[review] Creative Audigy Z2 notebook

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So i was originally torn b/t the creative usb soundcards and this one. This one was more expensive, but supposedly offered more features. Also, between my 2 external usb drives, keyspan remote, and various other usb devices, i figured it'd be nice to have fewer wires going everywhere. I already had a pair of Z-3500s, so I won?t be able to comment on the optical connections, only analogue out.

Buying - So if you venture on to Amazon, you'll find that they sell like 3 different versions of this sound card. One comes in a box, one comes in a fancy plastic case thingy, and another comes in a simple plastic case thing, and their prices differ by like $10 each. From what I?ve read, it's all the same card, you just pay extra for the package. I bought the box version; b/c at the time there was a rebate from creative, which made it less expensive than the rest. I ordered it, and received it only a few days later. Nice job. Always had a good experience when dealing with Amazon, and their free shipping.

Initial impressions - So when I got the box, I was surprised to see how thick the cardboard was. it suddenly made sense why they felt the need to charge more for the box, as the packaging was quite nice. Everything was packaged quite nicely, and it came with some ear buds that they market as superior or whatever. Either way, I never used them. It came with 2 disks, one with the software, and one with a DVD sampler of 5.1 music. More later on the media. The card was packaged securely and came with a little flimsy plastic case thing. I lost it, and don't plan on attempting to track it down. Sad excuse for a case.

Installing - I popped in the installer disk, prepared to load up the software. Problem. QuickTime 7 clashes with the installer program. ugh. Uninstall QuickTime 7, here we go. I see that they bundled a lot of other software with the drivers, so I opt to install hem, give them a whirl, and then if I don't like them, I?ll just uninstall. Surely they wouldn't want to put spy ware on my computer, as I?m a PAYING customer. Wrong. After the install completed, i find AOL icons on my desktop. Wonderful. I reboot, and find that they've also installed a dock type thing on the top of my screen, which is to control their "media center", and a couple icons to my system tray. A quick trip to the control panel, I change the startup, media bar, and useless system tray icons gone.

Performance -

*music - After playing with the settings, I max out all the settings for optimum quality sound. (IBM t41p w/ gig of ram... handles it just fine). I wired it up to my speakers, and decided to try out the card with itunes. So far so good. I set the cmss to "stereo sound", nice matrix of sound. Fills the room nicely. I put on some lower quality mp3's that i had, but never listened to b/c of their poor sound quality. Gorillaz, which was ripped at 96kbps mp3. I used to never listen to it b/c of all the hiss and crackle. Needless to say, the card cleaned up the sound wonderfully. Although the sound isn't as dynamic as 320 vbr, I can't complain. I am able to listen to the cd again... Overall very impressed by the card. it does a very nice job of cleaning up the sound.

*games - i don't actually game. I have a copy of the Unreal Tournament 2004 demo that I fiddle with, and a copy of HL2, that I also just fiddle with. Load them up, change the settings to 5.1. Very nice. Spinning around the room, you hear the sounds move to the according speakers. Suddenly CS is easier to play, as i know when somone is behind me, and not just thinking they're somewhere to my left. I hear bullets and footsteps from all angles. I found myself playing CS all over again.

*movies - At first I had trouble getting my DVD player (windvd) to play in 5.1. I couldn't figure out how to enable it, but after much fiddling, I found where you assign it to send the sound to an external dts source, instead of analogue 2-channel. Watching movies is nice. I already have 5.1 for my tv, but it's a nice touch. I find myself watching WMVHD movies on my computer just "cuz".

Overall - I ended up uninstalling the media center program, as i just never used it. I prefer the layout of itunes, as I have 45 gigs of music, and once you're used to one form of categorizing them, it's difficult to switch. I am definitely a happy customer with this sound card. It's a HUGE improvement over my onboard ac97 sound card.

..more to add later...

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