RMM (Retro MIDI Machine)!

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RMM (Retro MIDI Machine)!

Postby Cerendir » 2018-12-03 @ 21:58

Hi all, longtime non-registered lurker here.

Long story short, I'm a musician and game music composer who's been bitten by the retro MIDI bug in recent years. While I did use this kind of stuff exclusively in the late 90's/early 00's (up until software instruments and fx became a thing, basically), it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I really found myself longing back to simpler and more lo-fi times. So to that end, I've put together a be-all and end-all computer build that a) allows me to use a variety of old ISA and PCI sound cards from decades past, and b) has the right connectivity and outboard gear for hooking up various sound modules and making everything fit nicely together. Basically, it's the MIDI home studio I always dreamed of back in the day but couldn't afford.

PC

Pentium III 600MHz
Abit BX6
512 MB RAM
Ensoniq Soundscape Elite
Yamaha Waveforce 192XG
Turtle Beach Santa Cruz
E-MU APS
Windows 98 SE

OUTBOARD GEAR

Yamaha TG100
Roland M-GS64
MOTU MIDI Express
Lexicon Alex
Alesis MidiVerb III
Digitech DSP 256XL
Behringer Virtualizer Pro 1000p
Rane ME-15
Behringer MX 802A
Behringer UB1202

Some examples of this setup in action:

Twist of Fate
Road to Adventure
Hidden Secrets

Also, here's a forum thread detailing how this project began and how it has developed. As you can probably tell, this is music-oriented rather than gaming-oriented. As such I have more forgiving attitude towards hardware that is not considered the ultimate in GM music reproduction (like the TG100).
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Re: RMM (Retro MIDI Machine)!

Postby jheronimus » 2018-12-03 @ 22:07

Awesome build!

You clearly know a lot about sound, so I'd like your opinion on those Primax speakers you have in the video. Would you recommend them? I often see them for sale and they look cool, but I don't know about sound.

Thing is, I've recently played some OPL3 music through better speakers almost by accident and realised I am suddenly able to enjoy it. The sound was just more complex and interesting as I could hear all the channels of OPL3 much more distinctly. The speakers were wireless Bowers & Wilkins Z1 — big name, but this particular model is no benchmark by any means. It is still much better than the cheap Creative speakers I use with my retro machines.
Socket 7: Pentium 166; 64MB RAM; Matrox Millenium+Voodoo 1; AWE32 PnP w/28MB + GUS PnP Pro w/8MB
Socket 370: Pentium III 1000; 256MB RAM; Voodoo 5 5500 AGP; Diamond Monster Sound MX300 + SoundBlaster Live!
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Re: RMM (Retro MIDI Machine)!

Postby Cerendir » 2018-12-03 @ 22:34

The Primax (or whatever they might be branded as) speakers are terrible! I use them mainly because they look the part and I need some form of monitoring when making music with this system. For a reality check every once in a while I have everything hooked up to my proper studio monitors at the other end of the room. So no, I wouldn't recommend them. OTOH they can be found for like $2 in thrift shops and I like their funky design aesthetic. Short answer I guess is if you have nothing else they will do their job but in terms of sound fidelity, they're just cheap boxy-sounding full-range speakers.
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Re: RMM (Retro MIDI Machine)!

Postby jheronimus » 2018-12-03 @ 22:45

Yeah, it figures. Seems like with some rare exceptions period correct speakers don’t really sound good.
Socket 7: Pentium 166; 64MB RAM; Matrox Millenium+Voodoo 1; AWE32 PnP w/28MB + GUS PnP Pro w/8MB
Socket 370: Pentium III 1000; 256MB RAM; Voodoo 5 5500 AGP; Diamond Monster Sound MX300 + SoundBlaster Live!
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Re: RMM (Retro MIDI Machine)!

Postby xjas » 2018-12-03 @ 22:56

Cool stuff, I'm a big fan of oldschool GM/XG for 'real' music production too. A lot of those modules sound really nice when used properly. It's a shame GM got kind of a bad rep from crummy low-effort game conversions.

I built my Shuttle XPC specifically to sit in my setup and act as a Yamaha SW100XG "sound module", although it ended up becoming my primary Win98 music/games/everything machine in the process. Still need to finish my 100% XG track. :)

What sequencer are you running?

EDIT: BTW I quite like your tracks, especially Road to Adventure - really shows off the XG soundset. Great job!
Last edited by xjas on 2018-12-03 @ 23:02, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: RMM (Retro MIDI Machine)!

Postby Cerendir » 2018-12-03 @ 22:59

jheronimus: If by speakers you mean "multimedia speakers", then mostly no. I have a pair of Creative speakers (designed by Cambridge Soundworks) that actually sound good for what they are, but being tiny they lack any bottom end whatsoever and are more suited for casual use rather than making or listening to music. In my experience it's generally a better idea getting a decent compact stereo system from the era and hooking it up to the computer in question rather than messing around with so-called multimedia speakers.
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Re: RMM (Retro MIDI Machine)!

Postby Cerendir » 2018-12-03 @ 23:11

xjas wrote:Cool stuff, I'm a big fan of oldschool GM/XG for 'real' music production too. A lot of those modules sound really nice when used properly. It's a shame GM got kind of a bad rep from crummy low-effort game conversions.

I built my Shuttle XPC specifically to sit in my setup and act as a Yamaha SW100XG "sound module", although it ended up becoming my primary Win98 music/games/everything machine in the process. Still need to finish my 100% XG track. :)

What sequencer are you running?


Totally agree, "used properly" being the operative words here. No one would argue that e.g. a GM oboe is superior or even equal to modern sample libraries for mimicing the real instrument, but that doesn't mean a GM oboe in all its cheesiness can't be used as a synthetic instrument in and of itself. In my experience, it's when you try to attempt realism with GM/XG instruments that everything falls apart. Approach everything as synth voices and it's much easier getting passable sounds out of whatever old hardware.

For this I'm using REAPER 4.78. Not a period piece of software, but I value my time. When setting this system up I tried using the ancient version of Cubase Score I used back in the day but quickly lost patience with its clunkiness.
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Re: RMM (Retro MIDI Machine)!

Postby jheronimus » 2018-12-04 @ 09:05

Cerendir wrote:In my experience it's generally a better idea getting a decent compact stereo system from the era and hooking it up to the computer in question rather than messing around with so-called multimedia speakers.


Nice tip. I've been thinking of getting something like Roland MA-12 (never saw one for sale in my area though) or maybe some modern bookshelf speakers in white, black or woodgrain. That's a cheat, sure, but a neutral design wouldn't look out of place.
Socket 7: Pentium 166; 64MB RAM; Matrox Millenium+Voodoo 1; AWE32 PnP w/28MB + GUS PnP Pro w/8MB
Socket 370: Pentium III 1000; 256MB RAM; Voodoo 5 5500 AGP; Diamond Monster Sound MX300 + SoundBlaster Live!
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