A couple of years ago, I bought a Creative Live 24-bit USB, after finding out that my latest computer’s soundcard did not include a wave-out mixer. The logical choice was to find an external USB soundcard and luckily I didn’t have to go too far (or dig too deep in my wallet). Two years ago, the Live’s went for around the 100 dollars (Canadian): nowadays they go for a lot less (the Creative site even has them listed between 45-50 dollars US). However, they’re generally considered to be an older generation of soundcards: Creative now solely focusses on selling you the X-Fi line of soundcards, which also includes a portable USB version, for a reasonable price.
But back to the Live!: It’s powered by USB, which saves you from having to use one ugly brick of an adapter. The device itself isn’t too big but is definitely not ‘wallet-sized’: it feels sturdy enough to tag along and throw around the room. Installation of software and drivers is needed, of course, and this is where my main criticism comes in: I’m generally not so impressed with Creative’s software and the same is true for the software that comes with this card. To be frank: I’ve never actually used the software because there are generally better alternatives available to mix sound and create music files (I use Audacity for this). The default Windows Mixer is replaced with the one from Creative and it’s even in use when the card is not plugged in. So, don’t expect the typical USB behaviour of ‘plug-in anytime anywhere’: if you’ve unplugged the Live and plug it back in, most likely you need to restart you computer to have your Live! sound come back (obviously, the box doesn’t come with a reset/on/off button of sorts).
The most important part of a soundcard is the sound of course: This is excellent and doesn’t disappoint. I’ve read that some people heard ‘clicking noises’ over time, but at this time the Live is still doing good. The MIDI sound handling is a bit poor, but if you don’t expect Roland SoundCanvas quality you may be able to get away with it. The card is also properly detected by many of the MID/DAW software packages out there: however, in some cases, you may need to poke through specific settings to get your MIDI In/Out going. Another nitpick is that the Live! doesn’t really have an ‘Audio in’ facility: this is actually shared with the Mic-in (The manual states this too, but I only discovered this after the fact of course).
So, if you’ve managed to find the USB version of the Live! online and you just discovered that your laptop doesn’t have a Wave Mixer, then the Live! is a good buy. If you have more money in your budget, and are a so-called audiofreak who likes to brag about the latest and greatest 7-1 Dolby system, you may want to consider investing in something else.
Minor update: I managed to get the card working on KDE too, but obviously you need to go through a lot more steps to get it actually going.
Update 2: This is probably a related post, using VirtuAmp (guitar plugged right in the box).