Sim Wong Hoo, who founded Sound Blaster producer Creative Technology in 1981 and remained at its head ever since, has died. A statement (opens in new tab) released by the company said Sim “passed away peacefully” on January 4.
Creative Technology—known as Creative Labs in North America—was a groundbreaking player in the early days of PC gaming thanks to its long-running series of audio cards. After initially launching as the Creative Music System in 1987, the famous Sound Blaster line debuted in 1989, and quickly took over the market: Ad Lib, which prior to the arrival of Sound Blaster cards was the effective standard for PC gaming audio, lost so much ground so quickly that it was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1992.
The Sound Blaster series evolved through multiple generations after the release of that first card. My second sound card (ironically, replacing an Ad Lib) was a Sound Blaster Pro, which came out in 1991 and helped push the company’s global revenues to well over $1 billion by the mid-1990s.
The advent of onboard audio later took a big bite out of consumer-level sound card sales, and Creative’s efforts to move into other technologies, like CD-ROM drives and video accelerators, failed to catch fire. But the company found continued success by refocusing its efforts on specialty audio, including high-end sound hardware—the Sound Blaster AE-9 really impressed us when it launched in 2019—and speakers.
An audio legacy
Creative is a company that has become synonymous with computer audio over the years, to such an extent that I doubt there are many of us that haven’t used a pair of Creative speakers or stuck a sound card from the company inside their machine at some point. I had a set of the go-to Inspire T10 speakers when I went to university and they still sell that exact model to this day. I also still have a Sound Blaster sound card in my PC, and as a child/teen I even had a Creative Zen MP3 player. I guess I can thank Mr Sim for that long-lasting audio legacy.
– Jacob Ridley, senior hardware editor
Creative is also notable for squaring off with Apple—and winning—in a 2006 patent dispute over Apple’s hot new invention, the iPod. Creative had its own lineup of Zen audio players at the time, and these had an interface for scrolling through your library of music that Apple quite liked for its own. Ultimately, the two companies settled for a $100 million payment out of pocket, and Mr. Sim’s company walked away that much richer. Admittedly Apple would have the last laugh considering its success with the iPod thereafter, but Creative continued to build plenty of PC products we use to this day, even if its Zen music player had a limited shelf life.
“I have known and worked with Mr. Sim for over 30 years,” interim CEO Song Siow Hui said in a statement. “This is a sad and sudden development and we feel a great loss.”
A message (opens in new tab) posted on the Creative website says Sim was “a visionary, inventor, and entrepreneur who gave the PC a voice. He will be deeply missed.”
A cause of death was not released by the company. Sim was 67 years old.