The Sound Blaster Live! is accompanied by a rich software bundled, featuring some excellent sound applications as well as some not-so-excellent add-ons to play with. The documentation is included on the CD in Acrobats PDF format. The Acrobat Reader itself is also contained.
Software contained on the Application CD.
SoundForge XP by Sonic Foundry is an advanced audio recording program, much better than WaveStudio that is installed with the driver. It offers a complex but easy to use recording and editing suite and extensive online help with many background information about sound processing.
With SoundForge, you can process multiple wave files at the same time. To record a source, a special window is opened, which offers a volume and peak monitor as well as flexible recording options, for example, how long you want to record (this is useful to overwrite only a part of an existing recording).
SoundForge provides convenient display and edit options, including but not limited to Zoom, Cut & Paste, Mix, Crossfade as well as cuseful Undo and Redo features. You can place Markers in a file at anywhere and use them to specify regions of audio data.
Many ways to process the audio data are provided. You can fade, mute, invert, normalize, pan, convert between audio formats, smooth and enhance the audio source. Furthermore, a special function allows to change the length of a sample without affecting the pitch. This does work quite good, as long as you stay within reasonable durations. Stretching the length of a sample to 120% of its original size is reasonable. Speech can be stretched up to 140% of its original length. If you go further, you get a distorted sound, which can give quite interesting results.
Many effects can be applied to the samples, namely Chorus, Delay/Echo, Distortion, Dynamics, Flange, Noise Gate, Pitch Bend and Reverb. Some of these names hide multiple similar effects, some of them are highly configurable. For example, for the Pitch Bend effect you can draw a curve diagramm to specify the amount of pitching at each time.
A tone generator allows you to generate sine curves of a certain length, frequency and volume, but also square, saw, triangle and noise waveforms. Even DTMF/MF dial tones can be generated. Last but not least you can attach an AVI movie and synchronize the pictures with the audio samples.
SoundForge is a high-quality addition to your audio production software collection. It is highly configurable and flexible, but nevertheless easy and comfortable to use. All important elements are directly accessible, and so you can get good results very fast. The good online documentation makes it a perfect environment for audio recording and editing.
Mixman Studio by Mixman Technologies is a fast way to create techno mixes and similar `noise'. It makes available up to sixteen tracks with keys on your keyboard, and in a special mix mode the tracks are played if you press down those keys. You can tag certain tracks with the space bar, so they are played even when you unrelease the key. Pressing the Ctrl key, you enter the "solo mode", where all tagged tracks are silent until you release the Ctrl key again. In this way, you can mix techno songs and alike very fast and conveniently.
As there are no editing capabilities, it is not useful for serious sound composing. Obviously, this program is intended to be fun for people who want to play their own techno sounds without learning much about music and music recording. For this group, Mixman Studio is a nice program to play with.
For this sort of programs, it is very important that they are accompanied by many tracks to include in a mix. Mixman Studio comes with about 80 tracks, a random selection of bass lines, harmonics and drum breaks for techno, house and other scene music styles. People who want to use this softwware seriously will need to buy additional tracks on CD, 80 will not give enough variety to mix the songs you want to.
Another solution is to record your own tracks, or to use existing .wav files, which is supported by Mixman Studio. However, one concern is that you usually can't achieve high quality recordings with home equipment. However, it is good and important that these import facilities are there. Additionally, you can save the complete mix as one huge wave file and share it with your friends. Well, if you have enough disk space at least: The demo mix that comes with Mixman Studio would take over 30 MB to save as a .wav file :)
Cakewalk Express Gold is a full-featured midi sequencer and notation software. To cover all the capabilities of Cakewalk Express Gold would certainly not fit in this review. Beside midi recording and playback facilities, Cakewalk can also play up to 4 audio tracks parallel to the midi tracks.
Together with SoundForge, Cakewalk provides an ideal base for your home composing efforts with the SB Live! card.
Cakewalk Express Gold is aware of the SoundFont capabilities of the SB Live! card.
Prody Parrot is most likely the worst software in the bundle. It features a talking parrot, controlled by speech recognition, in the loosest sense of the term.
The parrot is actually a small animated graphic which is flying around, sitting on windows frames and annyoing the user from time to time with his unintelligent comments. The comments are generated from text files by Text Assist, the text-to-speech software that was already bundled with the AWE cards. Unfortunately, it has hardly improved since then. Most advertised feature added in this version is an email filter, which should be able to read emails without confusing the listener by spelling each control character. But, Text Assist is still an insult to the ear and human language. The intonation is hardly correct, and the voice melody is so wrong that it is not only annoying, but often also confusing.
The language recognition is done by Voice Assist and seems to work most of the time. I didn't spend much time to train the recognition algorithm, it worked surprisingly good out of the box, and I assume it works even better for a native english speaker. You can bind actions to certain phrases, which control windowing functions or start applications on request. Beside spoken language, Voice Assist can interpret keyboard commands and even mouse movements. The latter is disabled by default, and should be used carefully if at all.
Everytime I started these applications, I wondered if they can be useful for anyone at all. Visually challenged people won't use TextAssist, because real text-to-speech engines are implemented in hardware and give much better results. People who want to use a microphone to work with the computer will buy serious dictating software which does not cost too much these days. The parrot is actually more useless then the Paper Clip in Word 97. If somebody uses one of these applications for their daily work, please let me know! Maybe there is some field of endeavor which I don't know and where these applications are useful.