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Author Topic: Creative Labs Awe64 Gold (Nov 1996)  (Read 14541 times)

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Offline chrisNova777

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Creative Labs Awe64 Gold (Nov 1996)
« on: December 09, 2014, 03:08:56 PM »

Creative Labs’ sound breakthrough, the Sound Blaster® AWE64™ Gold, offers phenomenal
audio performance in an ISA sound card. Using the latest music synthesis technology, you
can now play up to 64 notes simultaneously, creating a new dimension for musical scores
and multimedia applications.
Your audio experience will never be the same once you hear the realistic orchestral
reproduction using new WaveGuide technology. Imagine instrument sounds that perform
and react just like their real world counterparts. This is in addition to the true sounding,
hardware wave-table synthesis provided by the EMU8000, the same high quality processor
found in professional quality keyboards!
Of course you might want to make some noise of your own. Using the 4MB of
onboard memory (expandable to 28MB) you can load new sounds using SoundFonts®. Just
record the new samples and then create the instruments. E-mu’s 3D Positional Audio™ and
digital effects capabilities are also included, adding a new level of depth and realism to your
favorite games.
And with the digital output capability of the AWE64 Gold, you can experience
exceptionally low noise performance previously available only to professional music
studios. It is the best sounding Sound Blaster ever!
We didn’t forget about recording, either. Using the 16-bit, CD quality stereo audio
capability with full-duplex support in hardware, you can record and playback samples just
like the pros. Vienna SF Studio™ lets you take your samples and turn them into real MIDI
instruments. CakeWalk® Gold Plus lets you put all of these features to use for superb
control in your most demanding compositions.
Included software also lets you get connected to the Internet, surf the Web, make long
distance phone calls over the Net, or even listen to live audio broadcasts. Everything is
included to add full multimedia streaming capabilities to your PC.
When it’s time to get serious, get the sound card that doesn’t compromise. Ask for the
Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold.

How much more can Creative cram onto a single PC soundcard? PAUL WHITE finds out.


Reviewing soundcards is never straightforward, because what seems at first sight to be a simple sub-£200 budget bundle is often a very complex synergy of hardware, bundled software and potential co-operation with third-party software. Creative Labs' AWE64 Gold (named after its gold-plated connectors) has evolved from the original Soundblaster, but it's been upgraded in several areas in order to make it appeal to those interested in making desktop music. To maintain Soundblaster compatibility for the benefit of the games market, some design choices have been made that don't initially seem to make complete sense -- but, once you understand what this card offers, its potential soon becomes apparent. Intriguingly, the card also includes the ability to apply physical modelling to some of its General MIDI sounds in order to make them more lifelike, although, on the other side of the coin, it also retains the ability to provide you with the extremely nasty FM synth characteristic of earlier Blaster cards.

Like most soundcards, the AWE64 Gold is a multi-functional device which can be broadly described as a GM/GS S+S synth; a GM FM synth; a multitimbral sampler based on Creative Lab's own SoundFont technology; a stereo in, stereo out audio card with additional S/PDIF output and multitrack audio support; and a MIDI interface (via the joystick port, using the cable that's included). It comes with a whole bundle of support software, including a full version of Steinberg's Cubasis Audio. There's also a proprietary 3D sound processor built in but, as far as I can see, this is really only applicable to the games soundtracks that support it; the card's overall performance is quieter if you leave this switched off.

Connections are provided to handle the audio from a CD-ROM drive, and various jukebox- and karaoke-style software modules are included to support this. Naturally, some of the support software is of the kind that most musicians would rather leave in the box (anything to do with karaoke, for example), but along with Cubasis there are several soundbanks ready to load onto the card, comprehensive sample-editing and sample-creation software, and enough drivers to start a road haulage company. Because the board covers so many functions, it's best to look at them one at a time, starting with the physical board itself, though please forgive me if I leave out the karaoke and singing word-processor functions!

The AWE64 Gold is a shorter-than-average ISA card conforming to Windows 95 Plug and Play standards, though it can be used with Windows 3.1. There's no room on its rear panel for the S/PDIF out phono connector, however, so this is provided on a second panel and is attached by a flying lead. Fitting it is no problem providing that you will have at least one free rear-panel slot location after fitting the card. This is obviously less than ideal, as is the fact that there's no S/PDIF in, but if you don't need the S/PDIF out, you don't have to fit it. The stereo analogue line ins and the mic input are on stereo mini jacks, though the audio outputs are on phonos. A cheap and cheerful mic comes as part of the package, but, surprisingly, this sounds quite good, especially if you use it with a pop shield.

One feature lost in the AWE64's evolution process is support for a daughterboard. The only expansion socket is for a memory card, with which the on-board 4Mb of RAM can be upgraded to 8 or 12Mb, depending on which expansion board you decide to fit. These are Creative Labs' own RAM expansion packs, not SIMMs, though the prices are reasonable. A complete 8Mb RAM board costs around £60, and comes with a disk containing additional sounds, including an 8Mb GM set. The bundled software comes on CD-ROM, with Cubase on a separate CD-ROM.

Like the original AWE32 card, the AWE64 Gold has a 1Mb GM synth sound set in ROM, but there's the option to load a bigger and better sample set into RAM. GM sets of 2Mb and 4Mb come with the basic card, and the 8Mb set comes with the memory expansion kit. As the name implies, the card offers a total polyphony of 64 notes, though this is something of a conjuring trick, as 32 voices come from the on-board Emu 8000 wavetable chip and the remaining 32, including the physically modelled voices, are created in software and require a genuine Intel (not a clone) Pentium processor to run. Creative call this software synth the WaveSynth. Whether you address the 'soft' or hardware voices is an option in the MIDI Mapper, so you don't have to use a full GM bank of one or the other -- you can mix and match if you like.

Though no hardware full-duplex operation is available for the digital audio side of the package, a software duplex driver is provided with the card. On the review sample, which came with a pre-release version of the software, the playback quality was limited in overdub mode, and both the Instrument Mapper and the WaveSynth voices had to be turned off during recording. It was also necessary, in Cubasis, to enter an audio delay compensation while overdubbing, to keep all the tracks in time. By early summer, a better full-duplex driver will be included, which should circumvent these problems and allow full-fidelity monitoring while overdubbing.

The card is built on a multi-layer circuit board, the intention being to improve screening and reduce background noise, and production cards are specified with a signal-to-noise ratio of better than 90dB. Unlike previous Soundblaster cards, the AWE64 has shipping software that will allow digital audio and the on-card synthesizers to be mixed internally and piped to the S/PDIF output port. Thoughtfully, Cubasis offers the option of recording even mono tracks as stereo files so that they can be played out over the S/PDIF output.

Software drivers are provided for the external MIDI port, AWE Synth, WaveSynth/WG, Creative Music Synth (FM), and the AWE Instrument Mapper. How many channels of audio you can play back at one time depends on the power and speed of your computer as well as on the speed of your hard drive -- my Pentium 90 came up with six mono tracks, or eight if they were used as stereo pairs according to the Cubasis diagnostic routine included.

Anyone who's heard an AWE32 will know what sounds to expect from the 1Mb GM synth, except that in the case of the AWE64 Gold the sound quality is cleaner and brighter due to a better output stage. This is strictly line-level -- the ability to feed passive speakers from nasty on-board amplifiers has gone. The sounds are, however, exactly the same, and can most fairly be described as perfunctory for any semi-serious musical application. The same is true of the software-based sounds, though I have to say that they weren't at all as bad as I'd expected. The GM synths fare rather better if you load the 2Mb or 4Mb versions (stored on your hard drive during installation) or, if you have the memory expansion, the full 8Mb version: these show a marked improvement in artistic quality, especially the pianos and sustained string sounds, although audio fidelity remains about the same.

"The AWE64 Gold offers incredible value for money, especially if you're used to paying more in VAT, for just about any audio product, than this whole card costs."


Any GM set may be changed or replaced using the AWE32 Synth Control software; if they're addressed via the Instrument Mapper driver, up to 15 of the GM sounds can be replaced by physical modelling versions, and banks of mixed hardware- and software-generated sounds can be constructed. Physical modelling is quite a novelty in a low-cost soundcard: the AWE64 uses a system developed by Sondius, though this is a very simple implementation of their modelling software and doesn't allow any user interaction; rather, the harmonic content of the note changes automatically as the note evolves. For example, the timbre of the overdrive guitar changes as the note develops and eventually mutates into a rather nice feedback sound, rich in second harmonic.

There's no straightforward means of editing the GM synth sounds, as there is with, for instance, Yamaha's DB60XG synth card, but if you want something a little bit different, there's always the SoundFont section (see the 'Font City' box) to explore, as well as GS and MT32 emulations.

I tested the MIDI side of the card using Cubase, Cubasis, Logic, and a couple of different Evolution sequencing packages; once the Creative software was properly installed, there was no problem. Apparently, the number of physical modelling voices you can use at once is limited by the type of PC processor you have, but my Pentium 90 didn't throw any obvious tantrums with normally busy music. The GM sounds are actually quite good, although some are better than others; a few seem to have a noticeable amount of noise mixed in with the sample, especially some of the string pads. Considering the high technical spec of this card, I also found a slightly unnerving level of background hiss -- make sure you mix your sounds at as high a level as possible, with the maximum velocities up near the 127 mark.

Each SoundFont bank is loaded into its own MIDI patch bank, though you may find several versions of the sample set accessed via MIDI Program Changes in the usual way. Once you increase the MIDI Program Change number past the point where there are no more SoundFont programs, the GM sounds corresponding to those patch numbers are played instead. Banks are switched using Controller 0, and the number of banks you can use at once is limited only by the amount of memory you have available. Included with my review sample were acoustic guitar, hammer dulcimer, and synth and drum samples, as well as a number of groove construction sets with drum loops, bass loops, vocals and so on, mapped to different keys. The quality of some of these is really very good, especially the looping. If you create your own SoundFont banks, these are saved onto your hard drive.

Creative Labs claim to have worked very hard to coax a decent signal-to-noise ratio out of this card, though the final figure will be influenced by the type of PC you have, the quality of the power supply, and which cards are slotted in next to the AWE64 Gold. In a typical PC, the quality isn't equal to that of a high-end audio card or a system with separate outboard converters, but, used with care, it's fine for serious demo work, provided you keep an eye on your recording levels and make the best use of available headroom.

When I visited Creative Labs to pick up the review package, I took the opportunity to try the Cubasis version using their faster PC. Because of the early version of the duplex driver, though, whenever I tried overdubbing, the original audio tracks played back around 100ms late. You can be sort this out by visiting the Advanced Audio Hardware window and inserting a negative delay to compensate, but you have to go back and switch this off after recording, before you can assess your work. Though this is tedious, it does make the job possible, and the monitoring quality of the existing audio during overdubbing is much better than Creative Labs led me to expect. Also, as stated earlier, you have to disable both WaveSynth and Instrument Mapper before you can do any audio recording -- though you can turn them back on again when you've done. Once the updated support software is available, it should be possible to record, overdub and play back at 16-bit resolution with no delay problems, but as I didn't have this at the time of the review, it's something that you'll need to confirm for yourself.

Though any consumer soundcard is effectively a shoebox full of compromises, cut corners and pinched pennies, all squashed flat and given an edge connector, the AWE64 Gold offers incredible value for money, especially from the perspective of anyone who's used to paying more in VAT, for just about any audio product, than this whole card costs. Creative Labs have quite obviously compromised some aspects of the card's performance in order to achieve a rock-bottom price: in the games market, low price is important. For example, it's great to see an S/PDIF output on such a cheap card, but the lack of an S/PDIF input pretty much eliminates it from the running as a serious engine for stereo digital editing.

The GM synths are perfectly useable, especially the larger RAM-based versions, and the physical modelling adds a new element of realism to certain sounds, especially the lead guitar patches. Even so, I found that even the 8Mb GM set wasn't as clean-sounding as the Yamaha DB60XG synth card I have fitted in the same PC.

The bundled software is generally good, and my main criticism in this area is that the software comes in so many different parts, and that you seem to have to make so many trips to remotely located drivers or accessory programs to get things running properly. For the newcomer to PCs, the lack of paper support may also be a problem, because, although there is a comprehensive on-line help system, it often doesn't seem to categorise its information in the terms you're likely to use.

The SoundFont capability is potentially very powerful, as it enables the card to be used as a quite serious on-board sampler, and the Vienna editing software that comes along with it is no slouch either. If you have the patience to transfer WAV files from sample CD-ROMs, it's possible to build up a library of excellent sounds very cheaply, all of which can be stored on your hard drive.

To address audio performance for a moment, the sound quality available from this card is surprisingly good considering the market sector at which it's aimed, and even the bundled mic sounds pretty reasonable. The early version of the drivers makes working within audio sequencers a bit of a pain, but the imminent revised versions should make things a lot easier in this respect. Oddly, I couldn't get Logic Audio to recognise the card, though the product specialist at Creative Labs has experienced no problems with his own Logic Audio system. This is just another 'one of those things' that makes living with PCs so interesting -- in the 'May you die in an interesting manner', meaning of the word! However you look at it, though, this card does a hell of a lot for a minimal outlay and provides virtually a complete home studio in a box for the Pentium owner on a budget.

SoundFont banks are Creative Labs' equivalent of sample programs, comprising sets of keymapped multisamples with envelope settings, loop points and so on. A fair selection of SoundFonts is provided with the card, though anyone with Net access can download countless new ones from Creative's web site. The more altruistic can also create their own and leave them on-line for others to use.

The Vienna software that's included with the card provides a means to record and edit your own samples, either by recording audio directly into the card, or by importing WAV files from suitable sample CDs (for example, Time & Space's Creative Essentials series, which considerately includes all the samples as separate WAV files). Vienna is a largely graphical module and works in conjunction with a wave-editing module, WaveStudio, shown above, in which individual samples can be truncated, looped and otherwise processed. The only disappointment here is that you can only loop the left and right tracks of a stereo sample individually, so it's almost inevitable that the two channels of a looped stereo sample will start to drift out of phase with each other after a while. In practice, most instrumental samples are best used in mono, whereas loops are best used as one-shots and triggered from the sampler every bar, so the stereo looping limitation should rarely cause problems. However, if you're going to include stereo wave editing, not allowing stereo wave looping is pretty inexcusable.

Vienna's virtual keyboard can be used to set keysplits and to test notes; a huge selection of tools allows levels, tunings, envelopes and modulation facilities to be adjusted. Even the envelope adjustment is graphic, which is great to see on a piece of software that's virtually a giveaway. I won't pretend that everything about the program is as intuitive as it could be, but the on-line help (which is virtually the only instructive help you get with the system), is pretty good, and most tasks can be sorted out without too much grief.

[For more information, see the article about SoundFonts in June's SOS.]
pros & cons

• Combines a GM synth, a MIDI interface, a sampler and an audio interface
for less than the cost of most sample CD-ROMs.
• Excellent selection of bundled software, including Steinberg's Cubasis.
• Interesting waveguide physical modelling possible on some GM sounds.

• Audio path could still be a little cleaner.
• Some of the support software could be better integrated.
• The provision of on-line help as an alternative to paper manuals isn't
always conducive to unimpeded progress.

Where else could you buy a sampler, a GM synth, a MIDI interface,
an audio interface (with S/PDIF out), a Steinberg sequencer, support
software and a selection of CD-ROM samples for under £200?

Offline chrisNova777

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Re: Creative Labs Awe64 Gold (1997)
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2014, 11:01:13 PM »

apparently awe64 gold can be upgraded to 28mb of ram aswell
but requires this external simm module

adapter costs 15$ to be able to add 32 mb (28mb usable) ram

Offline chrisNova777

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re: Creative Labs Awe64 Gold (Nov 1996)
« Reply #2 on: August 25, 2017, 06:13:04 PM »
System Requirements
  • Supports 486DX2-66

To run WaveSynth, it requires a PC with a genuine INTEL®
  • Pentium® or AMD-K5™ 133 MHz or higher processor
  • 8 MB system RAM (16 MB recommended)
  • DOS 6x and Windows 3.1 or higher
  • Available 16-bit ISA slot
  • Speakers or headphones
  • CD-ROM drive is required for software installation
  • Windows 95 is required for Creative Inspire and video

capability of Creative Video WebPhone Lite 3.0
  • Some software packages included with this product may

require a microphone and/or video camera
  • Voice and video conferencing with Video WebPhone Lite

3.0 requires 28.8 Kbps
  • Internet software requires connection to the Internet at

14.4 Kbps, unless otherwise noted. All charges incurred to
connect with your Internet Service Provider are the
responsibility of the end user