Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 NX – External Sound Card

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  • Review Price: £77.00

It’s staggering to think that it’s now 15 years since Creative launched the original Sound Blaster card. Computer hardware has come a long way since then, but the Sound Blaster series is still going strong, though of course it has had to evolve radically to maintain its appeal. Among the features boasted by the Audigy 2 NX are 24bit audio playback and recording, plus Dolby Digital EX and DVD Audio support – a far cry from the 11-voice FM synthesiser and 8bit mono recording capabilities of the first Sound Blaster.


The challenge for sound card manufacturers nowadays is that many people are perfectly happy with their motherboard’s integrated audio capabilities. Audiophiles appreciate the improved quality offered by well-designed sound cards, but many people can’t tell the difference. So Creative’s approach has been to pack its cards with impressive-looking features, and focus on external audio devices rather than internal ones.


External audio devices have a couple of obvious benefits over internal ones. For a start, they’re much easier to install. There’s no need to open up the case – you can simply plug an external sound card into a spare USB socket, install the drivers and you’re in business. And of course, you can use an external device with a laptop just as easily as you can with a desktop machine.


USB should be around for long time, unlike PCI, which is going to gradually fade away over the next couple of years. If you were to buy a PCI internal sound card right now, you’ll probably have to ditch it and buy a new PCI-Express one when you next upgrade your machine, whereas a USB device may give you a few extra years of service.


Probably the biggest advantage that external devices offer, however, is an abundance of space for input and output sockets. The Audigy 2 NX has far more sockets than a typical internal sound card. Arranged around the right-hand side and rear of the unit are three analogue speaker outputs, an S/PDIF socket, optical digital input and output connectors, a headphone jack, plus line and microphone inputs, along with the obligatory USB and power sockets.


On the top of the device are dials for controlling the master and microphone volumes. They look similar, but in fact they behave quite differently. The master volume dial is notched and can be spun endlessly in either direction, and so functions as a relative volume control rather than an absolute one. The microphone volume control is much more conventional, as it isn’t notched, and it only spins through 270 degrees between minimum and maximum levels.


Also adorning the top of the unit are a couple of indicator LEDs, and buttons for power, muting the output, and toggling the CMSS mode on and off (more on that in a moment).


Aside from the unit itself, the box contains a power adapter and leads, a 4-in-1 speaker audio cable, two software CDs, and a neat little remote control which is powered by a watch battery (also provided).


Setting everything up doesn’t take long, but Creative doesn’t make life particular easy for newcomers to the world of PC audio. For a start, the input and output sockets aren’t colour coded, so you’ll need to consult the fold-out Quick Start sheet in order to work out which colour-coded connector belongs in each of the NX’s output sockets.


Speaking of the Quick Start sheet, it’s astonishingly brief. It provides a couple of helpful diagrams and instructions in a glut of languages, but only covers the absolute basics. A detailed user guide is provided on one of the software discs, but this is only mentioned in passing on the Quick Start sheet.