Sound Blaster

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Sound Blaster by Creative Technology set the standard for PC soundcards many years ago including on-board digital signal processing. Up until recently, virtually all soundcards were "Sound Blaster compatible", but most cheap PCs have integrated sound on the motherboard, so there isn't actually a separate soundcard.

Use in older applications

In recent years, much more advanced soundcards/on-board chips have replaced the old Sound Blaster "standard", and with the advent of hardware virtualization, such as ALSA, SDL and DirectX, soundcard chipsets have been deemed almost irrelevant (in regards to compatibility).

Older DOS-based applications and similar still rely on Sound Blaster technology. Fortunately applications such as DOSBox (an MS-Dos emulator/Virtual Machine) and VDMSound exist to run these legacy applications in old Windows or Linux environments.

Drivers

Sound Blaster users should always install appropriate drivers for their soundcard. Creative drivers are available at http://support.creative.com/Products/product_list.aspx?catID=1&CatName=Sound+Blaster#. The kX Project released alternative Windows WDM drivers up until 2009 for soundcards manufactured by Creative or E-mu based on the EMU10K1 and EMU10K2 chips. The kX drivers supported soundcards including the Sound Blaster Live!, Audigy/Audigy 2 and E-mu Audio Production Studio, but not Sound Blaster X-Fi. The kX drivers exposed more functionality and had better ASIO and MIDI support but were accordingly harder to configure.

Limitations of Sound Blasters

The Wikipedia article about Sound Blaster Live! explains some shortcomings of the EMU10K1 chip used in this and other Sound Blaster soundcards. The DSP internal sampling rate is fixed at 48000 Hz and distortion can occur if the card is required to resample to other rates. As a result, it is recommended to set Audacity's Selection Toolbar to 48000 Hz when recording with these soundcards.

Another problem with soundcards containing EMU10K1 / EMU10K2 chips is that they clip recordings before reaching the maximum level of 0 dB. It is sometimes possible to correct that by setting all levels at 72% or similar or by setting the recording application such as Audacity to the soundcard's native 48000 Hz sample rate.