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Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS surround sound

Alastair Grant | Saturday 10 December 2011

I never felt I got the best out of my now old, Creative Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS. It's been great for games, and I have for most of my life used a 4.2 setup. That is, I've got two sets of 2.1 speakers, and set them up as front and back speakers.

The internal amp in a 2.1 setup deals with the high-frequency cutoff for the sub, and passes the bass bits to the subwoofer and the rest to the speakers. This means you get the full whack of sound all around.

I've slowly upgraded my computer speakers over the years, and I now have an old A/V receiver on the front with some old Tannoy book shelf speakers. But with surround sound support in my receiver it feels a little silly having a back set of speakers independently driven.

The Audigy 2 ZS allows you to connect the discrete channels for a 5.1 system. There are three outputs on the back. One deals with stereo front, the next stereo rear, and finally subwoofer and centre speakers. You can even start chucking the TRRS cables at the card to get more discrete channels (6.1/7.1) - just use the old composite A/V minijack cables and figure out which channel goes to what (I think sub is left, centre is video).

Alas, things aren't as easy as just plugging in your sound card to an AV receiver, the main problem is computers don't produce "Dolby Digital" or any other encoded signals, they produce discrete channels. Unfortunately for me it all goes wrong with the subwoofer. As there is no discrete LFE channel getting pumped out of games and your audio player, that channel stays dead; add this with a receiver that is expecting a LFE signal, the sound is suddenly flat.

In summary, after wrestling with working out which output does what, setting it all up through a receiver, you're going to get worse sound than before.

There is now a program called Dolby Digital Live, which at the princely sum of £2 isn't going to break the bank. This will take the output of your computer and bundle it up into a Dolby Digital signal that can be connected to your amp. Unfortunately Creative didn't seem fit to extend the same processing to the analogue outputs, so it provides bugger all benefit.

The Audigy 2 ZS does though have a digital output on it. So I've paid yet more money (£1), to order a mono miniplug to RCA adapter, which I'm lead to believe will allow me to use the digital output from my computer and plug it into my receiver and everything should magically work. The proof of course is in the pudding, we shall see...

Ultimately I would like to see a soundcard that provides this sort of intelligence seamlessly. I feed it an audio signal, it's clever enough to tell that there is only 2 channels, so has the frequency cut over dealt with here. It should be able to provide hardware encoding of digital signals on-the-fly in realtime. Maybe Creative's latest Recon3D might offer some of this, but I doubt it and I'm hearing rumours it doesn't support 3D games from the outset. Go figure.

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