PCI sound cards and Chipsets from various manufacturers...

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

Re: PCI sound cards and Chipsets from various manufacturers...

Postby LSS10999 » 2019-6-13 @ 01:00

yawetaG wrote:They just translate FM instructions to General MIDI PCM or other PCM patch set compatible instructions. Depending on the set of PCM patches used, some instruments will be more accurate than others. I personally cannot hear the difference between some of the instruments used when playing back FM music through my AudioPCI and the OPL of my Vibra 16 sound card, while other instruments are clearly different.
I expect that if a PCM patch set were to contain patches based on the sound of a real FM sound card/synthesizer (which can be identified fairly easy by their characteristic timbre), the emulation would be a bit more accurate.


That might be the case for cards that don't contain real FM logic, such as Creative PCI audio cards.

However, I don't think there's an accurate list on which audio chip really contained FM logic. AFAIK ES1938 (Solo-1), FM801 and YMF7x4 contained real FM logic, and Creative PCI (AudioPCI/Live!/Audigy), CMI8738* don't. Not sure about some other chipsets (such as Aureal Vortex and ESS Maestro/Allegro series**).

* I once read CMI8738's documents mentioned "FM emulator" so it's likely not real FM logic.
** This site rated both ESS Maestro and Aureal Vortex's FM as "Tinny" as they don't sound quite authentic. The reviews mentioned something about OPL2/OPL3 "clones" on those cards but I kind of question this as neither's documents explicitly mentioned FM synthesizers (ESS Maestro, AU8830 for example), but did mention something about Wavetable.
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Re: PCI sound cards and Chipsets from various manufacturers...

Postby gdjacobs » 2019-6-13 @ 06:17

LSS10999 wrote:* I once read CMI8738's documents mentioned "FM emulator" so it's likely not real FM logic.

I've reviewed the same information and agree, that's what the datasheet suggests. However, user experience has been much more positive than wavetable based approaches from other manufacturers. If that's what they're using, they're clearly doing it better than pretty much everyone else.
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Re: PCI sound cards and Chipsets from various manufacturers...

Postby yawetaG » 2019-6-13 @ 21:21

LSS10999 wrote:
yawetaG wrote:They just translate FM instructions to General MIDI PCM or other PCM patch set compatible instructions. Depending on the set of PCM patches used, some instruments will be more accurate than others. I personally cannot hear the difference between some of the instruments used when playing back FM music through my AudioPCI and the OPL of my Vibra 16 sound card, while other instruments are clearly different.
I expect that if a PCM patch set were to contain patches based on the sound of a real FM sound card/synthesizer (which can be identified fairly easy by their characteristic timbre), the emulation would be a bit more accurate.


That might be the case for cards that don't contain real FM logic, such as Creative PCI audio cards.

However, I don't think there's an accurate list on which audio chip really contained FM logic. AFAIK ES1938 (Solo-1), FM801 and YMF7x4 contained real FM logic, and Creative PCI (AudioPCI/Live!/Audigy), CMI8738* don't. Not sure about some other chipsets (such as Aureal Vortex and ESS Maestro/Allegro series**).

* I once read CMI8738's documents mentioned "FM emulator" so it's likely not real FM logic.
** This site rated both ESS Maestro and Aureal Vortex's FM as "Tinny" as they don't sound quite authentic. The reviews mentioned something about OPL2/OPL3 "clones" on those cards but I kind of question this as neither's documents explicitly mentioned FM synthesizers (ESS Maestro, AU8830 for example), but did mention something about Wavetable.


Yamaha owns the patents to their particular flavour of FM (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frequency_modulation_synthesis). Other manufacturers therefore couldn't use exactly the same type of synthesis for their own FM synths - Casio got in hot waters with their Phase Distortion synths over this, as apparently it was too similar - and so they will sound slightly different. Maybe some cards contain a OPL clone, but the manufacturers didn't want to draw too much attention to it out of fear for a lawsuit from Yamaha...
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Re: PCI sound cards and Chipsets from various manufacturers...

Postby LSS10999 » 2019-6-14 @ 02:08

yawetaG wrote:Yamaha owns the patents to their particular flavour of FM (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frequency_modulation_synthesis). Other manufacturers therefore couldn't use exactly the same type of synthesis for their own FM synths - Casio got in hot waters with their Phase Distortion synths over this, as apparently it was too similar - and so they will sound slightly different. Maybe some cards contain a OPL clone, but the manufacturers didn't want to draw too much attention to it out of fear for a lawsuit from Yamaha...


Yeah, I once read about this "patented" fact regarding Yamaha's OPL FM synths, and it appeared the reason why ESS stopped offering their ESFM in later models (Maestro/Allegro) is probably related to this. On the other hand, FM801 does have an authentic-sounding FM (its document also mentioned it).

Besides, it's not "slightly" different... the FM music from most PCI sound cards sounded *significantly* different from the original (as they're easily distinguishable), ranging from simple pitch differences (Aureal series) to playing FM through MIDI wavetables instead (like Creative/Ensoniq AudioPCI, which sounded completely different from original).
Last edited by LSS10999 on 2019-6-14 @ 05:39, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: PCI sound cards and Chipsets from various manufacturers...

Postby yawetaG » 2019-6-14 @ 05:36

LSS10999 wrote:
yawetaG wrote:Yamaha owns the patents to their particular flavour of FM (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frequency_modulation_synthesis). Other manufacturers therefore couldn't use exactly the same type of synthesis for their own FM synths - Casio got in hot waters with their Phase Distortion synths over this, as apparently it was too similar - and so they will sound slightly different. Maybe some cards contain a OPL clone, but the manufacturers didn't want to draw too much attention to it out of fear for a lawsuit from Yamaha...


Yeah, I once read about this "patented" fact regarding Yamaha's OPL FM synths, and it appeared the reason why ESS stopped offering their ESFM in later models (Maestro/Allegro) is probably related to this. On the other hand, FM801 does have an authentic-sounding FM (its document also mentioned it).


They might have licensed the FM equations from Yamaha for the FM801 (if made before 1995, see below). BTW, it isn't just the OPL synths (OPL is just a particular chip type implementing Yamaha FM), it applies to all of Yamaha's FM applications (but see the Wiki page). One thing mentioned on the Wiki page is that the patents lapsed in 1995, so anything made after 1995 can basically use Yamaha's patented method for free.

Besides, it's not "slightly" different... the FM music from most PCI sound cards sounded *significantly* different from the original (as they're easily distinguishable), ranging from simple pitch differences (Aureal series) to playing FM through MIDI wavetables instead (like Creative/Ensoniq AudioPCI, which sounded completely different from original).


"Slightly" was a figure of speech. All of the ones with real FM chips will feature certain characteristics associated with FM synthesis, even if the underlying logic has differences and therefore the sound output is different.

The latter, playing through MIDI wavetables/PCM samples, is easily explainable by the fact that they're not using the same synthesis method at all, so why people would expect them to sound exactly similar is beyond me. Ignoring marketeers claiming they would, of course...but we all (should) know that what marketeers say tends to be far from the truth up to some degree (quite some degree, in some cases, if not outright lying). Some people even say that using PCM samples is not synthesis because everything is pre-computed and therefore there's only a limited set of possibilities regarding how the sound can be manipulated...
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Re: PCI sound cards and Chipsets from various manufacturers...

Postby LSS10999 » 2019-6-14 @ 06:39

yawetaG wrote:They might have licensed the FM equations from Yamaha for the FM801 (if made before 1995, see below). BTW, it isn't just the OPL synths (OPL is just a particular chip type implementing Yamaha FM), it applies to all of Yamaha's FM applications (but see the Wiki page). One thing mentioned on the Wiki page is that the patents lapsed in 1995, so anything made after 1995 can basically use Yamaha's patented method for free.

"Slightly" was a figure of speech. All of the ones with real FM chips will feature certain characteristics associated with FM synthesis, even if the underlying logic has differences and therefore the sound output is different.

The latter, playing through MIDI wavetables/PCM samples, is easily explainable by the fact that they're not using the same synthesis method at all, so why people would expect them to sound exactly similar is beyond me. Ignoring marketeers claiming they would, of course...but we all (should) know that what marketeers say tends to be far from the truth up to some degree (quite some degree, in some cases, if not outright lying). Some people even say that using PCM samples is not synthesis because everything is pre-computed and therefore there's only a limited set of possibilities regarding how the sound can be manipulated...


You're right... some might actually have licensed the FM for their audio chips to use... Actually, the "original" in that scope was mainly OPL3 (YMF262/YMF289), as that's what most ISA soundcards have, and that's how FM in DOS games usually sounded. Of course, OPL3 isn't the only FM synth, and each FM synth has its own traits that defines how instruments sound.

Even though ESFM is not OPL3, it sounded very close to it, with only some minor differences (on some specific soundtracks/instruments). However, under Windows the ESFM sounded a lot more different, and this difference is mainly considered as an extension to Yamaha's OPL3.

Yet I still consider it a bit strange that while some cards appear to play FM through wavetables, they don't appear to offer native General MIDI playback on port 330h (like post-ES1938 audio cards). AudioPCI/SBLive! is among the ones that do have support for MIDI on port 330h.

Although the FM synth is a bit off-topic, it is, however, one of the only things on those sound cards that could be made use of with little effort on modern chipsets, where DMA-based operations (such as digitized audio) no longer works.
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Re: PCI sound cards and Chipsets from various manufacturers...

Postby Kamerat » 2019-6-14 @ 07:06

gdjacobs wrote:
LSS10999 wrote:* I once read CMI8738's documents mentioned "FM emulator" so it's likely not real FM logic.

I've reviewed the same information and agree, that's what the datasheet suggests. However, user experience has been much more positive than wavetable based approaches from other manufacturers. If that's what they're using, they're clearly doing it better than pretty much everyone else.
viewtopic.php?f=62&t=36445

CMI8738 passes nukeykt's OPL3 clone test while the FM801 someone talking about here doesn't.
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Re: PCI sound cards and Chipsets from various manufacturers...

Postby LSS10999 » 2019-6-14 @ 07:52

Kamerat wrote:CMI8738 passes nukeykt's OPL3 clone test while the FM801 someone talking about here doesn't.


The FM801 document does mention about a FM synthesizer. However, I think that test mainly imply whether the FM core in a given sound card (real or not) is a logic-perfect replication of OPL3 (that it even replicated the original hardware bugs).

I'm not sure to how much extent the hardware bugs affect regular games' music (as I personally never really noticed), but from what I've read regarding the topic, the bugs do make a difference in some demos.
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Re: PCI sound cards and Chipsets from various manufacturers...

Postby appiah4 » 2019-6-14 @ 09:38

Kamerat wrote:
gdjacobs wrote:
LSS10999 wrote:* I once read CMI8738's documents mentioned "FM emulator" so it's likely not real FM logic.

I've reviewed the same information and agree, that's what the datasheet suggests. However, user experience has been much more positive than wavetable based approaches from other manufacturers. If that's what they're using, they're clearly doing it better than pretty much everyone else.
viewtopic.php?f=62&t=36445

CMI8738 passes nukeykt's OPL3 clone test while the FM801 someone talking about here doesn't.


I was talking about the FM801 and never said it's a 100% OPL3 clone, it's just a genuine FM synthesizer and is pretty accurate, though not perfect.
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Re: PCI sound cards and Chipsets from various manufacturers...

Postby MKT_Gundam » 2019-6-14 @ 21:02

So CMI8738 has some software GM like the Audician 32? My Mobo has the soft GM synthesizer option in the MIDI tab. Only sfx works fine, like doom 1 and 2
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