Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

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Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby Clardake » 2014-2-24 @ 02:19

Hello,

I've three old Creative cards: one Sound Blaster Pro 1 (CT1330) and two Sound Blaster Pro 2 (CT1600 & CT1690). Great for DOS games!

Unfortunately, I noticed that ALL of them produce background noise on my oldest system (486 DX2 66 MHz). It's very audible on DOS 6.22, but it's even worse on Windows 95. On Windows, noise changes when I simply move mouse! My newer "retro" computer (Pentium III 550 MHz) is much less affected when I use the same ISA cards.

According to the Creative manual, background noise can be generated by power supply. Should I change PSU ? Any other solution ?

How to remove the annoying noise on my 486 computer ?
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby PeterLI » 2014-2-24 @ 03:25

I hear my keyboard keys come through on my Digital Venturis 575. Pretty fun really. :)
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby dirkmirk » 2014-2-24 @ 04:25

Are you using headphones? That will make it more obvious, unfortunately its a trait of the early sound blasters and I know exactly what your talking about, some suggestions would be to use something like a Awe64 Gold instead.
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby swaaye » 2014-2-24 @ 07:23

Or something not from Creative...
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby Jolaes76 » 2014-2-24 @ 07:38

There are a few tricks that might improve the situation a little bit.

1) PSU replacement
2) motherboard recapping
3) relocating the ISA sound card to another slot
4) recapping the ISA sound card
5) shielding the card (build a Faraday-cage aka ghetto fix)

As already said, forget about using headphones directly with these vintage cards. On the blissful end of a high-end amp you can also apply sophisticated filters to some effect.

The real fix would be to somehow perfectly amend the shielding issue AND deactive the mini op-amps, leaving line-out only :(
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby DonutKing » 2014-2-24 @ 09:35

There's not much you can do about this. I've got the same issue with multiple systems, and no amount of recapping, swapping PSU's or moving slots seems to resolve it.

I'd suggest a later model Creative card that doesn't suffer from this issue - CT2800 or CT2900 if you want real OPL3, or an AWE64 Gold. Or a non-creative card.
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby Clardake » 2014-2-24 @ 12:02

Thank you for your interest.

Here some results and questions:

  • The relocation to another ISA slot doesn't help at all
  • Can I install a modern PSU on a 486 motherboard ? This computer was made before 1995 and thus before the creation of ATX
  • How can I made a Faraday-cage ? I am not an expert on electricity "isolation". Any tutorial ? Instead of building it myself, can I buy a such item for little money ?
  • yes, I noticed the volume of background noise varies greatly depending on audio device. On my Pentium III 550 MHz, noise is also terrible when I use headphone and most speakers. In fact, only one of my speakers gives an acceptable sound: a passive (= powered by the computer) Compaq speaker build in 1998. Sadly, the background noise is still annoying on the 486. Can you suggest another model of speaker ?
Some people suggest me to simply use another sound card:

In fact, I choose Creative simply because that company was the leader at the DOS era. In addition, Sound Blaster Pro's have theoretically some great advantages: stereo-capable and perfectly backwards compatible with original Sound Blaster and Adlib. Indeed, I read there are some compatibility issues with Sound Blaster 16's (is it really true?). That's why I bought these cards on eBay.

I thought the Sound Blaster Pro was the perfect choice for retro gaming. Perhaps I was wrong, as the background noise is a significant problem for my 486 (and the newer "retro" computer is too fast)

I can't believe gamers at the time enjoyed their games with a such background noise ! How could Creative be the leader with apparently faulty sound cards ?

If I can't find any satisfactory solution with my Sound Blaster Pro's, which non-Creative sound card can you advice for my 486 (perfectly compatible with SBPro and older) ?

Thank you!
Last edited by Clardake on 2014-2-24 @ 12:05, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby Stojke » 2014-2-24 @ 12:02

Or he could lover the volume and use an quality amplifier :)
PAS16 has almost no noise what so ever at half volume, quite loud at that point too.
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby bristlehog » 2014-2-24 @ 12:25

MediaVision Pro AudioSpectrum series are notorious for noise shielding. You may go with the original Pro AudioSpectrum (dual OPL2, but very hard to find) or Pro Audio Studio 16 (OPL3, advanced version of Pro AudioSpectrum 16, better shielded).

There are ways to add a modern PSU to your 486. There are either ATX to AT adapters, or even new AT PSUs still produced for servers. But it probably won't help with card noise.

Note that if you decide to install an ATX PSU with ATX-to-AT adapter, you must keep in mind that almost every ATX PSU nowadays lacks -5V line, which is essential to run some of sound cards (Sound Blaster 2.0 and Pro AudioSpectrum 16/Audio Studio 16 are among them).
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby Jolaes76 » 2014-2-24 @ 12:31

on garage-tech shielding:

there was an article here : http://home.roadrunner.com/~jgglatt/tutr/noise.htm

see also:

http://www.vintage-computer.com/vcforum ... 28078.html

but in general, it is better to google for EMS or electromagnetic shielding for audio cards

and yes, back in the day the average computer user was NOT a hard core gamer NEITHER an audiophile... so we just quickly dropped the headphones and adjusted the volume knob to sg bearable and lived with it.

There is also a hard-core way of externally powering the sound card, thereby eliminating bus noise but that means a lot of effort. Not an orthodox way of building a retro rig, I mean.
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby PeterLI » 2014-2-24 @ 12:55

Personally I do not care about the noise at all. I like it. It brings my back to my childhood. :)
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby nforce4max » 2014-2-24 @ 16:07

Each card is different and back then people called them "noise blasters" for a reason. Just add some sheilding to the analog side of the circuit and the noise will be reduced. Cheap caps can be the cause of some of the noise.
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby Clardake » 2014-2-24 @ 16:53

Hello.

Thanks for the articles about shielding. However...
http://home.roadrunner.com/~jgglatt/tutr/noise.htm wrote:But I doubt that any of the above will help you if the noise problem is a result of the sound card's own generated noise from using parts with low Signal To Noise (S/N) ratios. You can't make the components do more than they're designed to do. The above shielding will only eliminate noise that isn't supposed to be inherent in the card's design (ie, noise resulting from interference with other cards). The shielding won't make poor components on your card perform better than their design allows.

According to dirkmirk and DonutKing, background noise is inherent in the Sound Blaster Pro's design...

That said, with a SBP2 (not SBP1) and passive speaker, the sound is pretty decent on my Pentium III (see my previous topic: viewtopic.php?f=46&t=38428). There is still noise, but not so much than on my 486. On my Pentium III, setting volume at high level is enough to make sound apparently "perfect": background noise is completely drowned out by music.

Therefore, shielding the sound card may improve the result in my 486, but I am not sure it will be enough : perhaps I should buy a vintage and expensive PSU in addition, and others components... I've already spent an insane amount of money to get my three Sound Blaster Pro's on eBay (roughly $100 for two SBP2's, and $150 for the SBP1 alone). For the price, I expected to enjoy fantastic sound quality in DOS games. I'm clearly disappointed.

Bristlehog recommends me MediaVision Pro AudioSpectrum sound card. But I noticed there are pricey too :
Finally, perhaps I would follow the DonutKing's guideline: Sound Blaster 16 (at least CT2800 and CT2900) are supposed not suffer from background noise and are much cheaper
I've three questions about Sound Blaster 16's:

  1. CT2800 and CT2900 are actually "Sound Blaster VIBRA 16". According to Wikipedia, some models of VIBRA 16 have "integrated a cost-reduced replacement for the OPL-3 FM support termed CQM synthesis, which largely emulated the features of the OPL-3 chip. However, as it was not a true OPL-3, its output tended to sound noticeably different from that of a real OPL-3". Is it true ?

  2. Do the earlier (not VIBRA) models of SB16 suffer equally from background noise ? Should I buy an early SB16 instead of later VIBRA to enjoy a more authentic experience ?

  3. SB16 is mostly backward compatible with older cards, whereas SBP is fully backward compatible with older cards. In concrete terms, what's wrong with SB16 ? Which games have problem with it ?

Sorry for the long text, and thank you in advance for your answers.
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby PeterLI » 2014-2-24 @ 17:10

No idea. I have a SB16 CT2290 but I use it (with noise) when I play games. I never use anything but CT1350 / CT1600 (or other SBPro2s) for older games. :blush:

Also: IMO: expecting quality because you paid $ has nothing to do with it. Old SBs (<SB16) are highly desired by many and not as common as SB16s. Just a matter of demand / supply. And compared to Roland; SBs are still really cheap. :happy: IMO paying $50 for a SBPro2 is too much: $25 is the norm (bare). Boxed is different of course: worth more with all the goodies. Sometimes you can buy them for $10 untested (or poorly described).

Again: the quality of samples used in many games back in the day is not that great either. They had limited space to work with. That alone can be a reason why you are disappointed with the sound quality perhaps. And for music playback I recommend a MT-32 (or CM-32L and so on) as well. :happy:
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby bristlehog » 2014-2-24 @ 17:24

Clardake wrote:Bristlehog recommends me MediaVision Pro AudioSpectrum sound card. But I noticed there are pricey too :


You just picked inadequately priced ebay lots.

MediaVision Pro Audio Studio 16 - $25 BIN
MediaVision Pro AudioSpectrum 16 with SCSI ribbon and CD audio cable - $23 BIN.
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby Great Hierophant » 2014-2-24 @ 17:27

Clardake wrote:Hello.

Thanks for the articles about shielding. However...
http://home.roadrunner.com/~jgglatt/tutr/noise.htm wrote:But I doubt that any of the above will help you if the noise problem is a result of the sound card's own generated noise from using parts with low Signal To Noise (S/N) ratios. You can't make the components do more than they're designed to do. The above shielding will only eliminate noise that isn't supposed to be inherent in the card's design (ie, noise resulting from interference with other cards). The shielding won't make poor components on your card perform better than their design allows.

According to dirkmirk and DonutKing, background noise is inherent in the Sound Blaster Pro's design...

That said, with a SBP2 (not SBP1) and passive speaker, the sound is pretty decent on my Pentium III (see my previous topic: viewtopic.php?f=46&t=38428). There is still noise, but not so much than on my 486. On my Pentium III, setting volume at high level is enough to make sound apparently "perfect": background noise is completely drowned out by music.

Therefore, shielding the sound card may improve the result in my 486, but I am not sure it will be enough : perhaps I should buy a vintage and expensive PSU in addition, and others components... I've already spent an insane amount of money to get my three Sound Blaster Pro's on eBay (roughly $100 for two SBP2's, and $150 for the SBP1 alone). For the price, I expected to enjoy fantastic sound quality in DOS games. I'm clearly disappointed.

Bristlehog recommends me MediaVision Pro AudioSpectrum sound card. But I noticed there are pricey too :
Finally, perhaps I would follow the DonutKing's guideline: Sound Blaster 16 (at least CT2800 and CT2900) are supposed not suffer from background noise and are much cheaper
I've three questions about Sound Blaster 16's:

  1. CT2800 and CT2900 are actually "Sound Blaster VIBRA 16". According to Wikipedia, some models of VIBRA 16 have "integrated a cost-reduced replacement for the OPL-3 FM support termed CQM synthesis, which largely emulated the features of the OPL-3 chip. However, as it was not a true OPL-3, its output tended to sound noticeably different from that of a real OPL-3". Is it true ?

  2. Do the earlier (not VIBRA) models of SB16 suffer equally from background noise ? Should I buy an early SB16 instead of later VIBRA to enjoy a more authentic experience ?

  3. SB16 is mostly backward compatible with older cards, whereas SBP is fully backward compatible with older cards. In concrete terms, what's wrong with SB16 ? Which games have problem with it ?

Sorry for the long text, and thank you in advance for your answers.


The price you pay is not for an audiophile experience but the price for something better than PC speaker sound.

1. Yes, but often sounds pretty close to the OPL3. If you want to figure out which do and which don't, try this : http://nerdlypleasures.blogspot.com/201 ... tions.html

2. The earliest non-Vibra SB16s, those with CT17xx designation, are very noisy when playing back digital sound, so you should avoid those. Try to get an SB16 with a CT-1747 chip. See the link.

3. SB16s tend to have some extra pop and crackle in playing digitized sounds when the game uses methods intended for the original Sound Blaster. The Pro does not. More games support stereo FM on a Pro 1 than either a Pro 2 or SB16.
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby elianda » 2014-2-24 @ 17:45

Is there some estimation of the typical basic noise level of the cards compared to the sound artifacts by playback at frequencies of 8 or 11 kHz?
And simple* mixing of e.g. 8 channels at this rate?
*: (c1+c2+...+cn)/n

While I notice a higher background noise on some card it was never so high that it rendered the card unusable. Also Clicks and Pops in some games, like the intro of XWing are normal for playback that do not use auto-init dma.
The real noise could be captured with a digital scope.
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby DonutKing » 2014-2-24 @ 20:45

I can't believe gamers at the time enjoyed their games with a such background noise ! How could Creative be the leader with apparently faulty sound cards ?


Back then most people probably used those unpowered paper cone speakers that didnt really pickup the noise so much. When you use headphones or amplified speakers it becomes much more noticable.


The CT2800 and CT2900 are indeed Vibra cards, but in my experience they are compatible with all the games Ive tried, they are quiet and they have a real OPL3.

The CQM synth does sound different to OPL, and is much maligned here on Vogons but I psrsonally don't think its too bad, maybe sometimes even better.
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Re: Background Noise with ISA sound Cards

Postby Great Hierophant » 2014-2-24 @ 21:13

Many Sound Blaster drivers used only the methods for digital playback supported by the original Sound Blaster with a 1.xx DSP to maintain the broadest compatibility with Sound Blasters and clone cards. I am sure that some games that have selections for Sound Blaster, Sound Blaster Pro and Sound Blaster 16 use the same underlying code and the multiple selections so the user knows to select "his" card.
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