Sound cards - from best to worst

Discussion about old PC hardware.

Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby ChaosFish » 2005-9-11 @ 22:06

Ok, there is no rel purpose in this thread, but I'm really curious about that.
Many games have more than one sound card config to choose from, and since DOSBox pretty much emulates everything, it's hard to choose.

Can anyone (pretty please) rate these sound cards, from best to worst (quality-wise)?
  • InterWave Digital Audio
  • NU Digital Audio
  • Media Vision Pro Audio Spectrum
  • Gravis UltraSound
  • Ensoniq SoundScape Digital Audio
  • Microsoft Windows Sound System
  • ESS Technology ES688 Digital Audio
  • Sound Blaster 16
  • Sound Blaster Pro 1
  • Sound Blaster Pro 2
  • Sound Blaster
  • Roland RAP-10
  • ESS AudioDrive

God bless you.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Masta G » 2005-9-12 @ 02:19

I was kinda hoping you would stick to cards from the old DOS days.

Well, first off, "Microsoft Windows Sound System" is Windows' generic sound card driver, not really any particular card.

I've never even heard of the InterWave Digital Audio or NU Digital Audio cards... EVER.

1. Gravis UltraSound
2. Sound Blaster 16
3. Sound Blaster Pro 1.0 & 2.0
4. Media Vision Pro Audio Spectrum
5. ESS cards
6. Sound Blaster

Some Notes:

Normally I prefer SB16 over the GUS, unless a game specifically has GUS support for its wavetable synthesis.

SBpro 1.0 & 2.0 are the same except in the board's firmware and software, the reason some games offer options for one or the other is because the game has to communicate with each board differently. Other than that, I can't tell any difference in sound quality.

The PAS is pretty much just a cheaper knockoff of the SBpro.

Both ESS cards provide good sound in Windows, but the DOS drivers only allow for SBpro compatibility (8-bit stereo) and lower sound quality than a real SBpro or the PAS.

The original SB is last due to the fact it only provides 8-bit mono output. (still sounds pretty good though!)

I didn't rate the Roland RAP-10 card because I KNOW OF Roland, but I haven't HEARD that particular card before. If it's anything like the Roland SoundScape, then I can say it sounds similar to Adlib. (crap)

How could you leave out the Sound Blaster AWE32? That was Creative's answer to the GUS and the ultimate sound card to own! Easily my first pick! :pppt:
Masta G

Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby twistedemotions » 2005-9-12 @ 07:28

With some effort you can find some spec sheets on these. Though its getting harder as time passes.

Here is some stuff I found on those ESS chips. Perhaps if i'm less lazy, i'll dig up on the other cards. I gotta get some sleep.

ESS Technology ES688 AudioDrive
  • Single, mixed signal VLSI chip found in various products
  • 16-bit 44.1KHz stereo recording and playback
  • 5 channel mixer
  • ESPCM compression
  • The MPU-401 on these is "emulated" in software, you have to load a driver to use a WaveBlaster daughtercard
  • half-duplex
  • Sound Blaster, and Sound Blaster Pro compatible
ESS Technology ES488 AudioDrive
  • 8-bit
  • register compatible with Creative Labs Sound Blaster board
  • creates all of the speech and sound of a Sound Blaster board, except music synthesis
  • half-duplex
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby ChaosFish » 2005-9-12 @ 07:47

Thanks Masta G! Now I'm wiser :P
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby robertmo » 2005-9-12 @ 15:37

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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby ChaosFish » 2005-9-12 @ 18:24

No, I heavn't. Thanks for the link!
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby swaaye » 2005-9-13 @ 00:59

Best PCI DOS cards:
Aureal Vortex 1/2 based boards - (no EMM386 needed, DB connector, great SBPro digital audio support)
Ensoniq AudioPCI - (needs EMM386. DOS wavetable support. Supports 16-bit Soundscape audio + SBPRO)
SoundBlaster PCI64/PCI128/Vibra PCI/16 PCI - (same as AudioPCI)
SBLive - (same driver as AudioPCI but with SB16 support)

Best ISA DOS cards: (that I've used)
SB Pro 1.0/2.0 - pretty much every DOS game ever made will work with these. Not Plug'n'Pray, does not need drivers, and is Adlib compatible. 8-bit 22KHz stereo audio. Pro 1.0 has two OPL2 while 2.0 has single OPL3.
- SB16 may or may not be PnP. The AWE cards are SB16s with an EMU synth onboard. SB32 is very similar to AWE but uses Vibra chipset. Can't load soundfonts in DOS. Though some have a DB header, it usually doesn't work right with Roland DBs. No MPU-401 hardware so a big TSR is required to get wavetable from games without AWE 32 Midi drivers. Compatible with lots of games, but problems with SBPro and down.
Ensoniq Soundscape/II/Elite - Superb sound quality if game natively supports it, otherwise SB 2.0 emulation (not so great). 2MB patch set. Elite has arguably the best patch set and an effects processor that defaults to some reverb+chorus (configurable by sysex and Windows toolkit). Low host overhead and no memory overhead because the board is essentially a little computer with CPU and RAM. No TSRs. No EMM386. Some have PnP, but rather rare.
Ensoniq Soundscape VIVO/OPUS - Cheaper cards similar to older Soundscapes. VIVO needs EMM386 for DOS support. OPUS is more like older Soundscapes, but is PnP and uses different wave port so compatibility affected. Patch sets are 1 MB and not as good as 2MB cards.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Great Hierophant » 2005-9-13 @ 01:46

BTW. Ensoniq AudioPCI has the best Sound Blaster support of almost any non-Creative card. It's also PCI. And it has semi-decent MIDI. An impressive card and they are everywhere. Also known as Creative Ensoniq AudioPCI, SBPCI64, and SBPCI128. Actually Sound Blaster Live! and Audigy use the Ensoniq AudioPCI DOS driver Happy. Creative bought them, probably because of them being stiff competition and because their tech was excellent.

As I recall, the driver that allowed these cards to work in Real Mode DOS had to have an expanded memory manager loaded in the config.sys to work at all. Some games positively would not run with any expanded memory manager loaded, even if the NOEMS parameter was set.

Perhaps one should look to the AWE32, which combines the compatibility of the SB16 (if not the Pro) with sound banks for midi. It should be less noisy too. The only problem I have ever heard about it is that its drivers take up too much free conventional RAM.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Zorbid » 2005-9-13 @ 10:44

swaaye wrote:Well actually as far as I know DOSBOX emulates only SB, SBPRO, SB16, Adlib, General MIDI, and Ultrasound. Heh, well that's quite a list. But they do not support all the boards you listed.

You forgot The CMS/GameBlaster, and The Disney Sound Source.
Some patched versions are compiled with builtin MT-32 support, and DOSBox also provides Tandy 3 voice, and, of course the PC speaker as ways to produce sound.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby twistedemotions » 2005-9-13 @ 20:42

You could expand the list of things i'm looking at to:

  • AMD InterWave
  • ESS Technology ES688 AudioDrive
  • ESS Technology ES488 AudioDrive
  • Sierra Semiconductors Aria Synthesizer
  • Yamaha YM3812 (OPL2)
  • Yamaha YMF262 (OPL3)
  • Yamaha YMF278 (OPL4)
Wavetable Synthesizer Modules:
  • Roland MT-32
  • Roland CM-32L
  • AdLib Music Synthesizer Card
  • Adlib Gold 1000
  • Adlib Gold 2000
  • Creative Labs Creative Music System (C/MS) AKA Game Blaster
  • Creative Labs Sound Blaster 1.0
  • Creative Labs Sound Blaster 1.5
  • Creative Labs Sound Blaster 2.0
  • Creative Labs Sound Blaster Pro
  • Creative Labs Sound Blaster Pro 2.0
  • Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16
  • Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 ASP
  • Creative Labs Sound Blaster AWE32
  • Ensoniq SoundScape
  • Gravis UltraSound
  • Gravis Ultrasound Max
  • Logitech Soundman Wave
  • Media Vision Thunderboard
  • Mediavision Pro Audio Spectrum
  • Mediavision Pro Audio Spectrum 16
  • Orchid Technology SoundWave 32
  • Roland Sound Canvas (SCC-1)
  • Roland LAPC-1
  • Roland MPU-401
  • Roland RAP-10
Wavetable Synthesis Daughterboards:
  • Creative Labs Wave Blaster 1.0
  • Creative Labs Wave Blaster 2.0
  • Ensoniq SoundScape DB
  • Roland Sound Canvas (SCD-15)
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Yanee » 2005-9-13 @ 23:28

"*(AMD) InterWave Digital Audio = Gravis Ultrasound MAX. All the Ultrasounds are not very compatible, but they are powerful and can be great if the game supports them."

Not true. Interwave was the core of the Gravis Ultrasound PnP/Pro.
It seemed to be something like "patched" version of the GF-1 voice chip found on the Gravis Ultrasound/MAX.
Main differences:
- 44.1Khz with 32 channels (GUS/MAX was able to produce only ~19Khz at 32 channels)
- In Interwave mode no RAM required to operate - midi still available (but is recommended)
- Addressable memory size 16MB opposed to 1MB on GUS/MAX. (Although the card was engineered to only have 2 simm slots (8MB max. in 2pcs 4MB SIMM module), you can google to find the howto to expand it to 4 slots. A nasty hack)
- A base MIDI (2MB) ROM is on-board.
- Hardware compatible with GUS/MAX
- Modified, improved hw compatibility with SB and Adlib.
- New instrument format, sound data now can cross 256KB boundary (but still limited to 512KB)
- Polyphonic patches (AFAIK neve released but promised)

Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Great Hierophant » 2005-9-14 @ 00:14

All the Ultrasounds are not very compatible, but they are powerful and can be great if the game supports them."

I take it that the various Ultrasound models should be compatible with a game that advertises support for a Gravis Ultrasound, regardless of whether the user is using a classic GUS, MAX, ACE, Extreme or PnP.

As for games that exploit the power of the GUS, which ones are there? I am sure there are some games that demonstrate wavetable based midi compared to the FM synthesis of your Sound Blasters, but did they compete with the midi synthesis engine of the Roland MT-32 and Sound Canvas?
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Masta G » 2005-9-14 @ 01:13

* Sound Blaster 16 = THE standard of the time. Somewhat noisy analog output. Excellent compatibility with many games. It's SBPro/SB compatiblity isn't all that great though, believe it or not.

Not true according to my (hands on) experience. The SB16 was the second-to-last card I owned for DOS gaming until the AWE32 came out. I ended up putting it in a rather old and slow computer. (386SX 16MHz w/4Megs)

Ah, the days...

Anyway, playing a game like DOOM was VERY taxing on my hardware, so I tried various ways of getting some speed. This included having sound playback at 8-bit instead of 16-bit. All the extra processing power helped in the end. Some other games wouldn't give an option for this, however, so I would choose SBpro or SB where possible.

I did a lot of tweaking like this and never found a game that my SB16 wasn't backwards-compatible with. Compatability issues may have existed within a certain driver version.

As for games that exploit the power of the GUS, which ones are there? I am sure there are some games that demonstrate wavetable based midi compared to the FM synthesis of your Sound Blasters, but did they compete with the midi synthesis engine of the Roland MT-32 and Sound Canvas?

Try Zone66. It has a shareware version and features different musical tracks for both SB and GUS owners. In DOSBox, you may have to turn off DPMI, XMS, and EMS and only have the GUS and PC Speaker (I think) turned on for sound. If it still doesn't work, turn off PC Speaker.

The game will default to GUS if you have everything turned on though, so to hear the SB tracks, shut off GUS support.

Sadly, the game has no Roland card support for comparison, but I think the GUS and SB beat the pants off pretty much any Roland card with the sound in this game! Just give it a listen and decide yourself.
Masta G

Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby ih8registrations » 2005-9-14 @ 02:34

There's GF1 & Interwave based /w variance of the mixer chip, if at all, on GF1 based. Interwave integrated the GF1 & CS4231 (ie a GUSMAX) into one IC along with other enhancements already mentioned. Not mentioned and the main selling point/upgrade incentive at the time was the addition of chorus, reverb, etc effects.

Zone66 is a shining example of what the GUS can do, though it's tracker music; GUS did it better than anyone else. LAPC-I & SCC-1 wins hands down for MIDI in my opinion, with the very rare occasion of prefering the GUS(not that I can think of any). Roland's competition was Yamaha's DB50XG/SW60XG, which sounded better in some circumstances, but the override is that things were written for and developed on MT-32/LAPC-Is & SCC-1s so take it to heart you'll be hearing it as they intended when run with those. The RAP-10 was a cutdown SCC-1 that only has 128 of the SCC-1's instruments. The Wave Blaster daughtercards used EMU based(WBI:REV A, WBII:8k), the EMU8k Creative later integetrated to make the AWE32/64. Not in the same league as the Roland/Yamaha offerings. There was also a Korg daughtercard which was supposed to be more on the Roland/Yamaha end but is almost forgotten if search engines are anything to go by. ... n-0009.htm

MediaVision's Pro Audio Spectrums were decent SB compatibility with cleaner DACs.

Adlib Golds were OPl3 /w a fine grained mixer & clean 12bit SB-incompatible DACs.

The main issue of SB compatibility was DAC output. All the clones had no trouble slapping on a Yamaha chip to get FM going.

Ah! I found Japnese site that has a selection of mp3 comparisions of sound/daughtercards.

The Wave Blaster's output; woof.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby swaaye » 2005-9-15 @ 18:52

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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby swaaye » 2005-9-16 @ 21:37

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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby swaaye » 2005-9-21 @ 01:03

I also have a file of a sound card roundup posted on Usenet back in the day. It covers quite a few cards and gives you the heads up on each :)

Now posting to just csip.soundcard.advocacy and games, and It will also be carried at the soundcard ftp site: in /pub/jonin/midi/soundcards/opinions/buyers-guide-for-

Since initial response has been favorable, I'll probably continue to post
updates to the above. Some seem to prefer a more FAQ-like format. For
now, I'm more comfortable with this less formal style. I've intentionally
avoided a spec-type approach as I want to convey a more bottom-line
approach. I recognize that it makes it more difficult to see what is new
in a given version, but please bear with me. Thanks for all the input,
whether on content, criticism, or just kudos!

This version adds the Monte Carlo, MV Premium Deluxe, RAP-10, Wavepower DB,
and includes small corrections or modifications to most others.

Dave Masten

PC Gaming Sound Cards - A Buyer's Guide v0.34 (11/4/94)

This guide is directed at gamers in the market for a new PC soundcard. Let
me state up front that I am not a soundcard hardware expert, musician, or
soundcard "hobbyist," which may become obvious by whatever gaffs I make.
This means not only one might be advised to take my observations on sound
quality with the requisite NaCl, but also that again one best consider my
observations to be applicable to the parochial interest of gaming.

I have owned the Soundblaster (SB), SB Pro (SBP), Roland LAPC-1 (LAPC),
Reveal Sound FX 32 (Ensoniq chipset), Logitech Soundman Wave, and Gravis
Ultrasound (GUS). I've also heard the Turtle Beach Maui, and some Roland
products. And wasted far too much time reading the net, magazine reviews
and product literature. My apologies for any offense I may cause, and for
errors and omissions, but I do mean this to be my own subjective review.
As always, I'll gladly entertain any (relatively civil) feedback.

First, what do game players need/want?
My priorities are, in order:
1) Games compatibility (DAC, FM, hardware mpu401/G-MIDI, all in DOS).
2) Sound quality.
For compatibility, one currently needs an SB compatible DAC, very
preferably SBP, and better yet, 16-bit on top of that. But the last is of
secondary importance as very few games support 16-bit. Don't be mislead by
"SB-16" on the game box or configuration menu. They nearly always use 8-
bit sound. This may change in the future, so you may weigh the need for 16-
bit more heavily. Next is SB FM compatibility, which was called the (OPL2)
Adlib standard. Now that this encompasses the stereo OPL3 based SBP v2, it
may be called the SBP standard. Most games support SB and SBP FM.
Mediocre as it sounds, I still want it for old games, new games that still
don't support G-MIDI (or GM) music, and for those that do so badly (Fleet
Defender comes to mind, not giving engine sounds). Next, there is the
emergent G-MIDI standard for music, mostly used with "wavetable" (a
misnomer I won't get into) synth cards. I demand hardware mpu-401 based
support as the majority of games look for this. You may be able to get
software based drivers to work in most games. In my experience, not in
all, or near all. Remember my bias: DOS (not OS/2, not even Windows)
compatibility first. Last, from my experience with the GUS, I've grown to
appreciate RAM capability. While not as yet a gaming advantage, it is fun!
According to Rich Heimlich, who tests soundcards for a living, gaming and
soundcard companies are looking at standardizing RAM support. With this in
mind, here we go...

The Basics:
Creative Labs Sound Blaster (v 2.0)
For about $40, you enter the glorious world of non-PC speaker sound. 8-bit
mono digital playback, 22kHz sampling (=11kHz audible), FM mono synth.
Plus it has a joystick game port. No input for CD audio. Works with
everything. Digitized sounds and music can be quite lifelike, if a little
noisy. But upon first hearing the FM, I likened it to a glorified kazoo.

Sound Blaster Pro (v 2)
For about $60 (OEM) to $80, get the above plus stereo digital and FM
sounds, a CD-rom interface for Creative (Panasonic) drives, an internal
connector for Red Book (audio) CD's, a line-in, and more IRQ and DMA
choices for fewer conflicts. Well worth the extra $$. If you buy used,
make sure it is SBP2, not SBP1. The initial ones had two OPL2 chips
instead of the more capable stereo OPL3 synth. Aside from stereo, don't
expect it to sound different from an SB in games.

Sound Blaster SB-16 (many versions)
The following are available: SB-16 Value Edition ($95), SB-16 Basic ($95),
and versions with either SCSI-2 or multi-CD interface (the previous two
have the Creative/Panasonic, the MCD adds Mitsumi and Sony), and
with/without the Advanced Signal Processor (ASP) chip. Prices range from
about $130 to $200. The choice depends on your CD needs. Many report that
these cards are fairly noisy. As to the ASP, it is used for Q-sound
(surround), real-time digital sound compression, and text-to-voice. I'd
call the ASP of little utility for gamers right now. All have the OPL3,
same as the SBP. All claim to be SBP compatible, but net consensus is that
it often is NOT (at least for DAC). So often you may have to use it as an
SB, not SBP. All EXCEPT the Value Edition have the ASP socket and
"Waveblaster" (WB) connector. The WB connector has become the standard for
G-MIDI daughter boards. This is one of its most important gaming features.
If it wasn't for that, I'd just say get the SBPro for better gaming
compatibility. Through the connector, it gives access to some fine, and
inexpensive G-MIDI cards. Plus 16-bit may see future support. So it's a
tough call between it and the SBP. Just don't get the Value Edition!

Mediavision (MV) 3D Premium
About $145, but occasionally sighted at lower. Comes with either the multi-
CD or SCSI-2 interfaces. A bit cheaper, and more feature laden than the
equivalent SB-16's. Has 16-bit record/playback, OPL3 FM, "SBP
compatibility," SRS surround sound, WB connector, and VESA compatible. To
date, the VESA spec hasn't caught on, so it may, or may not be an
advantage. This card is generally getting higher marks for quietness
compared to the SB-16's. While the card is relatively new, reports have
been generally positive, most claiming near complete SBP compatibility.
One negative it shares with the SB-16's is the lack of a non-amplified line-
out. Also some have reported two joystick problems: no port disable (some
say it auto-disables if another joystick port is detected), and conflicts
with joystick2 and the midi output (has been noted that other cards can
have this problem and the workaround is an easy rewiring of the joystick-
port connection). Note: this card is NOT PAS-16 compatible, so even MV is
abandoning their old line. MV is also in financial straits. I don't see
this as a major issue if the SBP and G-MIDI (through the WB connector)
compatibility is there. It may impact future driver support. So questions
exist, but this board may be a player.

MV Premium Deluxe
Brand new. At $99, essentially the above card without the SRS, some of the
software, and a few other nonessentials. You can always get the SRS later
with the Nureality Vivid 3D box ($59). It adds a joystick disable jumper.
Perhaps only a multi-CD version? A cheaper alternative to the SB16 MCD,
and other MV/SB WB-compatible cards.

MV Pro Audio Spectrum 16 (PAS-16)
While cheap, and having a cleaner 16-bit digital stage than SB's, I can't
recommend it as: (1) it only has SB compatibility, and (2) MV doesn't even
support it in the new cards. Expect game support to wane. But if you were
going to stop at the absolute minimum, an SB, consider a $50 PAS-16 Basic
(no CD interface) instead.

There are plenty of SB/SBP/16-bit compatible clones out there like the
Aztech line. Aztech has some with WB connectors too. There was one older
Aztech (Sound Galaxy NX Pro 16) that had the WB connector, but it wasn't
functional in DOS. Avoid that one. I know even less about these others, so
I won't comment any more on them. The Turtle Beach Tahiti, while by all
reports a fine digitizing card plus WB connector, is not SB compatible. It
is a Windows product and has no use in almost any game. I mention it for

Wavetable Sound
Most new games support G-MIDI for potentially far superior music. It is
usually used in tandem with digitized effects. G-MIDI sound is best when
played through a wavetable (WT) synth. These games virtually all list
support for one of: "waveblaster" (WB), "sound canvas" (SC), "GS" (same as
SC), General Midi (GM, G-MIDI), and sometimes more than one of these.
This is a point of some confusion, as they often mean the same thing. The
WB is a GM card. The Roland SC has the GS set which is a superset of GM,
GS having many more instruments and drum kits. Some now say that games
that say SC or GS actually use more than the GM set, and only the Roland SC
products take advantage. This may very well be true and a reason to opt
for those Rolands. I don't know one way or the other. In practice, I
think you will be more than happy with the GM compatible cards. There are
other cards whose games compatibility is derived through drivers, most
notably the SB AWE32 and the GUS. For a gamer, I'd strongly recommend
sticking with the better support of hardware GM cards. Note that some
games attempt to use the GM synth for some effects. This may result in
widely varying, and sometimes poor, results.

I'll separate the products into those that require a slot (thus stand alone
or with any other card), and those that require a WB connector host card
(daughter boards).

Slot Cards

Gravis Ultrasound and Ultrasound Max
Taking on this board invariably invites the wrath of its faithful. So I'll
explain. $100 and $180 respectively. The first features 16-bit playback,
only 8-bit record (not a gaming issue), a 256K (1MB maximum) RAM sample
based wavetable synth, and speed compensating game port. You'll want to
upgrade to the full 1MB (add $20). Has 32-voice polyphony, but only at
19KHz sampling. Full 44KHz is limited to 14 voices (best is a compromise
between). The Max is the above plus 16-bit record, a multi-CD interface,
and 512K RAM (but costs as much to fill to 1MB). The SB DAC support is
usually good through a software driver. The FM emulation by the synth is
poor, especially in effects. So, at best, I'd say use it in tandem with an
SB compatible card. And its GM support is through software. Some will say
no problem. My experience is otherwise, and not through lack of trying. I
found it worked acceptably in about 2/3 of my GM compatible games. And in
those, sometimes not as well as I would hope (partly due to the 1MB limit).
It won't work in protected mode games that don't use standard drivers or
have direct GUS support (ex: most Origin games). Positives for the card
include the price, fine included software, incredible user free/shareware
and support, hardware mixing capabilities that make it *the* Mod soundcard,
good digitized sound, good midi sound due to its 5+MB of samples hard disk
loaded into the RAM, and RAM sampling allowing user-created sounds. But if
you value compatibility, look elsewhere.

Turtle Beach Maui
It's only a GM synth, so you'll need the SB/SBP for digitized sound and FM.
Has 2MB of ROM samples (compressed from Rio's 4MB set), 256K of RAM
standard (8MB max). At $128, it is an affordable entry into WT sound. I'd
rate the midi quality on par with the GUS. For me, easily good enough for
games. And like that card, you can upload, and have access, to new sounds
into RAM if you so choose. Like the GUS, access to the RAM is quick, about
a MB in a few seconds. Connect to an SBP via either card's out/in. For
SBP owners, it's the easiest, cheapest entry into WT GM gaming. One
negative is the rather long driver loading of about 25 seconds every cold

Ensoniq Soundscape, Reveal Soundwave 32 FX
Available from Ensoniq and various OEMs. About $180 (I saw the Reveal for
$155 at Computer City). Like the GUS, attempts to be an all-in-one, and
fails. Has 16-bit record/playback, a 2MB ROM based synth, multi-CD
connector, SB (not Pro) "compatible." The FM emulation through the synth
is awful, and SB DAC compatibility is not perfect. So I also would insist
on having an SBP/16 in tandem. I had no problem getting it to work in all
my games this way with my SBPro. I found it to be a quiet card, with good
record/playback. I rate the GM synth as somewhat better than those of the
GUS and Maui, with "crisper" sounds. Most professional reviews have been
favorable too. Tradeoff vs Maui (remember, I think the Ensoniq needs a
defacto SBP): better sound, 16-bit for Windows and maybe future games, but
no RAM.

Logitech Soundman Wave
About $180. Also an "all-in-one". 16-bit record/playback, a 2MB ROM based
OPL4 synth, which includes WT and an OPL3, SB compatible, mostly SBP
compatible, and SCSI interface. An effects DB is planned. I found that it
worked perfectly for SB DAC and FM, but not for SBP stereo DAC games. The
latter gave sound out of the left channel only. The card was very noisy
having a high pitch squeal in 44kHz and stereo modes, and background noise.
Many reviews have noted this, others have noted very good S/N! Perhaps now
fixed, or computer dependent? The WT sound isn't as good as the other
cards mentioned above, with strings and winds especially weak. While some
magazines have panned it, others inexplicably praised the sound. It is
still far superior to FM, and I'd call it good enough for all but the more
discriminating gamers. But with the emerging crop of cards, I consign it
to also-ran status.

Mediatrix Audiotrix Pro
An OPL4 card like the Logitech. I recall it uses the same sample set
(though one respondee claims otherwise), it so should have the same
middling midi quality. If it doesn't have the noise problems, it may be
worth considering. It offers both effects and RAM daughter boards. Was
introductory priced at $200. Hopefully its price is continuing downward as
competition has strengthened. As they may perhaps be only available
direct, I include their phone number: (800)-820-8749.

Turtle Beach Monte Carlo
Only $99, but there's a reason. The card has 16-bit record/playback and an
OPL3. Claims "101%" games compatibility, but the only user report I've seen
mentioned problems with the SBPro sound. As important, the WT is software
based and, according to the box, only works in Windows. It also requires a
fast processor. So not a gaming wavetable solution.

Turtle Beach Tropez
As of this update, the Tropez still has just been released, and reports are
barely trickling in. So still take care with the assumptions. At $200,
this may be a most viable all-in-one solution. 16-bit record/playback
(based on the Monte Carlo), 2MB ROM based synth, RAM capability (max 12MB),
enhanced IDE interface. From the specs, I guess TB quality digitized sound
(excellent, but not "Hurricane" based), the same synth as the Maui (again
hardware compatible), and the Maui's fast access to RAM. Rich Heimlich,
who tested a pre-production model, says the card *is* SBP compatible. IF
all the above holds true, maybe the cheapest, and certainly a good entry
into full games capability.

$265. An SB-16 MCD plus built in 1MB ROM E-Mu based synth, 0.5MB RAM (32MB
expandable!), and chorus/reverb on FM and WT. The synth is only software
mpu401/GM compatible, like the GUS. So it won't work in non-standard
driver protected mode games, unless they include native AWE support
(patches are out for many games). And the drivers take up a lot of
precious low memory (at least 44K). So consider adding QEMM if you want
this card. It has the WB connector so you can add a hardware compatible GM
card to circumvent these problems. Reports on sound quality run the gamut.
I most trust those with a musical bent, including Keyboard Mag, which
haven't been complimentary. Its chorus, reverb, Q-sound and RAM sample
upload capability make it versatile and better sounding. Further, the RAM
and E-MU's "Sound Font" technology have potential gaming advantages, if
they are ever supported (see opening notes). This seems nothing less than
an attempt by CL to set and control another standard. Judging by the early
strong support (Doom, Tie Fighter, many new titles), they may very well
succeed. But because of the lack of the current standard support, I'd
recommend either getting one of the other hardware compatible GM synths,
spending a small fortune on the AWE32 plus a daughter board, or waiting it

SB AWE32 Value Edition
This is a bare bones version aimed at the gamer. It is the same as above
but deletes the ASP, WB connector, and SIMM slots for optional RAM (still
has the default 512K). Without the ASP, you lose Q-sound on WAV and FM.
If the AWE32 takes over as the standard, it offers a marginally ($40??)
cheaper way to get most of the gaming functionality. But for now, it
offers less as it doesn't have the option of adding a hardware compatible
GM synth.

MediaVision 3D Pro.
$260, with some Computer City's (800-843-2489) offering it for as low as
$200 (probably gone before you read this). Not a single card, but a
combination of the MV 3D Premium and the Korg DB, at a potentially great
price. See those two for features, questions, and caveats. If it meets
its claims, a top choice. Compared to the Tropez, it adds reverb/chorus,
SRS, a bigger, and probably better ROM synth set, SCSI-2 (vs enhanced IDE),
but no RAM capability. For gaming, I'd call that a win for the MV, though
I like RAM. At the normal price, perhaps a slight nod over the SB-16+DB

Roland SCC-1
$275. The original GM/GS card, it has the same instrument set as the SC-55
module. 4MB ROM sample set, reverb/chorus. Like the Maui, it requires a
tandem SB type card for gaming support. With this one, you get exactly
what the game music designers intended as this is the card they virtually
all use. Roland sound quality carries a big reputation too. Reverb/chorus
reportedly makes the already top notch sample set even better. I found
their effects to be subtle, though most GM aficionados insist on them.
Quite possible I used a simpler rendering than these cards provide. SBPro
+ this gives perfect games compatibility, only lacking 16-bit. Look for
the SCC-1B , which includes more bundled software, and adds the extra
sounds of the SC-55mkII.

Roland RAP-10
$250. This is a combination of the SC-7 module (GM not GS, 4MB ROM,
reverb/chorus) and a 16-bit digitized stage on a card. The DAC is not SB-
compatible, so again, an SB type card is needed. The midi gets the usual
glowing Roland reviews, the ADC/DAC is reviewed less favorably. Part of
this is explained by its passing through the effects engine of the card.
The advantage over an SCC-1 is having the 16-bit support in Windows. The
disadvantage is not having the full GS set.

Aria & Analog Devices DSP
There are many wavetable cards based on the Analog Devices DSP (ex: Orchid
Soundwave/Gamewave), and Sierra Aria (Prometheus Aria 16se). Their
wavetable sound have been universally panned, with some Orchid reviewers
claiming they thought they were listening to FM. Some of these cards offer
16-bit record/playback and other features for around $100. Maybe not a bad
deal if you want something with SB compatibility, 16-bit, and somewhat
better than FM sound (when supported). The SB FM sound is usually
considered to be good. While the Aria's are not hardware GM compatible, I
understand a TSR is available to make any Aria soundcard GM compatible in
many games. But don't expect sound comparable to any of the other WT cards
in this guide. I never considered them serious wavetable contenders and
thus never learned much about them.

Daughter boards
All these require a WB compatible connector. They are all hardware mpu401
compatible GM synths. So they should work fine in games. They generally
offer a cheaper upgrade route. Most have reverb and chorus effects which
give more full and natural sounds. The only one with RAM is the Rio (but
see caveat). With some, you are getting chipsets and many of the samples
found in the companies' multi-K$ synths.

Turtle Beach Rio
$130. 4MB ROM set. Expect it to sound somewhat better than the Maui's as
it isn't compressed. Has reverb presets, but no chorus. A negative is
that the additional 4MB RAM capability is crippled by slow access times
through the WB connector (10+ minutes per MB). Again, the latter isn't a
real gaming issue. So a good, cheap, gaming choice.

MediaVision Korg
$145. 4MB ROM set, reverb/chorus. Most reports, including from
professionals, say excellent, one mentioned plusses and minuses compared to
the GUS, and one said crappy. I'd expect it to be a fine performer based
on Korg's reputation and sample size.

CL Waveblaster
$170. 4MB ROM set, older E-Mu synth (no reverb/chorus). Again opinions
vary, generally reviewed below most other daughterboards, but probably fine
for games. The first WB daughterboard, it surprisingly hasn't dropped in
price. It gets little attention from CL, and may be discontinued. I'd opt
for one of the other newer cards.

Roland SCD-10
$160. Roland SC-7 on a daughterboard. Similar to a RAP-10 without the
digital channels. GM set (4MB?), reverb/chorus, not the full GS set. A
fine choice. See comments on the RAP-10.

Roland SCD-15
$210. Roland SC-55mkII (Sound Canvas) on a daughterboard. Similar to the
SCC-1B (perhaps more voices), except not requiring a slot. Similar to the
SCD-10, plus the full GS (354 instruments, 9 drum sets). Now you know you
are getting exactly what it was meant to sound like. So for the best, this
is it. Again, the only downside (and presently not a gaming issue) is the
lack of RAM.

Wearnes/AVM Summit (Kurzweil-based)
Wearnes makes a daughterboard, AVM Summit is an external box. Kurzweil is
another big name in synths and this one comes loaded with 6MB of samples.
Reviewers have been impressed with the sound. One owner said some of the
samples are Kurzweil's best, but some GM samples are "faked." The price of
around $350 is higher than any of the above.

Aztech Wavepower
Uses the Ensoniq synth and 2MB samples, but reportedly only 8-bit. I
believe it sells for around $120. Reviews have been negative, so I
recommend looking at other cards.

Ensoniq may have other versions available as daughterboards. If they use
the full 16-bit samples, they should sound like the Reveal card I tried.
This may make it a contender against the cheaper cards. Also, they plan
to release a RAM capable card in '95.

Some comments about a dying standard: Roland MT-32/LAPC-1. I still have an
LAPC-1. Using an older synth technology, it doesn't sound nearly as
realistic as the good WT cards. But it is far better than FM. This line
is discontinued, so game support is slowly waning. Yet I still find the
occasional new title that supports it, and not GM. Where it shines is in
non-digitized effects that are far superior to FM or GM. So even in some
GM games, I'd opt to use it. Many GM cards claim MT-32 compatibility. But
in practice, this is for the music, not the effects. The latter are
handled by "system exclusive" (sysex) messages these other cards (including
Roland's own SC series) can't process. End result, poor or no effects, and
possible hangs. Bottom line is, if you want true MT-32 compatibility, you
need an MT-32, CM-32L, CM-64 (all external modules needing an mpu-401
interface card) or an LAPC-1.

I hope I've touched on the main players and gaming issues. Other things
you may want to consider are included OS drivers, optional IRQ's and
addresses, jumperless installation, included software, support, and more.

In summary, we finally may have acceptable all-in-one WT gaming cards
appearing, though combos still give the best functionality and sound And
the prices have been dropping. For those starting out, or willing to sell
their current hardware, I suggest paying attention to reports on the new
Tropez and MV 3D Pro. Or consider the MV 3D Premium (or deluxe)+ other
daughterboard. If you already have an SBPro, I recommend the Maui for
economy, the SCC-1 for the best. Or split the difference with the Ensoniq,
which sounds better than the first, has 16-bit, but no RAM. If you have an
SB-16, save money with one of the daughter boards. The prices of the Rio,
Korg, and SCD-10 are close enough such that you should pick the one which
sounds best to you, with perhaps the nod to the Roland for games fidelity.
You might want to spend the extra $50 and get the full GS compatible SCD-15
to know you have everything the game designers intended.

The prices listed here are mail order estimates as of mid October '94.
Many are from Computability (800-554-9978). Also check out CDW, which
allows returns (800-537-6752). Two game-oriented mail order companies that
carry soundcards are Chips&Bits (800-699-GAME) and Computer Express (800-

Dave Masten
Last edited by swaaye on 2005-10-03 @ 18:47, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Alkarion » 2005-9-21 @ 07:39

Awesome material, just skipping through it. Btw, what issues does you CGW archive span? (I'd be interested in other articles as well)

I have earlier soundcard tests by CGW (1992 I think) but no scanner at hand.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Guest » 2005-9-22 @ 10:08

AWE64 ISA > *


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