Elephant LogoMarcus Brinkmann's Sound Blaster Review Page

Content

Hardware

Boards

The Sound Blaster Live! consists of two boards, a PCI card and a smaller extension card providing additional connectors.

The board uses the PCI bus, which was necessary because the amount of data that has to be transmitted has increased with DirectSound by Microsoft and the use of multiple streams of audio. Hence, the change to a PCI bus architecture was necessary for Creative Labs to cope with the performance needs.

However, despite the difference in bus architecture, the SB Live! card should be backward compatible to prior Sound Blaster cards even under DOS.

Connectors

Some connectors are placed on the card, some are at the outside and some on the extension card.

Joystick port

The Joystick port can be used to attach a PC analog joystick to the computer. MIDI cables which are connected to the joystick port using a special adapter cable also work, although you may prefer to use the mini MIDI DIN interfaces for this.

Mini MIDI DIN

Midi in and midi out are placed at the extension card and can be used to attach MIDI devices to the SB Live! card, makes it a good card for MIDI recording and playing. A converter for normal sized MIDI DIN plugs is provided with the card. This makes the special joystick adapter cable unnecessary, which had to be used with earlier Sound Blaster cards.

Emu 10K1

The Emu 10K1 is the nerve of the SB Live! card, an audio processor with over two millions transistors and more than 1,000 MIPS of raw processing power. The chip provides 131 hardware audio channels.

Audio Channels

The 64 audio channels are dedicated to output sounds, and can be played back at an arbitrary sample rate. But each of these channels can also be used as a Wavetable synthesizer in addition of the 192 voices of the PCI wave-table synthesis. The audio channels process signals at 32-bit, 192 dB, 48kHz using 8-point interpolation to smoothen the sound. This makes the Sound Blaster card highly useful to record and play audio sources with CD quality.

The hardware does support full duplex at 8 standard sample rates.

Effects

The Emu 10K1 is also responsible for the effects that can be applied to the sound sources. Real time effects such as echo, flanger, pitch shifting, auto-wah, ring modulator, distortion, reverb and chorus can be combined and configured, allowing a wide variety of distinct sound transformations. Effects can be routed into each other, which allows a fine control of what happens to the sound.

You can use the effect engine of the SB Live! for many things, including as an effect processor for musical instruments (like a guitar), as a pitch shifter for karaoke, or to enhance digital audio or midi tracks.

The Emu 10K1 operates as a DirectSound accelerator, and can accelerate up to 64 high quality 16-bit 48kHz audio streams and 32 DirectSound 3D streams. Furthermore, it can still apply Environmental Audio to all of these and deliver the streams to multiple speakers. This shows how much processing power is included in the Emu 10K1 chip.

The 256 voices can be used with 48 MIDI channels on three MIDI ports, allowing the composer to forget about the hardware limitations and concentrate on the music instead.

Speakers

The SoundBlaster Live! sound card allows the use of two or four speakers to produce surround sound of high quality. If only two speakers are connected, the card tries to emulate 3D sound on those as good as possible, but the best result is achieved when four speakers are connected to the card.

It is possible to position the sound of an audio source in the virtual space created by four speakers using the speaker configuration software.

In the future, software updates will make it possible to use up to eight speakers with the SB Live! card.

Digital I/O

The extension card features not only two mini MIDI connectors, but also digital S/PDIF input/output as well as a digital DIN connector. The latter will make it possible to connect up to eight speakers to the card.

The S/PDIF connectors make it possible to connect S/PDIF compatible digital audio devices to the sound card for digital audio recording and playback. S/PDIF complatible devices are for example DAT player. Users can also connect their CD-ROM drive to the CD Digital-In connector on the card if their CD ROM player is S/PDIF compatible. This way, they can record the digital audio data directly.

Music Synthesis

The SB LIve! card allows music synthesis with up to 256 voices. Those are seperated in 192 PCI Wavetable voices and 64 voices from the Emu 10K1 itself. This allows the use of an increased number of MIDI instruments at the same time. Now you can use the sustain pedal in your midi works without being afraid that prior notes are chopped off due to a limited number of midi voices.

To use MIDI music, you need to load a SoundFont in the RAM of the host machine. Up to 32 MB RAM can be dedicated to the SB LIve! to be used for SoundFonts. Provided are 2 MB, 4 MB and 8 MB default SoundFonts (GM compatible). Additional SoundFonts can be purchased and easily installed using the SoundFont configuration program.

Facit

The hardware of the SB Live! card is excellent, and usable for both, entertainment and productivity. The complete set of interfaces to external devices, the number of high quality audio channels and the high number of midi channels and voices show how usable the SB Live! card is for music recording and composing. The Environmental Audio and DirectSound3D support, as well as the possibility to connect up to eight speakers prove the usability of the card for entertainment.