Audigy 2 ZS allows you to manage additional satellites via an applet that lets you fine tune the speakers while factoring in elements such as your head size. Also new: a THX tuning applet for proper THX support. In the hardware department, Creative now bundles the Platinum versions of its card with both black and white bezels, and the remote control has been redesigned.
Performance-wise, the Audigy 2 ZS continues to outperform non-DSP based cards such as the Revolution 7.1 in gaming frame-rate tests. Overall, Creative Labs has improved upon an already strong design. Sound Blaster Audigy or Audigy 2 owners needn’t shell out for the update, but anyone still mired in the muddy waters of 16-bit audio would do well to buy the Audigy 2 ZS, and enter the 21st century. --Gordon Mah Ung
Signal-to-noise: Excellent sound, great software bundle, DVD-Audio support.
Noise-to-signal: DVD-Audio lacks title support, not enough of an upgrade for Audigy 2 owners.