Coincident with the disappearance of the audio-input port from recent Power Mac G4s, Creative Technology has released the Sound Blaster Live, an inexpensive sound card that offers audio input and output and MIDI synthesis--but limited support for the latest G4s.
This PCI card sports two analog outputs, for both two- and four-channel speaker systems; a digital output, for digital audio tape (DAT) drives or digital speakers; a line input; a microphone input; a MIDI connector; and a EMU10K1 synthesizer chip, for playing sampled wave-table sounds from a MIDI sequencer or via MIDI input.
The software bundle includes Mixman Technologies' Mixman Studio; Casady & Greene's SoundJam MP; Steinberg's Cubasis AV; and Prosoniq's convoluted audio-editing application, SonicWorx Essential.
The Sound and Our Fury
The card worked well on a beige Power Mac G3, channeling alert sounds and audio-CD content through speakers attached to the card's audio-output port. I was able to record directly to a DAT deck via the Sound Blaster's digital-output port. And the card's synthesizer chip functioned properly when I plugged a MIDI controller into the Sound Blaster's MIDI port. The 2MB, 4MB, and 8MB General MIDI sound banks are serviceable but not terribly convincing. Although the installation CD includes a fair number of sounds, a richer MIDI sound set would be welcome.
The card performed less well on a more recent Power Mac G4/733. At first it didn't appear as an input source in the Sound control panel's Input window. After I restarted the Mac several times, the card finally surfaced as an input source, but the signal from a CD player connected to the Line Input port was distorted. Creative is working on a driver update to fix the problem.
As for Mac OS X compatibility, Creative's plans are on hold until Apple provides the system resources necessary for third-party cards to work under the new operating system.
Macworld's Buying Advice
The Sound Blaster Live is a potentially capable, low-cost option for those seeking to add audio input to their Power Macs. It'd be more dazzling if it came with a better audio editor and worked with the latest models. Such compatibility may be a reality by the time you read this.