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Name your desire, if you can

By OBunny in Op-Ed
Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 06:14:02 AM EST
Tags: Hardware (all tags)

Why is it that an intelligent person with a good grasp of technology should have so much trouble finding information about soundcards on the Web?

And why is it that, once that person has found the information, it is so difficult to buy what he wants?

I'm pretty reasonable, usually, in looking for computer bits. I've been messing with computers since the days of the Apple ][, and I know that I have information that many sales types don't have.

So, when I went searching for a new sound card for a computer, I began my search on the web. This ought to save me losing patience with droids that don't know the difference between a S/PDIF and a Spliff interface.

So I dug, quite a lot, as it turned out, looking for a soundcard with a S/PDIF input on a coaxial connector. I invite you to try this at home, using your favorite search engine.

I want to transfer music from minidisc to my computer, where I will edit it and burn it to CD. The minidisc recordings are of choral rehearsals, mostly, with some music lessons and some personal performances thrown in. They are not intended as anything but archives, aural snapshots of a specific point in time.

Eventually, I determined that the best bang for the buck for my purposes was the Soundblaster Live. Sort of.

The folks at Soundblaster do not make it easy to search for interface types. And once you've got things figured out, it's tough to tell the dfference between their versions.

For example, They have:

  • Sound Blaster Live! Platinum 5.1
  • Sound Blaster Live! Digital Entertainment 5.1
  • Sound Blaster Live! MP3+ 5.1
  • Sound Blaster Live! X-Gamer 5.1
  • Sound Blaster Live! MP3+
  • Sound Blaster Live! X-Gamer
  • Sound Blaster Live! Platinum
  • Sound Blaster Live!
  • Sound Blaster Live! Player
  • Sound Blaster Live! Value
  • Sound Blaster Live! Value Digital
and of course, they're all different.

Once I determined which one I wanted, I then set about trying to find one. I began with the printed version of Ottawa Computes, and let my cellphone do the walking.

It turns out that the vendors don't have a clue, either. They list "Soundblaster Live!" in their ads, when they really mean "Soundblaster Live! Value". Nobody understands what a digital interface on co-ax is. They don't believe that sound cards have external interfaces that accept digital input. They have empty boxes for the product that I want sitting on their shelves, but they don't have the product in stock and they can't order them.

And none of them seem to have any idea that a SB LIve! is not the same as a Live! Value, which is different from a Live! X-Gamer, etc., etc., etc.

People are griping about the downturn in technology sales. The growth has slowed, upgraders are not upgrading, new computer owners are not coming out of the woodwork. Small wonder, seems to me, if a knowledgeable user, armed with complete (and in theory correct) information, can not get any retailer to take my money.

So, does the story have a happy ending?

Yep. I went to Steve's Music (good luck with that link), and bought an Echo Audio Mia.

Works like a charm.

Living well is the best revenge


Voxel dot net
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Related Links
o Spliff
o Soundblast er
o Ottawa Computes
o Steve's Music
o Echo
o Mia
o Also by OBunny

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Name your desire, if you can | 30 comments (25 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
Sphere of competence (4.00 / 4) (#4)
by Anonymous 242 on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 02:25:39 PM EST

In my experience, looking at computer merchants for audio gear is an excercise in frustration. I also find the exercise completely understandable. Why would the average PC sales person need to understand the intracacies of high end audio gear? I'd imagine that only a very small fraction of the people interested in sound cards have any interest in a specific model.

If I had the cash to spend on audio gear to hook up to my PC, I'd be visiting a music store, not a PC store. A PC person in all likelihood won't understand the needs of the musician.

Apparently you discovered the same thing and ended up at a music shop.

Now what I really miss, are the days of the Amiga, when I could go down to the local audio/video editing company and spec out personal computers.

Re sphere of competence (none / 0) (#24)
by OBunny on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 02:28:58 PM EST

Thanks for the comment.

Part of my problem was that I didn't really want a high end audio card. I already have an Echo Gina in the machine that I use for heavy-duty music stuff (it works a treat, too). Another one the same would have done just what I wanted, but I didn't really want to drop that much money on a card to do minidisc-to-CD transfers.

My comments were not clear enough. My beef was that even though I knew exactly what I wanted, and I went to the places that the manufacturer suggested as dealers, nobody was able to:

  1. provide what I asked for
  2. understand that what I asked for was different from what they had
  3. explain what they had
I'd rather spend my money locally, if I can. Gives me a slightly better chance of getting some sort of service, and a bit of cred with the retailer when I ask peculiar questions.

It also means I don't have to make a special trip to the Post Office to pick up a package. Not a big deal, but a wee bother.

As well, it's that whole instant gratification thing. I love the feeling of walking out of a store with the item I've just spent my hard-earned cash on.

Living well is the best revenge
[ Parent ]

Sometimes size matters (5.00 / 1) (#28)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 12:45:14 PM EST

I understood your problem from the get-go. You were looking for a specific model of a series of eight or ten sound cards with almost identical names. You couldn't even find a computer store that understood the differences between the different models with almost-but-not-quite-the-same names, let alone a store that caried the model you were looking for.

Apparently the audio gear retailer you chose was not large enough to carry a wide selection of sound cards so you ended up buying a premium niche product instead of a commodity product. On the one hand that isn't so good for the pocket book. On the other hand, it is sometimes worthwhile to support local businesses and get the extra special OOBE that comes from picking out your new toy from the shelf instead of having it shipped from a warehouse.

Sometimes shopping for components in computer stores is like shopping for vertical software in Babbages or like shopping for a specialty book in a chain like Barnes & Noble, Borders, or Books & Co. In those situations, a specialty store that understands the product is the best choice. If your local speciality store doesn't have enough volume, they might not carry all the alternatives. There is always a set of trade-offs.

Nothing can be more pitiful and absurd than to pride oneself on one's genius
Nikolai Aleksandrovich Berdyaev, "The Ethics of Creativity"

[ Parent ]

Diary but... (3.75 / 4) (#5)
by thunderbee on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 02:43:55 PM EST

I voted it +1 still - I feel this is not just a day in a life, but a definite trend in the computer industry as a whole. I could fill a page with similar experiences. Worst of all, I run a company, and still end up with similar problems.
Can you imagine running a computer company and finding out (almost) nobody is really knowledgeable enough to sell you what you want to buy? *sigh*

Naming my desire (2.53 / 13) (#6)
by shoeboy on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 03:19:13 PM EST

Her name is Heidi Wall, but I call her my little cuddle-bunny.
Not sure what, if anything, your title has to do with your article.
No more trolls!
Video capture cards (none / 0) (#8)
by weirdling on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 03:36:07 PM EST

I spent a few frustrating days tracking down video capture cards that could at least do motion-jpeg compression on the fly. Same result.
BTW, the local CompUSA doesn't even carry SCSI drives anymore. I simply don't buy anything there. Used to be, there were five or six things I wanted to spend money on there, but these days, if I want something, I buy it online and get what I really want for 25% less.

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
True of many products (Free OS users avoid Mia) (4.85 / 7) (#9)
by DontTreadOnMe on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 03:46:37 PM EST

The complaints you make are ever more true of a widening array of product lines. Consider the Matrox MGA400 and MGA450 ... you can purchase a number of different variants, with different onboard memory, different RAMDACs, and so forth. Try figuring out which ones you're getting the price for at pricewatch ... it is a dreary excersize in futility.

3com network cards. A different card on a differetn day, sold under the same part number but with widely varying chips and, if you like running an alternative, free operating system such as GNU/Linux or FreeBSD, widely varying levels of support. The same is true of Intel 10/100 cards, and probably a hundred other products I haven't thought of.

This isn't a result of our being in a steep portion of the exponential progress curve (as some might have you believe) and it certainly isn't a result of [insert your favorote OS here] being unable to keep up.

It is a result of marketing, pure and simple. It is an expression, and a symptom, of marketers' unwillingness to relinquish use of a product name they have built up name recognition for. So they package half a dozen new products, or as many generations of a rapidly changing product, under the same name, in the hopes of trading on the same name recognition. Unfortunately they are probably rewarded with such by increased sales, and spare nary a thought for the confusion, consternation, and outright irritation they cause the technically savvy.

After all, they are not technically savvy at all, nor are most of their (woefully uninformed) customers, so what have they to lose? A great deal less than us, more's the pity.

As an aside, after reading your comments on the Echo Mia I got rather excited. So I headed over to the alsa hardware matrix to see if the card was supported by my Operating System of choice (GNU/Linux). Echo is one of only two sound card manufacturers whose entries are shaded in RED, meaning that the product isn't supported, and likely never will be because the manufacturer refuses to provide programming specifications to volunteer developers. So, for those of us not running a variant of Microsoft's OS, the Echo Mia is to be avoided, with prejudice.

http://openflick.org - Fighting Copyright with Free Media
Pricewatch (3.00 / 1) (#10)
by rebelcool on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 03:59:46 PM EST

the greatest site of all time. Pricewatch.com

Just do a search on "soundblaster platinum" or whatever you chose, and you'll find dozens of sites listing it, and their prices.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

and I'm sure (2.00 / 1) (#11)
by ZanThrax on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 04:06:31 PM EST

that it will be ever so helpful for someone who's obviously not from the US. While Pricewatch presumably offers up online stores as well, I got the distinct impression that this article was about going into actual stores to get what you want from people who know what the hell you're talking about.

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

author sounds like he's canadian (none / 0) (#12)
by rebelcool on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 05:33:54 PM EST

and therefore, pricewatch is *very* relevant, as i've ordered tons of things from canadian companies ive found on there.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

back in the day... (none / 0) (#17)
by douper on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 11:33:04 PM EST

There actually was a Canadian section to pricewatch with Canadian prices and all, but sadly it is no more.. not enough interest I guess...

although on ott.forsale.computing was talking about starting up a web site for that kind of thing but only for Ottawa, I forget what it was called though...

[ Parent ]

You can do it with SB Live! - ** and a daughtercrd (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by GusherJizmac on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 07:38:50 PM EST

I too was looking for such a device, and acquired the SB Live! XGamer because it had a digital I/O connector on it. I get the device to find that it only accepts Creative Labs proprietary 4-point surround sound nonsense. Now, I know that SB Live PLatinum has SPDIF I/O, but I didn't want to take back what I had and spend more money, so I hunted on Creative's site, and found a daughter card that lives in one of your cases slots, and has a ribbon cable that attaches to the X-Gamer (or any SB Live).

This card has MIDI in/out w/out joystick port nonsense, but also has SPDIF Digital I/O coax AND Optical. Very nice. Now, my digital mixer is hooked up and no more analog recording.

It was a huge pain in the @ss to find, though, and Creative's tech support is less than helpful.

<sig> G u s h e r J i z m a c </sig>

so what is it?!! (none / 0) (#23)
by mikpos on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 01:17:07 PM EST

It was a huge pain in the @ss to find

Would you mind saving us the trouble then? The suspense is killing me: what's the name of this daughterboard?

[ Parent ]

How much research did you do? (4.00 / 3) (#14)
by omegadave on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 11:02:50 PM EST

All of the Soundblaster Live! cards are the _exact_ same card.

The only difference is the packaging and bundled items. Exceptions to this are the Platinum which includes the front mounted drive (the Live! drive is its name I believe).

A caveat to my post is that Soundblaster redesigned the card once, I've been told, but used the same core chip (the EMU10K1).

Interface? (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 11:07:26 AM EST

Do they all have the same I/O? I doubt it (but I don't know.) The I/O is going to make a big difference for hardcore musicians. 1/8th inch, for example is not what you want to make your master tape from. (I'm not saying that any SB Live has only 1/8th inch, though.)

Of course, hardcore musicians should not be using soundblaster cards at all if they can help it, there are pro cards that make SB look like a joke.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
They may use the same design (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 12:36:04 PM EST

But I believe they have different firmware and I/O connections.

I've been having a hell of a time with my Sound Blaster "PCI512". It sort of works under Linux if you treat it as a Live! board, but there are all sorts of odd effects. One of the biggest is that the KDE mixer has about 20 sliders that all do unpredictable things.

People who think "clown" is an insult have never met any.
[ Parent ]
Research I did (none / 0) (#26)
by OBunny on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 02:41:51 PM EST

The only difference is the packaging and bundled items.
Thanks for the comment.

That's precisely the problem. I wanted the version that was bundled with the coaxial digital I/O. It's a separate item.

I didn't want 5.1. I didn't want the weird surround sound for games. I didn't want a remote control. I didn't want the Live! Drive.

Living well is the best revenge
[ Parent ]

MD (3.50 / 2) (#16)
by retinaburn on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 11:17:46 PM EST

I have had the same problems. The new MD players are packaged with a USB-Digital Out cable expressly for this purpose. I was just 5 years too early.

I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho

soundblaster vs echo (3.00 / 2) (#18)
by depsypher on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 03:33:51 AM EST

I'm somewhat prejudiced against soundblaster cards, cause my old awe64 gold stopped recording a week after the warrantee ran out. D'oh!

I've used the echo gina and liked the quality, although, the breakout-box was annoying. The Mia looks pretty cool; I'm tempted to get one when the Win2K drivers come out.

BTW - For audio stuff, zzounds.com is the best consumer site I've been able to find out there.

My AWE32 turned 7 this week, still running... (1.50 / 2) (#19)
by guppie on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 08:52:43 AM EST

I used to hate Soundblaster too, it was more expensive and not so good as the Gravis Ultrasound. But the Gravis was poorly supported by DOS games, so I swallowed my pride and bought a Soundblaster AWE32 in 1993, I think.

It has been running flawlessly ever since, (first under DOS/win3.1, then win95, then Linux) and plays mp3s with as good quality as any other soundcard, so I never bothered to upgrade. If everyone upgraded their soundcard as often, Soundblaster would've gone under a long time ago ;-)

What? The land of the free? Whoever told you that is your enemy.
-Zack de la Rocha
[ Parent ]
soundblaster vs echo, zzounds, etc. (none / 0) (#25)
by OBunny on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 02:36:03 PM EST

Thanks for the comment.

In fact, I have an Echo Gina on the music machine. I prefer the breakout box to a fan of cables and connectors, although the cable really should be longer.

And zzounds does not ship to Canada, which is where I am. Heavy sigh.

Living well is the best revenge
[ Parent ]

Semi-MLP: Relevant Article on Linux Hardware (3.00 / 2) (#22)
by AzTex on Wed Apr 18, 2001 at 01:08:06 PM EST

O'Bunny asked:

Why is it that an intelligent person with a good grasp of technology should have so much trouble finding information about soundcards on the Web?
Linux Hardware has a recent Linux Soundcard Roundup for those of us running Linux.  To answer your question, I found this information by monitoring Root Prompt.

solipsism: I'm always here. But you sometimes go away.
** AzTex **

Randomly Related Bits and Pieces (none / 0) (#29)
by WWWWolf on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 04:00:07 PM EST

(Warning: This comment may or may not be relevant. It's mostly just rambling on this dark and depressing hour.)

The only problem with SB Live! I have had personally is that now it seems to be impossible to find a web page that talks about MP3+ file name standard, because most hits point to MP3+ sound card. *sigh* I don't even own a SBLive!... the current machine has some built-in crap and a Vortex 2. But I digress... (Well, digressing seems to be the point of this comment...)

I admit it: I'm not a hardware person. I'm a programmer and (I think) not a completely bad one and people ask me questions about machines all the time, but when it comes to hardware, I'm mostly puzzled.

To me, hardware is the part of the system that you can kick and that never runs too fast. (Thinking of hardware always makes me a pessimist. As for software, rate of optimism/pessimism depends entirely on OS. =)

I'm not a total fool, though, I can install and remove cards and drives. But that's about that.

Every time The Other Site tells about new cool advances in hardware side, I just say "huh?"... and every time people in IRC start talking about iron, I get this weird feeling that I'm Not Understanding A Word.

I'm happy that despite these advances in PCs, buying and modifying them is as easy as it once was. Last summer, the buying stuff was sort of like this: "600 MHz? Does it have such-and-such places for cards/drives?" "Yep!" "Okay, I'll take it." "Good. Want 128 megs of memory, too?"

...and inside, the only weird things I noticed were that 1) the processors are really huge these days and 2) modern machines have more empty space in them, have lots of silly "removing this part voids the warranty" stickers on them (even on 56k winmodem...) and have less card slots. And no ISA bus, though that may be a positive thing. =)

-- Weyfour WWWWolf, a lupine technomancer from the cold north...

I have a SB Live Value (none / 0) (#30)
by cr0sh on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 09:11:41 PM EST

And how I got it was interesting...

I picked it up a Walmart a year ago - for $25.00 - yep, that's right - $25.00! I was in the store, passing by the discount shelf, and there it was, red tag and all. I took it home, and let it sit (as I was aquiring parts for my linux box). A month went by, and I opened the package...

I got screwed!

Someone had put a Jazz 16 into the box, and returned it. Walmart, not knowing better, reshinkwrapped it (or the person returning it did), and put it on the shelf, where I picked it up. I ended up going back, and getting a gift card for the amount, because I couldn't find that version at any Walmart.

A week rolled by, and I went into a different Walmart with my card, and decided to check the shelf - there was one, being sold at full cost (something like $60.00) - so I went to the service area with it, talked to the manager, showed him the box, and he said if I could produce my paperwork, I could have it...

I went home, got all the receipts, came back, and showed him - he rang it up, and you should have seen his face drain...

Needless to say, I am the grateful owner of the cheapest SB Live Value around (prices have dropped since then, but I still have yet to see it for that amount - lowest on pricewatch is around $40.00)...

Slightly OT: MiniDisc drives? (none / 0) (#31)
by espo812 on Sat Apr 21, 2001 at 12:28:35 AM EST

Are there MiniDisc drives for computers? That would be kind of nice to read/write MDs straight on the machine. I've always wondered if these drives were avaliable, but I've never found one.

Censorship is un-American.
Name your desire, if you can | 30 comments (25 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
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