What Happened to Creative Technology, the Company That Created the Legendary Sound Blaster Cards?

  • Creative Technology changed the PC world with its sound cards.

  • Its products were practically indispensable for some users.

Sound Blaster sound cards
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The days when having a sound card was practically essential for many people are far behind us. In the late 1980s, audio took center stage in the PC world. Amid this change, Creative Technology, a Singapore-based company, saw a business opportunity, and its Sound Blaster products dominated the market for years.

Nowadays, buying a sound card is rare. On-board solutions are good enough for most users. If you want better sound, you can use an external DAC and amplifier instead of modifying your computer. Given this scenario, what happened to Creative Technology?

The Company Synonymous With Sound on PCs

Sim Wong Hoo and Ng Kai Wa started Creative Technology in Singapore in 1981. Like many other companies, its first products weren’t exactly destined for success. Long before making audio products, Creative Technology made PCs. In 1984, it presented its Cubic99 computer. Two years later, it launched the Cubic CT model, which you can see at the top of this post.

Cubic CT sales were below expectations, probably because gaining a place in the PC copycat market was challenging. However, this computer had some exciting features, like the ability to display color images and a built-in sound card, which was vital for Creative Technology over the next few years.

Creative’s subsidiary in California, U.S. Creative Technology's subsidiary in California, U.S.

Creative Technology started selling its Creative Music System sound card and opened a U.S. subsidiary called Creative Labs. It later contacted software companies to help promote its product. The sound card was for PC gamers, so Creative Technology renamed it "Game Blaster." The Singaporean company was becoming an international business.

In November 1989, Creative Technology released the Sound Blaster 1.0 sound card, which had the capacity to record and featured a video game controller port and an FM synthesizer. It also had a Yamaha YM3812 chip, which, interestingly, competing Canadian manufacturer Ad Lib also used.

The main difference between the Canadian product and Creative Technology’s was the support for PCM modulation offered by the Sound Blaster 1.0, which was the critical element that provided audio playback in CD-level quality. Shortly after its debut, Creative Technology’s sound card enjoyed from huge sales because of the new Intel 386 processor and Microsoft’s Windows 3.0 operating system.

Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold (CT4390) Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold (CT4390)

The rise of PC sound prompted the launch of improved versions of Sound Blaster, but the first obstacles didn't take long to appear. A change in the Windows 95 hardware support model and the decision by motherboard manufacturers to incorporate integrated audio solutions were a blow to the company, which had gone public on the Nasdaq in 1994.

Creative Technology wanted to diversify its business, so it entered the CD-ROM drive and graphics card market with the Blaster EXXTREME. But things didn’t go well. Due to these moves, the firm lost money, and its shares dropped in value. Nevertheless, it still led the PC audio market.

Sound Blaster AE-9 The Sound Blaster AE-9.

Some of the firm’s most significant successes at the time included the Sound Blaster 16 card, launched in 1992, and the Sound Blaster Live line, released in 1998. Two years later, it embraced surround sound with the Sound Blaster 5.1. The company continued innovating. In the following years, it introduced MP3 players, USB sound cards, headphones, speakers, sound bars, and even webcams. Many of these products are still part of the company’s portfolio.

One of the company’s latest releases is from 2019. Creative Technology launched the Sound Blaster AE-9, a kit composed of a PCI-e sound card and a 32-bit/384 kHz DAC with headphone bi-amp and Audio Control Module. The product promised to redefine PC audio and costs $332 today.

Creative Technology voluntarily delisted itself from the Nasdaq in 2007, so its shares—which have fallen 68% in the last five years—trade only on the Singapore Stock Exchange. The company has been losing money for over three years. Although its annual balance sheets show a loss, management is optimistic and confident that it will reduce its operating expenses.

Images | Creative Technology (1, 2) | Coolcaesar

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