As you may or may not know, Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, removed support for DirectSound and DirectSound3D from Windows Vista, a supposed “gaming” OS. If you own a nice sound card like one from the Sound Blaster line, you suddenly lose hardware accelerated audio and fancy effects like EAX. Microsoft decided that very few people have sound cards in their systems anymore (Did they talk to any gamers before they came to this brilliant conclusion?) so lets let software render such things. Basically this was a big screw over to Creative Labs, the only major sound card manufacturer left. Creative’s answer was OpenAL, “a cross-platform 3D audio API appropriate for use with gaming applications and many other types of audio applications.”
Some newer games support OpenAL natively (you can see the list here) and will run with hardware acceleration on X-Fi cards, but for other games on Vista, you need ALchemy. I read about ALchemy first in Maximum PC in their March 2008 issue feature “51 Tips & Hacks for Windows Vista and XP.” The software’s free for X-Fi owners, but is $10 for Audigy owners.
I just read some reviews of new sound cards from other companies besides Creative in the April issue of Maximum PC, so hopefully this issue can be fixed in Windows in the future if sound cards begin to make a comeback. For now, read more about ALchemy and download the latest version here.