A Prima Donna on PC: Creative Labs Audigy 2

Interview With Franco De Bonis, Worldwide Audio Sales/ Marketing Manager

Q: Are there major changes in the Audigy 2 DSP compared to the Audigy?

Is the better quality observed mainly due to DACs and other components changes, or is it due to improvement of the DSP?

Although loosely based on the original design, the Audigy 2 silicon has been improved over the Audigy. There are more gates in the chip to handle specific enhanced features. For instance, it was upgraded to support a clean 24 bit/ 96kHz and 24 bit/ 192kHz path, you will find that the Reverb algorithms are greatly improved, as is the performance of EAX ADVANCED HD in that we can now support 64 3D hardware voices. This improves overall gaming audio quality and performance. However, as you have observed, the biggest improvements in quality are clearly due to our implementation of extremely high quality components, such as the multi-channel DAC and ADC.

Q: To what kind of users is the Audigy 2 aimed?

Sound Blaster Audigy 2 is aimed at the PC users who are looking for a quality audio experience in whatever they do. Not just quality playback, but quality performance, too. Whether a gamer, music lover, musician, or MP3 enthusiast, Audigy 2 provides the features and quality for the best experience on the PC.

Q: What would you say to a gamer that already has, let's say, an nForce

motherboard with analog and digital ouputs, to convince him that an Audigy 2 would enhance his gaming time?

This is simple and obvious. Nothing can beat the experience of playing an EAX ADVANCED HD enabled game on a Sound Blaster Audigy 2! Not only does EAX ADVANCED HD vastly improve the gaming experience, but, coupled with 6.1 outputs, you really have a whole new gaming experience! Now, you have to remember that the nForce was originally developed for the X-Box. This means that the technology was developed for the audio to be played through the audio system in someone's living room (like every other console out there). Because of this, it achieves multi-channel audio playback by encoding the audio stream into Dolby Digital in real-time, which then travels to the external decoder to be decoded and played out. This achieves multi-channel audio but inherently adds latency into the playback of the audio stream, which for certain types of games is not a problem, but for any title that requires precise syncing of audio with the action, it is not a good experience.

In addition, there are other issues with the nForce, which our implementation resolves. A quick example is that we can decode Dolby Digital in our driver, giving users the freedom to choose any software DVD player, and we will be able to deliver multi-channel playback. With the nForce, a user must use the software DVD player that ships with the solution, as it is this software that the Dolby decodes. This means that, as titles appear with Dolby Digital encoded music, we will be able to decode that stream, mix it together with the DS3D/ EAX stream, and play it out. This is not possible on the nForce.

Finally, in talking to our customers, we have found that nobody is just a "gamer." Anyone who plays games on the PC has other interests, too. Whether it's simply MP3 playback or he or she is a real audio enthusiast who wants to experience DVD-Audio, or wants to watch Dolby Digital EX movies, or record audio and music, or even just wants to make home movies using a DV camera through our SB1394/ FireWire interface, Sound Blaster Audigy enables all of these. Our competitors provide a good experience in one area, but cannot match our performance or deliver in every area.

Q: The Audigy 2 DSP and the effects engine are still working internally in 48 KHz, is there any plan in the future to get a full 24 bits DSP without resampling?

There are always plans to improve our technology more and more. This is one of many areas we are considering based on user requirements, etc.

Q: You chose to support Dolby Digital EX but not DTS; do you think DTS

is not interesting, or is it just a matter of cost?

There are a number of issues to define/ resolve in supporting any technology. One is user requirement and the value it adds to a product. We are constantly appraising this and will react accordingly. Secondly are the business and contractual aspects. If the two can come together, then the technology can be rolled out. DTS may be an area of support for the future, dependent on user requirement and business clearance.

Q: The digital outputs are disabled during DVD Audio playback, are there

any plans to add more Digital Right Management and copy limitations to the Audigy 2 or any future product?

At Creative we don't look at it as adding "limitations" to our technology. We wanted to add DVD-Audio, which we feel (and I am sure all your readers will agree) adds a massive benefit to our product line. However, DVD-Audio incorporates certain copy-protection features that MUST be in place before support of the format is allowed. This is not unique to our card. Even standard DVD-Audio players are not allowed any form of "bit-for-bit" digital output while playing DVD-Audio. Some solutions use proprietary digital connections to deliver the digital content to their amp, etc., which means that you can't plug the digital output into a digital recording device.

Therefore as an "Enabler," we evaluate the benefit of a format against the limitations to the user. For instance, we also support WMA. This has requirements to support their DRM implementation, which we do. Remember that all these technologies do NOT stop you from making personal copies of unprotected media. They simply protect that content using the protection methods of the format.

In short, will we ever add generic "Copy-Protection" technologies to our products that stop users doing what they want with their music/ audio? No.

Will we ever add more formats that may incorporate stringent copy-protection technologies to protect itself? Most definitely, if the format is desirable to our users.

Finally, although there may be very stringent copy-protection formats, it is normally in the field of protecting "exact" digital copies. There is normally flexibility where analog/ low quality copies wish to be made. For instance, the DVD-Audio format does give some flexibility in the areas of 16 bit/ 44.1kHz Digital outputs, or for making analog copies. It was not possible to enable this from day one, but we will work to expose this and provide as much flexibility to our users as we move forward.