Review: Sound Cards : The Trouble With Audio

The last time you bought a stereo system or an audio component you probably listened to a variety of brands and models before making your decision. Too bad you can't conduct the same tests with PC sound cards. If you could, your choices would be limited. In a battery of tests to measure the quality of sound cards, few delivered on their advertised specifications. The exceptions:

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Sound Blaster AWE32 with 4MB

Creative Labs

$399

(800) 998-1000

Review: The flagship in the Sound Blasterline, this board offers good wave - table synthesis for game use as well as high-quality MIDI playback. With the exception of its power amplifier, this AWE32 turned in one of the best performances in the group.

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Series 140

CrystalLake Multimedia

$295

(503) 222-2603

Review: A universal player, this board works well whether you intend to use it for business presentations, serious music editing and recording or white-knuckle game play. It accepts outputs from professional audio equipment and average hi-fi components without overloading.

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Soundscape Elite

Ensoniq

$159.95

(610) 647-3930

Review: Of all the boards tested, Ensoniq's has unquestionably the best-sounding wave-table synthesizer for games. The Elite is MIDI- compliant and easy to set up and use. The best sound for those on a budget.

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Ultrasound Ace

Advanced Gravis

$100

(604) 431-1807

Review: Here's a quick way to upgrade your sound card to wave- table. This ISA add-on for sound boards that lack a wave-table synthesizer is a reviewer's dream. Pull it out of the box, plug it into your board and you're ready to play.

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MultiSound Monterey

Turtle Beach Systems

$399

(717) 767-0200

Review Unlike most cards in the group the Monterey is not Sound Blaster - compatible. It also has no internal CD-ROM audio inputs or IDE connectors. For those reasons it's not a good game board. But it's the only board that approached CD audio quality. If you're serious about music and digital audio creation, it has no peer.

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Glossary

MIDI: Musical instrument digital interface, a standard that lets instruments, synthesizers and computers exchange information.

Wave-table MIDI: Uses digitized sound samples of actual instruments, a vast improvement over traditional synthesized MIDI.

ISA: Industry standard architecture, a standard for the expansion bus slots found in PCs.

IDE: Integrated drive electronics, the most prevalent and affordable class of PC hard disk.

Reviews courtesy of Multimedia World, a monthly publication based in San Francisco that provides product reviews and testing for multimedia experts.

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