Sound cards - from best to worst

Discussion about old PC hardware.

Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby termynuss » 2007-5-31 @ 19:43

I'd just like to add an addendum to what people have said about the ESS 688 AudioDrive. There was a second and third chip in the 688 line that added a slew of features to the 688's compatibility, those being the 1688(F) and 1788F chipsets. The 1688 added hardware MPU-401 support instead of the 688's reliance on software emulation, and the 1788F added pure plug-and-play capability as well as support for multiple joysticks.

The most interesting thing, however, are some of the 1688 cards. What I don't think has been said is that the ESS 688 or 1688 is just the chip. ESS never made any sound cards, and so many of the sound cards themselves have many different features or flaws. The A020-500 card (I forget the manufacturer, I want to say Sertek though), which is the card I use chiefly in my DOS machine, has some extended features from most ESS (1)688 cards that make it very attractive: It offers emulation of SB2.1 or SBPro 3.1 by way of a jumper on the board.

It's pretty much the most compatible board I've ever encountered. I suppose you have to weigh its pros and cons though. The sound quality, though it advertises 16bit 44khz, sounds a bit worse than most comparable cards, and its hardware MPU-401 port is very noisy (clicks and pops) unless you turn the microphone volume all the way down, or use Line output instead of speaker. Its ability to run anything that supports SB or SBPro is incredible though, and with the hardware wavetable header it certainly creates a one-two knockout punch for somebody who cares only about compatibility and not necessarily sound quality.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Marek » 2007-6-01 @ 10:47

Speaking of the most compatible card for DOS, I still use my Terratec Maestro 32 (first version).
It's compatible to Soundblaster Pro (including stereo samples).
It has an OPL3.
It's Windows Sound System compatible.
It has quite good oversampling for any sample rate, ie. no annoying mirror or alias frequencies.
Frequecy response from 2 Hz - 22000 Hz for 44100 hz or 48000 Hz sample rates.
It has a Waveblaster connector.
It comes with a Roland SC-55 clone on a Waveblaster board, using the Dream chipset with 4 MB ROM.
MIDI on waveblaster connector as well as gameport MIDI is both, MPU401 and SB-MIDI compatible.
And as a none gaming plus, it has a very good ADC as well, ie. 16 bit, 48000 Hz, stereo with very low noise and virtually no aliasing even on low sample rates, frequecy response from 2 Hz - 22000 Hz for 44100 or 48000 Hz. Samples made with it tend to sound better than any mainboard chip even with 96000 Hz, 24 bit.

However, it's not a perfect card either since it is missing Soundblaster 16 compatibility. Not a problem as long as the game comes with Windows Sound System support as an alternative.

Overall, I'm quite happy with it in combination with my MT-32.

Before that Terratec card, I bought several soundcards claiming to be SB-Pro compatible, which they usualy aren't. I brough them all right back to the salesman. With them there was an early Shuttle Sound and a Mozart Sound card. Avoid them!

Then I got the Miro (I don't remember the model designation) with the OPL4. The hardware was acceptable. Soundblaster Pro compatibility was good. Biggest flaw was that you can't use the OPL4 wavetable with MPU401, and as I never saw a DOS game with OPL4 support, this makes it a Windows only feature. MPU401 is only available on the game port.
The real downside of this card was the driver, which apparently was written in BASIC and took about 10 seconds to initialize. And about 1 second every time Windows played a sample. In addition to that, it was quite buggy and most of the mixer sliders didn't work with any diver version. This is inacceptable. I sould the card to someone who didn't care.
DOS-PC: DFI k6bv3+, Pentium 200mmx, 64 MB RAM, Terratec Maestro 32 sound card, Roland MT-32 + SC-155, Winner 2000 AVI 2MB, Voodoo 1, Win98SE
Windows PC: GigaByte GA-MA790GPT, Phenom II X4 905e, 12 GB RAM, M-Audio Delta 44, NVidia 1060 6 GB, Win7 pro x64
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby WolverineDK » 2007-6-01 @ 12:51

Marek: so in reality, if you could make the Terratec Maestro 32 (first version) soundblaster 16 compatible, and use a daughterboard. You could in some ways have the best SB16 clone on your hands with SB pro compatibility too ? Hey, that is what I call awesome :)
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Marek » 2007-6-02 @ 08:27

WolverineDK wrote:so in reality, if you could make the Terratec Maestro 32 (first version) soundblaster 16 compatible, and use a daughterboard. You could in some ways have the best SB16 clone on your hands with SB pro compatibility too ?
In reality, it is not realistic to just make it SB16 compatible, I guess. The daughterboard was shipped right with the card. The wavetable sounds quite good, better than many cheap cards today. Only an original Roland could improve that due to its better effect processor as menioned before.

As for SB16 compatibility, I think it's the high DMA which is missing. Some games which don't need it seem to work with the SB16 driver and use the higher sample rates.

Btw. was there actually an original Sound Canvas on a Waveblaster compatible board? I guess not since Roland didn't even bother to make something SB compatible.
DOS-PC: DFI k6bv3+, Pentium 200mmx, 64 MB RAM, Terratec Maestro 32 sound card, Roland MT-32 + SC-155, Winner 2000 AVI 2MB, Voodoo 1, Win98SE
Windows PC: GigaByte GA-MA790GPT, Phenom II X4 905e, 12 GB RAM, M-Audio Delta 44, NVidia 1060 6 GB, Win7 pro x64
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby 5u3 » 2007-6-02 @ 09:28

Marek wrote:Btw. was there actually an original Sound Canvas on a Waveblaster compatible board? I guess not since Roland didn't even bother to make something SB compatible.


Roland made two Sound Canvas daughterboards for the Waveblaster connector:

SCD-10 (SCB-7): GM, based on the SC-7 module
SCD-15 (SCB-55): GM/GS, based on the SC-55 MkII module
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Silent Loon » 2007-6-02 @ 12:26

Marek wrote:Speaking of the most compatible card for DOS, I still use my Terratec Maestro 32 (first version).
.


I also have this card (Revision 1.0) but it won't work with my ECS P6BAT-A+ Board (VIA Apollo Pro133 Chipset I think). It simply doesn't start, the system hangs while booting. It is also said, that there are problems with BX-Boards (at least with the Rev. 1.0). I got a DFI K6XV3+ Rev. A running with it, but still it doesn't like warm booting. As I see you use the the K6BV3+ wich should be the same, exept that it is an AT-Board instead of ATX. Any problems?

Apart of this (problems with faster systems) the features you mentioned make the Maestro 32/96 a great card, even better (because easier to configure) than the EWS64 series, wich has no true OPL3.

Roland made two Sound Canvas daughterboards for the Waveblaster connector:

SCD-10 (SCB-7): GM, based on the SC-7 module
SCD-15 (SCB-55): GM/GS, based on the SC-55 MkII module


5u3, I have this SCB-7 board, and - to be honest - I don't really know what its advantages are. As far as I understood it is no programmable, and I wonder if there is a way to put it in some kind of MT32 mode (you can change the SC-55 to Mt32 mode - can't you ?). Marek mentioned, that the DREAM chipset on his card is a SC-55 "clone", while the SCB-7 belongs to the Sound Canvas family too. Does this mean they sound all the same?
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Marek » 2007-6-02 @ 15:56

Silent Loon wrote:I got a DFI K6XV3+ Rev. A running with it, but still it doesn't like warm booting. As I see you use the the K6BV3+ wich should be the same, exept that it is an AT-Board instead of ATX. Any problems?
Works fine for me.
DOS-PC: DFI k6bv3+, Pentium 200mmx, 64 MB RAM, Terratec Maestro 32 sound card, Roland MT-32 + SC-155, Winner 2000 AVI 2MB, Voodoo 1, Win98SE
Windows PC: GigaByte GA-MA790GPT, Phenom II X4 905e, 12 GB RAM, M-Audio Delta 44, NVidia 1060 6 GB, Win7 pro x64
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby abyss » 2007-6-03 @ 02:03

The best sound card is a sound blaster 16.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Marek » 2007-6-03 @ 12:43

abyss wrote:The best sound card is a sound blaster 16.
This is suppodes to be a joke, isn't it?

It is not SB Pro compatible, which is certainly the most important thing for a DOS soundcard.
MPU401 is not reliable (I did not try, but heard about that many times).
You still need a wavetable.
Has only 12 bit DAC.

Hence I prefer my Maestro 32 for sure. Being not SB 16 compatible really is a little drawback compared to that list.
DOS-PC: DFI k6bv3+, Pentium 200mmx, 64 MB RAM, Terratec Maestro 32 sound card, Roland MT-32 + SC-155, Winner 2000 AVI 2MB, Voodoo 1, Win98SE
Windows PC: GigaByte GA-MA790GPT, Phenom II X4 905e, 12 GB RAM, M-Audio Delta 44, NVidia 1060 6 GB, Win7 pro x64
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby gerwin » 2007-6-26 @ 23:04

I am just thinking; would it not be be cool if there was like a online soundcard museum with images if the actual card and the chips on it. along with descriptions as in this forum, and a midi sample in mp3....
I came across this site below, it is lame and in who knows what language, but the idea is nice.
http://museum.gravisultrasound.net/m_sbpci.htm

Edit:
this website has got a very nice soundcard museum:
http://www.crossfire-designs.de
click on articles, then on "Phonomenal!... a retrospective view on sound card history" it is in english and german.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Mike 01Hawk » 2007-6-27 @ 04:59

That's the joy of vintage hardware... the internet hunt!!!

There are quite a few people on here (Great, Cloud, swaaye, Locutus, etc) that have graciously added pics, samples, etc.

Wikipedia is a good place to start, but yes... I agree a central website would be very nice.. but probably a huge undertaking as well :(
Dell Optiplex Gxpro: Built solely so I could re-live my SB16 days properly with newly acquired sound pieces: MT-32, SCB-55, and DB50xg :)
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Locutus » 2007-6-27 @ 13:13

Hello!

Lately, I more and more feel the urge to get away from Creative cards. They are buggy (MPU401), noisy and cheap and not SB Pro compatible like Marek pointed out. I can sing you a song about hanging notes when it comes to daughterboards, for that matter.

Although I really must say the PNP configuration utility (CTCU) is not that bad. It always did what I wanted it to do.

I was looking for an alternative that could satisfy all my requirements:

- Waveblaster connectivity (Without any bugs)
- Real OPL3 sound
- SBPro compatible
- Compatible to a 16-bit sound solution for games (Like Windows Sound System)
- Good SNR

You will never find all these features combined on one single Soundblaster. However, maybe I will try a Maestro 32, Marek spoke of.

@Marek: Could you do me a favor and try your card with Tyrian? That game is like hell for SB clones. :-)

As for SB16 compatibility: I think nobody can be made responsible for not being compatible, because Creative didn't license SB16 compatibility to 3rd party companies, as they did with their Soundblaster models, AFAIK.

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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby gerwin » 2007-6-27 @ 22:00

Hey they even sell such a Maestro 32 card in my small country.. If I am correct.. cool!
(Edit: this is the second Windows 95 PNP adapted release from 1996, with 'Dream' chipset? I hope it doesn't cripple the card too much.... )

usually they sell soundblaster variants, and when I look op their ct numbers on the internet they always appear to be soundblaster cards that one should not want.
But I might just buy this card then, it's cheap anyways.
(Currently I don't have any ISA sound card... There was one removable isa SB compatible card in my first PC (1994?), When I bought it it was bundled with two of the tinyest speakers one can find, in my memory the card was awesome. But I was a hardware noob then, and the PC was sold, so I will never know what card it was... ) :sad:
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Silent Loon » 2007-6-28 @ 09:19

Marek wrote:Speaking of the most compatible card for DOS, I still use my Terratec Maestro 32 (first version).
It has an OPL3.
It has a Waveblaster connector.
It comes with a Roland SC-55 clone on a Waveblaster board, using the Dream chipset with 4 MB ROM.


Marek, I suppose the card on the picture above isn't your card, right? The card above is a Maestro 32/96 (pnp). And so I was wrong, when I said I've the same card like you, I have the one above (32/96) with the synth on the board. Maestro 32 instead should be a Terratec "Soundsystem Gold 16" with a DREAM wavetable daughterboard on it (please correct me if I' wrong). Has it an ESS or a Crystal codec?

Locutus wrote:I was looking for an alternative that could satisfy all my requirements:
- Waveblaster connectivity (Without any bugs)
- Real OPL3 sound
- SBPro compatible
- Compatible to a 16-bit sound solution for games (Like Windows Sound System)
- Good SNR


Hi Locutus!
I was also thinking about this for a while. Is the "true" OPL3 so important? Why? Because of compability? To get the "real thing"? If you don't mind living without the YMF262, you can consider those cards:

Terratec Maestro 32/96 (pnp)
pros:
+ Waveblaster connectivity
+ SBPro compatible
+ Compatible to Windows Sound System
+ Very good SNR ( http://www.alasir.com/reviews/soundbench/page2of5.html)
+ DREAM chipset 9233/8905 with DSP, 32 voices, 393 sounds, 8 drumkits, 4MB Sample-ROM, GM/GS and "somehow" also MT-32 compatible (you have to switch the bank to #127 by using midi-controller commands).
+ The initilization-program has a manual overwrite-option that might come in handy when conflicts with other cards occur.
+ two MPU401-Midi interfaces (UART-mode), so you can use the onboard synthesizer and a daughterboard or an external midi device.

cons:
- Perhaps the Maestro 32 has a true OPL3 chip, the 32/96 hasn't. It uses 40p+ technology with 32 voices stereo and mfx-reverb - sounds great, but nothing for purists.
- Problems might occur with newer mainboards. (As I said, I had problems with this card on my ECS-board, but lately I tried it on a QDI with VIA-chipset - and it worked!)

To connect a Maestro card with an external Midi-device, you better go with this:
http://cgi.ebay.de/TerraTec-MIDI-Kit-Ma ... dZViewItem


Terratec EWS64XL
pros:
+ Waveblaster connectivity via a 5 1/4" front-modul
+ SBPro compatible - I tried Tyrian - no problems. SBPro 8bit quality is far better than any SB16 - in my opinion.
+ compatible to Windows Sound System / Microsoft Direct Sound (if you need this)
+ Excellent SNR
+ DREAM chipset 9407/9503 with DSP, 64 voices, up to 16.384 sounds (and drumkits). The EWS has no sample ROM but sample RAM (max. 64MB) to upload soundfonts. It is 100% GM/GS and "somehow" (like the Maestro) MT-32 compatible, General Midi is really very good.
+ two MPU401-Midi interfaces, so you should be able use the onboard synthesizer and a daughterboard (or an external midi device) without changing anything.
+ You can load special mixer-settings and add effects via the synthesizer: equalizer, chorus, hall, reverb, V-space (virtual 3d), or turn them all off if you don't like them. You can save your mixer-setting in different files, and load the one you need by the autoexec.bat

cons:
- Unfortunatly the dos-initilization routine has no manual overwrite-option (i.E. my EWS64 - or the pnp-bios of this my ECS-board - deactivates its gameport every time when I use it together with an GUS ACE - presuming a conflict that doesn't exist: the ACE has no gameport)
- No true OPL3, uses 40p+ with 20 voices. Again - nothing for purists, but great FM sound.
- Waveblaster connector: the connector is situated in the front-modul. The manual and many ews-websites say that you can use it together with the onboard-synth. Nevertheless I still have problems to use my daughterboard(s) and i.e. the soundblaster emulation together in dos. Maybe the reason is once again my ECS mainboard, or wrong mixer settings, or simply the game I want to play.

If you just have a cheap daughterboard, or plan to plug a real MPU401/AT in the next ISA slot, you should also consider the Turtle Beach Tropez. The card is decribed in one of the articles swayee has posted. It has no wavetable connector, but uses an ICS Wavefront chipset, which isn't bad. I got it from a friend who bought it in the U.S. years ago. In contrast to the EWS64 it was a breeze to install it. It is MPU401, GM, WSS, SBPro and Adlib compatible, it has a true OPL3 and two Midi connectors (one via gameport, the other one is on the card itself.)
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Locutus » 2007-6-28 @ 13:09

Hello Silent Loon and thanks for all the input!

Actually I don't consider "real" OPL3 a must, it's little more than nice to have.

Going through all the specs you have posted, I think the EWS64 series might be the right thing for me to try. I went through the driver and documentation archives on terratec.de, which are quite good and complete (much like the archives maintained by Turtle Beach).

It's really nice to see companies still maintaining such a level of support for "archived products". Yes, even Creative does it, although you have to click on numerous links to reach any downloads/product manuals. :)

I have yet to discover the differences between the EWS64 L, XL and XXL. Do you have a clue?

@Marek: I believe X-Wing Collector's Edition has the option of selecting "4-OP FM sound" in the setmuse program. I'd really like to hear what that sounds like.

Regards,
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Silent Loon » 2007-6-28 @ 15:19

As far as I know:

EWS64L = EWS64XL without the front-modul - works very good, as long as you don't need the waveblaster connector. An external midi-device has to be connected via gameport with the "Midi-Kit-Master" adapter I mentioned before.
EWS64XL = with 5 1/4 front-modul - recommended. The front modul has digital connectors (4 - two in, two out), two pairs of standard midi sleeves (in/out) and a headphone connector (which is a little bit noisy).
EWS64XXL = EWS64XL with a different front-modul that contains a PC version of the original Waldorf Microwave XT Synthesizer. Cool looking, rare, expensive, and I don't know if there is still a waveblaster connector inside.

There was also an "EWS64S"-Version of the card. It's kind of a budget-version and I was a long time quite content with it. It has the same synthesizer chip. Nevertheless it has lower quality (but still good) A/D & D/A converters, and lacks the possibility of connecting the front modul, so you don't have any waveblaster connector.

As you speak german, you may get more information here:

http://www.synrise.de/docs/types/t/terratec.htm
(There is also an english version of this site, unfortunatly the types and descriptions are still in german: http://www.synrise.de/html/index.htm)

And because installation of an EWS64 is sometimes not easy (I still haven't solved the daughterboard problem), this could be helpfull too:

http://www.studio4all.de/htmlg/main30.html


Prices on ebay vary very much and I guess it's hard to find many cards outside europe, but in germany or austria you may get it around 10,- or 20,- Euros (with some patience). Maestro cards are generally cheaper.
Good luck!
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby gerwin » 2007-7-03 @ 22:48

Got the Terratec Maestro 32/64 today, and after some tweaking it is working fine on a SY-6BA mainboard (Intel 440BX). Sounds great so far!
I had to use that mysterious executable mix3296.exe to change the IRQ's, these settings are then written to an eprom on the soundcard. This same executable is also a control panel in windows and dos, and also a required initializer for sound in dos! Yet the latest version locks up in dos: so i was told in the faq to find and use an older version named terratec.exe, which indeed functions properly.
It is a bit annoying that the midi synth also uses an IRQ, and when adding a daugtherboard another one is required. Is this common practice? (I was thinking maybe I could use this card next to my sb-live, but this way I will never have enough system resources..)
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Silent Loon » 2007-7-04 @ 10:39

gerwin wrote: It is a bit annoying that the midi synth also uses an IRQ, and when adding a daugtherboard another one is required. Is this common practice?


- As I've understood it the IRQ for the second midi-interface / the daughterboard is necessary when you use midi-2 i.e. with a midi-keyboard (so it uses the midi-in of the card). Theoretically for simple midi-playback no IRQ should be required. In the EWS64 setup (the successor of the Maestro 32/96) it is possible to turn the IRQ for midi-2 off. Maybe you can do this with the Maestro card too? Or run it and ignore the second IRQ?

(I was thinking maybe I could use this card next to my sb-live, but this way I will never have enough system resources..)


- Don't give up! If you use the SB Live in Windows 98, just disable the functions of the maestro card (or of the SBLive) you don't need. In DOS you can choose to initialize the Maestro card or SBLIve's Soundblaster 16 emulation. You may also deactivate the two serial ports and the LPT- port in BIOS-Setup and by this gaining 3 IRQs.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby gerwin » 2007-7-04 @ 22:09

Thanks for the tips.
The Maestro 32/96 eeprom config seems limited to these settings: Synth 1 and 2: Address: 300...380, IRQ: 5,7,9,11,12,15. Also Address and or IRQ can be set to OFF, but filling in OFF in any field will disable that particular synth. An IRQ for the synth must be totally free, no sharing of IRQ's.
Hopefully the SoundBlaster Live! is more flexible, I might give him a shared IRQ 11 and disable the SB16 emulation part...
Edit: it works! funny how in pure dos you can switch soundcards by only choosing which card too initialize. You can also play around with the Crystalware CS423X drivers for dos/windows but they don't seem to add anything new.

Edit: I have an additional question: I am currently interested in these Waveblaster daughterboards cards and managed to order a Roland SCB-7 and a Yamaha DB50XG. I like the modular approach of the daughterboards. To use them on an ISA bus most simple and resource undemanding would be a Roland MPU-401AT card. My question is if there are also good waveblaster host cards for the PCI bus?

Edit: to answer my own question above, here is some info on the Queststudios Forum PCI soundcards with wavetable headers and also the Keep DBs off (most) SB16s!! vogons topic. And another good resource: Alsa project, Terratec listing and Twiki Wavetable soundcards

Incomplete Summary of PCI Bus cards with a waveblaster/wavetable connector:
-Diamond Monster Sound M80 and MX200.
-Terratec Xlerate Aureal AU8820.
-Turtle Beach Montego Vortex AU8820B2, very similar to Diamond Sonic Impact S90 and Aztech PCI 338.
-Turtle Beach Montego II Vortex 2 AU8830A2, no real windows 2k/XP drivers, same chipset as Diamond Monster Sound MX300, and Generic Aureal Vortex 2, almost same chipset as Aureal SuperQuad 2500.
-Turtle Beach Santa Cruz Mostly Crystal CS4630, card similar to VideoLogic SonicFury and VideoLogic SonicXplosion.
-Terratec DMX XFire 1024 Crystal CS4624.
-Terratec SiXPack 5.1+ Crystal CS4630.
-Terratec BASE 2 PCI ESS Solo-1N ES1938
-Terratec DMX ESS Canyon3D ES1970.
-Aureal Soundsystem XFire and clones, VIA Chipset.
-Final Extreme FM801 AU.
-Xwave Thunder 3D VLSI ThunderBird128.

In addition I imagine there are ways to make daughterboards work through a Joystick/MPU-401 Port, a bit Like this and this?

EDIT: removed two faulty entries.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Locutus » 2007-7-17 @ 12:32

@gerwin: You mention "Creative AWE64 PCI ct4380 ". Are you sure about his one? When I search for the model number in Google, I only get images of an ISA revision without any WB connector.

Regards,
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