Creative Technologies founder, CEO and chairman Sim Wong Hoo has died, his company has confirmed. He “passed away peacefully on January 4, 2023,” according to a press release. He was 67 years old.
It might be hard for younger readers to believe, but there was a time when computer sound wasn’t guaranteed. If you wanted to connect headphones or speakers that could do more than bloops or beeps, you probably needed a sound card—and none have been as successful as Creative Labs’ Sound Blaster. By its 30th anniversary in 2019, over 400 million units had been sold.
In the pre-Windows 95/DirectX era, few words were as important in PC gaming as the phrase “Sound Blaster Compatible,” which allowed gamers to hear the dogs bark in Wolfenstein 3D or play with the synthesized voice in Dr. Playing around with Creative’s Sbaitso demo (you can play it on the web these days).
dr Sbaitso. Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge
The company was also big in the MP3 player space with its Creative Nomad and Zen line of players and successfully sued Apple over its iPod, winning a $100 million settlement.
Success did not come immediately. Initially, Sim wanted to build an entire computer that could talk, according to the man’s 1993 and 1994 profiles at Bloomberg and the New York Times. He founded Creative Technologies in Singapore in 1981, and yet by 1986—two years after Steve Jobs “let the Macintosh speak for itself”—the company’s personal computers had sold so poorly that he was reportedly down to a handful of engineers.
But when they took the Cubic CT’s music panel to a computer show in the United States, the company found traction. “The money we made on a couple hundred boards was equal to the money we made on the PC,” he told the NYT.
Even then, the idea hadn’t quite coagulated. Creative’s first sound card was sold as the Creative Music System before it realized that PC gamers would become its largest audience. In 1987, Sierra On-Line thrilled the gaming industry with the release of King’s Quest IV, featuring an updated soundtrack designed for early sound cards such as the AdLib and Roland MT-32, and the publisher promoted these PC parts for sale in their own games catalogue .
Creative got some of that action by renaming its card “Game Blaster” in 1988, and in 1989 the company’s first Sound Blaster added a dedicated gameport to connect a joystick. This is something that PC gamers have typically had to purchase separately and has helped make the Sound Blaster look like an excellent deal over the AdLib.
Sim’s determination made him a rare symbol of Singaporean startup success as Creative became the first Singapore company to be listed on the Nasdaq exchange. In 1994 the New York Times headlined literally “Entrepreneurial Company Defies Singapore Model” and he went on to write a book entitled Chaotic Thoughts from the Old Millennium in which he coined the phrase “No U-Turn Syndrome”, to describe an underlying issue Difficulties in becoming an entrepreneur in this era of Singaporean culture.
Razer CEO and co-founder Min-Liang Tan, who transformed Razer into a Singapore company, went to social media to say that “the tech world and Singapore have lost a legend”. Razer bought its own audio company, THX, founded by George Lucas, back in 2016.
Even after PCs were able to play high-quality audio on their own—every modern consumer motherboard has built-in sound—Creative gamers kept going with features like the Sound Blaster Crystallizer, a dynamic range enhancer that “boosts the audio (a audible effect) is interested”. into the lower, transient and higher frequency ranges upon request.”
The Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro was a Windows Media Center beast with its own remote control. It also came with a game port.
I still remember how proud I was to install a Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro in a desktop gaming PC and what it unlocked for me back then – I put three gaming consoles in my PC monitor and the Map used for sound processing. and marveled at how this one device could take an optical audio signal from my PlayStation 2 and simultaneously convert it into great sounding analog audio for my headphones and 3.5mm digital audio for my Boston Acoustics 4.1 surround sound speakers. (Yes, I’ve had these Gateway Pack-In speakers that only accept digital input through a 3.5mm jack, and the Audigy came in really handy.)
Creative hasn’t exactly been a household name in recent years, but it still sells popular soundbars like the Sound Blaster Katana, speakers, webcams, and earbuds. There is even a dedicated Sound Blaster sound card in the range.
And I hear the Audigy 2 is still running fine in some people’s PCs.
Update, 8:32 PM ET: Added more pictures and information about the Cubic99, a previous Creative computer. You might also want to read this CustomPC interview with Sim from 2019, where he talks about the beginnings, Michael Jackson naming and more, and BrassicGamer’s debunking of some of the things he told CustomPC.