You are here

Turtle Beach Monte Carlo

PC Sound Card
Published April 1995

Panicos Georghiades checks out Turtle Beach's most cost‑effective PC sound card yet.

If you have a PC and want to start using it to make music, buying a sound card is a logical first step. Sound cards provide you with three facilities useful for music making:

  • A MIDI interface to connect external synths.
  • An internal (usually GM) synthesizer.
  • Digital audio recording.

Almost all sound cards provide these three facilities, and you may also get an interface to connect a CD‑ROM drive, a selection of games and music software, and perhaps some other goodies besides.

But with over 50 different 'models' to choose from, each offering slightly different features, selection can be far from easy. Two well‑tried techniques are to go for a known manufacturer name, and to look for a good price, though you can't always rely on combining these criteria successfully.

The good news is that Monte Carlo, from Turtle Beach, seems to satisfy both conditions, offering quality and a good range of extras, at a competitive price.

On The Beach

Turtle Beach is a US company known for its very high‑quality sound cards and innovative approach to their design, their most famous product being the Multisound, which was the first card to feature 16‑bit, 44kHz stereo digital audio and a real synth chip (the Proteus 1). And a year or so ago, they released Maui, the first‑16 bit stereo sampling card for the PC, at only £169. The Monte Carlo weighs in at a mere £145. But there are other cards at around this price, so what makes the Monte Carlo stand out from the crowd?

Well, besides wearing the Turtle Beach badge, which must be worth something, the card offers an MPU‑401‑compatible MIDI interface which you can operate both under MS‑DOS and Windows. (To access this facility you need a standard SoundBlaster‑compatible D‑to‑MIDI connector, which isn't supplied and costs about £20. The manual prints a diagram of the connections, if you're into DIY.)

On the digital audio side, the card can record and play back stereo or mono 8‑ or 16‑bit sound at a selectable sampling rate between 4kHz and 48kHz, with 64X oversampling A/D conversion. You can record from a mono microphone input, a stereo line‑in, an internal CD audio input (if you're using a CD‑ROM drive), and the internal synthesizer. There's a stereo audio line out, and an amplified headphone/speakers output. All signal routings and levels are managed by a software sound mixer, which forms part of the controlling software, called Sierra Audio Rack.

Other sound‑quality specifications for the digital audio side of the card are a frequency response with not much bass (starting at a high 75Hz), but managing very well at the other end of the spectrum at 22kHz. The enharmonic distortion is low at .02%, so in general, if you exclude the lack of bass, the sound specs are acceptable.

On the music side, there's the now ageing 20‑voice four‑operator FM OPL3 chip (to stay compatible with the SoundBlaster and games). Only some synth‑type sounds on this are usable, but there's also a virtual synthesizer on board. This software emulation wavetable synthesiser (called V‑Synth) uses your PC's memory to store 16‑bit sounds. There are two modes, one using 0.5Mb, and another using 2Mb; polyphony is between 24 and 32 notes, depending on the size of your RAM.

You need a 486/33MHz machine with a minimum of four 4Mb of RAM for the maximum specs to work, but the synth is GM compatible. And there's a socket on the card for an additional third‑party wavetable synthesis daughter board, to provide very high‑quality synthesizer sounds.

On the software front, you get an iconic representation of a hi‑fi rack unit which includes a CD‑player, a MIDI player and a digital audio player, as well as a sound mixer for all three. There's also a version of Turtle Beach's Wave editor that can edit four files at the same time, a mouse player (an on‑screen keyboard you can play using the mouse, with a lovely and ingenious pitch bend facility), and Stratos, a notation‑based sequencer program for composing your own songs. Although pretty basic, it's adequate if you're starting out, and it does offer the ability to save as a MIDI file and sync to external clock. Finally, you also get a free CD with 50 demos of games software (15 of the games are full versions).


Overall, this is a good system if you're starting out, are on a limited budget and are also into games. We should say, however, that for about £60 more, Turtle Beach and other manufacturers have products (such as the Tropez card), that are more likely to keep you satisfied if you're a bit more ambitious and/or demanding.


  • Cheap.
  • Lots of games and music software.
  • Good for those starting out.
  • Good documentation.


  • Sound quality only good for demo material.
  • You may get problems with installation.


Affordable PC sound card from a well known manufacturer, providing external MIDI, internal synth and digital audio facilities.