PC Sound Card
Tired of that bleeping PC? Ian Waugh discovers a sound card that introduces FM synthesis to the world's most popular micro.
Sweeten up you PC with a little high quality LaserWave sound...
Strange But True - Fact #176: The world's most popular computer produces the world's worst sounds. Its true: next to Bryan Adams, the noise most likely to annoy emanates from the sound chip inside the PC computer. Which is why there are so many PC sound cards on the market. Most cards are used for games: the magic words here being Ad Lib and Sound Blaster compatible. Most games support one or both of these cards and you can pick up suitable examples for £60-£80.
But as a music lovin' PC owner you're likely to want more than simple game soundtracks so it's well worth seeing what some of the more sophisticated cards have to offer - cards such as the LaserWave Plus and LaserWave 16. And it just so happens that I currently have the 16 in my machine, so let's take a look at that...
It's actually a MediaVision Pro Audio Spectrum clone at a smarter price and with lots more facilities than a bog-standard games sound card. It is, of course, compatible with the Pro Audio Spectrum and also with Ad Lib and Sound Blaster and comes with the infamous Yamaha four-operator FM chip which is still capable of producing a reasonable sound or two.
Included on the card are Mic and Line input sockets and a mini stereo jack out and there's also a built-in MIDI interface/joystick port - although you'll need a MIDI adaptor cable to use the MIDI interface. There's also a SCSI interface which you can use to connect to a CD ROM drive, for example, and it's MPU-401 compatible so it should work with the vast majority of PC music programs. Running under Windows you should find you can use it without invoking the MPU-401 emulation.
The worst part of installing any PC card is setting up the IRQ, DMA and port assignments. There are hardware jumper leads to do this but you can also configure the card from software - which is easier, especially if you have a few cards in your machine vying for attention. And speaking of software, the package comes with quite a bit of it, including drivers (Windows amongst them) for the various sections of the card. The Sound Blaster and MPU-401 emulation can also be switched on and off through software.
Included with the package is the Sequencer Plus Spectrum which is one of Voyetra's junior DOS-based sequencers. This works well, but the interface is somewhat antiquated. And there's another Voyetra program which the more adventurous could use to edit the FM voices. Personally, I'd prefer to spend my time in more productive ways.
Amongst the plethora of Windows software, Media Player lets you select a MIDI sequencer, a sound file or a CD for playing and you can record from CD or an audio source, too. In fact, you can playback several sources at the same time if you want (this must be the 'multi' in multimedia!), and the mixers allow you to balance the sources and tweak the bass and treble settings.
The manual is a hefty tome which extends to around 400 pages with each section numbered individually. However there's no index and not even a single, complete contents page - so no brownie points for organisation.
If you're thinking of buying a sound card, a MIDI interface or a SCSI interface, it makes sense to look at an all-in-one card. It will work out cheaper and it will only take up one card slot in your PC. The LaserWave card is a neat bit of kit. It's easy to fit and configure and it works well. Highly recommended.
Price: LaserWave 16 £210.13, LaserWave Plus £163.33 inc. VAT
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