Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

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

Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby carlostex » 2014-8-26 @ 16:25

I believe the Reverse Engineering of the Innovation SSI-2001 was a great success. We've seen 2 of these projects recently. Replication of the the Innovation SSI-2001 took a little bit of time, mostly due to these cards being extremely rare. But three years later, there is now a very reliable PCB design that allows Innovation SSI-2001 capatibility.

Project MPU is another successful story. The project itself was quite simple, much simpler than the Innovation, because the MIF-IPC-A is a much simpler design, glue logic only. Nevertheless, it was quite successful.

I can only imagine that replicating a Covox Sound Master would be even more difficult. I can't even find a good quality picture of the card online. Then the availability seems to be non-existant.Anyone on Vogons or Vintage Computer Forums that owns an original Covox Sound Master?

Then the parts availability.The main component was the General Instrument AY-3-8930 sound generator. This was an enhanced version of the venerable AY-3-8910 that was part of computers like the Atari ST. Searching eBay, AY-3-8910 seems to be available in high enough numbers but the 8930 seems to be non-existent. The card had dual DB9 game ports. This is a not very important feature in my opinion.

Against the Innovation the Covox Sound Master has advantages. It did have an 8bit DAC, probably not more complicated than a speech thing really. A second advantage is game support. At least around 100 games support the Sound Master.

I guess the first step, and maybe the most difficult is to find an actual card. Cloudschatze has been looking for one and as far as i know he hasn't had any luck.
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby PeterLI » 2014-8-26 @ 17:36

This would be a really interesting venture.
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby carlostex » 2014-8-26 @ 18:05

PeterLI wrote:This would be a really interesting venture.


Your internet searching skills might help. The first step for achieving this is to get a reak card. Otherwise its impossible. Unless someone could find the schematics, which is virtually impossible i think.
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby awgamer » 2014-8-26 @ 18:46

It has been emulated in DOSBox: viewtopic.php?t=18571, like the innovation, they merely stuck the ay chip on the isa bus and then regular ay programming to make it go, so that should be similar to the innovation with whatever voltage etc. adjustment needed for hooking up the ay instead of a SID. Where it could get funky would be the DAC.
Last edited by awgamer on 2014-8-26 @ 19:01, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby PeterLI » 2014-8-26 @ 18:56

Let me do some research. Since this is a very obscure item it may be very hard compared to other rare but more cross platform items (Roland survived much better because musicians tend to hold on to things more so than computer consumers did). :lol:

Have you asked T. Lauppert? http://theodor.lauppert.ws/games/sc-covox.htm

Some (commonly known) resources:
http://www.yvan256.net/soundcards
http://www.bradsucks.net/archives/2010/ ... io-history

At some point one will show up on eBay. It may take a few years. :)
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby carlostex » 2014-8-26 @ 20:46

PeterLI wrote:Let me do some research. Since this is a very obscure item it may be very hard compared to other rare but more cross platform items (Roland survived much better because musicians tend to hold on to things more so than computer consumers did). :lol:

Have you asked T. Lauppert? http://theodor.lauppert.ws/games/sc-covox.htm

Some (commonly known) resources:
http://www.yvan256.net/soundcards
http://www.bradsucks.net/archives/2010/ ... io-history

At some point one will show up on eBay. It may take a few years. :)


Thanks with the exception of bradsucks, i noticed all those websites before. And i might try to contact these people, although i got the impression that only the guy at bradsucks actually owned this card.
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby Cloudschatze » 2014-8-26 @ 21:56

carlostex wrote:At least around 100 games support the Sound Master.

The problem with the MobyGames list is that it doesn't differentiate between DAC and PSG support. Only a handful of games support AY-3-8930 music playback using the Sound Master, making it a potentially less worthwhile effort to re-engineer than even the SSI-2001.

Yvan does own a Sound Master card, and there is a guy in Idaho (who I've unsuccessfully tried to contact) who owns this one:

Image
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby carlostex » 2014-8-26 @ 22:55

Cloudschatze wrote:
carlostex wrote:At least around 100 games support the Sound Master.

The problem with the MobyGames list is that it doesn't differentiate between DAC and PSG support.


I was kinda expecting that. Actually the mobygames list is 150 or so games, although i had the idea that some of these are listed while supporting only the Speech Thing actually.

Cloudschatze wrote:Only a handful of games support AY-3-8930 music playback using the Sound Master, making it a potentially less worthwhile effort to re-engineer than even the SSI-2001.


I think it would still be worth it. Even if the support for the -8930 is around 5 to 10 games it would still be nice. I wonder how difficult is to find AY-3-8930 chips. The -8910 is quite common, the -8930 certainly is not.
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby carlostex » 2014-8-27 @ 00:13

Contacted Brad Sucks and his answer was quite fast. He did own one but threw it out as it wasn't outputing anymore.
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby awgamer » 2014-8-27 @ 00:24

Apparently I'm wrong about it having been emulated already, I guess jwk had just done some initial probing into it. Well, to hear what it would sound like in just ay-8910 mode, check out atari st game versions.

pc/adlib? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJ7SuZtAZLI
st/ay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0h2q3G-C3E
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby Stiletto » 2014-8-27 @ 00:41

Printing on the "Sound Master(R) Users Manual - Version 1.0 - February, 1990" in the picture that Cloudschatze embedded:
Code: Select all
Sound Master(R)
Users Manual
Version 1.0
February, 1990

Manual - Brad Stewart
         Kent Patterson
Hardware - Brad Stewart
           Carl Shepherd
          John Bartik?
Software - Robert Horndel?
           Brad Stewart?
           Nick Skrepetos

?'s indicating likely incorrect lines :)

If memory serves I contacted Brad once regarding an old Circuit Cellar article (unrelated to Covox) while he worked for LSI Logic.
(Sadly he would not share the information I was looking for, hah).
"I see a little silhouette-o of a man, Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you
do the Fandango!" - Queen

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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby Cloudschatze » 2014-8-27 @ 02:58

Nick Skrepetos, as everyone is probably aware, founded Human Machine Interfaces and developed the "Sound Operating System."
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby carlostex » 2014-8-27 @ 11:36

Brad Sucks asked me if i tried Internet Wayback Machine and if i had contacted Jason Scott. He suggested that he might have some leads. Does this ring a bell to anyone?

I couldn't contact Yvan he claims on the website to have been spammed, so if he does have a card he is the person to try to contact if we get this thing going.

I might try to contact Trixter, though as e should probably have Yvan's contact.
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby shock__ » 2014-8-28 @ 10:11

carlostex wrote:Then the parts availability.The main component was the General Instrument AY-3-8930 sound generator. This was an enhanced version of the venerable AY-3-8910 that was part of computers like the Atari ST. Searching eBay, AY-3-8910 seems to be available in high enough numbers but the 8930 seems to be non-existent.
The Atari ST used a YM2149, which is basically a AY-3-8910 with some slight differences. They are both pin and electrically compatible (so can be counterswapped in whatever application) but sound slightly different.
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby carlostex » 2014-8-28 @ 10:37

shock__ wrote:The Atari ST used a YM2149, which is basically a AY-3-8910 with some slight differences. They are both pin and electrically compatible (so can be counterswapped in whatever application) but sound slightly different.


Yes but from what i read the AY-3-8930 is a somewhat improved version of the -8910. So i guess that some games who support the original Covox Sound Master would potentially not sound 100% correct/missing sounds on a built replica/clone using the more common -8910 or equivalent clone.
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby Beegle » 2014-8-28 @ 17:49

A quick search on Linkedin returned many former employees of Covox inc. including the president/founder of Covox.

If the need arises, any ones in particular you think we should contact first?
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby carlostex » 2014-8-28 @ 18:21

Beegle wrote:A quick search on Linkedin returned many former employees of Covox inc. including the president/founder of Covox.

If the need arises, any ones in particular you think we should contact first?


I think we should contact everyone we can. The priority is to find a card so that someone can actually clone it. Schematics could help as well, it's a matter of what we can find and get. Since you're a native english speaker if you wanna give help and try to contact some former employees that would be deeply appreciated. I just seriously doubt anyone will volunteer to help.

EDIT: BTW, Trixter has just emailed me back, he forwarded my message to Yvan. If Yvan really owns a card and he's willing to help, maybe this project could really walk forward.
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby Yvan256 » 2014-8-28 @ 19:33

Hello,

I do still have my Covox Sound Master 1. Since I have a college degree in computer electronics, I can reverse-engineer the card myself. If I recall, the board is only 2 layers so it shouldn't be too hard to copy. edit: looking at the board near a light source, it does look like a simple 2-layer board.

As you guys already discussed however, getting those AY-3-8930 ICs won't be easy. As anyone checked on eBay recently?

Also, would anyone be interested in a basic, non-DAC Tandy 1000 soundcard, with the SN76496 IC?

How about combining all three of those on a custom "Innovation Master 1000" soundcard?


List of parts on the Covox Sound Master ISA sound card:

ICs:
AY8930, Microchip (x1)
GAL16V8-25LNC (x1) (whoever can contact someone who used to work at Covox try and see if we can get the programming information needed for that one)
LM13600N (x1)
LM386N-1 (x2)
P8806/G, CD4066BCN, MM5666BN (x1, wrote all numbers from the IC, just in case)
74HC373N (x1)
74HC365N (x2)
74HC00N (x1)
74HC138N (x1)
74HC74AN (x2)
74HC125N (x1)

Transistors:
PN2222 (x1)
PN2222A (x1)

The rest of the parts are all through-hole: resistors, ceramic and electrolytic capacitors, diodes. There's two DB9 ports and a stereo 1/8" audio port. There's a round "Proud to say - Made in USA" sticker on the components side of the board.

Non-components silkscreen text on the front:
1989(c)Covox
VMDMA1.3

Non-components silkscreen text on the back:
ESS-A-O
3289
Last edited by Yvan256 on 2014-8-28 @ 20:21, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby vetz » 2014-8-28 @ 19:46

Yvan256 wrote:As you guys already discussed however, getting those AY-3-8930 ICs won't be easy. As anyone checked on eBay recently?

I found this on Taobao:
http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=a23 ... s=1#detail

Just above 1 dollar for each chip and he claims he has 540 in stock. You can buy from Taobao using forwarding services (I've done so in the past with no issues).
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Re: Covox Sound Master Reverse Engineering / Replica

Postby carlostex » 2014-8-28 @ 21:14

Welcome to VOGONS Yvan!!! Thank you for coming here. I had to contact Trixter to get in touch with you.

First of all, a non-DAC Tandy sound card would be amazing, but i'm afraid most of the games would require Tandy graphics to get Tandy Sound as well. So i'm not sure how well that would work. But with some "magic" it should be possible and and incredible addition to our retro machines.
Combining all three, not so much.

Yvan256 wrote:GAL16V8-25LNC (x1) (whoever can contact someone who used to work at Covox try and see if we can get the programming information needed for that one)


Crap i was afraid of this. I seriously doubt someone from Covox would give us the logic or even find it for that matter. Dumping would be a last resource measure, but necessary i'm afraid....

BTW, it would be nice to have high resolution pictures of the card...
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