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Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro review: Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro

If you spare no expense on your PC's audio output, Creative's new Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro is easily the hardware for you.

Nathaniel Wilkins

See full bio
5 min read

Compared to the older Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro ($250), the Audigy 4 Pro brings a handful of noteworthy, if not earthshaking, upgrades. We wouldn't recommend upgrading if you already have the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro; the two cards are just too similar. If you're building a PC from scratch, however, or moving up from a scrappy, 2-channel sound card, the Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro is the best game in town.

8.3

Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro

The Good

Supports DTS ES and Dolby Digital EX 6.1 decoding; 7.1-channel output; 24-bit/96KHz output; supports DVD-Audio; extensive external-device connectivity.

The Bad

No USB 2.0 port; software suite is not intuitive; pricey; Entertainment Center software can't display CD track info.

The Bottom Line

Creative's Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro is the must-have sound card for hard-core gamers, PC-theater aficionados, and audiophiles.
Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro
For the past 15 years, Creative Sound Blaster sound cards have been the gold standard in consumer-level PC audio. Creative's latest flagship sound card for desktop PCs, the $299 Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro, is the company's most advanced and refined to date. Highlights include 7.1-channel output, support for advanced Dolby and DTS home audio standards, excellent overall sound quality, an external I/O hub, and a remote control. Overkill for casual users, the Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro is a good fit for hard-core gamers, PC-based home-theater enthusiasts, and audio buffs.

For starters, the Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro is rated as having 113dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). That's a nominal improvement over the Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro's rated 108dB SNR, but it's near impossible to pick out the difference, especially if you don't have golden ears. It's worth noting that the Sound Blaster we evaluated came with two games, Hitman: Contracts and Thief: Deadly Shadows.

What else you'll find inside the box
Creative's new Entertainment Center software, which you can launch via the bundled remote, provides a few of the same capabilities as Microsoft Windows Media Center OS. Using the remote's keypad, you can easily select the music, video, or photo menu options to navigate and play such files housed on your PC. You can fire up a DVD (requires separate DVD-player software--not included) or a CD and even launch and control a PowerPoint presentation. Unfortunately, the software doesn't look up and display CD track titles.

The external control modules for the Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro and the Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro are strikingly similar. Standard coaxial and optical digital-audio inputs and outputs, as well as a miniplug digital-audio output, facilitate connecting digital multimedia speakers and a variety of audio devices to your PC for playback and recording. Dual FireWire ports let you attach digital camcorders, audio players, and other devices. A quarter-inch line/guitar input, a quarter-inch line/mic input, and a MIDI input/output set make the Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro a suitable foundation for a basic home recording studio. The front panel's quarter-inch headphone jack makes it easy to plug in for private listening, while the neighboring volume knob lets you keep the action under control. A microphone gain control and a Creative Multi Speaker Surround (CMSS is Creative's upmixing/downmixing/headphone spatialization technology) on/off button also reside on the control module's front panel.

Two Creative proprietary AD Link ports connect the external control module to the internal PCI sound card, which itself has three analog miniplug outputs to accommodate multimedia speaker sets with up to 7.1 channels. The package doesn't lack much, but we do wish the Audigy 4 Pro included a few USB 2.0 ports and perhaps a stereo RCA analog audio output to facilitate a direct, adapter-free connection with our NHT Pro M-00-powered studio monitors or our Pioneer Elite A-35R stereo amplifier, which doesn't have digital inputs.

Getting set up
As long as you're not afraid to open up your PC, setting up the Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro is a straightforward process: install the PCI card in your PC, connect the I/O hub, install the software, and connect your speakers. Software installation took approximately 30 minutes in our test, which drags things out a bit. A THX-certified setup utility helps you calibrate the individual speaker levels and offers bass-management features to enhance subwoofer performance. The software suite includes numerous applications, ranging from a basic audio recorder to a virtual MIDI synthesizer and a multiband equalizer. Right-click the Sound Blaster icon in the Windows system tray, and you can select any of nine options to launch the desired Sound Blaster application; you'll find even more options in the Windows Start menu. The catch is, choosing the right Sound Blaster application to complete a specific task isn't always obvious. For instance, both the THX Setup Console and the Speaker Settings application have bass-management features.

With built-in Dolby Digital EX 6.1 and DTS ES decoding, the Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro has the brains required to get the most out of virtually any multimedia speaker set with up to 7.1 channels. The Jurassic Park DVD's Tyrannosaurus rex scene sounded suitably huge with the Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro connected to our Logitech's Z-5500 Digital 5.1-channel multimedia speaker set.

Although most people probably don't listen to high-resolution audio sources on a PC, that didn't stop us from firing up Fleetwood Mac's Rumors DVD-Audio disc when we wanted to test the Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro's sonic subtleties. Tracks such as "The Chain" sounded clean, dynamic, and three-dimensional. When we streamed audio from Rhapsody, a handful of Creative's equalization presets, such as Rock and Pop, delivered a respectable tonal balance, although most tracks sounded better without equalization. If your multimedia speakers overemphasize a particular frequency, your best option is to make adjustments with the software's multiband graphic equalizer. Creative's CMSS effects did a decent job of upmixing 2-channel stereo music for our 5.1-channel speakers and made tracks such as Sonic Youth's "Dirty Boots" sound bigger through headphones.

Like the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro, the Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro supports the Microsoft DirectSound 3D standard to render game sound in up to 7.1 audio channels. EAX 4.0 Advanced HD-enabled games can further leverage the card's sophisticated environment-rendering capabilities. When we played Half-Life 2 Deathmatch, the results were excellent. Rockets seemed to whoosh right by our desk before thunderously exploding. Sonic queues, such as small-arms fire and footsteps, made it easier to track enemies. Especially in Thief: Deadly Shadows, the sound card did an excellent job of matching visual environments with the correct acoustics. For instance, our character's footsteps convincingly echoed as he walked through the desolate, stony corridors of an old inn.

8.3

Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 4 Pro

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8
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