The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

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

Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby MaxWar » 2012-7-26 @ 23:02

Many people wrote: "A lot of Stuff"


Nice posting going on here. As kool kitty pointed, a lot of factors can be considered when comparing the cards as a whole. About modding the cards, it sure is an interesting topic.

If someone happens to have a modded sound card, recordings of it would be welcome, as long as the nature of the mod be specified.

@Kool Kitty: I also like the fact that you mentioned the Sega Genesis. Doing the crystal clear audio mod for the Genesis 2 is one of my longer term project and maybe it could be adapted to some sound cards?

About the genesis revisions, I did not know about " very late genesis models having a good analog circuitry ". To the best of my knowledge the late genesis all have a crap analog stage. The earliest model 1 remains the best sounding "stock" Genny i have heard. Can you provide more details about those "very late consoles" with good analog circuitry ?

Going back to the Grand opl3 comparison run, I think that ultimately a full fledged point by point comparison of each cards would be very nice. I privilege the large scale, high quality, standardized FM recording part because it is the part that has never really been done before.

If you search on the subject of fm sound cards on this forum or other places on the net, you will find some very good and detailed reviews and analysis of many cards but it all comes down to a lot of text, and very little audio.

This is how i had the idea of starting this project, the audio part.

This being said, even though standardized recording is the starting point here, ALL relevant DATA is welcome in this project.
If we could end up with a central place that combines both relevant information and actual standardized recordings of the cards, it could become a very nice resource for old FM compatible sound cards.

At this point, when i get a new card in my hand i try to consider all the following aspects.

- Output quality ( Richness and clarity of the signal )
- Noise level ( High or low and what kind of noise )
-Authenticity ( Maybe the game works, but does it sounds different than it should because the chip is a clone or the controller induces a bug? If it sounds different, is it in a bad way? )
- Compatibility ( As in the number of games that actually work with the card. While an important matter, can be hard to address without trying a very large amount of games. )
-Features: What are the other desirable features of the card? ( Mpu-401 compatible? Wavetable header ? WSS compatible ? Pc speaker header? Bypassable amp? Digital output? Ease of setting up? Plug and play? Good Joystick support? Does it have the midi hanging notes bug ? Does it have other bugs or liabilities ? etc... )

Basically ANYTHING relevant is welcome with this project.
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby Ace » 2012-7-27 @ 04:30

*This is completely off-topic, but I just have to respond to this*

MaxWar wrote:@Kool Kitty: I also like the fact that you mentioned the Sega Genesis. Doing the crystal clear audio mod for the Genesis 2 is one of my longer term project and maybe it could be adapted to some sound cards?


I believe the circuit was designed primarily for use with the Yamaha YM3438, be it the original Yamaha chip or Sega's modified ASIC variant used in the Genesis. Not sure what would need to be done to make the amp work with the YMF262.

MaxWar wrote:About the genesis revisions, I did not know about " very late genesis models having a good analog circuitry ". To the best of my knowledge the late genesis all have a crap analog stage. The earliest model 1 remains the best sounding "stock" Genny i have heard. Can you provide more details about those "very late consoles" with good analog circuitry ?


The late systems are Genesis Model 2s with motherboard revisions VA2, VA2.3, VA3 and VA4 that have good analog circuits, however, the volume levels are all over the place on the VA2 and VA2.3 motherboards due to incorrect resistor values and a misplaced resistor.

Same with the Genesis 3 and Sega CDX, they all have good audio, though the former is Mono only. They still can't match a Genesis Model 1 due to the use of a YM3438 instead of a YM2612. The YM3438 has different volume levels and little to no quantization noise. I typically frown upon consoles with YM3438s as the Genesis first came with the YM2612, and since the two chips sound different, I will privilege consoles with the YM2612: Genesis Model 1 with motherboard revisions VA6.8 or older, and a VA2 or VA2.3 Genesis Model 2 with mods (still have to tweak the low-pass filter as it's a bit too heavy on the VA2 and VA2.3 Genesis Model 2 motherboards).

Note to MaxWar: if your Genesis Model 2 has motherboard revision VA2 or later, you don't need the Audio Mod.
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby kool kitty89 » 2012-7-28 @ 07:32

Ace wrote:Same with the Genesis 3 and Sega CDX, they all have good audio, though the former is Mono only. They still can't match a Genesis Model 1 due to the use of a YM3438 instead of a YM2612. The YM3438 has different volume levels and little to no quantization noise. I typically frown upon consoles with YM3438s as the Genesis first came with the YM2612, and since the two chips sound different, I will privilege consoles with the YM2612: Genesis Model 1 with motherboard revisions VA6.8 or older, and a VA2 or VA2.3 Genesis Model 2 with mods (still have to tweak the low-pass filter as it's a bit too heavy on the VA2 and VA2.3 Genesis Model 2 motherboards).

Aside from the filtering (which can also be controlled via mixer/receiver externally), it would just be the bugs and subtle differences to the sound of the original YM2612 that would make the difference . . . and that's largely up to personal preference and dependent on the sound/music in question. (albeit a fair chunk of music must have been developed using hardware similar to the early models . . . and I perish the thought of any developed with units based on the bad models)

Some of the current homebrew stuff is specifically optimized for the "clean" sound of later models or CCAM too. (I believe the TmEE TMSE based sound/music is designed for this)


Likewise, there's the issue of "cleaner" or more filtered PC sound cards (distortion issues aside), though in some cases it would be preferable if only the PCM channels were filtered. Additionally, it would tend to be less likely that you'd be using a full external receiver set-up for a PC sound system, so the onboard filtering would be more significant. (albeit, in Apolloboy's case, he does use a full stereo receiver for his retro gaming PC)

And on the note of Apolloboy's PC sound set-up, he's used a SB Pro2, SB16, and an early model AWE32, and all sounded rather similarly clean/clear (none with significant distortion issues -maybe a bit of noise/hiss though). There's probably a varying amount of filtering among the cards he's gone though, but I'm pretty sure the filter settings on his receiver have gotten adjusted in each case to end up rather similar. (we never did a comprehensive back to back comparison, so I just remember how they sounded as they were set-up in use)

Note to MaxWar: if your Genesis Model 2 has motherboard revision VA2 or later, you don't need the Audio Mod.

There's still some improvement with the mod though, but obviously not nearly as much as with the bad models. (rather ironically, the console Apolloboy got modded by TmEE some years ago was a VA3, while he'd previously used a VA7 model 1 which obviously needed that much more -or, rather, still needs it since he kept that one too)
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby Ace » 2012-7-28 @ 14:03

kool kitty89 wrote:Aside from the filtering (which can also be controlled via mixer/receiver externally), it would just be the bugs and subtle differences to the sound of the original YM2612 that would make the difference . . . and that's largely up to personal preference and dependent on the sound/music in question.


This is not a question of personal preference, it's a question of what sound chip the system originally came with. The Genesis originally came with a YM2612, not a YM3438, and as such, I will always privilege a Genesis with a YM2612. NO EXCEPTION.
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby MaxWar » 2012-7-29 @ 02:47

Alright guys, as much as i find the subject of Genesis motherboards to be a genuinely fascinating one, i am now officially reverting this thread to its intended purpose.

GRAND OPL3 COMPARISON RUN OFFICIAL UPDATE #2


This is the CT4180 update. Website is updated with the new content. If you want to update your collection, You can download the recordings in one go here: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BzsnL20-4a37Mmg0M2ItVWY1eXM


Here is a copy of the new data i added to the site:


CT4180 Sound blaster Vibra 16 ( Vibra16c)


Image

Drivers used are the same as CT2260
Overview:
This card uses the Vibra16c Integrated chipset. No genuine OPL3 on this one. It has a Speaker/LineOut jumper which i set to line out prior to recording.
The FM music is somewhat lacking in fidelity, consistent with the CQM opl3 clone it uses. While the CQM is still reasonably accurate and compatible, there are noticeable differences compared to the original OPL3. At times it seemed to have a little bit of that "crystal-OPL3-clone-like" cutoff clicks on some notes, especially when playing monkey island. But in any case it is very subtle, i may even be wrong here. Anyway it certainly was nowhere near as bad as a Crystal OPL3 clone!

The card has some notable background noise but I did not experience the same terrible noise issue as with CT2260. There seemed to be at least a little of the same phenomenon though. Most noticeable on E1M2. Compared to my CT3600, which also uses a CQM OPL3 clone, it sounds maybe just a tiny bit more bright but the STN ratio is MUCH better on the CT3600.

I first installed this card on a Celeron 500 using the same driver as for the CT2260. The driver apparently worked well however it would not setup the card on port 220 for some reason, but instead on port 240. This is strange considering i set all my other sound cards so far on port 220 on the same machine. While I worked it on the celeron 500 I experienced some compatibility issues. Original sound blaster compatibility was very bad, it seemed to be very compatible with sound blaster 16 and Adlib but in many games without direct SB16 compatibility, including DooM and comanche Maximum overkill, I had no sound effects. This may be due to driver issues (needs to be verified). I then tried the card on my 486 with a different driver and it installed with port 220 and compatibility seemed fixed, it worked in DooM at least.
This card does not have a wavetable header but it has a mpu-401 compatible midi/joystick port. I tested it for the Hanging notes bug with Hexen -warp 02 and IT DOES have the bug.

Overall I find this card to be a poor choice for a retro rig: Potential compatibility issues, average sound quality, high noise level, no wavetable header, midi hanging notes...
it was a budget card back then, it should not be part of your budget now.
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby Mau1wurf1977 » 2012-7-29 @ 04:57

Not an OPL3 card, but I did my first recording on a Sound Blaster 1.5 CT-1320 C.

I found the whole task quite time consuming but I guess this can't be avoided. The more games the more work I guess.

Descent sounds weird, like slowed down at some parts. Something similar can be observed with Descent 2.

Apart from that all went well, I had no issues.

I packed all the recordings in a ZIP archive together with an image of the card. Feel free to do whatever you need to do with it :)

I'll paste the link here as soon as it has finished uploading (it's over 100MB).

Link: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/94628483/Sound% ... r%2015.zip


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Last edited by Mau1wurf1977 on 2012-7-29 @ 05:41, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby MaxWar » 2012-7-29 @ 05:13

Mau1wurf1977 wrote:I found the whole task quite time consuming but I guess this can't be avoided. The more games the more work I guess.


Thank you Mau1wurf!
Yes it is quite time consuming :p
I am getting very comfortable with the recording process and usually just do other things at the same time so the recording itself is really not too bad.

What i find the most time consuming is rather all the Driver-finding, installing, troubleshooting, analyzing, head scratching and writing on the website. :p

Many of those cards im trying for the first time. I probably have close to 50 different sound cards at this point, most of em untested yet :p

Oh and on a side note, A couple days ago I received my (1987) Adlib card :D
It looks very nice!! According to the seller I think its School surplus material. Considering how near mint it looks, im wondering why its missing the Potentiometer. But it looks like it has been carefully removed and not "ripped off "

I'll work on finding a replacement for it this week so i can record this beauty.
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby Mau1wurf1977 » 2012-7-29 @ 05:41

Here is the link: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/94628483/Sound% ... r%2015.zip

I must say the Sound Blaster 1.5 sounds mint. A true classic :)
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby Ace » 2012-7-29 @ 13:42

MaxWar wrote:Image


Vibra16C... :blah:

I hate this card. I have both this and the Vibra16C Prelude CT2960 and hate them both. No OPL3, HIGHLY prone to stuck notes... that's enough for me to chuck both my CT4180 and CT2960 in my bin of spare sound cards.

And you know what? I would even chuck a SoundBlaster AWE64 Gold in my bin of spare sound cards. I WILL NOT ACCEPT OPL3 CLONES IN MY DOS GAMING RIGS! Ever.
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby kool kitty89 » 2012-7-29 @ 22:21

Ace wrote:Vibra16C... :blah:

I hate this card. I have both this and the Vibra16C Prelude CT2960 and hate them both. No OPL3, HIGHLY prone to stuck notes... that's enough for me to chuck both my CT4180 and CT2960 in my bin of spare sound cards.

And you know what? I would even chuck a SoundBlaster AWE64 Gold in my bin of spare sound cards. I WILL NOT ACCEPT OPL3 CLONES IN MY DOS GAMING RIGS! Ever.

I see lots of these at weirdstuff, lots of AWE64s and value AWEs too. Luckily, there's also plenty of the earlier Vibra cards (especially the 16S) as well as various flavors of SB16 (ASIC and discrete OPL) and the occasional SB Pro2 or early model AWE32. (a fair amount of cards from other companies too, SB compatible or otherwise, like Pro Audio Spectrum, various Ensoniq cards, ESS Audiodrive, and some weird ones) I also found a YMF719 there. (it'd be nice to find a 72x or 74x too)
All for $3 to $5 a pop too. (same for most old video cards)

Older 8-bit SB cards are less common though, and I know apolloboy has been looking for one with CMS chips onboard. (no luck yet) GUS cards aren't common either. (haven't seen one there yet)

Apolloboy also picked up a Wave FX CQM based card before he knew which were the good sound blasters, that and an AWE64 with unusually poor quality. (he sold or returned that one though, so no recordings of just how bad that was -somewhat like your Live! recordings of X-Wing iirc)



On a related not: Ace, did you ever end up finding a PCI YMF7xx based card? You've got an XG synth card listed in your Doom sound comparison, so you must have been using one of the PCI YMF724 or 744 at some point, but you didn't add that to the X-Wing compairson.
The PCI 7xx cards don't use SBLink, do they? (that's the SBLive!, right?)
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby Ace » 2012-7-30 @ 02:12

I have 4 different Yamaha cards: a YMF719, two YMF724s and a YMF744. The Many Sound of: Doom - Part 1 uses one of the YMF724s (a cheap generic YMF724 with a fake Game port and no SBLink, but I do have one with a working Game port and SBLink for use on my MS-DOS test PC).

All PCI-based Yamaha YMF7xx cards use SBLink. The SoundBlaster Live! uses no SBLink whatsoever. You're probably thinking of the PCI-based AWE64D where using SBLink is a REQUIREMENT to get DOS support. The ESS Solo-1 and Maestro-2 also use SBLink, though you shouldn't use the Maestro-2 as its OPL3 clone (a software-emulated YMF262, maybe? It sure sounds like it to me) is just weird and tends to output notes as buzzing noises.
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby schaap » 2012-7-30 @ 14:27

I've recorded my various sound cards, will post the results soon:

Recorded:
Creative Labs Sound Blaster Pro CT1330A (2x OPL-2)
Creative Labs AWE 64 Value CT4520
HP MM Pro16V - Aztech 2320 chip (has an OPL logo on it)
Unidentified card based on an Opti 924 and Analog Devices SoundPort chip
Avance Logic ALS120 generic ISA card (hisses like an angry snake)

To do:
Creative Labs PCI 128 CT4700
Generic CMI8738
Creative Labs CT5807
Turtle Beach Montego II - Aureal vortex 2
Unidentified card based on an Opti 931

Games:
Doom E1M2
Duke Nukem 2 Intro
OMF 2097 Intro
Monkey Island Intro
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby Ace » 2012-7-30 @ 15:00

schaap wrote:Creative Labs Sound Blaster Pro CT1330A (2x OPL-2)


This is a sound card I'm interested in hearing. I have a clone of this card that has faulty PCM audio out of the right audio channel and nothing I do fixes this. I would really like to hear what the real SoundBlaster Pro 1.0 sounds like.

schaap wrote:Creative Labs AWE 64 Value CT4520


That just spared me some work. I'm gonna get a few more samples from one of my AWE64 Value CT4520s to go with those you've done (I have two of these cards)

schaap wrote:HP MM Pro16V - Aztech 2320 chip (has an OPL logo on it)


I don't remember my MM Pro16V ever having an OPL logo on the AZT2320. Odd...

schaap wrote:Avance Logic ALS120 generic ISA card (hisses like an angry snake)


Does it hiss at all times or only when the OPL3 is active? I know my SoundPro HT1869V+/CMI8330 is EXTREMELY noisy when its OPL3 is active, but very quiet otherwise.

schaap wrote:Generic CMI8738


Good luck with this card 'cause it's a piece of crap. OPL3 usually works, but its SoundBlaster 16 support is almost 100% useless.

schaap wrote:Creative Labs CT5807


Oh God, that's one of those Ensoniq AudioPCI-based SoundBlasters, is it? That's gonna sound BAD!
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby MaxWar » 2012-7-30 @ 15:20

THE GRAND OPL3 COMPARISON RUN NEEDS YOUR HELP!!

With all the new recordings coming in, the dropbox account I use to host the files will be full. I currently have max 3gb on it.

If you do not have yet dropbox you can be a great help to this project simply by registering using this link then installing the dropbox plugin. It is a very useful tool and each registration will give a referral and a 500 mb bonus to the project.
http://db.tt/RBlL9VWZ

I am not asking this for personal benefit as this dropbox account is used solely for this project,
Thanks!
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby MaxWar » 2012-7-31 @ 03:15

Today on the Grand OPL3 Comparison run,
Official file update #3 !!


Get the new stuff here: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BzsnL20-4a37LVMxbnFnbm92S2s

-In this update:
-1 Decided to classify all the sound blaster cards by CT number order on the site
-2 I added a page about the games used.
-3 Mau1wurf's Excellent recordings of his CT1320C are online. I noticed something interesting while listening. Seems like one of the channel is slightly more noisy than the other one, i experienced the same thing on my CT1350B. At first i thought it might have something to do with a dirty potentiometer but it just would not go away even after a thorough cleaning. Interesting that both cards have it! No big deal anyway, the output quality and STN ratio is still better than many later sound blaster cards!
-4The Sertek S521 sound card testing and recording is done, a somewhat funny card!
Read On !!!


Sertek S521 (ess audiodrive ES1688F)


Image
Overview
Could not find a pure dos driver for this card. Had to install it in win 3.1 but then afterward it worked in DOS.
Ok, very soon after I began testing this card I already had a nickname for it, the Tin Can. Because it's what it sounded like to me. This card is very timid with the low frequencies, like there's a significant low cut. If I listen to it on my main sound system, i have to put the Bass Boost on just so it sounds roughly like your average card.
Despite the thin lifeless output, there is no actual hard cut, it plays the complete frequency range.
Its also relatively quiet, no significant background noise. Ive read that most ESS based cards are usually quiet, so far it seems to be true, but i hope to find an exception one day.
Authenticity wise, Audiodrive OPL3 clones seem to be the best clones ive tested so far, Certainly better than crystal chips or creative's CQM.
Compatibility wise it did not seem too bad either, it even worked both sound and music in Comanche maximum overkill, which is a game that will often not work with many cards

As you can see on the picture, this card is jumper galore. It is very NOT plug and play. Along with all the standard address settings you also have a jumper to set it between SB2.0 and SB pro compatibility mode, I left it in SB pro mode, which is the default. It also has jumpers to switch between mpu-401 mode and SBmidi mode, which is the default. I switched it to MPU-401 and could not get anything general midi to work, either with a daughter-card or with my external sound canvas. I then switched it back to SBmidi and guess what, general midi worked!!!

Or did it? By the time the Descent demo song was over I had a whole orchestra of hung notes and during the playback i heard some sounds i had never heard before. I then wanted to do the Hexen test. But for some reason, when set to general midi with this card installed, the Hexen launcher likes to crash very much before you get in the game. I decided to let it be, leaving further testing to the next generation, im done with it.
Unless you like tin can sound and weird, potentially glitched Mpu-401 implementation, I would stay away from this card.
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby kool kitty89 » 2012-8-03 @ 00:50

Looking at weirdstuff yesterday, I saw a Vibra 16S with a YMF289B rather than the usual YMF262. Looking at the datasheet, it seems to be nearly identical to the normal OPL3 except with support for 3.3V operation (in addition to 5V), a low-power sleep mode, and uses a QFP rather than inline SOP.

Not sure if it's worth buying for a comparison though; the board appears otherwise identical to typical Vibra 16S cards, so unless there's any real difference to the YMF289 itself, there's not much point in bothering.


I also took a look at several ESS Audiodrive cards they had, and all had a weird additional edge connector past the 16-bit ISA extension with an extra 6 pins (3 per side). I'm not sure what that's for or what sort of motherboards supported it.
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby Ace » 2012-8-03 @ 04:28

I have an AudioDrive ES1869F that has the extra pins, and I think it was made specifically for some Compaq computers as there's a Compaq logo on that particular card. The card works even with those pins connected to nothing, but I really have no idea what those pins could be used for.
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby MaxWar » 2012-8-03 @ 04:56

This stuff is really interesting guys.
I sure would like to listen to the YMF289B. Or at least know if the low power option is really the only difference.

An AudioDrive ES1869F that has the extra pins is just the kind of thing that is very welcome in this thread, sure makes you want to study those chips just for the sake of solving mysteries. XD

I just received my Tandy 1000 TX today and im hard at work resurrecting a ColecoVision that is in a sorry state but i aim to get a new card done by the end of the weekend nonetheless :)
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby Ace » 2012-8-03 @ 05:01

By the way, I have a variant of the CMI8330 labelled as the SoundPro HT1869V+ built into a PC Chips Socket 7 motherboard. Shall I get some audio samples recorded off this thing?
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Re: The Grand OPL3 Comparison Run!

Postby DonutKing » 2012-8-03 @ 05:06

I believe the CT2900 has the YMF289 and to my ears it sounds identical to a CT2800 which has the YMF262
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