Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

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Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby Farfolomew » 2009-5-27 @ 12:53

Ok, so I just found out my Sound Blaster Live! does a pretty good job in DOS with General Midi and nice, clean, noiseless digital sound effects. I found this out after playing around with my AWE64 and getting nowhere with the PoS AWEUTIL program. I'll agree, the AWE64 sounds pretty good when the games support it, but I do play some older games like Privateer that do not, so I need General Midi support.

Here's my problem though: my Sound Blaster Live! will work great, but about 5-10 minutes into playing, the digital sounds turn to screeching, and I have to restart the computer to fix it. The GM still works fine though. I'm not done playing around with certain settings, but it keeps happening consistently, so i'm not sure what's up. Also, in Privateer2 (a "newer" protected-mode DOS game) the GM emulation of the SBLive has some weird problems that are hard to describe, but make it hard to enjoy the game.

So what this all boils down to is trying to find a nice and quiet sound card that will work with just about all 1994 and later games and offers good General Midi support.

I've narrowed it down to the Ensoniq AudioPCI and it's software GM synth or a Vortex2 with a DB60XG clone daughterboard. Most of the games I play will support the AudioPCI natively, so the digital sound effects should sound great, no (and in 16-bit)? But i'm unsure of the GM quality of the AudioPCI, especially if it's identical to my SBLive. It may give me the same strange problems i'm having now with the SBLive.

Ideally, the Vortex2+DB60XG would be better I suppose, but I also have to look at $. I don't want to spend a lot, and the AudioPCI would only cost around $15, where the DB60XG clone would cost $40.

Any help on the matter would be appreciated! Thanks.
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby Amigaz » 2009-5-27 @ 13:07

From my own experience with Privateer it has problems with faster machines even with real legacy sound cards as a Sound Blaster 16 CT1740 + midi daugterboard...same weird sounds as you get.

How fast is your PC?
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby gerwin » 2009-5-27 @ 13:32

You have narrowed it down to PCI soundcards. For Dos they have to compromise a little because they have to intercept and bridge the ISA bus calls to their PCI bus.

The SB-Live uses the same DOS emulation drivers as the Ensoniq AudioPCI, only a slightly modified version that gives SB-16 instead of Soundscape compatibility. The general midi output is identical, there are 4 different GM soundbanks (.ECW) that I know of. All this also goes for the SB PCI128 and early Audigy's. There are plenty of older threads on the vogons PC forum covering this subject.

The Vortex-2 with a midi daughterboard is at least worth a try, it is not perfect, but among the most clean and useful soundcards for a combined DOS/Windows 9x retro system. A nice feature is the MIDI selector for the windows 9x dosbox. Drawbacks are the occasional games that are not digging it as a Sound Blaster Pro and its poor OPL3 FM emulation. So an additonal sound card (with genuine OPL3) may be desirable to cover for these weak spots.

Among PCI sound cards: AFAIK only the Yamaha YMF724 series is in the same league as the Vortex-2 with DOS and GM support. The Yamaha has genuine OPL3 FM. Has some quirks when used a Windows 9x dosbox. Works best with a SB-Link cable. Has no Waveblaster header.
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby Farfolomew » 2009-5-27 @ 13:48

@Amigaz: I think i've gotten the game to run pretty well. I have a P2 333Mhz on a BX440 Abit BX6 MB. I'm running the P2 at only 133Mhz though, so it should be slow enough. I needed a slow CPU to run Privateer 2. Maybe you're referring to Privateer's problem with greater than 16MB of EMS memory? Because that will immediately cause Privateer to have the digital "screeching" that happens to me with my SBLive 5-10 minutes into gaming.

@Gerwin: Well I narrowed it down to PCI soundcards after pretty much doing everything I could with the AWE64. I liked the AWE64, but it did have some problems (slight noise and AWEUTIL). I figured since I play mostly just newer DOS games, a PCI card would be better. And really, asside from the strange digital effects problems i've been having with the SBLive in Privateer and odd GM playback in Privateer 2, i'm quite pleased with it's quality over the AWE64.

Since posting this, i've read quite a few threads where swaaye has posted his comments about this exact configuration (and it sounds like he plays the same exact "newer" type games I do). Anyways, it would seem the ideal solution would be to get all three of these cards. The Ensoniq AudioPCI for native digital effect support; The Vortex2+DB60XG for GM support. With a slew of options for SBPro emulation between the two.
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby Farfolomew » 2009-5-27 @ 13:58

Also, if I do go with this setup, how would I connect the Vortex and the AudioPCI so that I get one analog sound output (headphones) that has both Digital and GM? Just use the Line Out of Vortex into the Line In of Soundscape? I read somewhere you could use the little CD/AUX connector on the cards instead to do this?
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby Farfolomew » 2009-5-27 @ 14:27

Wait, I think I'm a little confused between the Soundscape and the AudioPCI. Will the AudioPCI work as an Ensoniq Soundscape in pure DOS mode, or is it limited to just emulating SBPro? I assumed I could get the AudioPCI working "natively" with games that support Ensoniq Soundscape to achieve that 16-bit 48KhZ digital sound effects. Am I wrong here? If so, then there's absolutely nothing an AudioPCI will offer that my SBLive doesn't already (in fact worse: SBPro vs SB16 emulation).
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby gerwin » 2009-5-27 @ 14:32

In my system the Vortex-2 is the mixer card, it has the best sigmatel 18-bit DAC. You can connect the lines with the jackplug connectors and sometimes with internal CD-audio style connectors. But just as important, you need a way to get the card to start mixing in pure Dos. By default it is just in an idle state. To enable mixing without interfering with another emulation driver:
1) Run au30dos to wake op the Vortex-2
2) Run vortex mixer to set the desired mixer volumes.
3) Run au30dos with the unload parameter.
4) Load the AudioPCI emulation driver.

There are other ways of mixing of course, like external mixers and S/PDIF connectors.

concerning your second post:
Read the AudioPCI wiki for more information, I only used the PCI128 myself. Indeed the SB-Live seems to have all that and EAX +soundfont support. Some stories on the net dislike the SB-Live's 48KHz resampling and PCI spec... but nothing really convincing or noticable.
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby Farfolomew » 2009-5-27 @ 14:58

Well, I ended up purchasing the AudioPCI in hopes that it will emulate Ensoniq Soundscape perfectly in DOS. That's the only reason I can see why it would be better than the SBLive's SB16 emulation. Also, it was only $12 so I couldn't resist :P.

I also purchased the DB60XG NEC clone for $38 shipped, for use on my Turtle Beach Montego II Vortex card. I'll let you guys know how things go :)
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby swaaye » 2009-5-27 @ 17:37

AudioPCI has poor MIDI quality. It's entirely software-driven and they couldn't do much in the way of quality back when the CPU available was usually a Pentium MMX or similar. MIDI is the same in DOS and Windows.

Its digital audio is clean though and yes it does emulate a 16-bit, 48KHz Soundscape card. It also emulates SBPro2, Adlib, GMIDI, MT-32 (yucky tho), and FM (badly). The SBlive! uses the same DOS driver but switches out Soundscape support for SB16.

It's too bad that AudioPCI or Live! don't have a daughterboard header. The 16-bit SB16/Soundscape emulation would be very helpful. Vortex cards only do SBPro unfortunately.
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby gerwin » 2009-5-27 @ 18:37

Know all about the Ensoniq PCI midi quality by now, as I used the derived Sound-Blaster PCI and Live emulation for years. Currently I would also rate the midi as poor but at the time it was very useable.

You can even get the same Dos emulation working on certain Audigy 2's. Maybe that would be a nice mixer card for a retro PC? It would be nice if the emulation could be set to drive an external synth in pure Dos. It seems unlikely though...

Kinda nice to see that the guy by the forum-name earwaxcandle is still investigating the Ensoniq ECW format at least up until 2009!: His ECW webpage
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby swaaye » 2009-5-27 @ 18:49

I just remember how the "new and exciting" PCI AudioPCI card sounded worse for MIDI than my 3 year old Soundscape. :) I suppose that it should have been apparent that something was fishy about the new card when I bought it direct from Ensoniq in '97 for a whole $75.

Even the 8MB patch set isn't as good as the 2MB onboard the original Soundscape or Soundscape Elite.
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby Farfolomew » 2009-5-30 @ 14:28

Kind of a dumb question, will I need to purchase plastic spacers to mount the DB60XG clone onto my Montego II? I'm not sure if this card will have the plastic spacers premounted on the underside or not. Doesn't look like it according to the Ebay pic::

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If I do need to buy spacers, does anyone know where I can get them?? I tried Googling, but didn't stumble across anything of interest. Thanks!
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby retro games 100 » 2009-5-30 @ 14:54

Farfolomew wrote: ... will I need to purchase plastic spacers to mount the DB60XG clone onto my Montego II?

They're not essential. You can live without them.

(Vaguely related - y'know slot 1 CPUs. I use mine with all that crappy plastic scaffolding torn down. Seems to work alright.)
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby Farfolomew » 2009-5-31 @ 10:44

Well, ya but there's a big difference between a Slot 1 CPU without the plastic clips and a daughterboard without a clip, I would think. The DB's only going to be secured to the sound card via those pins in the lower left corner...the rest of the board will be unsupported. I'm worried about it drooping down and maybe even coming loose. But if you tell me it shouldn't be a problem, then i'll just hold off on trying to buy anything until I get the card. Thanks!
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby retro games 100 » 2009-5-31 @ 10:57

The reason you'll be OK without those plastic pins is because once your soundcard is installed in to the mobo, (and your mobo is installed inside your PC case), the soundcard will be at the bottom, with the DB on top of the soundcard. Gravity will work in your favour. It'll pull the DB towards your soundcard, thus preventing the DB from working itself loose from the soundcard.

You could "bodge it", by sticking any object(s) you like between the DB and soundcard, where the plastic pin holes are, to add greater support to the edges of the DB.

Good luck.
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby h-a-l-9000 » 2009-5-31 @ 12:10

but no metal objects xD
1+1=10
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby Farfolomew » 2009-5-31 @ 14:10

That goes without saying :D

I think I may try a rubber pencil eraser, and jam it into the DB's hole(s).
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby swaaye » 2009-5-31 @ 15:55

take a pen and chop it up into a few segments that are the right height. secure them however u like. zip ties maybe. I just made this up on the spot here but it seems like an option. ;)

No reason to need the actual posts.
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby Farfolomew » 2009-6-03 @ 11:25

@retro: I just realized (and probably neglected to mention to you) that i'll be mounting this DB on a PCI card, and thus gravity will NOT be working in my favor, since their orientation is opposite that of an ISA cards :P. You still think i'll be ok without getting the real retention plugs?
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Re: Ensoniq AudioPCI vs Vortex2 w/DB60XG daughterboard?

Postby retro games 100 » 2009-6-03 @ 11:44

Farfolomew wrote:@retro: I just realized (and probably neglected to mention to you) that i'll be mounting this DB on a PCI card, and thus gravity will NOT be working in my favor, since their orientation is opposite that of an ISA cards :P. You still think i'll be ok without getting the real retention plugs?

Ah! I think you definitely need something to hold the DB in place. If you can find 'em, get those plugs! If not, try to create something as a replacement. I've just had a mad thought - how about a couple of elastic bands wrapped around both card and DB? (I use elastic bands to hold fans against heatsinks without any problems.)

Whatever you decide to do, good luck & let us know how you get on.
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