Creative Sound Blaster (audio/midi card)

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Creative's [or Creative Labs'] Sound Blaster has been the most popular PC sound card series for as long as I can remember. For games and listening, it's practically the standard. For music making, however, it's been regarded as noisy and limited; okay for beginners but not a "serious" audio card.

User Comments

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Tripecac (Travis Emmitt)

I've bought several Sound Blaster cards over the years. The first one I used for making music was a Sound Blaster Live Platinum, which I bought in May 2000 for $220.

The SB Live Platinum is a great all-in-one sound card. Almost all the reviews I read the year I got it (2000) gave it the highest ratings, ranking it above all other "consumer-level" cards. It's got MIDI, digital I/O, two mic jacks, line-in, headphone jack w/ volume control, a joystick port [just remember to unplug it when doing MIDI], surround sound, and comes with lots of free software. It's a great card for everything except audio recording...

Audio Recording

Sound quality is fine for listening to mp3s and WAVs. However, I found that recording was noisy and grainy.

The SB Live only samples at up to 16/48 (16 bits at 48 KHz). It's annoying that it can't handle 44.1 KHz, which is standard for audio CDs. You need to convert from 48 KHz to 44.1 KHz, which might degrade the sound quality.

I found that my SB Live noticeably took away a lot of my Triton's "oomph". The signal degradation was most noticeable when using good headphones. This was very annoying to me.

In 2001 I upgraded to an M-Audio Delta 44. Right away I noticed a huge improvement in recording quality. When I recorded with the Delta 44, I didn't hear any distortion or weakening of the signal. It was a much better recorder than the SB Live.


My recent Sound Blasters came with MIDI (one IN, one OUT). This let me learn the basics of MIDI sequencing (with an early Cakewalk product).

When I upgraded to the Delta 44 audio card, I had to find a new MIDI card. I chose a Frontier WaveCenter PCI card. It gives me two MIDI IN and two MIDI OUT, which lets me control my Triton and SY55 (or Pod Pro at the same time. The Sound Blaster only had one IN/OUT so I couldn't do this.

Joystick Conflicts

Recent Sound Blasters include a joystick port. This is useful only if you want to play games with your DAW (which most people think you shouldn't do) and if don't already have a joystick port (e.g., on your motherboard).

For music making, the joystick port is (probably) more a nuisance than a bonus. This is because there have been conflicts between the Sound Blaster's joystick and MIDI ports.

For instance, with my Sound Blaster Live, I have to unplug my joystick in order to get MIDI-OUT to work. If I leave the joystick plugged in and then plug my Triton's MIDI-IN into the SB Live's MIDI-OUT, the Triton freezes. When I plug my SY55's MIDI-IN into the SB Live's MIDI-OUT, the SY55 reports a "MIDI Error". If I remove the joystick from the SB Live, then everything works again. This weirdness is most likely due to a resource conflict, and is mentioned briefly in the Cakewalk FAQ.

Sound Fonts

Recent Sound Blaster cards support something called "sound fonts". From my (limited) understanding, these are multi-samples that are processed on the card itself rather than by your CPU. This is probably mostly useful for older PCs.

I guess one nice thing about sound fonts is that they're (usually) free. You can download lots of them over the internet. What you can do with them, I have no idea. You need some sort of program or plugin to run them. I tried using them with Sonar once or twice, but couldn't figure them out. I wasn't very motivated, since I already had the Triton for sounds.

Break-out Box

The Platinum versions come with a "break-out box". This means you get a bunch of knobs and inputs on the front of your machine. It looks cool, but I don't think I've ever actually use it; I always plug directly into the PCI card itself.


For learning the process of music-making, Sound Blasters are a [relatively] cheap starting point. They aren't regarded as long-term components, however.