Creative unleashes Audigy 2 and an iPodalike

When Creative Labs Inc. launched the Audigy sound card towards the end of last year it raised the bar for PC audio. With the announcement Tuesday of its latest release, the Audigy 2, it hopes to do the same again.

Like its forerunner, the Audigy 2 is aimed at true audiophiles and as such contains some high-end features that might not seem immediate 'must haves' for everyday users. Not least of these is true 24bit/96KHz playback and recording to support true DVD-Audio.

DVD-Audio is a new audio format, which hopes to do for the music industry what DVD-video did for the film business -- in other words, replace CDs in the way DVD discs have replaced videotape. Of course, to your average listener the benefits are not quite as evident as they are to a viewer who swaps video for DVD. But as DVD-Audio is easier to protect than CDs the music industry is keen to foist it upon us and there are more titles coming out in this format.

But DVD-Audio isn't the only string to the Audigy 2's bow. And we should hope so too as, Creative's European brand manager, Franco De Bonis, heralds this card as "the greatest evolution in audio since the launch of the Sound Blaster Live".

Other firsts it can boast include THX certification, so you can replicate movie-quality sound at home, Dolby Digital EX support, so you can add an extra rear speaker for improve surround sound, 6.1 surround sound and EAX advanced HD for realistic audio when playing games.

The aim of cramming all these features onto the card is to enable it to stand out from tough competition from cheaper Taiwanese sound cards. "When we launched the Sound Blaster cards they used to be the best for compatibility, but the introduction of PCI [slots] solved these problems, so now we are moving away from this. We want to make quality synonymous with [the Creative brand]. Cheap Taiwanese cards can't match us for quality," explains De Bonis.

The software has also been updated with the introduction of Media Source, which allows you to capture, play, organize and enhance audio files from a single interface. It allows you to adapt sound quality to mimic different environments, for example offering better 3D sound effects for online gaming. It also enables users to clean up poor-quality recordings and regulate volume for MP3 files.

Like the original card, the Audigy 2 will be available in three flavors. The Audigy 2, is priced at AUD$299 and the Audigy 2 Platinum, is to be announced. The high-end Audigy 2 Platinum eX will be available early next year, when pricing will be announced.

Alongside the Audigy 2, Creative has also announced a 6.1 speaker package, the Creative Inspire 6.1 6700, which offers an additional rear satellite speaker. A set of 6.1 MegaWorks speakers is also due out early next year.

The other part of Creative's range that has come in for a revamp are its audio players. Following up on the launch of the Jukebox 3 and the tiny Muvo player, it has unveiled the Jukebox Zen.

This player offers 20GB of storage and a sleek aluminium body that's just 23mm thick. It reminds of nothing so much as Apple's iPod player. Since the iPod now works with Windows, the Zen could be up against tough competition as, despite being smaller than the Jukebox 3, it's not as compact as its rival. Whether or not it will win out over Apple will depend on price and Creative say it will be cheaper than the iPod, but no pricing has been released yet.

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Ursula Seymour

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