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Lifewire / Emily Ramirez
Native 7.1 surround support
Two 3.5mm microphone input jacks
Supports older operating systems like Windows XP
Worse sound output than many motherboards’ onboard audio
No case to protect from electrical interference in PC
The Sound Blaster Audigy RX would have been a great card in 2008, but since its release in 2013 it has since been surpassed by most modern motherboards’ integrated audio. It may still be an interesting option for those that need two microphone inputs or easy-to-use software that heavily modifies voices, but outside of that context it’s hard to recommend.
The Sound Blaster Audigy RX is a six-year-old sound card based in part on another, even older card. Some of that technology is now almost 15 years old, and at this point many motherboard manufacturers have commissioned decent audio chipset makers for their audio. This leaves the RX in a tough, niche market: those with really old systems, those looking for native 7.1 surround support, and those looking for an inexpensive dual-mic recording solution.
The Sound Blaster Audigy RX has a pretty simple design: a PCB with a DAC chip, a low power headphone amplifier, and supporting components. Its main chipset, the E-MU CA-10300-IAT, is the same chipset as the outdated Audigy 4, which launched in 2005. Even at the time of the Audigy 4’s launch, the CA-10300 was already considered less advanced than the Audigy 2’s CA-0102 chipset—hardware that first hit the market over 17 years ago.
For the RX’s $50 MSRP and dusty technology, we’d like to see at least a cover to help mitigate electrical interference from the rest of the PC. Compared to flashier cards like the Sound Blaster Z or ASUS Strix Raid PRO, the RX looks cheap but functional. In terms of end user experience, it’s fine if totally unremarkable.
The Sound Blaster Audigy RX feels outdated in 2019, and even though it’s cheap, it's not a good value proposition.
The RX offers two microphone inputs, one headphone input, several line-ins, and one optical out (it can support a 7.1 surround setup). Those two microphone ports are a rare and welcome inclusion in a sound card, particularly at this price. Just make sure to plug in your components to the appropriate jacks, since the card’s engraved labels are hard to read. It’s installed via a single 1x PCIe connector with no external power required.
Installing the Audigy RX is straightforward, but annoying. Pop it into a PCIe slot on the motherboard, install the driver from Creative Labs, and switch your audio output to the Audigy RX on Windows. The driver comes bundled with a Creative Labs software called EAX studio, which lets you process the audio coming into your microphone and out of your headphones. During the installation process, the installer will not let you access your PC; this interface feels like it should have been outdated fifteen years ago, but here we are in 2019, staring at a black screen for two minutes, waiting for a 250MB installation to finish. Once the installation finishes, you restart your computer and everything should be working. If you’d like to use headphones, we suggest sticking to lower impedance and/or higher sensitivity models; if your smartphone can’t drive it, neither can the Audigy RX.
The most disappointing aspect of the Audigy RX is its “600 ohm amplifier” (this card does not seem to use an amplifier IC; rather it uses a discrete circuit with unknown transistors we could not find data on). Without more data available on power output, this 600 ohm figure doesn’t mean much, but we found it couldn’t properly drive the Sennheiser HD800, which have a 300ohm impedance. When we tested the Audigy RX with the OPPO PM-3, which have a 25-ohm nominal impedance, the card worked fine. The sound was nothing noteworthy—fairly clear with the lower-mids recessed and the bass mildly boosted. It’s a card that fails to outperform modern motherboard audio output, the main point in buying a discrete hardware audio solution.
The Audigy RX’s recording capabilities, however, are better than most onboard recording capabilities. It doesn’t necessarily improve the sound of the recording (that will be more dependent on the microphone), but it has two microphone inputs and an array of live processing effects. This is especially useful for radio or web streaming as it removes the processing burden from the motherboard.
It’s a card that fails to outperform modern motherboard audio output, the main point in buying a discrete hardware audio solution.
The Audigy RX functions on the EAX Studio suite, which gives users EQ settings for their audio. There’s the standard bass boosters and treble adjusters, and more detailed settings for specific frequencies from 20 to 20,000Hz. Where the software really shines is in its reverb, pitch, and distortion effects. These dramatically alter the audio in ways that can, for instance, mask your voice as you speak through the microphone! For those who want a quick preset, there are modes that make you sound like a chipmunk, a “female”/”male” (ie they shift your pitch by an octave), an alien, Darth Vader, and more. If you don’t have a powerful CPU and you value these EQ effects, the Audigy RX offers some solid value. Otherwise, you can usually replicate this processing via 3rd party software solutions on your computer. (Audacity is a great free program for audio processing).
For about $50, the Sound Blaster Audigy RX gets you extra microphone jacks and fun, intuitive software, but with audio quality inferior to most integrated motherboard solutions. This product is based on hardware from the early 2000’s, and it shows.
The RX faces a broad field of competition: another sound card, a dedicated audio interface, an external amp/DAC, even your motherboard’s audio processor. If you have a working sound chipset in your motherboard and it’s from 2015 or later then you probably already have good enough audio for your sub-$100 devices. It’s not worth spending an additional $50 on the Audigy RX unless you’re specifically looking for a dual-mic hardware recording solution; your mobo can already drive a better audio experience for speakers and headphones.
Even if you are searching for a good dual-input recording option, the RX is far from the only choice. While the Behringer U-phoria UMC22 isn’t specifically meant to play back sound, it is a great solution for audio recording for about $50. It supports 2 inputs and 2 outputs to your computer, interfaces with most major audio recording software (including Ableton Live, Apple Logic Pro X, FL Studio 20, and Audacity), and has a preamplifier for microphones. This, coupled with audio-modifying software that can reproduce EAX Studio’s effects, makes it more than a match for the RX’s recording prowess.
If you are looking to improve on your motherboard’s audio output quality for close to the RX’s $50 price point, consider the excellent external amp/DAC from FX Audio, the DAC-X6. It’s externally powered, which helps keep the noise in the system to a minimum, and produces clean audio at a loud volume. It’s an incredible unit for its price, with three digital inputs and an RCA pre-out for controlling a speaker system. Unfortunately, the X6 doesn’t have a mic input, so it’s not suitable for those looking to record better audio.
Impossible to recommend in 2019.
The Sound Blaster Audigy RX feels outdated in 2019, and even though it’s cheap, it's not a good value proposition. The output audio is worse than the average modern motherboard’s audio, leaving it with few redeeming qualities, mostly in the recording department. It has two microphone inputs and fun live audio-adjusting software, but better microphone solutions exist at around $50 and there are a number of competent, free alternatives to its software. Even for those who would be improving their audio with the Audigy RX, there are superior options out there for $50 or less.