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2015 KickAss Gear

 

 

REVIEW: SB Live! Platinum Sound Card. 
Dr. John
  Creative Labs has replaced it's first generation of Live sound cards with new versions.  The SB Live! Value was replaced with the X-Gamer and MP3 versions.  They are the same cards with different software packages.  Now Creative has replaced the SB Live full version with the SB Live! Platinum version. The card comes bundled with lots of stuff, including a very nice software package.

  You get the SB Live Platinum card, the "Live Drive" front panel box, a 24" patch cable that connects the Live Drive to the card, a power Y-cable (the Live Drive needs power), a mini-to-phone jack adapter, two CD-to-audio cables, a microphone, a good manual, and the software bundle.

 The major change over the original SB Live is that the I/O daughter card is expanded, and is now housed in a 5 1/4" drive housing that fits into a drive bay. They call this new I/O arrangement the "Live Drive". This gives you front access to the MIDI ports, microphone jack, headphone jack, and SPDIF digital in and out connectors.  In addition, you get volume controls for the headphone and microphone jacks right at the front of your box.

 Software Package: The software package is impressive, and includes the full version of these games: 

  • Need for Speed High Stakes
  • Thief, the Dark Project
  • Descent 3 (both CDs)

 The application software package includes:

  • Sound Forge XP, a great WAV file recording and editing program
  • Cakewalk Gold ver. 8 for MIDI sequencing
  • Mixman Studio for mixing sound files
  • Creative's own software bundle (Media Ring Internet phone, the Digital Audio Center for ripping MP3 files, LAVA, etc)

 Sound Card: The card itself is similar looking to the original SB Live.

 The rear jacks include front and rear speaker jacks, SPDIF digital out, microphone in, line in and a high-speed joystick gameport.  The boards are manufactured in Singapore, and appear to be very well made. The card uses the EMU10K1 digital signal processor chip.  This chip provides the Environmental Audio 3D positional sound capabilities.

Installation: Installing the SB Live Platinum card was straightforward.  The card itself can be installed in any free PCI slot.  Then the Live Drive is installed in a free 5 1/4" drive bay. The data patch cable is connected from the Live Drive to the sound card. The data cable is keyed so that it can only go on the correct way.  The next things to hook up are the audio patch cables that connect your CD or DVD drive to the sound card (both analog and digital patch cables included). It's then a matter of connecting your speakers to the correct output jacks, and running the setup program on the drivers CD.

  The software installation begins with the product registration.  Fortunately, this can be canceled, and you can continue with the installation.  Full installation takes up over 160MB of hard drive space, but the custom installation option lets you pick what components are installed.  The latest version of Creative's "Environmental Audio" drivers, Liveware version 3, comes with the Platinum card, so you will not need to update the software package with downloads from Creative's web site.

  Using the SB Live Platinum: The digital sound quality from the SB Live Platinum, coupled with the FPS 2000 4 point surround sound system, was very good.  The sound quality would be even better with a set of Klipsch ProMedia V.2-400 speakers.  The software package is comprehensive, giving you the ability to rip MP3 files, make and professionally edit WAV files, sequence and record MIDI files, and combine MP3 audio files with 3D video files using "LAVA".  The package even includes everything you need for "Internet Phone" calling with "MediaRing Talk 99". You also get a stand microphone for Internet phone calls. We would have liked to see a slightly better quality microphone included in the package though.

  The front input/output jacks turn out to be very handy, especially if you like to use headphones.  The headphone jacks on CD players only allow you to hear CD audio, but the headphone jack on the Live Drive lets you hear everything!  The microphone jack is extremely helpful for folks who use dictation software. 

  The 3D positional audio is very good, but as with all 3D sound cards, your gaming can take a performance hit if you have 3D sound enabled.  The usual result in system hogging games is either an occasional sound stutter, or a brief drop in frame rates when many 3D sounds are being processed at once. We have had many complaints about 3D sound in Unreal Tournament, and have found that the game benefits greatly from disabling the hardware 3D sound support on the SB Live cards. What this means is, if the game does not perform well with 3D sound enabled, you actually have to turn it off to regain gaming performance.  This of course negates the reason for having a 3D sound card in the first place. But all 3D sound cards suffer from this problem.

Conclusions: The bottom line is that the SB Live Platinum is probably the best consumer-level digital sound board available now.  The features have all other sound cards beat, and the software bundle is impressive. The Live Drive will be very popular with users of MIDI devices, folks with Surround Sound stereo systems, or gamers who like to use headphones for gaming.

Pros:

  • Front jacks and volume controls are great
  • Excellent software package
  • Great Games bundle
  • Fantastic sound
  • Digital Dolby surround sound support

Cons: 

  • Takes up a drive bay
  • Microphone is low quality
  • Performance hit with some games that use 3D sound.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 smiley faces :) :) :) :) +

 

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