How new is the SoundBlaster Audigy?

— 12:00 AM on March 6, 2002

This is a juicy but totally unsubstantiated rumor I'm about to share with you, so beware. It's just too interesting to pass up, though. Folks are talking about some articles like this one on some Chinese-language sites (spotty translation here) that are making some very intriguing claims about Creative's Audigy line of sound cards.

Here's the gist of the rumor: The Audigy's Emu 10K2 chip might not be everything Creative has made it out to be. (Now, I hope no one thinks Creative has been wildly innovative in the first place, but the Audigy and its Emu 10K2 chip have been billed as a truly new product.) Instead, the Emu 10K2 may be nothing more than an Emu 10K1 chip (found in the Live! series) with IEEE 1394 support added. Most of the rest of the improvements Creative claims for the Audigy—especially the 24-bit/96KHz output capabilities—may come courtesy of a separate Philips DAC chip. The other features may be simple driver and software changes.

Apparently, a Chinese or Taiwanese user hacked the drivers and made his SBLive! card into a fully fuctional Audigy, minus the Firewire ports (and, presumably, the Philips DAC).

Now, even if this is all true, I'm not sure this one rises to the level of real news. I haven't paid attention to it much myself, but I have heard from folks in the know that the Audigy's 24-bit/96KHz capabilities don't run all the way through the card's audio pipeline. This Audigy review at GamePC doesn't indicate any real advances in the Emu 10K2 chip. And we all know about Creative's traditional (ahem) breakneck pace of innnovation.

But it would seem that we've seen yet another demonstration of how the audio market differs from real, semiconductor-driven markets like graphics and processors. If ATI or AMD were to launch a "new" product three years after the last revision, give it a new name, and deliver a warmed-over version of the same chip with one new feature, we'd crucify 'em. And rightly so.

For Creative and the market it leads, this kind of thing is par for the course.

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