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-- by Marc Spiwak
The Creative Labs Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold has something for everyone: 64-voice polyphony, improved sound quality, compatibility with DOS games and hardware acceleration for Windows' DirectSound and DirectSound3D.
Many sound cards provide 32-note polyphony (the ability to play 32 notes simultaneously). But each sound effect-such as a drumbeat or gunshot-needs a separate note, so it's easy to exhaust 32 notes quickly. That's why the AWE64 Gold offers 64-voice polyphony. It generates half of the voices by an integrated EMU8000 wavetable synthesizer. It produces the other half by a 32-voice software wavetable synthesizer. The trade-off for using a software synthesizer is that it needs help from your CPU-it requires at least an Intel Pentium 90.
The AWE64 Gold has 4MB of on-board memory, which you can upgrade to 28MB with Creative Labs memory modules. To eliminate noise from the audio circuitry, the AWE64 Gold has no on-board amplifier or IDE controller. Instead, it utilizes a Sony/Philips Digital Interface (SPDIF) output for a direct digital connection to high-end equipment.
Installing the Gold card is a simple Plug-and-Play affair. The card bracket houses a line-input jack, a microphone-input jack, a joystick/MIDI connector and gold-plated RCA jacks for line-level output.
Bundled applications include multimedia players and recorders, hardware control panels, a mixer, a program that links and embeds sound files into other documents, text readers with multiple voices and voice-recognition software.
Most impressive, however, is the AWE64's sound-the best MIDI sound we've heard from a sound card. Audiophiles will appreciate the AWE64 Gold, the first sound card to make it onto the WinList charts.