VOGONS


First post, by walterg74

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Hi folks,

Trying to make up my mind on what sound card(s) to pick for use on the different systems I am building, and looking for advice/opinions on the matter.

These are the systems I have so far. For the "486 type" systems, I'm *almost* sure I will end up keeping just one and sell off the rest though I'm not 100% sure yet. Same for the 386s of which I have 2.

- 286 25MHz / 2MB RAM
- 386SX 40MHz / 4MB RAM
- 386DX 40MHz + FPU / 4MB RAM
- 486DX-2 66 MHz / 16MB RAM
- 486DX-4 100 MHz / 16MB RAM
- AMD 5x86 133 MHz / 16MB RAM
- Pentium MMX 233 MHz / 32MB RAM
- Pentium II 450MHz / 128MB RAM
- Pentium III 933MHz / 256MB RAM
- Pentium 4 3.0 GHz / 512MB RAM

And these are the sound cards I have on hand:

- Adlib clone
- Sound Blaster Pro
- Sound Blaster Pro 2.0 x 2
- Sound Blaster 16 (several of these, different models like 1740, 2230, 2290, etc. -none without one of the hanging note bugs, some with CSP chip)
- Sound Blaster 32 (CT3670 model actually, filled with 32MB SIMMs)
- Sound Blaster Live! x 2 (SB0060 and CT4670)
- Aureal Vortex 1 card
- Aureal Vortex 2 card by Aureal (kinda like the SQ2500 but not exactly that model)
- Many (around 15?) ISA cards, al most all of them with real OPL3/Yamaha chips (and ESS, Crystal, AD, etc. chips for PCM)

Ok, go.... 😀

Reply 1 of 13, by dionb

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List those ISA cards, a lot of them are likely superior to the Creative bugginess you've posted 😜

And for the newer stuff, indicate DOS vs Win9x vs XP.

First off I'd say you have too many similar systems. Unless you have a good reason, I'd suggest dropping the 386SX-40 and the two 486DX systems, and probably the P2 450 is also a bit surplus to requirements. Even the 5x86 isn't likely to add value compared to the Pentium MMX.

Then sys+sound...
286-25 sounds like SBPro 1.0. It does everything AdLib does and should sound the same (unlike the tiny differences with OPL3).

386DX40 could use an SBPro2.0 and an early (non-PnP) SB16, with the Pro2.0 on 220/7/1 and the 16 on 240/7/3/5 (and as for MIDI - depends on the SB16 and how buggy it is, 1740 is fine) Potentially you could use one of the clones with WSS support instad of the Pro2.0. Even if it didn't have real OPL, it wouldn't matter if you use the CT1740 which does, although it is a very noisy card. SB16 CT2230 or CT2290 also have real OPL3 and far less noise than the CT1740, but buggy MIDI. In that case you'd want to use the Pro2.0 (or better: clone with WSS) for MIDI.

AMD 5x86133 or Pentium MMX (assuming DOS): CT3670 and something with a real OPL3, preferably SBPro2 compatible and WSS as well.

Pentium III 933 (assuming Win98SE): Aureal Vortex 2 & SBLive
Pentium 4 3.0 (assuming XP): SBLive, or whatever, it's all software anyway by that era.

Reply 2 of 13, by SirNickity

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Your list is almost identical to mine, and I've been agonizing over a similar question. On one hand, I want them to model as closely as possible what I had back in the day. OTOH, I want to have the entire SB range to enjoy the hardware gradient. Here's what I've (almost totally) decided on:

PS/2 model 30 286: Ad Lib
386SX/25: Sound Blaster 2.0
386DX/40: SB Pro 2.0
486SX/25: SB Pro 1.0 + Windows Sound System
486DX2/66: SB 16 + Goldfinch AWE32 upgrade
Pentium MMX 166: SB AWE32
Cyrix 6x86 PR200+: Pro Audio Spectrum 16 + Gravis Ultrasound ACE
Pentium II: SB AWE64 Value
Pentium III: SB Live!
Pentium 4: SB Audigy
Core 2 Duo: SB Audigy 2

Reply 3 of 13, by Baoran

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I have been building only 486 systems and later so far myself, but my newest build that I have been gathering parts for has been a 386 33Mhz. I was thinking that since it will be my oldest system, I might as well put my oldest working sound card in it which is sound blaster CT1320C, because I don't know if I will be doing older systems later. I could as easily put my sound blaster pro CT1600 there or even one of the SB16 cards. Then there are also ESS and yamaha cards too.

In the end I will probably put my CT1320C because of nostalgia reasons because that is what I bought for my 286 pc around 1990 and kept on using after I upgraded it to a 386 in 1992. Dream is that I would someday be able to rebuild the same system that was my very first PC (286 in 1988), but it does not seem very likely at the moment, but if it happens I would definitely move my CT1320C to it.

If there wasn't nostalgia reasons, I would choose a card for each system based on what I want to use the system for. If the games I would play would sound better with a newer sound card, I would choose newer one. I have a SB16 in my 486 33Mhz because I felt I needed the midi interface to connect my MT-32 to it and I have AWE64 gold (with SB live for windows) in my Pentium 3 system because I wanted to connect my SC-55 to it. So I generally pair the card with the system based on what I want to do with the system.

Reply 4 of 13, by chinny22

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You don't mention have any external midi devices so hanging not bug isn't a consideration so I would go with

286 25MHz / 2MB RAM, SB Pro. Basically Adlib card but can support SB if needed.
386SX 40MHz / 4MB RAM, Clone with real OPL and SB Pro support. 386 is fine at SB Pro level and makes for a change to endless creative cards.
486DX-2 66 MHz / 16MB RAM, SB16. DX266/SB16 was the defacto standard for games for years.
AMD 5x86 133 MHz / 16MB RAM, ESS just for something different, in real terms its similar to the 486 anyway
Pentium MMX 233 MHz / 32MB RAM, Sound Blaster 32. Top of the range Dos PC
Pentium II 450MHz / 128MB RAM, SBLive! again because it was such a common setup + SB16 or clone
Pentium III 933MHz / 256MB RAM, Aureal Vortex 2 Awesome Win9x PC (Or swap with the live above)
Pentium 4 3.0 GHz / 512MB RAM IMHO you want an Audigy or above here

Reply 5 of 13, by SirNickity

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For a 386, nothing above a SBPro makes much sense. There isn't going to be a lot of software that can take advantage of 16-bit stereo 44kHz PCM that will be happy running on a 386, with 8MB of RAM or less. Not to mention, not many people were storing large sound files on a hard disk in 1992. 😉 The vast majority of games were using OPL2 and mono, low sample rate PCM. Even a SB Pro is a luxury on a 386 until the later years where we were starting to move into 486 territory. But, the Pro was my first sound card in my dad's 386DX/33 so it's not uncommon or out of place -- there just wasn't much that really took advantage of it.

MIDI support is another thing. You don't get MPU-401 capability until the SB16, which, if you're wanting to run MT-32 games, could be a reason to put a later card in an earlier system. Or, any of the clones -- since they'll also usually support at least SB -- if not SB Pro -- PCM. I would rather source a MIDI interface card and pair it with a real SB, personally. There are some community projects that implement MPU-401 and will coexist with a sound card. They'll also do a better job of MIDI than any of Creative's botched implementations. 😉

I got my Live! card back when they were first released, and used it on my PII-350 with Win95. It stayed in every one of my builds, through a few PIII variations and I'm pretty sure I even used it in a P4 until onboard sound got good enough that I didn't care about discrete audio cards anymore. Still, when I arranged my own fleet, I felt that a Pentium with Win95 goes well with an AWE32, a PII with Win98 goes well with an AWE64, and the Live! still works fine in a PIII with ME. The Live! had a long life span back in the day, and by the PIII era, I wasn't rebooting in to DOS for anything, so an ISA AWE64 doesn't have any advantage anymore.

Reply 6 of 13, by walterg74

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SirNickity wrote on 2020-01-24, 19:49:

MIDI support is another thing. You don't get MPU-401 capability until the SB16, which, if you're wanting to run MT-32 games, could be a reason to put a later card in an earlier system. Or, any of the clones -- since they'll also usually support at least SB -- if not SB Pro -- PCM. I would rather source a MIDI interface card and pair it with a real SB, personally. There are some community projects that implement MPU-401 and will coexist with a sound card. They'll also do a better job of MIDI than any of Creative's botched implementations. 😉

Sorry, not following this part. There definitely is MIDI support on the SB16s. Maybe you're thinking of the SB Pros which don't have that real capability? (but could with sopftmpu anyway).

Reply 7 of 13, by dionb

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walterg74 wrote on 2020-02-09, 14:55:
SirNickity wrote on 2020-01-24, 19:49:

MIDI support is another thing. You don't get MPU-401 capability until the SB16, which, if you're wanting to run MT-32 games, could be a reason to put a later card in an earlier system. Or, any of the clones -- since they'll also usually support at least SB -- if not SB Pro -- PCM. I would rather source a MIDI interface card and pair it with a real SB, personally. There are some community projects that implement MPU-401 and will coexist with a sound card. They'll also do a better job of MIDI than any of Creative's botched implementations. 😉

Sorry, not following this part. There definitely is MIDI support on the SB16s. Maybe you're thinking of the SB Pros which don't have that real capability? (but could with sopftmpu anyway).

Not quite. SoftMPU is for emulating intelligent mode MPU-401 MIDI on a basic UART mode MPU-401 interface (like on the later SBs). SoftMPU can't work without an MPU-401 interface.

Also consider that it takes a 386 to run SoftMPU. The sort of games that use intelligent mode MPU-401 and an MT-32 tend to be the games you would want to run on your older systems.

Basically the vast majority of Creative cards suck at all forms of MIDI (indeed, their CEO recently admitted as much), so you're better off using a dedicated MIDI card (such as the MPU-401, MusicQuest or ISA-MPU card) for that. Failing that you're usually better off with a clone without bad MIDI bugs than with a real (shitty) Sound Blaster.

Reply 8 of 13, by walterg74

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dionb wrote on 2020-02-09, 19:17:
Not quite. SoftMPU is for emulating intelligent mode MPU-401 MIDI on a basic UART mode MPU-401 interface (like on the later SBs) […]
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walterg74 wrote on 2020-02-09, 14:55:
SirNickity wrote on 2020-01-24, 19:49:

MIDI support is another thing. You don't get MPU-401 capability until the SB16, which, if you're wanting to run MT-32 games, could be a reason to put a later card in an earlier system. Or, any of the clones -- since they'll also usually support at least SB -- if not SB Pro -- PCM. I would rather source a MIDI interface card and pair it with a real SB, personally. There are some community projects that implement MPU-401 and will coexist with a sound card. They'll also do a better job of MIDI than any of Creative's botched implementations. 😉

Sorry, not following this part. There definitely is MIDI support on the SB16s. Maybe you're thinking of the SB Pros which don't have that real capability? (but could with sopftmpu anyway).

Not quite. SoftMPU is for emulating intelligent mode MPU-401 MIDI on a basic UART mode MPU-401 interface (like on the later SBs). SoftMPU can't work without an MPU-401 interface.

Also consider that it takes a 386 to run SoftMPU. The sort of games that use intelligent mode MPU-401 and an MT-32 tend to be the games you would want to run on your older systems.

Basically the vast majority of Creative cards suck at all forms of MIDI (indeed, their CEO recently admitted as much), so you're better off using a dedicated MIDI card (such as the MPU-401, MusicQuest or ISA-MPU card) for that. Failing that you're usually better off with a clone without bad MIDI bugs than with a real (shitty) Sound Blaster.

I’m probably missing something but never heard of this at all.. Like I know most SB16s have the hanging note bugs, but besides that they are not shittier or have any other issues of difference in regards to any of the other sound cards with a midi port, none of which have intelligent mode either. Move up sb32, awe32,64 etc and it’s the same thing and no bugs.

Also softmpu does work with a basic port, there’s actually a special modifier/switch for that in case you using a Sbpro for example ( /output:sbmidi )

Those dedicated midi cards are not really an option as the cost is prohibitive.

Reply 9 of 13, by gdjacobs

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dionb wrote on 2020-02-09, 19:17:
Not quite. SoftMPU is for emulating intelligent mode MPU-401 MIDI on a basic UART mode MPU-401 interface (like on the later SBs) […]
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walterg74 wrote on 2020-02-09, 14:55:
SirNickity wrote on 2020-01-24, 19:49:

MIDI support is another thing. You don't get MPU-401 capability until the SB16, which, if you're wanting to run MT-32 games, could be a reason to put a later card in an earlier system. Or, any of the clones -- since they'll also usually support at least SB -- if not SB Pro -- PCM. I would rather source a MIDI interface card and pair it with a real SB, personally. There are some community projects that implement MPU-401 and will coexist with a sound card. They'll also do a better job of MIDI than any of Creative's botched implementations. 😉

Sorry, not following this part. There definitely is MIDI support on the SB16s. Maybe you're thinking of the SB Pros which don't have that real capability? (but could with sopftmpu anyway).

Not quite. SoftMPU is for emulating intelligent mode MPU-401 MIDI on a basic UART mode MPU-401 interface (like on the later SBs). SoftMPU can't work without an MPU-401 interface.

Also consider that it takes a 386 to run SoftMPU. The sort of games that use intelligent mode MPU-401 and an MT-32 tend to be the games you would want to run on your older systems.

Basically the vast majority of Creative cards suck at all forms of MIDI (indeed, their CEO recently admitted as much), so you're better off using a dedicated MIDI card (such as the MPU-401, MusicQuest or ISA-MPU card) for that. Failing that you're usually better off with a clone without bad MIDI bugs than with a real (shitty) Sound Blaster.

Pretty sure it also allows an SB-Midi interface to masquerade as an MPU-401.

All hail the Great Capacitor Brand Finder

Reply 10 of 13, by dionb

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walterg74 wrote on 2020-02-09, 19:51:

[...]

I’m probably missing something but never heard of this at all.. Like I know most SB16s have the hanging note bugs, but besides that they are not shittier or have any other issues of difference in regards to any of the other sound cards with a midi port, none of which have intelligent mode either. Move up sb32, awe32,64 etc and it’s the same thing and no bugs.

No bugs?

file.php?id=74462&mode=view
There are two discrete hanging note bugs. The AWE64 and SB32 CT3670 and AWE34 4330, one Vibra and a handful of really old (and noisy) 1st gen SB16 cards don't suffer from either. The rest - including the rest of the SB32 and AWE32 lineup do from at least one. Creative cards aren't the only ones to have this, the PAS16 that the SB16 was copied from ironically also has a bad case of hanging notes. But there are enough good alternatives out there without hanging notes, stuff from Aztech, ESS, Crystal and Yamaha for example.

Then there's the MIDI slowdown - an uncommon bug only occurring when you have high-quality PCM audio at the same time as MPU-401 MIDI, but a signature Creative affair. AWE64 also has that one.

And that's just the MIDI bugs, see the list for various clicking, ringing and hissing as well as plain self-noise. AWE64 and SB32 CT3670 avoid almost all of those, but add CQM (Yamaha OPL3-emulation not to everyone's taste).

Creative dominated the market, but did so due to superior marketing and strong-arm anti-competitive tactics, not due to the quality of their products. In retrospect it's possible to choose one or two that are as close to perfect as you're going to get, but at the time you just bought a Sound Blaster and it was a total crapshoot as to what you were going to get. Of course, if that's the level of authenticity you're after, you have enough examples there...

[...]
Those dedicated midi cards are not really an option as the cost is prohibitive.

Meh, with a bit of patience and creativity they're actually pretty easy to find for a good price. They command high prices in the retro gaming scene, but musicians who used them for years just see them as old junk and price them accordingly. You just need to look in classified ads for musical stuff, not computer stuff. I have two original MusicQuest cards that cost me less than EUR 25 each I sourced that way.

Reply 12 of 13, by chinny22

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Not to mention only an issue if using the same card for both sound and midi.
Even the worst cards will behave with 2 sound cards installed, one for sound one acting as a MPU card

Reply 13 of 13, by SirNickity

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walterg74 wrote on 2020-02-09, 22:54:

Lol.. right.. 2 games and under special circumstances... I think we’ll be fine

Slowdowns, yes. But AFAIK the hanging-note bugs are not specific to any game. They're just a consequence, I think, of having an underpowered microcontroller running the show, probably combined with some questionable firmware. But we'll probably never know what exactly causes it. (The short answer being: Creative just DGAF enough to test/fix it properly.)

As far as the MPU-401 cost issue, sure sourcing original Roland hardware -- forget it. But I thought somebody had made a fully working MPU-401 Intelligent Mode clone card? If you're willing to fork out the cash for a genuine SB/Pro/16/AWE, then whatever the DIY board costs should be within reason, I would think. If I'm wrong and nobody's done it yet, then we ought to have all we need to do so, right? I mean, if we can do it in software, then the protocol is known and it's just a matter of moving that to a micro...