Sound cards - from best to worst

Discussion about old sound cards, MIDI devices and sound related accessories.

Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby cdoublejj » 2007-7-22 @ 16:41

I have a Win 98 machine it has a 500 mhz amd k62 with an American mega trends mobo but all it has a for a sound card is a on board daughter board but the good thing is it has a dos emulator and it's a MPU-401 type sound card i set my music cards to sound canvas and SFX to sound blaster and it works just fine
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby gerwin » 2007-7-25 @ 10:24

@cdoublejj
Glad to hear DOS sound works well on your computer. I don't think there are mobo's with on-board daughterboards though. A Daughterboard is a separate card by definition.

@locutus
You caught me on an error there indeed, ct4380is an Awe64 ISA card, not PCI, although according to this image it does have a WB connector.
ct4380

I have expanded my Maestro 32/96 with either a Roland scb-7 or a Yamaha DB50XG in the past few days. As expected I prefer the DB50XG over both the onboard 4MB Dream and the Roland scb-7 wavetables. Thought the latter two are also very nice. In this combination I have not much else to wish for :) .
The biggest annoyance I had with the Maestro is the way that booting up windows 98 messes up the mixer volume settings for dos: Volume sliders are set randomly and certain outputs get muted!?. Finally found out that this can easily be reset by running either "mix3296.exe i" again in pure dos, or using the Crystalware CS423X dos mixer to 'unmute' the output when running games from the windows 98 dos box.

There seems to be a slight difference between the hardware DB50XG and the software version: S-YXG50. The software version sounds just a bit more crisp. I also tend to think that that the DB50XG stereo is reversed compared to my other synths? Need to do some more testing with this.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Locutus » 2007-7-25 @ 10:34

@gerwin: You have probably mistaken the RAM expansion connector of the AWE64 for the Wavetable upgrade connector. AFAIK, no AWE64 cards have a wavetable connector. There was a PCI revision of the AWE64, called AWE64D which was only used in OEM PCs to my knowledge, however.

Regards,
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby gerwin » 2007-7-25 @ 23:18

You are right, I downloaded an awe64 gold manual, and these 26 pin and 24 pin connectors are both for DRAM upgrades. A confusing design choice though, as a waveblaster daughterboard should fit exactly on the 26 pin connector.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Locutus » 2007-7-26 @ 08:43

@gerwin: The design is strange, but I doubt that a daughterboard would fit. IIRC the pins for RAM expansion have smaller gaps between them/are socketed tighter together. I don't know the official term for that manufacturing method, though. :)
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby cdoublejj » 2007-8-01 @ 17:31

yeah my sound card is on board but it still has a small board that connects to some pins on the mobo with a small ribbon cable.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby cbreaker » 2007-9-02 @ 19:24

I'll add my 2cp in here: I think the GUS/GUSMAX were fantastic sound cards. See, the GUS isn't just a wavetable sound card. It can load any patches you want, and you can program how they're supposed to play. The GUS will play them and perform hardware mixing; it always sounded good. A good example of this is when I used to use the GUS to play MOD, STM, ST3, etc files. The player would load up the instruments into the GUS, and play them from there.

You can see the GUS's magic at work on many of the scene demos of the time; Unreal or Second Reality, etc.

The GUS also had very good SB emulation and General MIDI capabilities. Really, it was a one-stop shop for DOS games.

I still have my GUS and GUSMAX, if someone wants to see photos of them I'll post them.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby swaaye » 2007-9-04 @ 18:57

I wouldn't say GUS had good SB emulation. Unless you mean quality and not compatibility. A real SB was just about always the way to go for that.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby elianda » 2007-9-04 @ 20:39

I also think that the Software SB Emulation of the GUS was a really good piece of Software - BUT there are hardware issues you simply can not emulate in DOS. And the GUS was in terms of hardware design far away from a SB design. So a true SB as secondary card was mostly the best way to go.
Nethertheless if SBOS worked the quality was indeed better, because the GUS interpolates 44 kHz (for 2 channels) in hardware.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Hopeapaa » 2007-11-27 @ 10:23

I have a small collection of oldish sound cards. The collection includes:

Sound Blaster 2.0
Sound Blaster Pro 2
Sound Blaster AWE32 (CT2760)
Sound Blaster AWE32 ISA (CT3900)
Sound Blaster AWE32 PnP (CT3990)
Sound Blaster AWE64 Value (CT4500)
Sound Blaster PCI Audio (x3) (some might have been sold as PCI128 etc.)

Gravis Ultrasound Extreme
Gravis Ultrasound PnP

Roland LAPC-I
Roland MCB-1 (Midi Breakout Box for LAPC)

The ones I have in active use are:

Sound Blaster AWE32 ISA (CT3900)
-This I use in my main Retro-PC. Good for general Sound Blaster -support and takes 30-pin SIMM:s for loading tracker music samples and SoundFonts. I have installed 8 megs of DRAM on this. Better sound quality than in CT2760 but without the PnP-problems of CT3990.

Sound Blaster PCI Audio
-I wonder where all these come from? In every "trash-PC" I've ever received there must have been one of these inside. I know that I have given at least one or two of these away and still they crawl out of my drawers (the "x3" might be an underestimation). Anyway, they should work in DOS without problems, but require some drivers to be loaded. I use one in my secondary Retro-PC, since there is only one ISA-slot present and it's taken by GUS PnP.

Gravis Ultrasound Extreme
-This I also use in my main Retro-PC. Good for Ultrasound-support. Has full 1 meg of memory, which combined with GF1-chip equals GUS-MAX. Additional to GUS-MAX there's ES1688 on board for Sound Blaster Pro -support, but I havent' yet succesfully used it (haven't had time to experiment, since I use the AWE32 for SB Pro (yes, without real stereo)).

Gravis Ultrasound PnP
-Combines Ultrasound-support with better sound quality and 2x30-pin SIMM slots. I use this in my secondary Retro-PC for Ultrasound-support. I have installed 2 megs of DRAM for gaining support for Ultrasound "Classic". 1 meg would be enough, but I have plenty of 1 meg SIMM:s lying around and there are two slots... The reason I don't use this in my primary Retro-PC instead of the GUS Extreme is, that I think you cannot make something "sound better" without altering it somehow. The GUS classic it was when the demo-makers made their demos etc. so "most classic" hardware it shall be in my main Retro-PC...

Roland LAPC-I
-This is it: the perfect sound card. Does only one thing but does it with style. Only midi-support with additional midi-instrument sound effects compared to Roland MT-32. All the old classic adventure games from my childhood sound very nice with this one. If some games that support this needs also Sound Blaster for digitized effects, I have one in the same system. Anyway the music sounds better using this card in the games that would also support AWE32 wavetable, so figure that out. The ROM is only 1 megs, but the hardware is used for everything but the very first milliseconds attack-period. I think the card can be also used as a pure synthesizer without the PCM attack, but haven't tried (I will be getting a midi controller for christmas and start experimenting...)

Time for summary:
I couldn't live with only one sound card, especially when trying to have old hardware for old games and software... Also the question "which is the best sound card" is absurd when it comes to old cards.

With new cards when software synthesizes the sounds, and the number of channels needed go according to the used loud-speaker configuration, the best sound card is the one offering the lowest signal-to-noise -ratio and highest dynamic range with flat frequency response. Of course assumpting that all the needed features (number/type of connections etc.) are present...

Earlier, before standardized software interfaces, this wasn't enough; the support offered in software was essential and the fact whether the card was the one the composers used or not, or did they only convert their stuff to it (usually hastily). The support for Roland LA-synthesis (MT-32, CM-32L, LAPC-I), Sound Blaster digitized sound / FM-synthesis, and Gravis Ultrasound are essential for me when talking about "what is absolutely needed" in retro-gaming or watching old demos. Others usually mimiced these (SB vs. PAS) or were technically poorer (LAPC vs. IMFC).
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Marek » 2008-4-09 @ 14:25

It's quite a while since I wrote in this thread, but I just hooked up my DOS machine in order to record some things. The Terratec Maestro 32 is still in there, but I removed the wavetable board since some games are messing with the mixer, thus getting mixed music from the wavetable board and external MIDI.
I have a Roland MT-32, a Roland Sound Canvas SC-155 and a Yamaha MU5 (which has a very similar to OPL4 sound) ready to play MIDI and my other PC to record them.

And yes, there is a genuine Yamaha OPL3 on the Terratec Card. It can play Doom's OPL-music in stereo which doesn't even work in DOSBox.
@Marek: Could you do me a favor and try your card with Tyrian? That game is like hell for SB clones. :-)
What shall I test? It plays fine on MPU401 and SB (mono).
And since "Terratec Maestro32" is even listed with the supported cards in the setup tool, I guess they tested the game well with it, anyway.
@Marek: I believe X-Wing Collector's Edition has the option of selecting "4-OP FM sound" in the setmuse program. I'd really like to hear what that sounds like.
I don't have that game. If you could give me a link to a demo version, I could try it and record an example.
I have the "4-OP FM" driver in "Dark Forces". I could record from this game, if you wish.
DOS-PC: DFI k6bv3+, Pentium 200mmx, 64 MB RAM, Terratec Maestro 32 sound card, Roland MT-32 + SC-155, Winner 2000 AVI 2MB, Voodoo 1, Win98SE
Windows PC: GigaByte GA-MA790GPT, Phenom II X4 905e, 12 GB RAM, M-Audio Delta 44, NVidia 1060 6 GB, Win7 pro x64
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Great Hierophant » 2008-4-10 @ 04:11

I have recently thought of this topic again. I would like to make a few points:

1. There is no substitute for recreating prior experiences. If all you had back in the day was a PC Speaker and a Sound Blaster, that will undoubtedly be a powerful influence on what you consider to be the best.

2. True FM Synthesis is beyond preferable to emulated FM Synthesis. If the sound of FM Synthesis is important to you, it is highly recommended that you have a sound device with a real OPL chip. This means that any card boasting a Yamaha YM-3812 OPL2 or YMF-262 OPL3 chip should be used. A Sound Blaster 16, AWE32 or 32 containg a CT-1747 or CT-2502 chip also falls within true OPL synthesis. FM Synthesis cannot be emulated very well using samples (GUS, SB Live!) or quadrature modulation (AWE64).

3. If FM synthesis is not important to you, then make sure your card has good digitized sound and midi support. The AWE64 offers digitized sound, 8-bit and 16-bit without all the cracks, pops or hiss of the earlier models. It also offers Sound Font technology for customizable midi sounds and a "hanging-notes" free interface to an external sound module.

4. Your system will dictate the games you play, let it do the same for your sound card. If you are using a 386 or 486 machine, you do not really need a 16-bit sound card. Games that run on those kinds of machines just don't use 16-bit samples. A Sound Blaster Pro is your best option for basic sound. A GUS (ACE) is also highly recommended, as is an intelligent mode-supporting MPU-401 interface card. On the other hand, if your system is a Pentium MMX or II class system, then 16-bit sound is more important. Assuming you are not Windows only, you should only need a Sound Blaster AWE64 to support those games. Those systems have speed issues that make playing really older games impractical. A intelligent mode MPU-401 interface is not really necessary because all the game should support UART mode, and the hardware should be fast enough to process samples without the assistance of a GUS. An AWE will provide sufficient support for 8-bit sound.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby keropi » 2008-4-10 @ 06:12

I have a hardware combo that works really well for me , and the 90ish games I am interested to play:
a K6-II 400mhz machine with a SB16 1740 + DB60XG and ofcourse the mandatory LAPC-I ... :D
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Amigaz » 2008-4-10 @ 08:28

keropi wrote:I have a hardware combo that works really well for me , and the 90ish games I am interested to play:
a K6-II 400mhz machine with a SB16 1740 + DB60XG and ofcourse the mandatory LAPC-I ... :D


No GUS? :happyhappy:
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby DOS_Boy » 2008-4-10 @ 18:56

And when it all comes down to modern rigs running Vista, which in your opinion is the best sound card?
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby prophase_j » 2008-4-15 @ 00:18

For my machine i'm going to go with a awe32 and a live paired up wih a db50xg. I only have one ISA slot.... and I have to have a true OPL and also really appreciate the emu chip. The live reportedly behaves okay in dos.. and i will also benefit form the 4 speaker output EAX and directx acceleration.

The only concern I have is the drivers needed to get the live running in dos. Mainly the MPU interface for the db50xg, and also to set the mixer levels since i plan to just feed the awe32 through the line in.. and when i'm not using to have the channel muted.

*edit* So now i feel like an idiot.. as the live has no wavetable connector. Great this means using the awe will give me buggy DSP and noisy output. Alternative would be getting a vortex card...
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Marek » 2008-4-18 @ 11:15

In my experience, external devices like the SC-155 have a significantly lower noise level than any card for the Waveblaster connector. It also has the advantage that it can be used with any modern system as long as you have a MIDI interface, which can be added as an USB device nowadays.

Thus, I never would trade my MT-32 and my SC-155 for LAPC-I and SCC-1.
So, besides SB Pro compatibility, a working MPU-401 interface is the most important to me for DOS games.

And when it all comes down to modern rigs running Vista, which in your opinion is the best sound card?
It depends very much on what you intend to do. For gaming, any recent Creative Labs should be fine. For high quality recording, I would buy an M-Audio card anytime.
DOS-PC: DFI k6bv3+, Pentium 200mmx, 64 MB RAM, Terratec Maestro 32 sound card, Roland MT-32 + SC-155, Winner 2000 AVI 2MB, Voodoo 1, Win98SE
Windows PC: GigaByte GA-MA790GPT, Phenom II X4 905e, 12 GB RAM, M-Audio Delta 44, NVidia 1060 6 GB, Win7 pro x64
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby proffrink » 2008-4-25 @ 13:09

Just curious Marek, would you happen to be LogicDeLuxe on the Doomworld forums? If so, great job on the Doom 1 & 2 soundtrack, it sounds just like the old MP2s, only much, much clearer! Looking forward to other recordings.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby WolverineDK » 2008-4-25 @ 13:12

Well, I have asked Marek if he is the Marek from

Mareks Seiten für Fans von Star Trek, DN3D, Boulder Dash und "The new Dash Dimension"

http://www.gratissaugen.de/erbsen/
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Marek » 2008-4-25 @ 14:50

Yes, I am the owner and creator of www.gratissaugen.de
And LogicDeLuxe is a pseudonym I use frequently, including the Doomworld forum.
DOS-PC: DFI k6bv3+, Pentium 200mmx, 64 MB RAM, Terratec Maestro 32 sound card, Roland MT-32 + SC-155, Winner 2000 AVI 2MB, Voodoo 1, Win98SE
Windows PC: GigaByte GA-MA790GPT, Phenom II X4 905e, 12 GB RAM, M-Audio Delta 44, NVidia 1060 6 GB, Win7 pro x64
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