If you believe that your new laptop can rival high-end desktop PCs in audio output, you're sadly mistaken. Even the most advanced desktop-replacement laptops are deficient in the sound department. Here to add more boom to your laptop is the $129.99 Creative USB Sound Blaster Audigy 2 NX. The low-profile, easy-to-use package upgrades the 16-bit audio found in most laptops to 24-bit sound resolution while delivering full 7.1-channel support. With a bevy of audio inputs and outputs, the highly flexible Audigy 2 NX is primed for turning laptops into powerful home entertainment devices.
Housed in an external box that's a smidge larger than a PDA, the Audigy 2 NX requires a separate power cable and connects via USB 2.0. It is also studded with useful connections. Four minijack audio outputs, one of which doubles as a headphone jack, provide both 5.1- and 7.1-channel PC speaker support. Line-in and microphone-in jacks are included, as well. Interestingly, the device also features separate ports for optical input and output plus a digital S/PDIF-out connector, which lets you add your home audio/video components to the equation.
Buttons for power, mute, and Creative's proprietary multichannel mixing technology, called CMSS 3D (Creative Multi Speaker Surround), sit on top of the Audigy 2 NX, accompanied by dials for microphone input and audio output volume. And when you're not sitting in front of your laptop, you can control the action with the included IR remote.
Setting up the Audigy 2 NX was relatively simple on our test bed laptop. Windows XP Pro located the device quickly, and installing the driver and the bundled Creative Media Source software was a breeze. We did have to go online for a software update because the shipping drivers supported only 16-bit/48KHz audio over the USB 2.0 connection. Once the update provided full 24-bit/96KHz support, we connected our set of 7.1 PC speakers and were up and running in short order.
Because Creative designed the Audigy 2 NX to decode DVDs mastered in standard Dolby Digital 5.1 and the new Dolby Digital EX 6.1 audio formats, our first task was to pop in a few movies and crank up the volume. Audio in the reference DVDs that we used sounded suitably clean and powerful, especially the Yes Magnification DVD-audio disc that Creative lent us, which was encoded in Dolby Digital EX 6.1.