by June 7, 2002 0 comments



Some time back we had reviewed Creative’s sound card—the Audigy. The Extigy is an external version of the same, with a few differences. It aims to bring quality audio to laptops, till now stuck with on-board sound, without any hope of an upgrade. Those who are scared of opening their PCs to install a sound card will also find Extigy a good option. Plus people with drab onboard sound also get an opportunity to experience true 5.1 surround sound with the
Extigy. 

Its USB interface makes it a breeze to set up. A small problem though, is that it’s still stuck at USB 1.1, even though USB 2.0 is becoming the standard nowadays. This could lead to bandwidth problems for those who do a lot of MIDI processing. 

Though the Extigy is a cousin of the Audigy, it doesn’t have the same Audigy processor, but a derivative, namely, the DSP CA0181-DCT. It features a Dolby Digital decoder on the hardware, a Zoran ZR38601 chip. It also processes EAX (Environmental Audio) and CMSS (Creative Multi-Speaker Surround). 

The Extigy comes with a full featured remote control to operate all the card’s functions

CREATIVE BLASTER EXTIGY
Price: Rs 12,900
Features: Multitude of inputs and outputs including optical and SPDIF; hardware Dolby Digital decoding; EAX ADVANCED HD and CMSS audio enhancements, USB plug-n-play
Pros: Easy to set up, gives true 5.1 sound even in stand-alone mode, very low noise level, and excellent sound quality over entire audible range
Cons: No support for DTS decoding and MIDI SoundFonts 
Contact: Compuage Infocom, Mumbai. Tel: 022-8305500—04.E-
Email: hemesh@compuageindia.com 

Two capabilities we missed having were DTS decoding, and lack of support for SoundFonts on the MIDI front. Being a fairly well-equipped card, one would expect it to have these features also.

The card claims to give you stunning audio clarity at 24bits/96kHz, the same as Audigy, and a claimed Signal-to-noise ratio of 100dB.

The Extigy has an extensive array of connectors as you can see from the two pictures on this page. It runs off a 12V DC power supply, and there’s also a full featured remote control to operate all the card’s functions, which are shown on your computer monitor as an OSD (onscreen display).

Working
Apart from being a full-featured external sound card, the Extigy can even work stand-alone. Wire it up to a DVD player through the SPDIF-in connector and utilize its Dolby Digital decoding capabilities to get the sound output. With support for EAX 1.0 and 2.0, it gives you amazing realism. While EAX 1.0 gives you positional sound, echo and reflected sounds, EAX 2.0 goes a step ahead and also incorporates obstruction and occlusion. However, the Extigy does not support multiple environments simultaneously (which was there in the Audigy). Apart from this, it also features audio enhancement features like Audio Clean-up, Time scaling and DREAM. Audio Clean-up is useful in removing hiss and scratches from old recordings like LPs. Time scaling allows you to slow down or speed up the audio content without distorting the pitch. DREAM is also a trademark of Creative that allows interactive positioning of stereo signal frequencies around a listener to simulate a surround environment. 

The CMSS technology works wonders if you use it while playing stereo music on a 5.1 speaker system. Rather than simply replicating the front channels to the rear channels, it also applies positional filtering to enhance the playback. With standard stereo speakers or headphones, however, you might not use CMSS at all because it seems to concentrate the sound in the center with headphones and spread it apart with speakers. 

Performance
The test machine we used was a P4 1.6 GHz with 256 MB RDRAM, a Seagate Barracuda ATA III hard disk, and Windows 2000 (SP2) with Microsoft DirectX 8.1. 

Detected card parameters showed that it supported up to 16 bits/96 kHz on the hardware for analog recording and playback. However, its software can take in 24-bit analog audio, and downmix it to 16-bit for the card to process it, and then it can again upmix it to give a 24-bit output. The card gave an exceptionally good result for Noise level at —99.6 dB. It also gave good quality sound throughout the audible frequency range with minimal hiss or noise. 

The Bottom Line: The Extigy comes with a host of software. For music playback you have Creative PlayCenter, the all-in-one playback utility, which also supports CD-burning. For editing and cleaning audio files (WAV, MP3 or WMA), WaveStudio comes in handy. For streamed audio, Audio Stream Recorder and iStream player are useful utilities. Priced at Rs 12,900, it’s a good feature-rich option for mobile users. 

Ashish Sharma at PCQ Labs

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