SoundBlaster Live! Platinum with Live Drive II

Using the same reprogrammable, E-mu Systems' EMU10K1 audio processor as other cards in the SoundBlaster Live! line, the Platinum processes every audio signal in full 32-bit 48KHz with 8-point interpolation. This produces high quality audio with an average noise floor of a low -120dB and means that, depending on amplifier and speakers, you will receive a clean, sharp sound with no pops or hissing. Full-duplex support means you can record and play back simultaneously in a choice of eight different sample rates - multi-track recording on your PC.

Plenty of ports

Out of the box you'll find the Plug ‘n' Play PCI card with digital-out, line-in, microphone-in, line-out and rear speaker jacks. The drive bay in the Drive II gives front panel access to all the ports. These include a coaxial S/PDIF, an optical input and output, a headphone jack with volume control, a second line-in or microphone input, as well as volume control and two auxiliary RCA line-ins. To this are added MIDI in and out ports allowing communication with musical instruments, for use with software such as the bundled Cakewalk Express Gold 8.

Bundled software

Other bundled software includes Creative's multimedia utilities, which span voice communication, visualisation, mixing and MP3 encoding. The latter is a 320Kbps encoder reaching up to 5x MP3 acceleration. Sound Forge XP wave editing software and SB Live! enhanced full versions of Decent 3 and Need for Speed 4 are included. The package is great value considering the cost of purchasing such titles separately. Also provided are a drivers' CD, programs that demonstrate the Platinum's capabilities, a microphone and all the necessary cords, connectors and adapters.

Games control

The card supports DirectSound3D games in addition to Creative's own EAX (Environmental Audio Extensions) format. Aureal 3D, which is used in games such as Unreal, is a derivative of DirectSound3D so any games using it will work well. Hardware acceleration can accommodate up to 64 DirectSound channels and 32 DirectSound3D channels. Pre-sets or user-defined adjustments will apply environmental audio to multimedia applications such as games in real-time, immersing the user in four-speaker sound - something for which the SB Live! is optimised. That said, the card worked well and sounded great through a pair of Alesis studio speakers. Compatibility with older SoundBlaster games has been maintained to a great extent.

Through the Live!Ware program, you can register and be informed of any upgrades, new features or audio-visual content available to download. Given the processor's reprogrammable capability, there is little worry your purchase will become out of date the moment you open the box.

Sound sampling

The SB Live! will also appeal to musicians. 3D audio, noise level and acceleration specs aside, the card has an onboard 8MB General Midi (GM) synthesiser for MIDI playback plus full bass, treble and effects controls for all audio sources. Like the SoundBlaster AWE64 Gold, the SB Live! doubles as a digital sampler with the use of SoundFonts. This lets users sample sounds, instruments and pre-sets and then use them as a MIDI instrument. Up to 32MB of the PC's own RAM can be utilised for SoundFont banks, with 512 simultaneous voices.

Installation

The user manual is clear and comprehensive, though some knowledge is assumed. If you do have problems, the SB Live! Web site has detailed FAQs and support pages. Once the product is registered, you receive a year of free unlimited telephone technical support.

Creative also offers a pared-down version of the Platinum, the Sound-Blaster Live! Player, which retails for $179. From this product you can upgrade to either the Live Drive II for $349 or the Live Drive I for $299, the difference between them being the addition of an optical in and out. An Optical Digital I/O 2 upgrade is available at $169 for the Live! series, which features extra MIDI and digital connections.

Personal requirements, as well as the feature set and the bundled software, need to be considered, especially given the price of the card. For sheer functionality alone, though, you can't go wrong.

Creative Labs Australia

Price: $499

Phone: (02) 9666 6100

URL: www.sblive.com; www.creative.com

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