Creative Technologies founder, CEO and chairman Sim Wong Hoo has passed away, his company has confirmed. He “passed away peacefully on January 4, 2023,” the paper said a press release. He was 67 years old.
It may seem 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 bleeps, you probably needed a sound card – and none were as successful as Creative Labs’ Sound Blaster. Since its 30th anniversary in 2019, it has sold more than 400 million copies.
In the pre-Windows 95 / DirectX era, few words in PC gaming were as important as the phrase “Sound Blaster compatible”, allowing players to hear the dogs bark Wolfenstein 3Dor messing around with the synthesized voice in the Dr. Sbaitso demo from Creative (you can play it on the internet these days).
The company was also huge in the MP3 player space with its Creative Nomad and Zen line of players and successfully sued Apple over its iPod, obtaining a $100 million settlement.
Success was not immediate. Originally, Hoo wanted to build a full computer that could talk, according to 1993 and 1994 profiles of the man Bee Bloomberg and The New York Times. He founded Creative Technologies in Singapore in 1981, and yet in 1986 – two years after Steve Jobs let the Macintosh “speak for itself” – the company’s PCs had sold so poorly that it reportedly only had a handful of engineers.
But when they took the Cubic CT’s music board to a computer exhibition in the United States, the company found a foothold. “The money we made on a few hundred boards was equivalent to the money we made on the PC,” he told the NYT.
Even then, the idea hadn’t completely solidified. 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 stunned the gaming industry by letting go King Quest IV with a real soundtrack scoredesigned to play on early sound cards such as the AdLib and Roland MT-32, and the publisher then advertised those PC parts for sale in its own catalog of games.
Creative got a slice of that action by renaming its card the “Game Blaster” in 1988, and in 1989 the company’s first Sound Blaster added a dedicated game port to connect a joystick. That’s something PC gamers usually had to buy separately and made the Sound Blaster look like an excellent deal over the AdLib.
Hoo’s determination made him a rare symbol of Singaporean startup success, as Creative became the first Singaporean company to be listed on the Nasdaq exchange. 1994, The New York Times’ The headline was literally “Entrepreneurial Company Challenges Singapore Model”, and he went on to write a book called Chaotic thoughts from the old millennium where he came up with a phrase, No U-Turn syndrometo describe an underlying difficulty in becoming an entrepreneur in that era of Singaporean culture.
Razer CEO and co-founder Min-Liang Tan, who turned Razer into a Singaporean 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, in 2016.
Even after PCs started playing quality audio themselves — every modern consumer motherboard comes with integrated sound — Creative kept gamers interested in features like the Sound Blaster Crystallizer, a dynamic range enhancer that “applies the audio boost (an audible effect)” to the lower, transient and higher frequency regions on demand.”
I still remember how proud I was to have one Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro in a desktop gaming PC and what it unlocked for me at the time – I ran three game consoles into my PC monitor, using the card to process sound, and marveled at how this one gadget was able to capture an optical audio signal from my PlayStation 2 could record and convert it into great sounding analog audio for my headphones and digital 3.5mm audio for my Boston Acoustics 4.1 surround sound speakers, all at once. (Yes I did those Gateway pack-in speakers that only accepted digital input via a 3.5 mm jack and the Audigy was very useful.)
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 special Sound Blaster sound card in the line-up.
And, I hearthe Audigy 2 still works well on some people’s PCs.
Update, 8:32 PM ET: Added more images and information about the Cubic99, an earlier Creative computer. You may also want to read this CustomPC interview with Hoo from 2019where he talks about the early days, name drops Michael Jackson, and more, and BrassicGamer’s exposure of some of the things Hoo told CustomPC.