Linux and Sound Blaster Audigy 2



Lately, I was going through my computers to see which ones are suitable for a music server. I know, all motherboards have built-in audio but I’ve never liked them. Most sound too bright and are short on bass. Listening through my headphones (a Grado SR80) is quite unbearable.

Since I don’t have many sound cards, I went on ebay and got myself a Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2. I’ve never heard this card before and with all the complaints in cyberspace, I was prepared to write it off if it doesn’t work.

The Audigy 2 is a 2nd generation Audigy that was introduced in September 2002. By all accounts, this is considered a vintage in the computer world. The reason I bought this Audigy 2 is mainly due to Linux. There are not many sound cards that are supported by Linux. I was hoping that perhaps it’s possible to install this older card in one of the Linux distributions.

Anyway, I started with Windows XP, just to see what kind of problems I’m going to have with the drivers. I naturally went to Creative’s website and downloaded the latest drivers but they just wouldn’t accept this card, even though it’s clearly stated Windows XP. After much frustrations, I found a driver that accepted the Audigy 2. I was elated. Now to play some music and see how the Audigy 2 sounds like.

Well, it’s a huge improvement over the built-in audio on the motherboards. The treble doesn’t grate me and there’s more bass. The only issue I have is it sounds mid-fi. The upper bass was intruding into the midrange. Because of that, the vocals are not clear enough. On top of that, the vocals are recessed in the sound stage. Very much like a cheapo boom-box.

I thought to myself, “It ain’t too bad for a 17 year old sound card”. I would definitely choose this over those nasty audio chips on the motherboards. When pitted against my Ausus Xonar DG, the Audigy 2 is not even close. The problem with the Xonar DG is that there are no drivers for Linux. So, I’m stuck with Windows.

Out of curiosity, I decided to try out the Audigy 2 on Windows 7. I wasn’t expecting much. It didn’t sound great with the XP, why would it sound better in Windows 7. How wrong was I. The Audigy 2 sounds totally different. The veil in the vocals has vanished. Overall clarity has taken a quantum leap. Bass tightened up. Vocals are much more forward. Very hi-fi sounding.

That left me scratching my head. I am aware that with computers, the drivers play a role in the sound quality but this is the first time I am witnessing it. Same sound card. Same motherboard. Same headphones. Same music. The only difference is this Windows 7 is a 64 bit version. This is just a guess but I think running the Audigy 2 in a 64 bit OS is the key to unlocking it’s true potential.

Encouraged by this development, the next step is to see whether Linux will accept this sound card. I found one of my pcs that’s loaded with Linux Mint. This Mint is the latest 18.3 and fully updated. Best of all, it’s 64 bit.

I mounted the Audigy 2 into one of the PCI slots on the motherboard and booted up Mint. There were no complaints during the boot up process. When Mint came on, I checked whether it could detect the Audigy 2. To my utter surprise, it not only detected it, it even installed it.

So, my Mint 18.3 already has the Audigy 2 drivers in the distribution. And when I played some music with Audacious, it sounded wonderful. In fact, better than Windows 7 (64 bit). This level of reproduction is as good as a quality stand alone CD player.

Now that I know Audigy 2 can work with Mint, the next question is how about the other distributions. Will they install Audigy 2 automatically?

I took a spare hard drive and installed a 64 bit Linux-Lite. As the name implies, this is a lighter version of Linux. It runs faster but has less frills than Ubuntu. After the installation, I did a full update, just to be sure. Checked on Audigy 2 and there was none. Does that mean that it didn’t even detect the Audigy 2?

I searched the internet and found some information on how to get Audigy 2 working. I went to Terminal and typed in alsamixer. What came on is the screen below. I clicked F6 and true enough, one of the cards was Audigy 2. Now I get it. I have to manually select the sound card through the alsamixer.

The next step is to see what are the sound drivers in Linux-Lite. In Terminal, I typed in cat /proc/asound/cards and it flagged three drivers, a HDA Intel at irq 28, a HDA nVidia at irq 17 and finally the Audigy 2 Platimum at irq 16.

I then proceeded to install the gnome alsamixer and these are the settings to get the Audigy 2 to work. Under Configuration, OFF the Built-in Audio.

The next step is to go the the Output Devices and set it to what is shown below. These final steps will direct Audacious to use the Audigy 2.

To round everything off, if you don’t want the hassle, use Linux Mint 18.3. I believe the latest Mint or Ubuntu versions will automatically install Audigy 2 too.

Please note that for a 64 bit OS, you’ll need a minimum of 4GB of memory. And if you intend to use it for internet, go for a fast cpu. The system I’m running this Linux-Lite is an elder socket 775 Intel DG41RQ motherboard with a Core 2 Quad Q8200 (2.33GHz) processor supported with 4GB of DDR2 800MHz ram. It’s not the latest Intel i7 but it’s perfectly good enough for my needs.