Going back twenty years, my earliest experience of using computers for audio was using the built in sound hardware on my first computer capable of any kind of audio work: A PC with a Pentium 166MMX processor, 16Mb of RAM and a 1.3Gb HDD (I was rather proud of that hard drive. A typical drive was 850Mb at the time!). Needless to say the audio quality was disappointing. However this was a significant machine for me as the editing possibilities for stereo work were endless. The exact timeline is a bit hazy but I think I might have had an early version of Wavelab at this time and I was able to make precise edits and loop sections of tracks to make instrumental only stings of commercial tracks for the corporate live events I was doing a lot of at this time. Fellow live sound crew were amazed at these stings (no more fading out the CD halfway into the first verse as Jenkins from accounts finally makes it to the podium to receive his award…).
Audio quality was a big problem with this set up as the analogue IO on a generic soundcard on a typical PC in the late 90s was appalling and I realised that I needed digital transfer to and from DAT to be able to use this system on anything other than commercial material on CD (this was before I had a CD burner).
The Soundblaster Live was the first Soundcard I became aware of which offered s/pdif I/O at a price which was accessible to me. For mass market money I could transfer 48KHz digital to and from a DAT machine. It was revolutionary to me as It meant I could use all the editing skills I had learned editing tracks from CDs on my own and other people's music. A pair of home-soldered 75 ohm coaxial phono leads and I was in business - A Windows 95 PC paired with a Sony DTC690 DAT. Anyone with delusions that old gear is better needs to try that rig! This was in the days before ASIO4all and drivers had latency running into seconds. Tracking into a DAW was theoretically possible for a handful of tracks but even if that hadn’t strained the machine to breaking point, the latency made it impossible.
In spite of all the negative things I have to say about this set up, you can’t judge systems like this in retrospect. Editing stereo material on analogue tape wasn’t easy. Editing off DAT was impossible and even with the restrictions imposed by this system (did I mention it was fixed at 48KHz?) it represented a fundamental change in what was possible in audio and set me on the path to Pro Tools.