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.