The Creative Soundblaster 128 PCI was released in July 1998. This was a time when not all computers had onboard sound by default, and this Creative card was marketed as a budget soundcard aimed at those who wanted sound capabilities, for gaming and listening to music and whatnot. However, it is in no way a high end card.
There are several outputs on this PCI card. There is Microphone input, Line input, Line output and Headphones output. In addition there is a joystick port. This was before USB's time, and joysticks or gamepads needed a joystick port to be connected, either provided by a dedicated joystick card, or thorugh a sound card. One of the reasons soundcards popularly came with joystick ports at the time was that, interestingly, the most popular way to connect music keyboards to PCs through MIDI was though a MIDI interface connected to the joystick port. MIDI interfaces are still used today, but are commonly USB based these days.
MIDI, Musical Instruments Digital Interface, is a standard for music keyboard communication that was developed in the 70s or so, when all the keyboard manufacturers somehow managed to agree on a standard between them. Basically MIDI contains the information 'Instrument type', 'what note is being played', 'the velocity of the note', 'how long the note is being played for', plus some other less important details. There are 128 instrument sounds that are standard for MIDI. So, all MIDI sound sets will include a variation of these, which include drums, bass, guitar, strings, piano, etc. So, you could record something on a Roland keyboard, save it as a MIDI file and play it back on a Korg keyboard, and you would hear the same composition played back with the same instruments. The instruments would sound different because the keyboards would be based on different sample sets, but you would hear a piano when you were supposed to hear a piano. The Soundblaster 128 PCI comes with 3 MIDI sample sets that are hard drive based. These are 2mb, 4mb and 8mb in size, and the biggest one sounds way better than the smallest one. You could select which one you would like the card to use in the control panel of the software, and this would require the given amount of memory. At the time, in 1998, these sounds were decent for being MIDI sounds. However, these types of MIDI sounds are never going to sound amazing. In fact, many games in the late 90s used MIDI for their music, so the game music would sound slightly different at every computer dependong on what sort of MIDI soundsets their soundcards had. The main reasons for this is that MIDI files are low in file size because they don't contain any audio, just information about what to play and when to play it, the rest is handled by the soundcard. The other reason is that it is easy on system resources. MIDI is basically not used for modern games at all. However the MIDI standard is still very much alive in the music composing and recording business.
DELVING INTO THE RECORDING CAPABILITIES OF THE CARD
When I got the Soundblaster 128 PCI card, all I wanted to use it for was playing games and listening to music on my computer, but then I started getting interested in composing music. At first I got acquainted with the MIDI functionality and started composing music on "digital music sheet paper" so to say in sequencer software. I then got into proper band music, and I plugged a very cheap microphone into the microphone input, put it in front of my guitar amp, and that way I started recording guitars, bass, vocals and even an entire acoustic drum kit! I moved on to using Virtual Studio Instruments so that I could use MIDI to trigger more realistic drum sounds than the 8mb sound set that came with my card. I bought an expensive Roland keyboard and connected the audio output to the line input on my Soundblaster card. This is a really cheap card. I think I paid around £10-20 for it, and here I was, recording a full Metal band as well as Electronic and Symphonic keyboard music with it! How cool is that? Obviously, the quality was not impeccable. But I do believe at the time that I was more limited by what I plugged into the soundcard than by the soundcard itself. The direct recordings from my keyboard still sound pretty good to this day. A few years later, I bought a dedicated audio interface for recording audio, and while that is a million times better, I also payed £150 for it. If you want to do audio recordings half seriously, I wouldn't recommend this card, just because it's not really designed for that. However, if you wanted to, you could!
I got the soundcard when I was building my own PC for the first time. I had grown up with PCs around me all my life, but when I was 15 I built my first one for myself from scratch. I then went for the Soundblaster 128 PCI because I wanted sound for my games, but I was price sensitive. I believe, if this card wasn't the cheapest available, then it was the cheapest Creative card around. Creative were on the throne of gaming audio at the time and was a brand to be trusted. Installation went smoothly, and sound worked perfectly out of the box, for gaming, listening to CDs and mp3s and for web surfing. I had no problems utilising the MIDI capabilties of the card, nor connecting a joystick for gaming. I even used the card for audio recording, despite it not really being designed for that. Obviously, had I known I would become serious about composing and recording, I would have invested in a more serious soundcard (I did a few years later), however, it is impressive how much you can sqeeze out of this card, considering it's not a pro card.
Solid, reliable and stable sound card that is still working, although I am not using it any more. It never caused me any issues or errors, never crashed or froze. Always performed perfectly. Obviously, these days all computers have onboard audio, and those wishing to have MIDI capabilities are better off buying a usb midi interface, and joysticks and gamepads typically utilize usb. It is questionable whether this card would offer any significant advantage over on board audio solutions in this day and age. For what it is, a budget audio solution for PCs without sound cards, it is rock solid!
I bought my card about a year ago now, and have enjoyed every second of listening to it. The sound quality on it is fantastic, and for once, the MIDI is good too. Unlike earlier systems, the MIDI instruments are not built onto a chip, they are stored in a file on the HDD. There are 3 different sets you can use, the 2Mb, 4Mb or the 8Mb set. Obviously, there's better quality for each of them you use - the *mb one is actually quite good, which in my opionion, is a rarity for MIDI. But no doubt, my favourite feature of this card is the microphone boost... on most soundcards, this is sadly lacking, often so bad that most microphone just simply don't work. Thankfully, when it's switched on, this card picks up everything, in fact, it clipped when someone downstairs closed a door. However, there are problems with earlier DOS games, due to the higher IRQ's it uses. Installation was a breeze with the quality PnP operations we love now. No conflicts, everything ran great. Compared to an AWE64, there wasn't a noticeable sound difference. The reason for using this card over the AWE64 would only be to promote the PCI bus and to lower CPU utilization (direct result of using PCI as well). I found the normal stuff with this card 'Creative-wise' of the fun control panels, and just plain quality sound. Designed for the home user, gamer or multimedia enthusiast, you can hear every gunshot and experience the enemy sneaking up behind you. Use the four-speaker output to truly experience real 3D sound! The Sound Blaster PCI128 utilizes the PCI bus, allowing it to use far less CPU overhead than traditional sound cards. This translates into higher frame rates in your games, more bandwidth for 3D audio and multi-channel support for upcoming game titles. My advice is buy it now! :-) Overall, this card is fantastic value for m