ASP403 - The Neverending Project

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

ASP403 - The Neverending Project

Postby ZanQuance » 2015-1-02 @ 02:35

Hello and sorry for the later than planned update...

The project reached a hiatus standstill last year in 2017 with minimal time spent working on it, mostly planning on what to focus on and researching how to get things accomplished.
I got Married on 02/20/18 this year (yay me!), and while married life is keeping me busy as ever, I have gotten a few good chances to work on things.

First of all I've spent most my focus on the new DOS driver, I have PCM audio working in most games, but there are plenty of bugs to iron out. FM isn't yet handled but the framework code for it is done. The TSR doesn't play nice with memory managers yet so certain games like Descent crash to DOS, others just hard lock.
Today I was working on getting the High speed DMA stuff working so Quake and Epic Pinball have sound, but there are issues that need work.
I've been writing the new driver in Turbo Pascal 7 and plenty of ASM where needed.
I didn't realize that this would be such a long and hard project, but it' has taught me a lot and has been a fantastic learning experience!

In a nutshell the AU8830 Vortex 2 cards have internal registers for tracking SoundBlaster commands. For the most part all they do is trigger an IRQ and let the driver read the registers and decode what needs to be done. The Vortex 2 hardware sets up PCI claims to the IO ports and any writes to Adlib or SoundBlaster registers will be captured.
DMA however has been a pain to get setup correctly, the Vortex 2's do not use SB/link, PC/PCI, DDMA or TDMA. Instead everything is handled via PCI Bus Mastering and requires the TSR to read the motherboard DMA registers and set the card up for the PCI BusMaster DMA transfers.
So on new motherboards that lack low-pin count support or the Legacy DMA controller are unlikely to work at all. As the TSR needs to know the address of the games DMA buffer and the count size. I'm still looking into solutions for this...

Till next update...
Last edited by ZanQuance on 2018-7-29 @ 17:49, edited 38 times in total.
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby raymangold » 2015-1-02 @ 03:07

There are a *lot* of OPL3 implementations / clones, but I am curious as to how well the Vortex2 emulates OPL3 (like all OPL3 clones, it will have inaccuracies with interpreting custom parameters such as vibrato and ADSR), but that's what makes clones interesting to me. I may hunt down a variant of a vortex 2 to study it.

The next question is how well the card's actual output is (which would depend on the variant used I suppose-- and the variance seems to be huge), the only OPL3 card that went out of its way to implement a professional grade output was the Adlib Gold. And it sounds quite different from everything else as a result.

In terms of usefulness for *modern* things, it makes very little sense to me. I would seriously recommend something like a Roland Quad capture over it (and even over Creative's X-FI and other sound cards since they are plagued with improper output designs, low quality capacitors and terrible drivers-- requiring lots of soldering to fix it all). Another problem is that many computers are abandoning the PCI interface.
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby bristlehog » 2015-1-02 @ 09:21

Vortex2 OPL3 implementation is quite inaccurate. I have such a card and it sounds weird in some DOS games, like Codename: Iceman.
Hardware comparisons and game system requirements: https://technical.city
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby ZanQuance » 2015-1-02 @ 11:16

I'm sure we'll discover if this is due to the hardware being the way it is, or simply a bad software implementation in which case it could be improved. Aureal didn't have much time to perfect it mind ya.
[edit]
The Vortex2 documentation states there should be some form of legacy hardware present:
Complete Legacy Support
Patented Sound Blaster Pro emulation means that the AU8830 is a hassle-free solution that still supports older games in
both Windows DOS boxes and real-mode DOS (without Windows). Unlike other PCI-based systems that merely claim
legacy support because they can run carefully selected games, Aureal’s integrated hardware support has been designed to
ensure complete legacy compatibility. Verified operation has been proven on over 300 DOS games. In addition, the
wavetable synthesizer is available for high-quality music in Windows DOS boxes.


[edit3]
After looking into the register set more closely, it mimics that of an OPL3 in hardware. Might be a real implementation but just used the software TSR emulation because it was already available on hand...
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby PhilsComputerLab » 2015-1-02 @ 15:22

I prefer to leave Vortex to with Windows 98 era but that's just me :)

There are talks that the final drivers introduce a few bugs with games. So maybe a modded / fixed driver release?

You also need to modify the INF file to achieve things such as installing the Windows driver without Sound Blaster Emulation (in case you have a real Sound Blaster). So maybe offer a range of drivers that do all these tasks?
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby tgod » 2015-1-03 @ 02:46

Wouldn't an A3D wrapper/emulator make more sense?
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby PhilsComputerLab » 2015-1-03 @ 03:03

tgod wrote:Wouldn't an A3D wrapper/emulator make more sense?


On a period correct machine not so much I guess. Many of these Windows 95 / 98 games are quite tricky to get going on modern PCs.

I believe for Unreal something like a wrapper exists to restore surround sound but I'm not very sure.
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby ZanQuance » 2015-1-03 @ 03:34

Perhaps to a certain extent, but I would rather bring updated drivers to the AU8830 like the KX project did for the EMU10K1/2 cards. [edit] Actually a wrapper was already made but is horribly inaccurate. see http://www.worknd.ru/

Were there any other chips which had "dedicated" hardware HRTF cells in them? Not speaking of DSPs or Software derived HRTF calculations, but real HRTF filters in the chip.
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby PhilsComputerLab » 2015-1-03 @ 03:38

Not sure. But those Aureal demos are something to experience. In a lot of ways 3D audio has gone backwards :blah:
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby ZanQuance » 2015-1-03 @ 03:51

philscomputerlab wrote:
tgod wrote:Wouldn't an A3D wrapper/emulator make more sense?

On a period correct machine not so much I guess. Many of these Windows 95 / 98 games are quite tricky to get going on modern PCs.

Last year we got a bunch of Aureal videos uploaded of those games running under XP and it was hell getting them to go. I did this because before ours there were only a handful of A3D videos which are now no longer available.

My buddy Hira was able to record them in Win98 with a capture card:
A3D ROOMS [Headphones]
A3D ROOMS [Speakers]
A3D ROOMS [Monitor or Stereo Tablet Speakers]
Unreal mod Thievery running A3D

The best I was able to get:
Comparison of Descent3 running under Win98/ME with A3D and EAX under Win7 via Alchemy on my Razer Barracuda CMI8788 card
Descent3 EAX vs A3D
Audio clip of HL1 and A3D used to compare with the XP HL1 video I uploaded. Really shows how buggy the drivers sound under XP.
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby PhilsComputerLab » 2015-1-03 @ 04:08

Hey I know most of these videos :)

Never got around to doing my own but I'll add it to my never-ending list of little projects I'd like to do.
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby ZanQuance » 2015-1-05 @ 03:31

Was an AU8830 datasheet containing the chips pinout diagram ever released? I might try contacting Diamond and the like to see if they wouldn't mind sharing the old MX300 schematics with me. [edit] shot diamond and turtle beach an email asking for them.

Unrelated question, were there any Sensaura 3D videos floating around the web? I'd really like to hear them but I've not been able to locate any.
When I was doing the A3D videos, I tried 4 times to purchase a Turtle Beach Santa Cruz for comparison but each seller was unable to deliver the card for various reasons, so I gave up.
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby Stiletto » 2015-1-05 @ 04:03

ZanQuance wrote:Was an AU8830 datasheet containing the chips pinout diagram ever released?


Not as far as I know.
http://www.datasheetarchive.com/AU8830-datasheet.html
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby mockingbird » 2015-1-05 @ 06:47

My first recollection of Aureal was being blown away with the directional audio of A3D on a K6-2 machine.

Then EAX took over, and it was was vastly inferior to A3D in my opinion, as I never heard any difference at all with or without it enabled, thus Creative killed innovation and I've never really heard such well-implemented directional audio since then.

Just another example of the minions of orthodoxy adopting gimmick and ruining everything for everybody. Live! and everything that came after it were all terrible products that should have rightfully bankrupted Creative Labs, but instead filled their coffers with the coins of fools.
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby swaaye » 2015-1-05 @ 19:51

EAX 1/2 are only environmental reverb. It is literally a repurposing of the MIDI effects hardware. Positioning is definitely not interesting on a Live, unless you can run a 4 speaker surround setup.

EAX 3 and 4 however are much more interesting and I think you should play Doom3 or FEAR again, preferably with headphones. I also suggest using Windows XP and Creative drivers from that period instead of relying on Alchemy and newer drivers.

Another thing you'll see talked about with Audigy onward is the headphone mode combined with CMSS. Aureal cards have nothing like this. It does an amazing surround downmix for headphones.


Also, the cards that licensed Sensaura or Qsound tech might impress you as well in older games. I've been impressed a few times. These cards died off in the early 00s so they tend not to do well with newer games because drivers stopped being worked on.
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby PhilsComputerLab » 2015-1-05 @ 20:34

Vortex 2 cards absolutely do surround over headphones! It's possible that CMSS-3D originated from A3D technology but I'm just guessing here.

But yes the Vortex 2 tech demos in headphone mode are something to be experienced. The YouTube Videos linked earlier demonstrate this with headphones.
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby swaaye » 2015-1-05 @ 22:29

Yeah I know Aureal cards have a headphone mode and do nice 3D audio that way. I've played a lot of games on Vortex 2 with headphones.

That's not really what I'm referring to though. On an Audigy or later, the speaker and headphone modes sound much different for all output (if CMSS is enabled). Even say just listening to music is different. I'm not sure how to describe it. It changes the sound stage to better fit headphones. It's more centered. It's less tiring on the brain. Of course it also mixes multichannel and 3D audio well.

There are some other technologies like this. Dolby Headphone for instance. Windows Vista and onward also have a headphone virtualization enhancement feature.
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby PhilsComputerLab » 2015-1-05 @ 23:58

Oh that's what you meant I see :)

I'm getting some 5.1 speakers today, a Creative set for my computerlab. A bit over headphones and all the mucking around and just want a 5.1 setup like in the living room but I don't game there.

But this is more for Audigy and later cards.

If you would pick a few games to really showcase Vortex 2 surround over headphones, what would you go for?
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby swaaye » 2015-1-06 @ 19:51

Almost any game with A3D support is good. Jedi Knight, Sin, Heretic II, Half Life, Elite Force, FAKK2, Unreal and KISS Psycho Circus come to mind. Even A3D 1.0 is great.

Apparently Daikatana was going to get A3D in a patch but of course they couldn't come through on anything they promised lol. The game uses Miles sound system and has the 3D plugins but it seems to only support straight up stereo.
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Re: Vortex2 Phoenix Project

Postby mockingbird » 2015-1-06 @ 20:24

swaaye wrote:Also, the cards that licensed Sensaura or Qsound tech might impress you as well in older games. I've been impressed a few times. These cards died off in the early 00s so they tend not to do well with newer games because drivers stopped being worked on.

Excellent post, sir. I'll keep it in mind for if whenever I get my K6/2 system built (I've got here a bunch of Live/Audigy cards I've scavenged over the years). I'm familiar with Sensaura/Qsound. I was an early adopter of the Yamaha YMF744 platform for 4 speaker surround. I remember it worked pretty well in Windows 9x/ME, but once I actually managed to find a driver that enabled four speaker surround on XP. Was a decent card, but I often found myself enabling the speaker doubling on the ACS56 rather than the surround.
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