I admit that I have been rather ambivalent towards Creative sound cards. While they provide sound cards laden with features and great software bundles, what comes with a lot of features inevitably comes a lot of bugs. That's feature-creep. However, Creative did a good job of working things out for the Audigy2 ZS and even added several new features. It's not slow, it doesn't sound half bad, and its drivers dont suck.
That's about the highest praise I can muster.
I still can't recommend the Audigy2 ZS to audiophiles, however. It has exceptional but not audiophile-grade sound, no matter what Creative PR might tell you. There is still some question if it is truly performing at 24-bit standards or not. It would do a world of good for Creative to ditch the emu10K and upgrade to a fully 24-bit DSP. In addition, for recording musicians it would be wise to look for something a little more professional.
However, for the hardcore the Audigy2 ZS is the definitive sound card for games. It literally crushed the competition, most dramatically with the UT2004 Demo by running 15 to 20FPS faster. In Call of Duty, sound placement with EAX 3.0 was perfect, and it outran the Prodigy 7.1 by a good 12%. That's pretty dramatic. Of course not everybody plays FPS games. But for those that do, the Audigy2 ZS is a spectacular complement for a fast machine.
It also has more features than any other manufacturer, EAX 4.0, 7.1 channels, Dolby ES and DTS-ES, special AdvancedHD effects for amatuer musicians, rather stable drivers, and very high quality analog output. On top of all that, Creative never scrimps on hardware quality. When was the last time you got a bum SoundBlaster?
I'm not going to give Creative's Audigy2 ZS an Editor's Choice. Why, you ask? What's the point? There's the ZS, and then there's everything else. You wouldn't give a rhinoceros an Editor's Choice for being a rhinoceros. You know what the ZS is good for and why you want one. You don't need my opinion on the subject.
Until the competition can come up with something that can compete with the Audigy2 ZS on features and performance, then there is really nothing to compare it to.
Stuff That's Always at the End
Special thanks as always to Creative Labs Europe and Hilbert Hagedoorn, The Man.
Word count: 3,705.
Dedicated to the letter Z.
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