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Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Notebook Review

The Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Notebook PCMCIA card is a replacement for your laptop’s on-board sound card, allowing for up to 7.1 channels of audio output as well as very high quality (96KHz) recording and output. Another benefit of having an external sound card as opposed to on-board audio is that it can increase your gaming and video/DVD playback performance, as the processing load for the audio is no longer on the same processor.

As far as functionality goes, this is pretty complete. Included in the box is the card, a nice set of earbuds, installation CD, DVD-Audio test disc, “Sounds Best on Sound Blaster” disc, and all of your documentation. They even include a metallic “Sound Blaster 24-Bit” sticker to go next to your “Designed for Windows” and Processor stickers on your system.

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Actual installation of the card is extremely simple on Windows XP, as simple as sliding it in and letting Windows do it’s thing; but if you want all of the Creative software on there (and you do), you use the CD. Software included allows you to choose and tweak in and output volumes, calibrate speakers, and use the equalizer. Creative Media Center can be used to play DVD-Audio discs and record high-quality audio.

The card has 2 hardware audio outputs, digital optical audio and analog surround. Using analog surround requires a separate amp, and at least 3 cables to connect to your system, but digital optical out requires only one cable and a receiver or headphones which can decode the Dolby compressed signal. Also, the hardware looks great. It protrudes from your notebook about ¾ of an inch, and is painted a dark, metallic shade of silver, with “Creative” engraved into it. Definitely not the type of card you’d take out in public.

However, the biggest advantage of this card is not the looks, it’s the sounds. It sounds great. I really did not expect to hear such a difference in the sound. I was not just hearing things more directionally, but I was hearing more sound altogether. All of a sudden I could hear sounds in games that simply were not there before, like hums of machines, gunshots in the distance, footsteps; things I could only hear close up before. Even the sounds that I could hear before sound decidedly better. You can feel the “thump” of gunshots, and hear the silence between each one.

The downside? Well, really, there aren’t any bad things I can think of when it comes it this card. It does more than what is expected, and it does it all well. Even the price isn’t bad. For less than $100 you get everything you need to get started. It also comes with the “Sounds Best on Sound Blaster” CD I mentioned before, which contains lots of demos and game clips to show what makes their card the best. I recommend this card whole-heartedly to any notebook PC owner who enjoys audio. Even if they just listen to music occasionally, it’s worth the money for the difference in sound.