Sound Blaster turns Pro. (Sound Blaster Pro sound card) (Column) (Evaluation)
by David English
When the Multimedia PC (MPC) specifications were announced back in November 1990, Microsoft recommended that developers use the Sound Blaster, the only existing sound card that came close to matching the MPC specs.
In fact, it seemed at the time that Microsoft had simply taken the Sound Blaster specs and added an audio mixer so that software could adjust the various audio levels -- FM music, microphone input, line-in, CD-audio, and digital sampled sound.
A year later, Creative Labs and its distributor, Brown-Wagh Publishing, started shipping an upgraded version of the Sound Blaster: Sound Blaster Pro (Brown-Wagh Publishing, 160 Knowles Drive, Los Gatos, California 95030; 408-378-3838; $299.95). It adds the audio] mixer necessary to meet the MPC standard fully, as well as a second Sound Blaster on the same card and a CD-ROM interface.
The Sound Blaster Pro has two FM chips that provide as many as 22 simultaneous synthesizer-type voices (the Sound Blaster has only one FM chip for 11 simultaneous voices). It also has two ADCs (Analog-to-Digital Converters) and two DACs (Digital-to-Analog Converters) that let you record and play back realistic-sounding voice and sound effects in stereo. (The Sound Blaster has only one ADC and one DAC for mono recording and playback.)
The CD-ROM interface isn't a SCSI interface, so you're limited in the number of CD-ROM drives you can use with the Pro. It currently works with the Creative Labs SCD-521, Matsushita CR-521, and Panasonic LK-MC-521 series drives. All three are available as either internal or external drives. I tried the Creative Labs SCD-521B internal drive with the Pro, and it appears to be both fast and reliable.
Like the original Sound Blaster, the Pro, includes a volume control, MIDI interface/joystick port, microphone input, line-in, and line-out on the back of the card. Although the MIDI kit is optional with the Sound Blaster, it's included in the Sound Blaster Pro package.
The Pro also comes with a full array of software. Voice Editor II supports stereo recording and file compression, as well as audio input from a microphone, CD audio, or a file. The graphics-based waveform displays lets you cut and paste, zoom, and loop your sound segments. You can also add echo and reverb digitally.
The CD Player program turns your CD-ROM drive into a software-controlled audio-CD player. The program's control screen uses the familiar cassette recorder layout, making it easy to play, pause, stop, rewind, fast forward, change track, and change volume.
SBTalker takes any ASCII text file and converts it to spoken words. (Like most algorithmic text-to-speech converters, though, it sometimes mis-pronounces the words.)
The FM Intelligent Organ program turns your computer into a stereo organ. It features a learning mode and offers automatic accompaniments and rhytms. It can also work with a MIDI keyboard through the Pro's MIDI interface.
With MMplay, you can synchronize Sound Blaster audio files with Autodesk Animator animation files to create simple multimedia presentations on your PC.
And two Windows programs, Jukebox and SBMixer, let you play MIDI files and adjust the various levels of the Pro's audio sources from within Windows.
If you're interested in turning your PC into an MPC, you can also buy the Sound Blaster Pro as part of an official MPC upgrade kit. The kit consists of the Pro sound card, a compatible internal CD-ROM drive, and five CD-ROM titles, including Microsoft Bookshelf and Windows With Multimedia -- all for just $849.95.
So how does the Sound Blaster Pro sound? The sound quality of any 8-bit sound card, including the Sound Blaster Pro, is roughly equivalent to that of an FM radio -- orders of magnitude better than the PC's usual beeps and boops.
If you want true CD-audio quality sound from your PC, you'ss have to spring for one of the upcoming 16-bit stereo sound cards, such as the $995 MultiSound card from Turtle Beach Systems.
For most of us, an 8-bit card is all we really need. Hook your Sound Blaster Pro to a decent pair of speakers or headphones, and you'll be ready to experience the many sounds of multimedia.