The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Discussion about old sound cards, MIDI devices and sound related accessories.

Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby yawetaG » 2019-5-31 @ 20:23

SirNickity wrote:
Scali wrote:
SirNickity wrote:So, if the Pro could perform even close to the noise and crosstalk specs of the SB 16, it would have been pretty decent for the time.


Why? Because you used crap amp/speakers?
That's not what the SB Pro was aimed it. It was aimed at semi-professional musicians (mine even included the MIDI kit and Voyetra sequencer software).
They would have better amps and speakers, and would expect considerably better, even in 1991, especially at that price.


Easy, tiger. :-) You seem to be passionately against Creative, or at least the SB Pro. Fair enough. I'm just trying to find out how bad the situation ACTUALLY is, not the rhetoric that gets thrown around by people who just don't like Creative or had a bad experience with a Sound Blaster at some point. I'm also willing to throw them a bone. Yes there's better stuff out there, even for the time. But I think reading too much into the "Pro" part of the name is probably not wise.

I also got the SB Pro 2.0 kit with Voyetra Sequencer Plus "Pro" (ahem), and the MIDI cables, etc. etc. I think I paid (ok, I was a kid, so read: my dad paid) about $150 for it? Not spare change, but given the crappy old Ad Lib was running around $60-80 at the time.... ehh.

I really think you have to be careful with how much you associate this hardware with professional music equipment.


$150 dollars is peanuts compared to the prices of professional equipment BITD...

OTOH, even then musicians were still using grainy Akai samplers. Better stuff existed. Worse stuff existed. It was a mixed bag.


FYI, the reason Akai samplers were (and still are) quite popular is that they have a rather specific sound, used in specific music scenes (i.e. they are cult). This lasted up to around the release of the S3000XL, although some people are of the opinion that the previous generation of Akai samplers was the last good one and others think the XL-series have worse sound than the non-XL samplers that bear the same number. The earlier Akai samplers (S1000/S1100 and older) are more desired because they have even more character. On top of that, they have very good, well thought out user interfaces for professional music equipment from the 1980s-1990s.
Other contemporary samplers had a different sound, sometimes more realistic, but with generally worse user interfaces (with Yamaha's TX16W being ostensibly one of the worst...ever) or annoying bugs.

So if your intent was to say there's nothing wrong with associating "bad" sounding equipment with professional equipment, Akai samplers are not really a good example... ;) Try cheap effect boxes instead. Two dozen reverb programs with minimally different settings that all sound pretty crappy and similar, yet some people insist that they are comparable to, say, a Roland high-end effect unit...

I still don't see anyone taking the SB Pro seriously. IMO, it was a gaming card, despite all the marketing claims on the box telling you that you could be the next Herbie Hancock with the included software bundle. It's not a reference DAC, but it could play those 8kHz sound clips from games on 3.5" floppies just fine. It also does OPL2 in all its crappy honky-blurby glory. It wasn't until the EMU8K that you could even kind of look at a Creative Labs card as a professional instrument. Even that's a stretch though. But it was cheaper than an Emulator or a Fairlight.


Perhaps it's best thought about in similar terms as the Ensoniq/Creative AudioPCI: a card that was good enough to get people interested in music making. :happy:
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby SirNickity » 2019-5-31 @ 20:56

Scali wrote:I wouldn't make too many assumptions about me if I were you.


OK, I'm going to drop this. You're getting riled up, and I have no desire to ruffle anyone's feathers. This wasn't about you. It was about a piece of hardware created for consumers two and a half decades ago. I never saw a SB Pro for sale in the retail channel that was beyond a reasonable price. They weren't cheap exactly, but they weren't unreasonably expensive, and definitely not priced (and to the best of my knowledge, never advertised to be) like a professional instrument of the time. Maybe in your neck of the woods, the picture was vastly different. That's entirely possible. Not sure what the exchange rate between USD and Guilders would have been, but as a WAG, maybe 2:1? If I had paid $300 for an SB Pro, I might have thought that was steep, and maybe I wouldn't have looked back at it the way I do now. So... you win. Try and relax, eh?
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby Scali » 2019-5-31 @ 21:45

SirNickity wrote:They weren't cheap exactly, but they weren't unreasonably expensive, and definitely not priced (and to the best of my knowledge, never advertised to be) like a professional instrument of the time.


I never said they were marketed as or priced as professional equipment (trust me, Roland MPU-401 + MT-32 was considerably more expensive, or else I wouldn't have settled for the SB Pro).
But they certainly weren't in the range of what you'd expect for 'game cards'. As I said, it was 'semi-professional'.
I don't get why I even have to explain that a *sound card* at the same price of an *entire computer* (no less an Amiga 600, which was still a very decent 16-bit gaming machine at the time, and certainly had superior sound quality) is expensive.
For about 600 guilders you'd also be able to buy a high-end SVGA card in those days.

SirNickity wrote:Not sure what the exchange rate between USD and Guilders would have been, but as a WAG, maybe 2:1?


It was probably around that, yes, around 1992.
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby SirNickity » 2019-5-31 @ 23:03

Perhaps because, AFAICT, that price tag was not a common experience? Again, I don't recall ever seeing an SB Pro going for that much bread. OK, some of the multimedia kits, with a CD-ROM and speakers and so on, but not just the card and MIDI kit. I agree, that's not a very reasonable price. I can only guess that maybe there was some obscene markup locally, or you got one of the first ten made, with the engineer's signature on the PCB? No idea. I can't reconcile that.

I'm also unsure what it would've cost, for comparison, to buy an Amiga in my region at that time. It didn't seem to do well here. I only knew one person who had one, and it was a hand-me-down or thrift buy, or something like that. By then I had a 486SX, and (whether this is fair or not) it seemed thoroughly unimpressive to me -- to us both, presumably, as he spent a lot of time at my house playing with the PC, and I only recall one time that we sat there trying out some of the Amiga software. I don't know if we were missing out, or the Amiga had just run its course by then.

FWIW, I grew up with a C64, which I enjoyed and have enough fondness for that I now own a C64 Mini to casually play around with. I don't think I'll ever care enough to track down OG hardware (although I'm sure it's still somewhere at my parents' house), but then I have in the past become enamored with things that I hadn't noticed before, so never say never I suppose.

I don't quite get your drift with the MPU-401 / MT-32 vs. SB Pro. The SB doesn't have much in common, other than the potential for using it as a MIDI interface to something external. At that point in time I didn't know anything about the MT-32, aside from seeing it as an option in game setup menus, but had spent quite a few Saturday afternoons wistfully tinkering with the keyboard and rack synths at a local music store. Definitely could not afford the $1000 (and right on up to infinity) price tag of those. The Super SAPI OPL3 MIDI driver did nothing to alleviate the desire for a Sound Canvas, JV, or XG module. Even the AWE, fun as it was, still paled in comparison. Nonetheless, I dabbled with Voyetra stuff and started writing music with it, and MIDI Orchestrator later, until getting a pirated copy of Cakewalk and spending hours crawling the net for Sound Fonts.
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby Scali » 2019-5-31 @ 23:17

SirNickity wrote:Perhaps because, AFAICT, that price tag was not a common experience? Again, I don't recall ever seeing an SB Pro going for that much bread.


Possibly because I bought it when it was top dog. Which it only was for a few months, because then the SB16 came around, taking its place as the 'semi-professional' solution, moving the SB Pro down to more of a 'budget'/'gaming' card.
Also, clones with SB Pro compatibility arrived rather quickly (friend of mine got a Sound Galaxy, which turned out to actually be of better quality), further putting pressure on the price.

When I bought it, my PC was a Commodore 386SX-16. Despite the raw specs and the total cost (about 4-5 times as much as the Amiga 600, all combined), it was actually a slower/worse gaming machine than the Amiga 600.

SirNickity wrote:I don't quite get your drift with the MPU-401 / MT-32 vs. SB Pro. The SB doesn't have much in common, other than the potential for using it as a MIDI interface to something external.


That's the thing: the MPU-401/MT-32 would be the more 'professional' way to get into MIDI sequencing on a PC.
The SB Pro with its MIDI kit was the first more affordable alternative as far as I was aware.
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby yawetaG » 2019-6-05 @ 05:37

Scali wrote:I never said they were marketed as or priced as professional equipment (trust me, Roland MPU-401 + MT-32 was considerably more expensive, or else I wouldn't have settled for the SB Pro).
But they certainly weren't in the range of what you'd expect for 'game cards'. As I said, it was 'semi-professional'.
I don't get why I even have to explain that a *sound card* at the same price of an *entire computer* (no less an Amiga 600, which was still a very decent 16-bit gaming machine at the time, and certainly had superior sound quality) is expensive.
For about 600 guilders you'd also be able to buy a high-end SVGA card in those days.


I probably shouldn't be reacting to you, given your history of hostile reactions and unwillingness to back up your claims with facts (real prices), but this statement is ridiculous. PCs at that time (1991) were sold for thousands of guilders. The SB Pro was meant for PCs, and for a (at that time) niche objective to boot. Gaming consoles had much wider distribution (available at many toy shops instead of specialist computer shops) and were cheaper to manufacture.
Gaming consoles were made in large numbers consisting of exactly the same hardware, that were batch shipped from the country of manufacturing (often far east) in much larger numbers than a specialist PC card. Economics of transport are important in this because the larger the number of units shipped at once the cheaper it is, and the distribution charges are part of the final sales price of the item overseas - which the Netherlands is for products manufactured in the USA and Asia. So that means that regular prices over here will always be higher than in the country of origin (unless items are being dumped in a sale of course). You can try all that you want to claim the opposite, but it's simply untrue.

That a particular gaming console found a secondary use by music enthousiasts because it happened to have good sound capabilities is besides the point.
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby Scali » 2019-6-05 @ 07:22

yawetaG wrote:PCs at that time (1991) were sold for thousands of guilders. The SB Pro was meant for PCs, and for a (at that time) niche objective to boot.


Now *that* is a ridiculous statement: "Because PCs are expensive, any addon can be expensive, no matter how cheap it actually is to build".
Can you also charge 3 times as much for a box of floppies, when they're used for PC, instead of for some home computer? Because that is what you're saying.
But if you must know, the PC I put that SB Pro 2 in, was a Commodore 386SX-16, which I got about a year earlier I think. It cost about 1500-1600 guilders I believe, including an SVGA monitor.

yawetaG wrote:and were cheaper to manufacture.


That's the point: they weren't.
There's not all that much on an SB Pro card. A budget FM chip from Yamaha (YM262), a budget 8-bit A/D and D/A converter, a budget amplifier from the 70s (TEA2025-based), a budget microcontroller from the 70s (Intel 8051), a simple mixer chip, and a simple CD-ROM interface.
Your average gaming console from the early 1990s would have more, and more sophisticated parts.

yawetaG wrote:a specialist PC card.


We're talking about the Sound Blaster Pro, not some niche card. Creative sold many millions of the things, and as you can see, even the early models are fully optimized for manufacturing, making use of SMD parts etc.
Heck, the SB Pro is more optimized than a regular SB 2.0, and doesn't contain that many more components (doesn't have the CMS interface, but does have the CD-ROM interface). It would probably cost about the same to make. Yet Creative charged about twice as much for the SB Pro. Over time, pricing became more realistic, but early prices were just downright crazy. Especially given the poor quality of the product. For that price you expect decent SNR and crosstalk, which you didn't get.

As for 'backing up'... I said it was 600 guilders, at an exchange rate of about 2:1 to USD.
And look here: https://books.google.nl/books?id=Xb5Vnu ... &q&f=false
Sound Blaster Pro, listed at $299 in a US mag in November 1991 (see page 49, and page 434 for example)
Checks out 100% with what I said.
In fact, on page 49 they even specifically say that the Pro AudioSpectrum has better audio quality, and the SB Pro suffers from background noise.

Was it any better when the SB Pro 2 came out?
Well no, because in April 1992 we still find it at $299.95, on page 266: https://books.google.nl/books?id=HERlo0 ... &q&f=false

I used a Casio wavetable-based MIDI keyboard to interface with it (the CTK-530 if I am not mistaken). That whole thing was cheaper than the SB Pro (I think it was 400 guilders). Now surely you're going to argue that building an entire keyboard (with superior audio quality) is cheaper than building an ISA sound card.
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby Scali » 2019-6-05 @ 16:46

To completely drive my point home, I looked for an old Dutch magazine from around that time.
I managed to find one from October 1992. I took some pictures of some ads in there, with Sound Blaster Pro cards:
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/dq5xma5x29h0 ... E2FNa?dl=0
Note that my mentioned price of 600 guilders was including tax (BTW), and back in 1992, tax was 18.5%.
So I find the following:
1. "Sound Blaster Pro" - 695 guilders incl BTW (no mention if that is with or without Voyetra and MIDI kit)
2. "Sound Blaster Pro" - 529 ex BTW -> 626.87 incl BTW (again, not sure if that includes MIDI)
3. "Soundblaster pro" - 550 incl BTW (again, no mention of MIDI)
4. "Soundblaster Pro " - 470 ex BTW -> 559.95 incl BTW (again, no mention of MIDI).

I believe the Voyetra/MIDI kit itself was already 50 or 60 guilders at least.
So depending on whether you want to assume these are the MIDI versions or not, my price of 600 guilders fits right in there.
My guess is that the first two include the MIDI kit (if not, they're even worse than the deal I got), and the other two do not. Add about 50 guilders to the last two, and they're all right around the 600 guilder mark.

Or, you could just disagree, question my integrity and insult me.

By the way, I didn't find any Roland MPU-401, MT-32, LAPC-I or similar products listed. They just weren't advertised/sold in computer magazines.
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby SirNickity » 2019-6-05 @ 17:52

That's a lot to pay for an SB Pro. But..... I mean... PC stuff really WAS expensive back then. Like I said, I still remember seeing the AdLib on the shelf at the time for something in the neighborhood of $75-100, give or take. (I apologize -- it's spongy. I'm trying to accurately place the price I was seeing at the time we bought an SB Pro, and I just can't remember for sure. I used to fawn over these parts on the regular.)

For comparison, I had to get a new 3.5" floppy drive and that was around $80. I upgraded my 486SX with 4MB that cost $165. When the Pro Audio Spectrum 16 got bundled as the Pro Audio Studio 16 (they added voice recognition software), it cost around $250. A bit cheaper than you paid for the SB Pro, but it was also a few years down the road because I upgraded to that card FROM an SB Pro (2.0).

Regarding the comparison to a high-end SVGA card circa 1992, I got a VLB ATI Graphics Pro Turbo (Mach64, 2MB) for around $300. This would've been around 1995 or 96, because I was using Win 95 by that time. Like you said... except a few years later.

I'm not trying to pick a fight or invalidate your disappointment, but to me, this doesn't really put the SB Pro in a class of elite professional audio hardware. It puts it square in the league of consumer PC stuff. Expensive on release, significantly cheaper a few years later. You paid the early-adopters tax, and that sucks. Not really unique to Creative though.
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby Scali » 2019-6-05 @ 18:09

SirNickity wrote:That's a lot to pay for an SB Pro. But..... I mean... PC stuff really WAS expensive back then.


I don't think that's any kind of excuse though. I mean, these ads also contain a lot of other information, such as videocards, network cards, HDD controllers and such.
Even if you compare the SB Pro to these contemporary expansion boards, the price is excessive.
For example, one of them lists an ET-4000 for 229 guilders.
An SB Pro, more than twice as expensive as the best VGA card money could buy, back in the day? (Not to mention that an SVGA circuit like the ET-4000 is much more complicated, and the card had to have at least 1 MB of high-performance memory, which wasn't exactly cheap).

There is also an AdLib listed in one ad, for 225 guilders. To put the SB Pro into perspective.
I really don't think that in 1992, the total cost of manufacturing an SB Pro would exceed 100 guilders (mass-production/SMD). It's built from very cheap/old parts.

SirNickity wrote:this doesn't really put the SB Pro in a class of elite professional audio hardware.


I never said it did, and I already corrected you at least twice on that.
I said it is *semi-*professional, as in: the most expensive option that we find here, listed in a regular PC magazine, aimed at consumers and business users. Call it 'prosumer'.
The PC magazines didn't list any of the real pro stuff, as I said. No Rolands.
The next-best thing (AdLib or regular SB/clones) is about half the price of the SB Pro. Sure, the SB Pro was better, but not THAT much better.

Professional equipment is already a big step up from semi-professional (especially in price), and *elite* professional equipment is way above that even (then we'd no longer even be in Roland-territory).

SirNickity wrote:You paid the early-adopters tax, and that sucks. Not really unique to Creative though.


Yes, I get that bit. That's not really the issue. I mean, obviously I deliberately made the choice to spend 600 guilders on a sound card.
The thing that gets me is that the quality let me down so much. I mean, if I buy the most expensive card, I expect it to deliver good, noise-free audio (especially if you dare call it the 'Pro' model, and being from the best-selling brand in sound cards). It didn't. It's about as noisy as my C64 was, and way worse than my Amiga 600.
The SB Pro sound quality is just really bad. Not just for its price, but in general. It's no better than a regular SB, and I believe a real AdLib is actually less noisy. Same with cheap clones from that time, the Sound Galaxy is at least as good.

I guess I'm saying that either it should have cost only half of what I paid, because at the given quality, it really isn't worth a penny more. Or, it should have delivered best-in-class quality, and I see the PAS16 as the benchmark there, around 1992 (the SB16 certainly wasn't it either).
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby 640K!enough » 2019-6-05 @ 18:52

A number of you seem to be defending Creative's pricing. Let's not make excuses for Creative; they have always been a company that was good at marketing and little else. Their entire existence as a PC sound "leader" was founded on their copy of the Ad Lib MSC, with a few other well-chosen additional features. If you still need to convince yourself, think about the CMS/Game Blaster. Not even being first or offered at Radio Shack for less than the MSC helped. The effort put in by Ad Lib to gain adoption is a big part of what established sound cards as essential gaming hardware on the PC, and it would be years yet, before it was used somewhat well, and even longer before sound cards were considered standard equipment.

The point of this thread was sound quality, and in mid-1992, Creative had no reason to brag. Almost every other major competitor delivered better sound for less. From memory, the superior Ad Lib Gold 1000 cost about $50 less than the SB Pro (which was still only dual OPL2); the vastly superior UltraSound (on shelves later that year) was about the same price, as was the PAS16.

The hypothesis that it was due to import costs or volume compared to other consumer electronics products doesn't hold water, either. Creative was the name in PC audio, and would have surely sold more than the competition. Furthermore, the UltraSound and Ad Lib cards were made or assembled in Canada, not Singapore, and the Ad Lib Gold was a four-layer design, unlike the original SB Pro. Creative charged what they did because they thought they could get away with it, not because it was justified.
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby canthearu » 2019-6-06 @ 13:03

All companies charge what they can get away with (see Nvidia for a modern day example)

Creative was able to drive the narrative for PC sound cards and thus able to set the price of them, especially early on.

It wasn't helped by the fact that the cheap competitor cards had even worse onboard amplifiers, (I am not talking about the PAS16, more along the lines of cheap ESS and yamaha clones) that made creative's cards sound somewhat reasonable. Of course, turn that awful amplifier off and even the cheap cards outperform creative's SB16s, but guess what, every clone card I have ever seen, now and back then, has the awful amp turned on by default, ruining them.
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby Scali » 2019-6-06 @ 13:16

canthearu wrote:It wasn't helped by the fact that the cheap competitor cards had even worse onboard amplifiers, (I am not talking about the PAS16, more along the lines of cheap ESS and yamaha clones) that made creative's cards sound somewhat reasonable.


They did?
I've had 3 or 4 ESS-based sound cards over the years, and all of them easily beat my SB Pro hands down in terms of quality. In fact, they're exceptionally crisp-sounding, probably rival PAS16/GUS.
Sound Galaxy and C-Media are probably around the worst quality, as far as my experience goes. But even the Sound Galaxy I've had experience with is in the SB Pro ballpark.
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby canthearu » 2019-6-06 @ 14:07

Scali wrote:
canthearu wrote:It wasn't helped by the fact that the cheap competitor cards had even worse onboard amplifiers, (I am not talking about the PAS16, more along the lines of cheap ESS and yamaha clones) that made creative's cards sound somewhat reasonable.


They did?
I've had 3 or 4 ESS-based sound cards over the years, and all of them easily beat my SB Pro hands down in terms of quality. In fact, they're exceptionally crisp-sounding, probably rival PAS16/GUS.
Sound Galaxy and C-Media are probably around the worst quality, as far as my experience goes. But even the Sound Galaxy I've had experience with is in the SB Pro ballpark.


Pretty much all the ISA sound cards I have come across with selectable onboard amplifier have had the awful things turned on. Practically the first thing I do these days when getting an ISA sound card is turn the infernal thing off.

And I agree, once you turn the amplifier off and plug in an external AMP, the ESS based cards sound quite good.
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby SirNickity » 2019-6-06 @ 17:59

Scali wrote:
SirNickity wrote:this doesn't really put the SB Pro in a class of elite professional audio hardware.


I never said it did, and I already corrected you at least twice on that.
I said it is *semi-*professional, as in: the most expensive option that we find here, listed in a regular PC magazine, aimed at consumers and business users. Call it 'prosumer'.


Fair enough, sir. It was a bit of dramatic hyperbole on my part because I find it curious that anyone would even call it prosumer. It's just consumer. No pros, just cons. ;-) The "Pro" in the name has as much meaning as "Blaster" to me. Marketing loves to throw around terms like "pro" without any bearing on quality or purpose. I doubt I'll ever make a living with my PS4 Pro. My Pro Audio Spectrum 16 has never been used professionally either. I might have a Pro toilet brush somewhere, though I am not a janitor. It's just hard to take the term seriously, even if they charged a lot for it. Price != Purpose.

640K!enough wrote:A number of you seem to be defending Creative's pricing. Let's not make excuses for Creative; they have always been a company that was good at marketing and little else. Their entire existence as a PC sound "leader" was founded on their copy of the Ad Lib MSC
...
The point of this thread was sound quality, and in mid-1992, Creative had no reason to brag. Almost every other major competitor delivered better sound for less. From memory, the superior Ad Lib Gold 1000 cost about $50 less than the SB Pro (which was still only dual OPL2); the vastly superior UltraSound (on shelves later that year) was about the same price, as was the PAS16.


The AdLib Gold and Ultrasound were better, for less. Yep, that's totally true. But, uh... where are those guys now?

THAT'S why Creative charged what they did. (Well, that and because they could.) Marketing is a big part of a business's survival. The best product doesn't win. Business isn't fair. Survival is a popularity contest, combined with charging enough to make sufficient profit to invest back into the business (it's not about how much it costs to produce a product -- that's only a small part), and weather through the rough patches. If Nintendo had charged a fair price for the Wii, they wouldn't have survived the Wii U. Successful ventures know that, and convince people to part with enough cash to thrive, even if the raw materials don't equate to the price tag.

I'm not defending Creative's actions. They've done some nasty things. But, anyone that has survived the PC industry since the 90s has. That's just the game, unfortunately. It is what it is. *shrug*
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby Scali » 2019-6-06 @ 19:35

SirNickity wrote:It was a bit of dramatic hyperbole on my part because I find it curious that anyone would even call it prosumer. It's just consumer. No pros, just cons. ;-) The "Pro" in the name has as much meaning as "Blaster" to me. Marketing loves to throw around terms like "pro" without any bearing on quality or purpose. I doubt I'll ever make a living with my PS4 Pro. My Pro Audio Spectrum 16 has never been used professionally either. I might have a Pro toilet brush somewhere, though I am not a janitor. It's just hard to take the term seriously, even if they charged a lot for it. Price != Purpose.


I think you're just going out of your way to try and miss the point I'm making.
Frankly I find your line of reasoning to insult my intelligence. As if I wouldn't know about marketing, thank you, Captain Obvious. But that's not the point I was making.

SirNickity wrote:The AdLib Gold and Ultrasound were better, for less. Yep, that's totally true. But, uh... where are those guys now?


What does that have to do with anything? As said, the point was quality, and these brands were apparently capable of delivering higher quality audio at similar or lower prices, using similar technology.
It merely puts the quality and price of Creative products in perspective.

SirNickity wrote:I'm not defending Creative's actions.


Sounds to me like you are, to be honest.
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby krcroft » 2019-6-06 @ 22:00

It would be interesting to see a histogram of buyer-categories (or intended use-scenarios) for this hardware.

(If only circa 90s companies subsized their income through rampant consumer data collection and resale of demographics packages to 3rd parties like they do today; maybe today I could torrent leaked data from back then and run the numbers!)

None the less, magazines and sales prices only give some of the context. Remember, the PC was the leading edge of the pareto curve in prosumer computing and software-use at home, but was not leading edge in gaming, family entertainment, or audio engineering.

For me as a teenager in the late 80s and early 90s, my context comes from having well-off friends who had first release 386 DX and 486s. "the PC" in these homes was relegated to a dedicated room (a den or basement room), which typically housed a large cabinet full of boxed software and a handful of games played by the home owners' kids and their friends. Unlike today, there wasn't a single Dad that I knew who classified himself as a "gamer". At most, they would poke their head into the room to be briefly amused, and perhaps dabbled in flight, racing, or golf games.

The PC was no where near these parents' high end audio gear, typically center-stage or built-in behind smoked wall glass, in rooms dedicated to entertaining guests. And when I say "no where near", I mean both location-wise and price-wise. So when we say that the "SB Pro" was either marketed as prosumer or purchased by prosumer audio people; what use cases are we talking about that differentiates it from the above non-prosumer scenario I described?

Are these early 90s prosumers audio engineers working at say Sony Recording Studios, kicking the tires reporting back saying "yeah, I did some mixes and critical listening at home on my pricey prosumer SB Pro, but it's not as good as our XYZ that costs $40,000 here in the studio."

I have no doubt that dudes like David Guetta and Armin Van Buuren (now are in their 40s and 50s like many of us) surely cut their teeth on early PC Sound Blasters tinkering with mod tracker software in their teens and 20s. Retroactively, yeah, their use cases maybe prosumer simply because they became pros today.

Maybe somone's parents figured out how to run a line-out to their VHS recoder and as some audio to a family VHS tape given to friends or family. I remember a couple family members doing that, and it was pretty gimmicky (early day of things to come). Would that fall in the prosumer space?

So if we tallied up how people use their SB Pros (or any Sound Blaster for that matter), what percent of users were like my own experience: non-pro usage for gaming and casual home multimedia CDRom stuff like Encarta encyclopedia. Versus say the budding David Guetta's of the world and for-hire audio engineering jobs?

From my own context, I would say that 99% of SB Pro's were purchased and used in a non-pro(sumer) capacity. The SB Pro wasn't even considered as a source for general "home audio" listening. Was the typical family running line-out audio cables from their SB Pro's to their stack of HiFi audio gear? Were any of your parents or friend's parents doing critical listening and mixing using stereo monitor speakers and prosumer headsets plugged into their SB Pros? No in my world they weren't.
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby SirNickity » 2019-6-07 @ 03:17

Scali wrote:I think you're just going out of your way to try and miss the point I'm making.
Frankly I find your line of reasoning to insult my intelligence.


OK, well, I don't know what to tell you. Maybe you're just looking for a reason to be offended. At any rate, I'm not explaining it TO you, I'm stating a case. Again, this isn't about you.

SirNickity wrote:The AdLib Gold and Ultrasound were better, for less. Yep, that's totally true. But, uh... where are those guys now?

Scali wrote:What does that have to do with anything? As said, the point was quality, and these brands were apparently capable of delivering higher quality audio at similar or lower prices, using similar technology. It merely puts the quality and price of Creative products in perspective.


Alright -- so I DO need to explain things. Are you ready to be insulted? ;-) (Just poking fun. Seriously, to me it's an interesting debate, not a fight. Don't be insulted.)

AdLib and Gravis created better products. (Let's just assume that's a fact rather than subjective.) They cost less than contemporary Sound Blasters at the time. They are no longer with us. Think about it -- why do companies usually fail? They can't reach profitability (selling for too little, or their cost is too high?); they don't have sufficient market penetration (they aren't marketing enough, or at least effectively enough?); their product is inferior (but we ruled that out)...

IMO, AdLib failed because they weren't aggressive enough at marketing (not just ads -- which they did -- but developer, retail, and customer outreach for e.g.) They also kinda stumbled into the market when there wasn't any competition to speak of, secured their place, and sat there for too long before advancing. So they got bowled over by someone moving faster. "But but the Yamaha thing!" Yeah, but why did Yamaha agree to those terms? Because Creative had more sales potential, so they went where the money was going to be.

Media Vision failed partly because of internal issues, but they also didn't have quite the market share that Creative had (developer outreach, marketing), and didn't have deep enough pockets to come out the other side.

Gravis -- I don't know. I don't really remember their story. But I also don't think I ever saw one in the wild, despite knowing about them and spending a lot of time at computer stores. That definitely says something about their standing.

SirNickity wrote:I'm not defending Creative's actions.

Scali wrote:Sounds to me like you are, to be honest.


Believe what you want. *shrug* I've been critical of their actions and their hardware in the past. If you wanted to look, I'm sure you'll find evidence of such, though I can't imagine why anyone would bother. Despite how I may feel about them or the product, I can see why they were successful. It was good enough, affordable enough, and occupied everyone's mind share at the time.

krcroft wrote:"the PC" in these homes was relegated to a dedicated room (a den or basement room), which typically housed a large cabinet full of boxed software and a handful of games played by the home owners' kids and their friends. .. The PC was no where near these parents' high end audio gear, typically center-stage or built-in behind smoked wall glass, in rooms dedicated to entertaining guests. And when I say "no where near", I mean both location-wise and price-wise. So when we say that the "SB Pro" was either marketed as prosumer or purchased by prosumer audio people; what use cases are we talking about that differentiates it from the above non-prosumer scenario I described?


That's about on par with what I recall as well. I never had the SB Pro connected to a stereo, but around when I got a PAS16, I did. I was the only one I knew doing that at the time. I'm positive I wasn't alone, but it wasn't common enough that I would see it casually.

krcroft wrote:The SB Pro wasn't even considered as a source for general "home audio" listening. Was the typical family running line-out audio cables from their SB Pro's to their stack of HiFi audio gear? Were any of your parents or friend's parents doing critical listening and mixing using stereo monitor speakers and prosumer headsets plugged into their SB Pros? No in my world they weren't.


Similarly, I asked earlier, what would you even play on a PC back then? It's not like you had hard drive space for HQ audio, or enough CPU for compression like MP3 (which would still consume too much space to be useful.) So even if the DAC were great, it wouldn't enable that kind of thing. MAYBE as a sampler, although dedicated hardware was definitely better suited at the time. Yamaha 2- and 4-op FM was merely a toy. MIDI? Maybe, although the lack of MPU-401 compatibility would be a potential disadvantage, and if that's what you're using it for... who cares if the DAC sucks?

So, I'm still baffled about how it would be considered even prosumer-level. The applications weren't really there yet. I'm prepared to be proven wrong though.
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby Scali » 2019-6-07 @ 09:10

I think you are using the inverse meaning of 'prosumer' that I know.
That is, you are talking about consumers who actually are (or want to become) professionals.
The way I know the word 'prosumer' is people who are actually consumers/amateurs/hobbyists, yet have the budget to buy more high-end gear than your average consumer/amateur/hobbyist (basically people who are already well-paid professionals in a different field, and have no ambition to become a professional in this particular field, but do enjoy it as a hobby). A good example where the term 'prosumer' is often used, is amateur photographers. The 'prosumers' in that market will buy relatively expensive DSLR cameras, lenses, and other equipment. That, as far as I know, is how the term 'prosumer' came to be. This in turn led to companies developing and marketing products specificially for this 'prosumer' market: products that are not average consumer products, but also not full-on professional stuff. They are something in-between: offering some/most of the professional features, but at a reduced price, in order to get more potential 'prosumers' engaged, people who don't have the budget for real professional kit, but who are interested enough to spend considerably more than your average amateur/hobbyist.

I think the SB Pro fits that definition perfectly: it basically cost twice as much as a regular SB 2.0. And the regular use for an SB 2.0 is games. Although it had a MIDI port, I don't recall Creative actually marketing that feature much, if at all. And for games, let's face it, the SB Pro had basically no additional value at first. No game supported the OPL3 or the stereo DAC, so you could only use it as an overpriced SB 2.0 (and I reiterate that the SB 2.0 itself wasn't exactly a bargain in the day, if you compare it to the price of a high-end SVGA card like the ET4000, which in itself is more than twice as expensive as a budget Trident or such. The added value of an ET4000 over a Trident is obvious though: the ET4000 gives you the best VGA-performance that money can buy, way better than a Trident). So it was a difficult sell to your average consumer/gamer. But I was a 'prosumer' in the sense that I was willing to pay considerably more to get better quality and more features than just the 'standard' consumer stuff.
So the main reason to buy an SB Pro was if you were actually going to use it to do your own recording, sequencing and whatnot. In theory, another reason should be that the 'Pro' version would deliver better sound quality than a regular SB 2.0 (much like how Creative later marketed 'Gold' versions of their cards to audiophiles). Sadly Creative could not deliver there. And sadly this was before the days of the internet, so it was not like there were any reviews available. I didn't know anyone who had a sound card at all, let alone an SB Pro (soundcards weren't something that everyone had in their PC, they were this mysterious thing you read about in magazines, and saw in menu options in games. I had no idea what an AdLib sounded like until I installed my SB Pro in my PC and started up the first AdLib game). So when I bought it, I had to 'go in blind'. My standard for computer audio quality was the Amiga, which I was intimately familiar with. So I figured the SB Pro would be at least as good, given it costs as much as an entire Amiga did, as I already said before (now that we've proven that the SB Pro indeed cost 600 guilders in 1992, you can no longer doubt this statement).

The notion that you'd buy any kind of PC to be the next David Guetta, or to do 'professional' mixing/mastering/whatever at home, is ridiculous in that timespan. Professional recording studios used multitrack recording, generally at more than 44.1/16-bit sound quality by the early 90s. This required specialized hardware and storage. It would take years until any PC was actually even capable of any kind of DAW-like recoding/editing, at any level of quality at all (you know, the days when there were these special extra-expensive 'multimedia' SCSI harddrives, which had better temperature-control, because regular harddrives would need to recalibrate periodically because of temperature changes, which would lead to dropouts with any kind of high-bandwidth data, such as (multitrack) audio or video recording/playback).

What the SB Pro did allow you to do though, was to use it as a MIDI sequencer, or to use it as a sample editor. You could certainly use the MIDI sequencer to generate 'studio quality' music, that just depended on what kind of MIDI synths you would connect it to, and what you would use to record them. Likewise, it could be used just fine for editing, mixing and playing samples, and using those as 'snippets' in your music. They do not necessarily have to be super-high-quality, and in fact, in various cases artists deliberately look for lo-fi sounds. Being stereo would obviously be a big advantage here.
So the SB Pro was certainly an interesting tool for creating music at home on a budget, even if you would later re-do the music in a real studio with better equipment.
I've done a few songs on my SB Pro back in the day. Some of them was just created from creating sample loops and splicing them together.
That is something that was just beginning to become possible on computers around the time of the SB Pro: your average computer now had a harddisk to store and play enough of the samples to do a complete song (as opposed to tracker music), and the SB Pro added stereo recording and playback.
And no, I never wanted to be the next David Guetta or whatever. My professional career is in an entirely different direction: software architect. But I do enjoy making music on the side, and have actually been a guest musician on some other people's projects, which means there are actually some songs on which I play available on iTunes and other media. Does that make me a 'pro'? Whatever.

And yes, obviously I had my MIDI synth next to my PC, and I had the whole thing connected to a dedicated home-stereo setup (even at the somewhat limited audio quality, playing Second Reality on that thing for the first time was quite the experience).
I also plugged my Amiga or C64 in there from time to time. When a game or demo has really good music, it's great to just play it on a big stereo (almost like on a real demoparty). Which is also how I am quite familiar with just how good these machines sound on a decent installation. The Amiga is actually quite impressive. The C64 is dirty, but great fun, because it has an absolutely devastating low-end response.

Also, I would really appreciate it if people would stop arguing about what I say, or even respond at all, when they weren't actually there, and didn't actually live through the experience like I did.
I mean, what's the point of all these people simply arguing: "I can't believe an SB Pro actually cost 600 guilders" or "Just because it says Pro and is twice as expensive as a high-end SVGA card doesn't mean you should expect it to be any good" etc.
Franky, I really don't care if you don't understand it because you weren't there at the time. I told you in great detail how things were, and that's the end of it. I don't feel like I have to argue about this, it simply is what it is (I didn't even feel like I had to prove that an SB Pro actually cost 600 guilders in 1992, but hey, I threw you a bone. I thought it would change your perspective on what I said, and how reliable my account was, but no, the goalposts were just shifted).
Basically, when you argue anything I say, you are implicitly calling me a liar. And when you are arguing that I shouldn't expect 'studio quality' just because I bought a product that was labeled 'Pro', with a gold logo on the box, you are insulting my intelligence. Obviously I knew it wasn't going to be studio quality. Heck, just by the specs alone it would be obvious, I mean: OPL3, 8-bit, 22 KHz stereo. The ballpark is obvious. Don't argue about that stuff, it adds nothing but insult to me. But that is what you want, isn't it? Call me a liar? Paint me like some fool who thought he was getting professional quality equipment because it said 'Pro' on the box? That is what you're doing, and I'm fed up with it.
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Re: The "12-bit" Sound Blaster 16 Myth

Postby krcroft » 2019-6-07 @ 13:46

Scali, I appreciate you sharing your context. Like I said price and magazines can only show us part of the pictures.

Having close Dutch friends today, I have a small glimpse into the subtle differences between the Dutch and (Canadian) western cultures.

In general, I would say your culture is more savvy and logical when it comes to understanding, assessing, and deciding how to move forward. This would translate to shop owners being more savvy as well as consumers: having a more thorough selection, aware of the trade offs (ie Pro vs 2.0) be them true or simply lies by creative, and what exactly those benefits will translate to. The need for savyness further grows when the product price vs monthly income also grows.

The context for me is that shop owners and consumers were much less savvy in this specific area, especially during that timeframe. Parents and kids would typically spec-compare a bit (on the spot) at the store between PC boxes, plunk down their $3500 or $4500 CAD and just carry out the new Compaq or HP model.

So my context is of a culture less savy: as a teen, I didn't have niche stores carrying an array of sound cards nor was the shop staff really aware either. If you asked a question, half the time they would simply read thr specs on the box and wing it.

For example, our drug store (London Drugs) had a small PC area where most families bought their entire PC, printer, etc Western Canada through the entire 90s experienced a go-go oil boom, high wage grow, very low cost housing expenses (coming off the 80s oil slump), with many middle or mid-upper class families having significant extra monthly disposable income. To them, the SB Pro listed on the side of their new 486 box was merely "progress" like all the other specs versus their worse-spec'd 386 at home.

Both contexts are interesting and equally valid. Thanks for sharing yours. I think myself, I would have preferred what you experienced: niche shops, perhaps readily close by, staffed with savvy no-BS hands-on owners who actually ferret out the improvements and short comings. (in general, an improved level of awareness not appreciated in my context) Cheers.
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