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by Gill Boyd
Digital Audio Playback
Up until now, sounds cards have focused on providing 3 types of Digital Audio playback; Music CD’s (Red Book Audio), Wave files and MIDI Files. Even though, technically, MIDI music is not considered digital audio. PC Digital Audio is getting better as tools become more affordable and readily available.
Midi definitely benefits from the associated affordable technologies. MIDI files contain a coded version of the musical score, not the actual sound. MIDI defines codes for a musical event, which includes start of a note, pitch, length, volume and other musical attributes, such as vibrato or tremolo. A midi file can contain codes to play a digital audio file in conjunction with a given musical core. It also defines codes for various button, dial and pedal adjustments used on synthesizers, internal or external. A midi file played back on one PC can sound like the difference of daylight and dark on another PC. MIDI sound cards have seen changes from low quality toy like FM synthesis to higher quality live sounding Wavetable synthesis in hardware and software. FM synthesis simulates musical instrument sounds, which use operators to create waveforms or modulate the waveforms. Whereas, Wavetable synthesis sound cards use actual samples of sounds by storing digitized samples of the actual instruments. These digitized sampled sounds can be in either software or programmed into a ROM chip on the sound card). MIDI polyphony, the ability to play multiple voices or notes, has progressed from 32, 64, 128 and 256 notes. XG MIDI by Yamaha does all of this a quantum leap better. That’s an entirely different article! URL: www.yamaha-xg.com/english/xg
In any Digital Audio format the data stream is all 1’s and 0’s. MIDI just takes up less space than wave files. A wave file is the actual sound recorded. Not all wave files are recorded at the same sample rates. Larger wave files usually mean higher sample rates. Typically we’re able to sample wave files at Telephone, Radio and CD quality from 8 Bit Mono (8 KB/s) to 16 Bit Stereo (172 KB/s) and every thing in between. The largest wave file I’ve yet to create was a 10-minute file requiring 100 Megs, later cut to 35 Megs. Creating our own CD’s can eat up a hard drive space in a hurry. Digital Media creation is getting easier to do on a PC. Upping-the-ante, now we’re getting into multiple CD quality Digital Audio Streams; Three Dimensional Positional Audio where the listener is immersed in sound. Our current maximum number of Digital Audio streams is 32, then 48 and so on. That’s 32 different Digital Audio voices streaming simultaneously.
Audio Chipsets & Codecs (Tech Stuff)
Looking for a great sound card? What’s your preference on audio chipsets? What Codec does that chipset use? Without getting too technical, Digital Audio Sound card playback quality depends upon three features, which must work together. They include drivers, audio chipsets and audio hardware codecs.
There are software Codecs and hardware Codecs. The better the Codec, the better the sound quality.
An Audio Codec is a hardware circuit that converts analog sound to digital code and vice versa using one of several analog to digital conversion methods such as PCM or ADPCM. Codecs typically include both analog to digital (A/D) and digital to analog (D/A) conversion (coder/decoder) as well as compression and decompression (compressor/decompressor). In the coming months when we start discussing digital audio in relation to USB, these features become more apparent. As long as we’re using a sound card, we’re still converting back and forth.
Testing MIDI sound quality
A selection of midi files representative of high quality composition and polyphony, to try the ranges of each card, were employed from a selection of over 200 megs of midi media. We narrowed the list to 11 megs of midi files. MIDI files were randomly dropped (drag and drop) on the ActiveMovie Player before a song had finished playing to speed up the testing process. Some sound cards will choke on this repetition.
Apples & Apples Comparisons
Looking for a good quality, bare bones, no frills sound card? Sound is sound, right? Not by a long shot! Each sound card selection made according to availability for purchase on store shelves locally. Packages reviewed for value; ability to perform as advertised and features. Specifics detailing Digital Audio capabilities will be so noted. Most apparent difference was quality of midi file playback. Music CD’s sounded close to the same, wave files too. Most of us will not hear any difference in these two playback formats. Speakers can make a big difference too.
What if you’re in need of a complete package with additional software, cabling, microphone and maybe the kitchen sink? One of these sound cards may have what you’re requiring. Your business audio needs may differ from your personal audio tastes. Always check application needs when considering any purchase. Cards which include a Mic, get something else for voice applications. Everything new yesterday is old today on a PC. Considering Total Cost of Ownership (TOC) in your PC investment, look for products with compatibility, upgradability (website access) and affordability. Reference needs today and 6 months from now. Beyond that, tomorrow’s a whole different market. Something new is always coming on the horizon!
A Full Duplex, PCI Plug and Play Sound Card with DOS compatibility. Uses ESS Maestro-II ES19682S PCI chipset, 64-voice Wavetable polyphony; also capable of up to 32 digital audio streams. CD Drivers Installation: J:\Win9X\Maestro.Inf – ESS Maestro II chipset. This is a smart and logical layout for driver installations. Default Programs Installation: C:\Program Files\Sonic Impact. Drivers installed: Audio Utilities, DOS Support and DirectX 5.2. Allegedly supports DLS (downloadable samples) for Microsoft DirectMusic. | ESS Technology, Inc. Maestro-II PCI chipsets URL: www.esstech.com.
In the initial installation before rebooting, sound was sometimes choppy, with breaks in continuity while trying to compose in a high-end html editor, notepad. In the Control Panel applet “Multimedia”, under the MIDI Tab, playback is “Maestro WaveSynth”. Always check these if you have a sound card not performing up to expectations. We saw this all the time on the Creative Labs SB 32 and newer sound cards. These cards installed 2 drivers. The FM synthesis driver was the default. Easy to change if you knew the problem. Can’t help but wonder if the jerkiness is a problem with the Maestro drivers, Maestro II chipset or something else.
On a higher note, after rebooting, this card was able to successfully play the opening to the toughest midi file we have, ELP’s Tarkus. The opening to this midi arrangement rotates the sound from left to right very rapidly. All other sound cards choke on the beginning of this composition. Afterwards, accurate instrumentation left something else to be desired. For classical and easy listening midi, keep looking. The bundled Midisoft applications make this card desirable. The Diamond Audio Rack from Midisoft installs as the default media application. That’s only desirable for a novice. Playing media files with the Diamond Audio Rack bogged down the files’ playback and sound became muffled, odd. Using the Windows supplied Media Player solved both problems. The Windows mixer bass and treble controls are grayed out. The Diamond Audio Rack Mixer Bass and Treble may not appear to work either; they’re muted by default. The best thing this card has is on the 2nd CD from Midisoft containing Midisoft Sound Bar and Midisoft Studio Recording Session. MIDI files included. URL: www.midisoft.com.
Excellent range of Volume control. The special effects are nothing extravagant and do not work under NT. Most hard, industrial sounds are acceptable. Violins are not believable and horns are toy like. Cannot distinguish a French Horn from a Coronet. The Nutcracker Suite sounded muddy, lacking definition. Instrumentation’s are mechanical and do not express emotion. After first hearing the Live! Experience one becomes spoiled! The AWE 64 Gold ISA card beats this by a long shot. Most of us will not notice the difference unless we’ve heard different. As far as hardware in this class, the Shark MM Predator 3D PCI works! Shark does a better job of creating a simple, complete manual too. The Diamond Sonic Impact S70 has the applications to make an acceptable package. Definitely, not all midi implementations are the same.
For those who like to tinker: C:\Program Files\Sonic Impact\Utils\ Solotray.exe applet. Launching this applet places a “Diamond Audio Rack” icon in the Taskbar “SystemTray”. Right click this icon for “Diamond Audio Rack” feature set. This one’s not on the Start Menu. Installation does create Log files to see what went on in your PC. Sonic Impact Audio Mixer settings in C:\WINDOWS\Assonic.ini file. Wave Table Libraries: For best results with the 4 Meg library, 16Mb Ram recommended. DOS Mode reverts to Sonic Impact FM synthesizer. Sonic Impact DOS support is designed to be Sound Blaster Pro compatible. Imagine that. Don’t expect Wavetable synthesis to work under NT either. NT5 will present a whole new set of opportunities for us to resolve. Audio CODEC is AC’97. Diamond Audio Rack Tools program and single associated help file are linked in the Sonic Impact help file to launch the aforementioned applets directly, nice touch.
A few cautions: The ESS Maestro II Audio/Gameport controller used by Sonic Impact is a 3.3-volt component. Some input devices designed for use with 5.0-volt controllers may not function properly. Know your specs! Use only powered speakers. Be sure to reboot after installation is complete. Otherwise, weird things might happen. We had a few anomalies occur, from video to losing right channel stereo audio. Also you may need to double-check the 4 Meg sound library ram usage.
Resources, Drivers & Connectors: Resources required – IRQ usage: 2; 1 IRQ has 3 different device settings using 1 IRQ. Interesting. The other IRQ is DOS Mode compatibility. 4 I/O addresses, 1 DMA. Device Manager Drivers Layout: Under “Sound, video and game controllers,” 3 settings. To change the sound library size from 2 Meg to 4 Meg System Ram, Go to “Maestro Wave / Wavetable Synthesis Devices,” Select Properties, Audio Settings Tab and change. Cumbersome, but major improvement! Second setting in Device Manager, “ESS Media Device Controllers” show 2 more settings. Internal Connectors include CD-ROM, Video, Aux. and Modem. The PCB shows an internal digital I/O etching, possibly a S/P DIF connection. Could be a future prototype for another sound card. They should have enabled this feature now considering the market. External connections for output 1 & 2, Mic, input and midi/game port. 3 CD set of Sonic Impact drivers, an OEM version of Maxis SIM Copter and Midisoft applications – Internet Sound Bar and Studio Recording Session. URL’s: www.maxis.com, www.midisoft.com .
We suggest a minimum of Pentium 133, 16 Megs Ram, 1 PCI slot (PCI 2.1 compliant), speakers and Win9x. Requires 15 Megs HD space minimum.
New card not available at Press Time: Diamond PCI Sonic Impact S90 featuring Aureal Vortex A3D positional 3D audio chipset. Full Duplex capable. Claims 48 digital audio streams and 64-voice Wavetable polyphony. It’s the same chipset on Shark Multimedia Predator 3D-PCI card. Expect to see more low cost sound cards using the Aureal Vortex A3D audio chipset. Sonic Impact S90 will include MusicMatch Jukebox for MP3 Digital Audio format playback. Expect additional applets from Midisoft too. 200 MHz MMX Pentium class processor recommended for optimal A3D playback quality. URL’s: www.musicmatch.com, www.diamondmm.com
Installation gets interesting with these sound cards as we learn to hunt down where those drivers are located on the installation CD. “Plug, Hunt and Pray.” CD-ROM Driver Disk: I:\WIN95\ENGLISH\RELEASE\CD\Eapci95.inf – Ensoniq ES1371 AudioPCI chipset. Ensoniq Mixer installed on Taskbar “SystemTray”. Applications installation: C:\WINDOWS\Start Menu\Programs\Creative ENSONIQ AudioPCI\Online Guide. Not much to offer. This is less than what Shark offers. Again, no bells or whistles, just a PCI sound card, mixer a few Wavesets and a help file. Joystick port is analog, no digital here! Card uses 1 IRQ, shareable. MIDI is clear and responsive. Instrumentation is not true to original. System does not bog down while playing midi files. Uses software synthesis through Waveset files (*.ecw). This is a new feature of low end Creative Labs PCI sound cards. Currently no way to create your own Waveset files. Possible later downloads from Net. Maybe this could be a future enhancement for Ensoniq AudioPCI? Add Wavesets by opening the Windows Device Manager, expanding Sound, Video Game Controllers highlight Creative Ensoniq AudioPCI. Now select Properties, Settings Tab and Add Waveset. This is a curious way to add Waveset files from Device Manager. How many novices know how to gain access to the Device Manager? Three Waveset files were added to the C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM folder – default.ecw, eapci2m.ecw and eapci4m.ecw. We immediately configured to use the 4 Meg Waveset to enhance the midi sound capabilities. It helped a little bit; this depends on the midi file being played. The MIDI Synthesizer Waveset file displayed [4-Megabyte Waveset Version 3].
This card’s not much for representing a true original work of art midi file. Some of the sounds are a bit harsh. Card has 3 internal audio inputs for CD-ROM, TV Tuner and Modem. CD contains 28 megs of drivers and associated files. MIDI sounds very artificial and mechanical. The more we tried to listen, we found card makes good midi sound bad and bad midi sound terrible. 32-voice polyphony just takes you back after listening to 64-voice polyphony on the Shark Multimedia Predator 3D PCI card. The same can be said of 64 voices when compared to 128 and so on up the ladder of polyphony to 256 simultaneous voices. And anyone who’s heard XG midi, won’t go backwards to a lower polyphony count either. Package includes PCI Sound card, driver CD and CD Audio cable. Beware, there’s no uninstall routine from Control Panel Add/Remove Programs! Read on!
A PCI Plug and Play Sound Card. To uninstall, run the “Creative Ensoniq AudioPCI Install Launcher”. Since this is an “Auto Play” CD under Win95/98, simply inserting the disk will run this applet. If you change you mind later, rerun the Install Wizard from the CD. Insert CD-ROM driver disk, select “Install” then select “Remove Software”.
“Creative Ensoniq AudioPCI Driver Disk” Driver Installation Location: I:\WIN95\ENGLISH\RELEASE\CD\ Eapci95.Inf (Creative Ensoniq AudioPCI INF file.) Three settings in Device Manager: Creative Ensoniq AudioPCI, AudioPCI Legacy Device and Creative Gameport Joystick. Uses 1 IRQ in Windows. Will use a second IRQ for DOS Mode Compatibility. A3D Technology? None apparent. The AudioPCI Mixer accommodates features found on the Ensoniq AudioPCI card. These special features are not available through the standard Windows 95/98 mixer. Meets PC’97 Specs. URL: www.ensoniq.com/mmd/eapci.htm
The midi makes the difference as to which sound card you’re after. Red book (Music CD) audio will sound similar. Wave files will sound similar. As we step up in Audio cards, we step up in features and price. Wave files and midi / synthesizer files can be given a spatial effect similar to A3D. MIDI support also goes one better by adding chorus effects. A slight step-up from the previous sound card, physically the same. More Polyphony, 64 Simultaneous Voices, and larger Wavesets (2, 4, and now 8 Meg) utilizing System Ram. Of the three Wavesets included, only two are installed residing in C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM subdirectory. The midi playback on this sound card is tolerable utilizing the 8 Meg Waveset file. The user must manually install the 8 Meg Waveset. A definite step backwards. Wavesets can be found on the CD – I:\DRIVERS\WAVESETS\EAPCI8M.ECW.
Ok, let’s give the 8-megabyte GM/GS Waveset Version 4 a test. This is much easier to configure than on the Ensoniq PCI. Here we simply right click on the SB PCI64 Mixer icon in the “SystemTray”, select either SB PCI64 Configuration Utility or Waveset Manager (Seems a bit redundant). Under the Waveset Manager Tab, select the Add button. Go to the C:\Windows\System directory and select the appropriate Eapci8m.ecw file. Creative Labs is learning as they go.
The PCI64 Configurator includes a Waveset Manager and a 3D audio test. Once the Wavesets are registered with the operating system, installation is as simple as double clicking on the *.ecw Waveset file in the C:\Windows\System directory to install. Therefore, do NOT double click on those files from the CD, otherwise that CD will have to remain in the drive to use that specific Waveset file! Easy to see what you’ve done and how to fix by going to the SB PCI64 Mixer icon, right click and select Waveset Manager. This feature will show us the Waveset file location and file name to see what we’re doing.
Certain times it feels like a live concert and the user is sitting near the drummer. This card is too boomy sounding even for me. Mechanical sounds are just that. Sound effects can be detected with 64-voice polyphony. Real, natural sounds are not. We start to hear the snap of a snare drum instead of the click pop sound. Clarinets still have no definition at this point. You hear the music yet the feel of the music is lacking emotion. This version of Creative Labs PCI sound cards gets the standard Creative Labs Applications and also includes Creative Inspire for multimedia and participation in same. Yes, a flavor of IE 4 is there too.
Now we’re getting into interesting territory. This card looks just like the previous one. This time around we get applications! Even the audio chip has a sticker over the actual chip. Wonder if that just might be an Ensoniq Chip? As we’ve learned from Microsoft, why develop when you can just go buy it from someone else. We’re up to 64 voices using the 8 Meg Waveset. “Creative Labs Sound Blaster PCI64 Driver Disk” Installation: I:\DRIVERS\WIN95\ENGLISH\RELEASE\CD\ Eapci95.Inf. (Creative Labs Sound Blaster PCI-64 INF file) Three Devices in Device Manager: Creative Labs Sound Blaster PCI64, Sound Blaster PCI64 Legacy Device and Creative Gameport Joystick. Joystick port is still analog. This Driver CD has 90 Megs of standard Creative Labs applications. Nothing to get excited about, yet anyway. The SB PCI64 Mixer in the “SystemTray” utilizes right mouse support whereas the Ensoniq PCI only utilized a standard mouse left double click. Installed Applications: C:\WINDOWS\Start Menu\Programs\Sound Blaster PCI64 Creative Configurator (SB PCI64 Configuration Utility); Manual, SB PCI64 Mixer; User’s Guide, Creative CD, Creative MIDI; Creative Remote; Creative Wave; Soundo’LE and Wave Studio.
Includes uninstall routine accessible from Windows Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs applet.
C:\SBPCI64 Folder contains DOS application files. URL: www.creativelabs.com
An update, just to let our readers know, the PCI-64 card is now soon to be off the market. Short lived and too close to the previous Creative Ensoniq AudioPCI card from Creative Labs. They should have kept this one and deleted the Creative Ensoniq AudioPCI. The next card, Sound Blaster PCI128 proves to be better still.
Physically looks similar to the two previous cards, however the Sound Blaster PCI128 has a very large heat sink making it look odd. The sound on this one is tolerable with the 8 Meg Waveset loaded. With all of these Waveset files, we need a Waveset Editor to create our own user-defined files. Everything here is for the playback of media files. The only included applet allowing digital media creation is the Creative WaveStudio which supports *.wav and *.raw files types.
FYI: The PCI-128 Works with Sound Blaster PCI64 drivers. Once ENSONIQ Waveset files are made available, they’re associated with C:\WINDOWS\ENSCFG32.EXE. This allows these Waveset files to have an associated icon when viewed allowing them to update the sound card Waveset properties when double clicked on. Makes for an easier access point of Waveset resources. This feature has future potentials. Should automatically copy Waveset files to the C:\Windows\System subdirectory. Card includes 2 CD’s, one driver CD, the other, Battle Zone by Activision. URL: www.activision.com
Driver installation is a little different. “Creative Labs Sound Blaster PCI-128 Driver Disk”. As follows: I:\Audio\ENGLISH\WIN95DRV\Eapci95.Inf. (Sound Blaster PCI-128 INF file.) Also includes Upddrv95.Inf, same location. Used to clean up previous Sound Blaster installations. Three headings under the Device Manager: Creative Labs Sound Blaster PCI-128, Sound Blaster PCI-128 Legacy Device and Creative Gameport Joystick.
Note: Be sure to adjust those volume levels before playing anything. By default, the installation turns volume to full throttle! Typical Creative Labs Sound Blaster applications installed: C:\WINDOWS\Start Menu\Programs\Sound Blaster PCI128 – Creative CD, Creative Configurator, Creative MIDI, Creative Remote, Creative WaveStudio ver 4.02, SB PCI128 Mixer, Soundo’LE, User’s Guide and Wave Studio.
3D Configuration Utility works great with Win98 whereas this was a problem on the PCI-64. A driver issue with DirectX and the PCI-64 should be resolved by the time you read this article. Joystick port is also analog. Did not try the midi connection.
If you’re trying to decide whether to go for the PCI-64 or the PCI-128, go for the latter if midi means anything, if not then the PCI-64 may do what you need for audio on a budget. The PCI-128 is a little bit better but not much. Stay away from the EnsoniqPCI, it’s not worth your time, money or effort. Sounds like we’re spoiled, yes! Also notice, all three of these Creative Labs sound cards use the same installation file - Eapci95.Inf! For the money, the Shark Multimedia Predator 3D-PCI is a better deal even without the additional applications we’ve come to expect from Creative Labs. PCI-128 URL: www.soundblaster.com
Environmental PC Audio – Have you ever listened to the tremolo phasing of a Leslie Speaker? Here the quivering of the stringed instruments? Experienced music with emotion? Tremelo likened to the world renowned Leslie Speaker sound-in-motion on a Hammond B3 Organ. The AWE 64 Gold ISA was a treat, this is even more so! Create your own customized Environment settings for use with games and music applications from the Environment Audio applet. Or choose existing Environment Audio settings and Speaker settings. The Environments section contains over 40 presets. Play up to 256 simultaneous voices utilizing 8 Megs of SoundFonts! A SoundFont bank can contain one or more MIDI banks. Normally, only one MIDI bank is used. SoundFont banks are saved as SoundFont files and loaded into the audio card for playback. For Digital Audio playback and creation, this card rocks! Moving ahead of the Creative Labs AWE64 Gold, in a refreshing way! Truly an outstanding Live Experience!
Installation’s a snap; PCI audio cards make life easier for both installer and user alike from Bios to O/S. PCI cards are configured on the fly from the Bios. ISA cards are still confusing to even a Pentium II Bios. The driver installation replaces the joystick drivers.
Win98 will put the original joystick driver back in place. This is a “feature creep” of Win98. Installation disks include 3 CD’s full of almost everything! Disk 1: Drivers and Cakewalk Express Gold. URL: www.cakewalk.com & Cakewalk newsgroups - news.cakewalk.com Disk 2: Includes a special version of Sonic Foundry’s Sound Forge XP 4.0. Disk 3: SB Live! Demo and SoundFont goodies. There’s more here than most us will ever hope to use. SB Live! SoundFont file banks are installed in C:\Program Files\Creative\SBLive\SFBank – (*. sf2 files); 2gmgsmt.sf2; 4gmgsmt.sf2 and 8mbgmsfx.sf2. “CT4620 - SBLive! Driver Installation Disk” I:\AUDIO\ENGLISH\WIN95DRV\ Emu10k1.Inf – Uses EMU10K1-EBF audio chipset.
The SB Live! Audio card and daughter card require 1 PCI slot and 2 brackets. By using this additional bracket for the daughter card we effectively lose the use of a slot. Make sure it’s a slot you can live without. Suggest placing both cards side by side using a PCI slot adjacent to an ISA slot.
Pro Wavetable / Chipset Background
Turtle Beach used the EMU Proteus I for Wavetable synthesis and the Motorola (MOT56001, a.k.a. Motorola DSP-56001) audio chipset (full duplex hardware) on the original MultiSound Classic ISA cards. This was the heart of their “Hurricane Architecture,” an on board DSP (Digital Signal Processor). A special-purpose CPU used for digital signal processing. It freed the main CPU processor to process. Better than a DMA sound card. This was the best value for midi devices going at that time. Albeit expensive too. Prices went from $890.00 for a MultiSound Classic ISA to around $350 then $200.00 for the MultiSound Monterey ISA before they disappeared. This was Turtle Beach’s finest hour.
When Creative Labs eventually bought EMU Systems, Turtle Beach went to a different Wavetable synthesis solution on their later MultiSound Monterey ISA sound cards – “Sample Store” Technology on SIPPS. The ability to take wave files and store them as Wavetable sounds in on-board Ram. Remember SIPPS? Turtle Beach AD/DA converters were outstanding in their signal to noise ratio. Strictly a midi / wave “audiofile” card for Win3x. No games, no joystick port and poor support in Win9x! Media Vision is still supported in Win98. URL: www.windrivers.com/company/mediavis/mvsound.htm Quality or marketing – Guess which one wins? Turtle Beach is still around. They’ve since merged with Voyetra, a fine midi application developer and are now Voyetra Turtle Beach. URL: www.voyetra.com
Creative SoundBlaster Live! Uses the SoundFont Technology introduced on the ISA SB 32 / AWE 32 sound cards. SoundFont is a file format for storing Wavetable-synthesized sounds. The AWE 64 Gold ISA audio chipset was the EMU 8000, which utilized the SoundFont file format *. SBK and *. SF2. The newer format has extended features allowing for the creation of higher quality SoundFonts. The new SB Live! interface is somewhat confusing after using the AWE 64 Gold. This should not be a problem for new users learning this new tool. The AWE 64 Gold used Creative WaveSynth software MIDI synthesizer to produce high quality music. It was specially designed for the AWE 64 Gold audio card to playback midi that sounded as good as those from a hardware only wavetable synthesizer. It also allowed for a full 64-voice polyphony, 32-wavetable synthesis and 32 WaveSynth/WG software voices; 32 MIDI channel support, 16 internal and 16 external channels via midi interface. SoundFonts Technology started as a feature unique to Creative Labs Sound Cards from SoundBlaster 32 to SB Live! They’ve now made the standard public.
The AWE 64 Gold came with Vienna SoundFont Studio 2.1 SoundFont Editor. This application creates SoundFont *.SF2 files. It could open SoundFont Bank formats 1 (*.sbk) and 2 (*.sf2) and save in SoundFont Bank 2 (*.sf2) format only. Wave files could be imported into Vienna SoundFont Studio for creating user defined SoundFonts. Now how many of us actually did that? Probably very few. SoundFont URL: www.soundfont.com/sftech.html
SB Live! AudioHQ Controls: AWE 64 Control (AWE 64) focused on a specific audio card while AudioHQ (SB Live!) is an integrated control center for multiple audio devices. A plus for multiple sound cards in single PC’s. Where AWE Control was the properties dialog box of a specific card, AudioHQ provides a high-level view of all the audio devices installed on a PC. Manage control applets on multiple audio devices from the AudioHQ window. Instead of being the properties dialog box dedicated to a card (AWE 64), AudioHQ (SB Live!) provides two views: 1.) By audio device, in which all control applets supported by the selected audio device are displayed. 2.) By control applet, in which all audio devices supporting that applet are displayed. Very handy if music is your business by profession or high-end gaming. The advantages of AudioHQ over AWE Control are better integration by design and functionality. It takes some getting use to a different interface. The tabs in AWE Control, now AudioHQ, have been regrouped into more intuitive functional applets and vastly expanded features. AudioHQ shows only those control applets supported on a particular audio device. For example, if your Emu8000 audio device chipset does not support the Device Controls applet, that applet is not shown in the view for that device. It’s easy to open all control applets supported by an audio device because they appear within the same AudioHQ window.
Included Applications: Cakewalk Express Gold and other Creative Labs Apps: C:\WINDOWS\Start Menu\Programs\Creative – Creative Keytar; Creative Rhythmania; Sound Blaster Live!; Creative Launcher; Creative PlayCenter and SoundFont Showcase. SoundFont Showcase demonstrates a sampling of what’s possible for digital media creation using SoundFont technology. We are not alone! Yes, SoundFont 3rd party support is alive and well! Audio and MIDI Demo Songs also included. A unique feature or annoyance; Creative Launcher Taskbar applet, hidden at top of Desktop screen. Allows easy access to SB Live! features and customization. The Readme details installation / uninstall requirements. Move mouse to top of screen to make Creative Launcher Taskbar applet visible. URL: www.sblive.com As of this writing, Creative Labs SB Live! features available for download include Vienna SoundFont Studio version 2.3, SoundFont Librarian and updated drivers for increasing hardware acceleration support from existing 8 digital audio streams to 32 DirectSound3D digital audio streams. The Maximum Simultaneous Wave (Digital Audio) Playback Sessions allowed are 32. This will depend upon your PC hardware. PC motherboard must be PCI 2.1 compliant. Processor must be “Pentium class”, not a fast 5X86. We tested only on PII’s with Intel BX 100 MHz chipset on Gigabyte motherboards. URL: www.giga-byte.com
Device Manager settings: The usual, “Sound, Video and game controllers” and a new listing for “Creative Miscellaneous Devices”. Two IRQ’s used in Win95/98. Another IRQ gets taken for DOS compatibility if so configured. Internal Connectors: CD-ROM, Aux-in, DVD-ROM, Modem and stereo S/P-DIF (Sony / Philips Digital InterFace). Not all CD-ROM’s with the S/P-DIF connector actually support the connector. Check website for a list of CD-ROM Drives with functioning S/P-DIF connectors. External Connectors: Aux-in, Mic, Front Speaker & Rear Speaker inputs and midi / game port.
Only disappointment in the SB Live! was low volume control settings compared to the other cards, which sometimes blew me out of the chair. Overall, I’m wowed! Maybe more on the SB Live! creating digital audio to CD in a future article.
Special Note: Also owned by the Singapore-based Creative Labs, SoundBlaster Companies are the last American manufacturer of synthesizers “Ensoniq” and synthesizer manufacturer “E-MU Systems,” co-developer of SoundFont technology. URL’s: www.ensoniq.com & www.emu.com
Test Bed: (Operating System, OEM Win95 SR2.1 & Win98; PII-400 with 128 Megs of SDRAM, Gig-Byte motherboard with Intel 440BX chipset, 100MHz Bus and AGP Video; Maxtor 11.5 Gig HD.) All cards featured claim support for Win95/98 and NT 4.0. No time to verify NT drivers before Press Time.
Gill Boyd, Editor - BuildOrBuy Group Network News can be reached @ firstname.lastname@example.org
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Web Development, Gill Boyd & Team - Published & Posted For November 1998; Revised on BuildOrBuy News Archive 02/01/2003