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

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.