More Than A SoundBlaster

Creative's Sound Blaster Dominance

Creative Labs has been making sound cards in their Sound Blaster product line for a long time. If you visit the sound card section at your local retailer, you will note that Creative Labs Sound Blaster products dominate most of the shelf space. This is due, in part, to the fact that Creative offers a complete line of sound card solutions for nearly every application and budget. The down side of this near monopoly of retail shelf space by Creative is that other sound card companies find it difficult to compete with Creative.

Creative currently claims a 70% market share in the sound card market, with a claimed installed user base of over 120 million Sound Blaster users. With this kind of dominant market share it is easy to understand why most people choose Creative for their sound card. Creative also owns Digicom Systems, Inc., E-mu Systems, Inc., Ensoniq, Cambridge SoundWorks, and the assets of Aureal.

Creative's Sound Blaster Live! Platinum 5.1 is powered by the EMU10K1 DSP that was developed by E-mu Systems. The EMU10K1 is unique in the fact that the firmware on board the DSP can be updated. This allows Creative to re-program or upgrade the DSP if and when new features become available. Creative has announced a new DSP called the Audigy. It is still a little early to know much about the Audigy beyond what has been posted on Creative's web site. What we do know about it is that it utilizes 32 bit Multi-Effects DSP that will use Creative's EAX Advanced HD, and Creative claims that it has four times the processing power of the EMU10K1. Due to the limited amount of information available, at this time I do not recommend that you put off the purchase of a new sound card based on the initial reports on the Audigy DSP.

Creative's EMU10K1

Creative's EMU10K1 has a 64-voice hardware polyphony with E-mu's patented 8-point interpolation technology. The EMU10K1 will support up to 1024 voices polyphony with multi-timbre capability. The EMU10K1 includes real-time digital effects support for effects like reverb, chorus, flanger, pitch shifter, and distortion across any audio source. It uses Dolby Digital 5.1 decoding to 5.1 speaker channels in both analog and digital modes and supports Creative's Multi Speaker Surround, which allows any mono or stereo source to be placed in 360 audio space. It employs hardware based EAX effects using user selectable DSP modes that can simulate acoustic environments.

One other issue important to consider with the purchase of any sound card is how many IRQs the card will use and whether the card use can use any IRQ. The general rule of thumb is that a sound card that offers DOS Mode Sound Blaster Emulation is going to require two IRQs: one IRQ for the card itself, and a virtual IRQ that is devoted to the Sound Blaster emulation mode. On my PC, I don't run any DOS based software that requires a sound card and I don't use the DOS Mode Sound Blaster Emulation, because it steals an IRQ that I could devote to something else. Some sound cards make this process easier than others; some cards will refuse to run without the DOS Sound Blaster Mode Emulation being active. Generally, the process of disabling the DOS Mode Sound Blaster Emulation isn't very well documented. While I have always felt that if you are not playing games under DOS, the card makers should make it easy to get rid of the DOS mode support, I am sorry to report that this isn't always the case.