From The Floor: SoundBlaster Live!, Bringing Quality Sound To A Mac Near You

We had the opportunity to preview Creative Labsi SoundBlaster Live! for Macintosh this week while at MACWORLD Expo. This card is the first of its kind for the Mac, allowing consumers the ability to enhance their audio experience in a way never before possible to the average buyer. The Mac has always had excellent audio hardware built-in, which kept all but the highest-end audio vendors away from the the platform. With the latest advances in audio technology, specifically in regards to gaming and software integration, that has all changed.The first thing youill notice about this card is its ability to drive sound out to four discreet channels. This means you get stereo sound both in front and in back of you, and with a graphical interface you can configure where you want the "focal point" of that sound to be. The software automatically adjusts levels for each of the different channels as you move the focus around.Note that this is different than "Surround Sound", which is a 5 channel system. Typical Surround Sound that you would find in your home stereo has stereo right and left in the front, but only one mono channel in the rear. There is then a center channel and a subwoofer. The "5.1" standard with DVD adds stereo support to the rear, as well.The next feature that caught our attention is the cardis ability to simulate different "room" types, with varying levels of reverberation and delaying, adding an unprecedented ambience to everything you hear. Called "EAX Technology" (short for Environmental Audio Effects), you can alter the sound to make it feel like youire in rooms ranging from small jazz clubs to airplane hangers. The obvious application of this is while listening to MP3s, and it works great. However, for those of you who have only played video games with dry, unprocessed sound, you are in for a real treat. Ambient effects like reverberation add a whole new dimension of reality to game playing. Hearing the click of a gun loading echo through your room, the lingering breath after footsteps, or the thundering roar of a machine gun at full tilt will no doubt improve your gaming experience. Yes, you can use the effects right out of the box with all your existing games, but even better than that is something called the OpenAL standard. Like OpenGL is for graphics, OpenAL is something game developers can use to directly alter the audio effects throughout game play.The card has full MIDI capabilities, including a MIDI processor that brings support for Sound Fonts to the Mac. With Sound Fonts, which supports cross-platform ".SF2" files, you can load different sounds in and play them out with your MIDI devices. This card also has a MIDI port on it, giving users yet another option to get MIDI data in and out of their newer desktop Macs.All of this is controlled by a sound processing unit on the card itself, which frees up your machines processor for more important things!The SoundBlaster Live! does have stereo Mic and Line inputs, which can be used for sound recording. Keep in mind that the card is inside the computer, so there will be the inherent noise of the system on all your recordings. This is hardly noticable in all but the strictest recording environments, and this card should suit the needs of most home and small studio owners adequately.The card is expected to list for US$149, with an estimated street price of US$129. For US$99, you can get the card on the show floor at MACWORLD Expo.