The Audigy 2 ZS was already well ahead of any other general public sound cards. What are the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro improvements compared to this sound card?
For DSP, there are no real surprises, nor extraordinary innovations, because it has the same chips as the Audigy 2 ZS. The DACs have been modified and are now Cirrus Logic CS4398. This is indeed good news, since the DACs, 4 for the Audigy 4 Pro (to resituate the 8 channels of the 7.1), are the best products manufactured by Cirrus Logic. With a dynamic range of 120 dB and the Direct Stream Digital support (used for the SACD encoding), we can expect from this DAC an improvement in the quality of the Audigy 4 Pro as compared to the Audigy 2ZS that features the CS4382. A simple reminder: the CS4398 is also found in professional sound cards such as the EMU 1212M and 1820M.
On the sound card we also find the Stigmatel STAC9750 chip. This chip supports both internal inputs and outputs. Finally, hardware Sample Rate Converter is directly integrated into the sound card with Cirrus Logic CS8420. This is designed to process all required sampling rate changes to 48 KHz whenever the DSP is used. It features the same technical characteristics as the DAC CS4398 in terms of quality and should therefore provide the least possible destructive resampling (i.e. best quality) with this type of sound card.
What, in fact, are the innovations that allowed this sound card to jump directly into its fourth version (what happened to the third?)? At first sight, it is hard to tell the difference between the Audigy 4 Pro and the Audigy 2 ZS Pro.
The external rack is exactly the same and the sound card design is almost identical. In the rack are a CA0151 chip and a second Cirrus Logic CS8420 chip that was also included in the 2 ZS Platinum Pro. As regards the rack, this chip is used to avoid any loss of synchronization between the rack and the PCI 2.3 sound card. It only features 3 inputs for 7.1 sound (the third corresponds to three outputs: LFE+ central + surround 7.1) and connections to the rack: an external cable named AD_link 1 and an IEEE1394 port named SB1394 for Creative Labs. All the other inputs and outputs are to be found on the rack. It also includes a control knob for sound adjustment, an IR port for the remote control, as well as a second control knob to identify the nature of the input: line in or microphone, as well as the entry level when the microphone function is selected. (For a full list of available inputs and outputs see the table above).
Concerning new materials, we noted two major changes:
- restitution quality improvement by adding higher quality DACs
- new Creative Entertainment Center user interface
Does this justify the release of a new sound card? That is what we are about to find out with this test.
It is also important to remind you that the Audigy 4 Pro offers an enormous amount of functions and specifics. Here are the main ones:
- THX Certification
In itself this does not signify very much, because the professional Lynx Two sound card provides an excellent quality without this certification.
- IEEE1394 support
The Audigy 4 Pro already contains a firewire controller and offers two ports situated on the external rack. It provides an opportunity to connect an external peripheral with this interface such as a hard drive, a MP3 player, a numeric camera etc.
- ASIO 2.0 drivers
The Audigy 4 Pro also allows the opportunity to record directly in 24 bits / 96 KHz with a reduced latency. Zero latency monitoring has also been included:
- From 16 and 24 bits resolution for reading and recording
- 4 to 192 KHz sampling rate for reading
- From 4 to 96 KHz sampling rate for recording
- Simultaneous recording from the three line inputs.
- Numerical reading via S/PDIF in 24 bits / 96 KHz max
- Decoding software integrated to the drivers of the surround Dolby Digital 5.1 and EX, DTS 5.1 and ES formats
- 3d sound developed by Creative (owner technology) CMSS/CMSS 3D for 6/8 channels from any stereo sources
- 64 voices hardware synthesizer with waves table
- DirectSound and DirectSound 3 support with 64 voices supported in hardware.
- 32 bits DSP effects in real time
- DVD-Audio support for playing
- 113 dB theoretical noise signal report
This list positions the Audigy 4 Pro well ahead of the Creative Labs’ competitors. This is however the least we can expect from a $250 sound card.
The Audigy 4 Pro comes with Media Source Go!, a DVD-Audio player, an audio DVD including several surround 24 bits /96 KHz piece of music, Cubase LE, Wavelab Lite, Fruity Loops, Creative Studio 4, Hitman Contracts (EAX 3.0) and Thief : Deadly Shadows (EAX 4.0).