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Creative's E-MU 0404: Pro Sound Quality on the Cheap

In Practice

The PatchMix software is indispensable. Without it all the 0404's audio functions are de-activated. It's clear that the card isn't intended for games or DVDs. For DVD reading, it is possible to get an encoded Dolby Surround signal from the S/PDIF output (and decode it using an external decoder), but we weren't able to get a functional Dolby Digital output. On the other hand, there's no problem with connecting a USB or FireWire sound card and de-activating the 0404 (all you do is close PatchMix).

Of course the 0404 lets you listen to CDs (or any other music source) with superb quality, which is one of the applications sound buffs will use this card for. You need only one strip, Wave, on the mixing board (you can set all the other tracks on the console to zero, unless of course you want to so some mixing...), but you can insert equalizers or other processing onto the outputs (Main Inserts) by simply dragging and dropping. However, the promised update is still not here. The equalization bands are still limited to 80 Hz in the bass, and we're still waiting for EQ controls that are a little more graphical... But even without those changes, we have to admit that the price/capability ratio is quite remarkable.

A basic configuration for sound lovers. Here a CD is being played (the sound is in the Wave strip) with four-band parametric equalization on the output (via the Main Insert).

Conclusion

With audio performance that's unmatched at this price, the E-MU 0404 has to be tempting for anybody who's looking for sound quality above all. There are also possibilities that are far superior to consumer sound cards. And for games and multimedia, you can always add a USB sound card chosen to suit your needs in those areas.