Other than Roland, what are the other "best" sounding MIDI devices/sound cards out there?

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

Re: Other than Roland, what are the other "best" sounding MIDI devices/sound cards out there?

Postby jheronimus » 2019-10-09 @ 07:37

Scali wrote:Gravis UltraSound?
Back in the day I played DOOM with my SB Pro 2 for sound effects, and loaded MegaEm to use my GUS MAX as a Sound Canvas.
Sounded pretty awesome. Better than the native GUS support in the game, in my opinion.


I've found GUS with ProPatches Lite to be an awesome option for some of the third party WADs, often better than SC-55. Seeing as GUS was the de-facto standard for the "underground" content creation scene in the mid-90s that starts to make sense — maybe it was popular among WAD-makers, too?

Heart of the Hive from the Icarus WAD is currently my favourite. You do need to load an additional WAD to fix instrument mapping for GUS in all Doom-based games as id Software never released an update to the DMX sound library. Here is one of such fixes. And here is the difference.
Pentium III 800, 512 MB RAM, Voodoo 5 5500 AGP, SB Live 5.1 Platinum, SB AWE32 CT3990, Gravis Ultrasound Max rev 2.1
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Re: Other than Roland, what are the other "best" sounding MIDI devices/sound cards out there?

Postby BloodyCactus » 2019-10-09 @ 19:41

I run my SC88VL and my EMU SoundEngine at the same time, two sound modules that sound different playing at the same time gives things a real rich sound.
--/\-[ Stu : Bloody Cactus :: http://kråketær.com :: http://mega-tokyo.com ]-/\--
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Re: Other than Roland, what are the other "best" sounding MIDI devices/sound cards out there?

Postby yawetaG » 2019-10-10 @ 06:27

BloodyCactus wrote:I run my SC88VL and my EMU SoundEngine at the same time, two sound modules that sound different playing at the same time gives things a real rich sound.


Some sound modules offer the option to act as two or more sound modules and play each voice with a detuned or octave-lowered copy, which gives the same effect.
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Re: Other than Roland, what are the other "best" sounding MIDI devices/sound cards out there?

Postby Spikey » 2019-10-11 @ 18:46

I still wonder what other alternatives were out there that produces similarly-realistic sounding instruments, but just... weren't Roland, if you know what I mean.

A point to make is that in-game, taking Sierra games for example, the Sound Canvas SC-55 was what the General MIDI games were composed for. So it's less a case of 'realistic sounding' in the case of the SC-55, which is almost 30 years old, and more a case of 'the MIDI was composed and balanced for that device'. In other words, using a General MIDI device for playback that is anything else may sound wrong or less than optimal. At the very least, it won't have been optimised for your non SC-55 device.

But on the other hand, I totally agree and have enjoyed doing this for years. As others have said, the Yamaha MU modules in the Yamaha XG line are great, mainly the top levels that have digital output and even Roland GS compatibility (for playing GS MIDI's with a different sound!).
Even the top Roland Sound Canvas lines are quite different to the SC-55. The SC-8820/50 are a really nice way of playing GM (SC-55) level music, basically often sounding like the same track but more realistic.

For a different GM sound, try a Korg module like the NS5R/NX5R/N1R (latter two have XG map, again, playing a competitor's format in another way!) which is dated but pretty good and above all, fun and different, or an Emu module (although they often don't play nice with Sierra's +12 bend setting for GM).
Kurzweil would be good but they are expensive. Even some of their older modules have great sounds.
In case you couldn't tell, I used to buy modules and just play with them with game MIDI :)

Software synths could be a good place to try. There is an XG one I believe freely available, and you can get Roland's high end Sound Canvases that way these days too.

Ditto with soundfonts. Unlimited potential with finding them and loading them into CoolSoft MIDI Synth (you don't need a Sound Blaster card for soundfonts these days!).

Anyway, enough from me! Have fun :)
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Re: Other than Roland, what are the other "best" sounding MIDI devices/sound cards out there?

Postby derSammler » 2019-10-11 @ 19:14

Spikey wrote:A point to make is that in-game, taking Sierra games for example, the Sound Canvas SC-55 was what the General MIDI games were composed for. So it's less a case of 'realistic sounding' in the case of the SC-55, which is almost 30 years old, and more a case of 'the MIDI was composed and balanced for that device'. In other words, using a General MIDI device for playback that is anything else may sound wrong or less than optimal. At the very least, it won't have been optimised for your non SC-55 device.

While I fully understand what you are trying to say, GM was a standard. You did not make music in GM for a certain device. If you did, you failed to understand what GM was all about. It's a fact that many games sound much better with later devices, simply because they are better. Insisting that the SC-55 was what the games were made for is like saying 3dfx games from 1997 must be played on a Voodoo1, not on a Voodoo2 or 3, which did not exist at that time - and ignoring the fact that they look better and run faster on a Voodoo 2/3.

MIDI is just a sheet of notes and the better the orchestra, the better the resulting music.
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Re: Other than Roland, what are the other "best" sounding MIDI devices/sound cards out there?

Postby kolderman » 2019-10-11 @ 19:31

derSammler wrote:
Spikey wrote:A point to make is that in-game, taking Sierra games for example, the Sound Canvas SC-55 was what the General MIDI games were composed for. So it's less a case of 'realistic sounding' in the case of the SC-55, which is almost 30 years old, and more a case of 'the MIDI was composed and balanced for that device'. In other words, using a General MIDI device for playback that is anything else may sound wrong or less than optimal. At the very least, it won't have been optimised for your non SC-55 device.

While I fully understand what you are trying to say, GM was a standard. You did not make music in GM for a certain device. If you did, you failed to understand what GM was all about. It's a fact that many games sound much better with later devices, simply because they are better. Insisting that the SC-55 was what the games were made for is like saying 3dfx games from 1997 must be played on a Voodoo1, not on a Voodoo2 or 3, which did not exist at that time - and ignoring the fact that they look better and run faster on a Voodoo 2/3.

MIDI is just a sheet of notes and the better the orchestra, the better the resulting music.


Actually composers did compose on certain devices, and despite all GM devices nominally supporting the same instrument set, they had variations that composers would rely upon when composing for a certain device. The Roland 8820 is "later and better" than the SC55, but can sound horrible with SC55 music due to differences in patch sets.

So while a composer might not have been consciously thinking of composing for a certain device, the fact is they would hear the patch set in use, choose instruments accordingly, but that combination of instruments might not sound as good on a different device, where a different set of instruments or controls might have been chosen.
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Re: Other than Roland, what are the other "best" sounding MIDI devices/sound cards out there?

Postby Spikey » 2019-10-12 @ 07:12

derSammler wrote:
Spikey wrote:A point to make is that in-game, taking Sierra games for example, the Sound Canvas SC-55 was what the General MIDI games were composed for. So it's less a case of 'realistic sounding' in the case of the SC-55, which is almost 30 years old, and more a case of 'the MIDI was composed and balanced for that device'. In other words, using a General MIDI device for playback that is anything else may sound wrong or less than optimal. At the very least, it won't have been optimised for your non SC-55 device.

While I fully understand what you are trying to say, GM was a standard. You did not make music in GM for a certain device. If you did, you failed to understand what GM was all about. It's a fact that many games sound much better with later devices, simply because they are better. Insisting that the SC-55 was what the games were made for is like saying 3dfx games from 1997 must be played on a Voodoo1, not on a Voodoo2 or 3, which did not exist at that time - and ignoring the fact that they look better and run faster on a Voodoo 2/3.

MIDI is just a sheet of notes and the better the orchestra, the better the resulting music.

Sierra literally composed all GM games using a Roland SC-55, in some cases later on, a SC-55 mkII.

They obviously tailored their compositions to this device because it's what they were using!

A great example is the non-Sierra title The 7th Guest. Sure, GM can play on any GM device. But will half of those tracks sound 'better due to the better orchestra'' on subsequent devices, especially non-Roland ones, in their original SC-55 GM format? I highly doubt it.

While I agree that GM files can sound better on later devices, this is not a trueism or guarantee by any stretch. I would say in the majority of cases GM files, at least from Sierra where the SC-55 was used in all cases, need rebalancing or different patch selection to sound decent on later GM devices.

As for MIDI being a sheet of notes, have you any experience playing with MIDI files? Try playing the average MT-32 track, with the instruments changed but not the velocities, on a modern synth.
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Re: Other than Roland, what are the other "best" sounding MIDI devices/sound cards out there?

Postby Scali » 2019-10-12 @ 10:47

derSammler wrote:GM was a standard.


An attempt at a standard, which failed at some of its goals, mainly as an abstraction of (wavetable) synthesis.

derSammler wrote:You did not make music in GM for a certain device. If you did, you failed to understand what GM was all about.


Well no. GM was trying to be about something that just didn't work in practice.
You *always* make music for a certain device. That's the only way. You need *some* device to listen back to the composition you made, and adjust the volumes and sounds of the individual tracks to get the 'production' you are aiming for. In conventional recording, that is known as 'mastering'.

The problem here is that the mix you created on one GM device will not translate to other devices, because of subtle differences in both individual instruments, and also the mixing/compression algorithms used to mix multiple channels together to the final output.

In theory you could try your GM track on various devices, and try to find a lowest-common-denominator (I doubt that any composer actually went through that trouble). But obviously you can never tweak your track for devices that aren't even available yet. There's no way of knowing how it will sound on future devices.

derSammler wrote:It's a fact that many games sound much better with later devices, simply because they are better.


It's hit-and-miss. And it's also personal taste.
It's a fact that games will sound *different* with later devices. In some cases, some people may perceive that as 'better', in others, it may be perceived as 'worse'.

derSammler wrote:Insisting that the SC-55 was what the games were made for is like saying 3dfx games from 1997 must be played on a Voodoo1, not on a Voodoo2 or 3, which did not exist at that time - and ignoring the fact that they look better and run faster on a Voodoo 2/3.


That analogy is severely flawed.
Regardless of what video card you use, you will always use the same geometry, textures etc, because that is just part of the game content.
In the case of GM, the instruments are not part of the game content.
So using a different GM-device would basically translate to using different geometry and textures in your game.

derSammler wrote:MIDI is just a sheet of notes and the better the orchestra, the better the resulting music.


That is overly simplified.
Guess what? Real orchestras need to practice, and they need a conductor to create the proper 'production'. The conductor will 'translate' the 'sheet of notes' to his specific orchestra and venue (acoustics also play a role), also known as the 'arrangement'. In doing so, he will also add a bit of his own interpretation of the music.
So for example, perhaps he will use a different amount of violinists than another orchestra/venue for a certain part, to get it to sound 'just right' for his specific case. He may also instruct the players to play in a different way (eg focus more on attack, or play with more/less volume etc).
No such adjustments are done for MIDI. You are sending the exact same note info to completely different instruments, which will have different characteristics.
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Re: Other than Roland, what are the other "best" sounding MIDI devices/sound cards out there?

Postby Lennart » 2019-10-12 @ 12:50

Spikey wrote:For a different GM sound, try a Korg module like the NS5R/NX5R/N1R (latter two have XG map, again, playing a competitor's format in another way!) which is dated but pretty good and above all, fun and different, or an Emu module (although they often don't play nice with Sierra's +12 bend setting for GM).

I second that. The Korg NS5R & NX5R are a lot of fun to play with. They both do GM, GS and XG, although I must admit that I never thoroughly tested their compatibility with the latter two. They sound different from the Roland and Yamaha modules, but in general they sound pretty good in games.

What I really enjoy about them is the existence of a Waveblaster daughterboard connector inside the unit. The NX5R comes pre-fitted with a Yamaha DB51XG. I have an NS5R with a DB50XG and it's a great combination.
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