Sensory System I. (multimedia upgrade kit) (Hardware Review) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by J. Blake Lambert
If you're new to the world of multimedia, you're in luck--performance is rising, and prices are falling. The new Sensory System I, which is Multimedia PC Level 2 compliant, includes a double-speed CD-ROM drive, a 16-bit sound card, bundled software, and speakers for only $599 retail.
The kit includes a Sony CDU-31A-03 internal cadyless CD-ROM drive. The unit has a 300K-per-second transfer rate, has a 370-ms access speed, and is multisession Photo CD and CD-ROM XA compatible.
The Cardinal Technologies Digital Sound Pro 16 sound card includes a reprogrammable digital signal processor (DSP) from Analog Devices. The 11-voice stero FM synthesis card is Sound Blaster, Ad Lib, Roland MPU-401 MIDI, Windoiw Sound System, and Compaq Business Audio compatible. It will even generate stereo effects for monophonic Sound Blaster applications. The interface for the Sony CD-ROM drive is on this card.
The second card provides a mono microphone input, stereo line in and out jacks, a stereo amplified speaker out jack (four watts per channel--plenty loud for PC work), and a combination MDI in/out and joystick port. The board can also connect to your PC's speaker.
The DSP 16 can record in stereo at rates of up to 48 KHz, but the included software only supports up to 44.1 kHz. The audio is clean, rated at 0.012 percent total harmonic distortion with 20 Hz-20 kHz frequency response and a signal-to-noise ratio of 84.8 dB. The DSP 16 also supports 8-bit ALaw and [mu]Law hardware compression.
The kit includes Labtec CS-150 battery-powered stereo speakers but no microphone. The speakers sound good for their small size.
Voyetra provides the sound software for DOS and Windows. The Windows program, Audiostation, incorporates a meat CD player (for audio CDs), a DAT deck (for playing and recording WAV and VOC files), a MIDI player, and a level/source volume controller. The Windows audio CD player remembers the names of CDs and individual tracks but not your favorite playist. The recorder, WinDAT, supports mono and stereo 8- and 16-bit recording at 11,025; 22,050; and 44, 100 kHz. It can convert from other sample rates.
The Windows MIDI player, Orchestrator, provides a 16-channel mixing board and can record from an external MIDI source. There's also a recorder for embedding sounds into Windows applications. These programs are find starter applications, but they're limited in functionality and prone to an occasional rude crash.
Also included are five software titles on three CD-ROMs; Compton's Multi-Media Enclopedia (1991), Arthur's Teacher Trouble (a great children's talking book in English and Spanish), MicroProse's Return of the Phantom (interactive mystery), F-15 Strike Eagle III (flight simulator), and David Ledbetter's Greens (golf).
A couple of upgrade options are enticing. First, the DSP 16 sound card has a socket for a wave-table upgrade chip (only $59 retail). This makes the sound output deeper and more realistic, though still not of professional quality. It provides 128 voices using the General MIDI standard. Second, the XingSound compression software ($79) provides MPEG audio compression, reducing recorded sound files by a factor of 12 : 1.
The Sensory System I is a good choice for those who like one-stop shopping and want the included CD-ROM software. Installation may be a bit easier using a kit like this, but there were still a few frustrations when I installed this system.
The Cardinal DSP 16 board is definitely worthwhile, and it's available as a separate item (with or without the wave-table chip installed). You may be able to buy the sound card and Sony drive separately for less than the costm of this package and then take the savings and select your own software. In any case, the price of admission to the multimedia theater just went down.