Ensoniq was one of the first companies to do high-fidelity audio on a computer. The were first brought into the bright lights when they were commissioned by Apple Computer to supply the sound synthesis chips for the Apple IIgs line of computers. The first 8-bit sound chip, IIRC.

A favourite of audiophiles and musicians for many years. I know several musicans who still swear by the Ensoniq SoundScape. They also made the fantabulous ASR line of keyboards; a staple of nearly every synthpop band.

Sadly, they began to suffer, and were eventually absorbed into the huge Creative Labs company. They will be missed.

During the nineties, ENSONIQ consisted of three divisions: multimedia, musical instruments and hearing aids.

The hearing aid division closed in the early nineties. The musical instrument division which enjoyed great success in the late eighties and early nineties began to lose market share to the Japanese musical instrument companies (Yamaha and Korg). However, the multimedia division (which manufactured the Soundscape card) enjoyed great success.

During the nineties, sound cards moved from specialty high end hardware to the commodity item that it is today. In order to do this, sound cards needed to become cheaper. ENSONIQ was a pioneer in the evolution of the soundcards from the Soundscape to the AudioPCI.

The original Soundscape consisted of a Motorola MC68000 processor, a custom gate-array (ODIE), a full custom chip OTTO and a CODEC (either the Analog Devices AD1848 or Crystal Semiconductor CT4248). This design basically remained unchanged for the Soundscape II and Soundscape Elite.

Following up on the original Soundscape design came the Soundscape Vivo. Recognizing the need to reduce cost, the engineers removed the MC68000 from the sound card and moved the embedded firmware into the host computer. This dramatically reduced the cost and size of the board.

After the Soundscape Vivo card, the ENSONIQ engineers took a bold step. While Microsoft and the rest of the audio industry were pushing the benefits of hardware accelerated audio the ENSONIQ group were looking for ways to further reduce the cost of audio. Their efforts resulted in the AudioPCI.

The AudioPCI card was the first PCI based audio card on the market. It was also ENSONIQ's most successful. In a radical move, OTTO, the synthesizer engine used in all previous soundcards was removed from the board. This meant that all audio processing was performed on the host computer. While the rest of the industry tried to sell expensive hardware accelerated sound cards the AudioPCI was proving the hardware acceleration was unnecessary.

It was during this period the Creative Labs, who was having a difficult time releasing it's PCI audio solution decided to acquire ENSONIQ. This move gave Creative Labs PCI audio technology and ENSONIQ the retail presence required to make the AudioPCI the standard audio card for much of the PC world.

The cost reduction strategies employed by ENSONIQ for the AudioPCI proved to be its undoing. Host audio (the ultimate cost reduction) is replacing sound in all but the most expensive PCs.

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