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Manufacturer: Creative
Min OS X: Not Supported

Sound Blaster Live!
April 30, 2001 | Jason Sims

Making Music
The Sound Blaster Live has several features geared toward music production. It provides a MIDI input and output, so you can connect a MIDI-capable music instrument to your computer. The included MIDI cable is far too short, and must be screwed into your computer--I think next time, Creative should make the cable more easily removable and make the cables much longer--at least about 10 feet. Synths take up a lot of desk space so I think it's important to have long cables. In the meantime, you've gotta buy extension cables, unless you want your synthesizer (or other MIDI instrument) sitting right next to your Mac.

MIDI support for the card is provided via OMS, the de facto standard for MIDI transport on the Mac. OMS was developed by the now-defunct Opcode, and is still the one most-commonly supported by MIDI applications. The only other MIDI software--FreeMIDI from MOTU--can cooperate with OMS, so you're covered either way. I had no trouble getting my MIDI keyboard set up using the Sound Blaster MIDI port, but then, I am used to using OMS and recall that it can be a little confusing at first. For the most part, it should be pretty easy for anyone to get their MIDI stuff set up, but it is important to know a little bit about MIDI to use it effectively.

MIDI stands for musical instrument digital interface. It is a means to transmit information between an instrument and a sequencer, or a computer, or another instrument. A MIDI song consists of a sequence of notes on several channels that control some device. When you playback a MIDI song, the sequencer is not creating the sound--it is just sending out the notes to your MIDI instrument, which plays back the song as you recorded it.

The Sound Blaster's other major music-related feature is its support for SoundFont technology. Creative's SoundFont technology uses sample-based synthesis to create sound. The CD comes with lots of different sounds; you can use them for playing back MIDI files with higher quality sounds than the samples included in Apple's QuickTime Musical Instruments, or you can make your own songs with the included Cubasis program. For those just getting started with creating music, or who write music casually, Cubasis fits the bill. It has 16 MIDI tracks--one for each of the 16 channels supported over a single MIDI connection--and 8 audio tracks on which you can record CD quality audio for vocals or live instruments.

The included SoundFont Bank Manager application lets you load and test out different banks (collections) of sounds. Like the Creative Mixer, the SoundFont Bank Manager seemed to have a couple of quirks--I could not get it to remember my setting for direct MIDI input, so I could not use my keyboard to play the different SoundFont sounds. I also could not find a way to control the SoundFonts with Digital Performer--my audio and MIDI sequencing application of choice. With Cubasis I was able to play SoundFonts and record MIDI songs using them, so I imagine users of the full Cubase product should have no trouble either.

If you just want to mess around and make some tracks, the MixMan Studio software may be to your liking. It gives you sets of looping samples that you can enable and disable individually to create your own arrangements. It's not really like creating your own music, because someone created the pieces, but it's fun.

Also included in the software bundle is sonicWORX Essential, a 'lite' version of Prosoniq's professional audio editing application. You can use it to capture and edit audio samples from CDs, the included microphone, or any audio source you plug into the line in jack.


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