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PCRECORDING.COM - Ensoniq AudioPCI Review

You may be wondering why I would review a card that retails for $29.99 in an industry where cards costing hundreds of dollars dominate? Well, most of us DAW users do not have the money to fork out big bucks for a professional card. We are left to saving money where we can. The Ensoniq has been around for several years. Originally developed by the Ensoniq Corporation, the soundcard portion of Ensoniq was bought by Creative - - the Soundblaster company. The Ensoniq utilizes the PCI bus and provides improved multi-media performance versus an ISA bus soundcard. The card sounds better than the SB 16 and the AWE series, recording more robustly and quieter than those cards. As a basic card, it does a remarkably good job for basic recording needs. Therein lies the reason for my review.

The card features the following:

  • Full-duplex operation
  • 16-bit or 8-bit resolution for recording/playback
  • 5kHz to 48 kHz sample rates
  • Wave table synthesis with its own engine
  • 32/64 voice polyphony
  • 16 MIDI channels, 128 GM and GS compatible instruments and 10 drum kits with a built-in MIDI interface MPU-401 mode
  • On-board Microphone in (1/8" stereo)
  • Line in (1/8" stereo)
  • Auxiliary in (1/8" stereo)
  • Internal mixer which allows you to set levels, mute and pan device inputs and outputs.

My test system is a Pentium II 300, 64 meg RAM, running under Windows98 with a 20 gig Maxtor 7200 harddrive. I have a basic studio setup that probably reflects many others for the DAW users out there. I use a Folio Notepad mixer, Audix OM-3xb microphone, Alesis RA-100 Monitor amplifier, Lexicon MPX-100 digital effects box and a variety of little doodads that help with connectivity and routing.

I bought a full, shrink-wrapped retail version of the soundcard from Office Depot. At the time, Creative was offering a $20.00 rebate for the card thus saving me considerable money. The installation was quite easy, simply snapping it into an available PCI slot on the motherboard and booting up. However, I discovered that this card will not like any other SB compatible card on the same motherboard. Initially, when I installed this, I also had a Turtle Beach Montego II on board. They fought like cats and dogs, forcing me to remove and uninstall the Turtle Beach card and components. Once that was done, the install went smoothly.

The only glitch to the Plug and Play routine was that Windows could not find the drivers on the provided CD even though it prompted me to search the CD. I simply exited and did a straight install from the CD. I checked Creative's website at Creative Ensoniq AudioPCI for updated drivers. They were new, so I downloaded them and installed them before I did any testing.

I plugged my microphone into my mixer and then routed a stereo signal via RCA cables to a 1/8" stereo plug adapter to the line-in on the Ensoniq. Initially, I was unable to generate an input signal though I could hear the sound through my monitors. I went to the Ensoniq mixer by clicking on the Ensoniq icon that appears in your desktop tray and found that the microphone in had been muted. This should not have affected the line in signal but I enabled it and had instant sound levels.

For actual "scientific" test results, go to for actual sound test results of numerous soundcards.

In my system, I muted everything and checked the VU meters for the true "noise floor" of the card at rest with the system on. The "noise floor" registered at -49db in mono mode. Interestingly, when I set the mode to stereo, the noise floor raised to -38 on the left channel but stayed at -48 for the right. This was pretty interesting. In addition, at rest with no playback, I did detect a very faint rapidly oscillating sound when I used my headphones. I believe it was because Windows 98 forced the Ensoniq to share an IRQ with the video card. I was unable to change the IRQ in Windows Device Manager. It is probably due to the signal getting interrupted by the video card in some way. Hardly noticeable but still a nuisance and annoyance.

I did some recording using N-track Studio multi-tracking software and then Cool Edit Pro - Special Edition. The card worked equally well with each software package. As you know, in digital audio, it is imperative to get as full a signal on your recording to preserve fidelity. However, unlike analog, oversaturation of the signal can result in a very bad sounded result. In this case, even a slight overdrive of the input signal resulted in very poor sound quality. At input levels that reached -3db though the card sounded very good, full and rich. There was only a slightly noticeable "hiss" in the quietest portions of the recording. In addition, in full-duplex mode, while listening to previously recorded tracks, there was no noticeable latency.

I played a bit with the onboard effects, chorus, reverb and spalization. They are essentially useless for any fine amendments to your sound because they have no user-allowed adjustments. The spatializer did add a nice fullness to the signal though. Otherwise, I could not recommend using them. Particularly, because so many fine plug-in products are available that do a better job.

All in all, the Ensoniq AudioPCI is a fully functioning, competent soundcard. As a former SB 16 user I can testify to its superior sound quality and performance. For the basic DAW application on a very tight budget this would be a good card to use. The limitations are obvious, it has only one stereo line in and one stereo line out. Despite these limitations, it provides a good quality sound on a very small budget. If you can only afford a $30.00 soundcard, look at the Ensoniq.