Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

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

Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby 16colortiedye » 2016-8-13 @ 15:15

Hello everyone!

I'd like to put together a system for playing games in pure DOS (no Win9x) using 100% digital audio output over S/PDIF (that is, no D-A conversion until after the sound has left the system to an external interface).

For the highest fidelity and widest compatibility, the system would ideally include an OPL-based FM synth, a Roland Sound Canvas MIDI synth (via MPU-401 if necessary), and Sound Blaster-compatible stereo sound effects. But mainly, I just want to get FM, MIDI, and sound effects all over digital.

Is such a system even possible with existing ISA sound cards?
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby mr_bigmouth_502 » 2016-8-13 @ 16:23

I'm not 100% sure, but I think there's a variant of the AWE32 or AWE64 that has a S/PDIF output.
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby 16colortiedye » 2016-8-13 @ 17:34

My understanding is that the only card in those series capable of putting out sound effects through S/PDIF is the AWE64 Gold, but that functionality is limited to working only with 16-bit 44.1KHz quality audio, and even then it might not work in DOS.

Otherwise that card would have been a strong candidate for what I'm looking for, even without being a Roland synth.
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby Jo22 » 2016-8-13 @ 19:36

Hmm, the EWS64 did also support S/PDIF. Don't know how good it works in pure DOS, though.
-> https://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=47465

Maybe digital output of OPL3 and SB works in DOS despite this issue.
I don't have that card, though. So that's pure guessing of mine.

That card is also in the wiki: http://www.vogonswiki.com/index.php/EWS64
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby CkRtech » 2016-8-13 @ 20:08

Best of luck with you quest, but I wanted to share the following -

From 1999-2002, I ran a Diamond Monster MX300 (Aureal Vortex 2) followed by a Turtle Beach Santa Cruz. One of these (SC, think) was the first card where I used digital out via spdif. Although these are PCI cards, they did have a MIDI daughterboard header on them for something like a Waveblaster or Yahama card. I still wanted a Waveblaster available in my system as I had used one since the SB16, and the reality was that I couldn't do digital audio out with it. There was no pinout for that from the card - It was analog stereo only. So I switched back over to analog whenever I wanted to use MIDI.

I had an AWE64 Gold prior to that, but I never tried digital audio. I don't know if digital was available since the card handled MIDI wavetable internally.
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby Stretch » 2016-8-13 @ 20:12

There is a thread somewhere on VOGONS about an ISA CMI-8338 based sound card that has SPDIF capability in MS-DOS.
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby Jo22 » 2016-8-13 @ 21:27

Stretch wrote:There is a thread somewhere on VOGONS about an ISA CMI-8338 based sound card that has SPDIF capability in MS-DOS.

Oh yes, the CMI8x38 series! How could I forgot about that..
I wrote somehing little about the PCI versions a few years ago (*link*,my post)..
Didn't know their ISA versions supports S/PDIF, too! Thanks for letting us know. :)
References on the web are a bit scarce, though. I've found a Linux message about them here.
Apparently SB16 compatibility wasn't bad, either.. Cool!

PS: There was also another cool guide about PCI soundcards mentioned in the "Yamaha PCI YMF-724 DOS Compatibility Thread".

Edit: I do also remember a thread named "Sound Blaster 16 Clones" by gerwin from from the last decade.
It covered the CMI8330 chips and also had the CMI8X38D.zip file I used for testing back then (includes setaudio.com v1.98).
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby matze79 » 2016-8-14 @ 08:00

The AWE64 does only output Music via SPDIF.

The only Card i know that really works is a EWS64 XL.
It also features a SAM Synthesizer and can carry up to 66Mb RAM for wavetable Banks.
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby firage » 2016-8-14 @ 09:23

matze79 wrote:The AWE64 does only output Music via SPDIF.

The only Card i know that really works is a EWS64 XL.
It also features a SAM Synthesizer and can carry up to 66Mb RAM for wavetable Banks.

That's true of the AWE32's SPDIF header, but I'm pretty sure the AWE64 is said to do digital sound via SPDIF as well.
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby Stretch » 2016-8-14 @ 13:10

Off topic, but I found out yesterday my PCI Yamaha YMF-744 outputs music through SPDIF in the setupds.exe program when selecting the 16-bit audio test. But there is no output in the 8-bit audio test.
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby matze79 » 2016-8-14 @ 14:52

firage sure ? i need to test it someday, i had currently no real need for Digital Out except for toying around :)
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby PARUS » 2016-8-16 @ 22:43

I believe that nobody made or tried full working S/PDIF system with most several formats for gaming in pure DOS. Therefore I decided to explore this problem as exhaustively as it's possible. In 2014 I finished this work and made a sound system with SB Pro, SB 16, Yamaha GM/XG, EMU8k standards and all of them in S/PDIF, working together.

I used in my system:
1) Terratec EWS64 XL - I must to say that this card doesn't make real digital signal, it converts its own mixer through 18-bit ADC to S/PDIF signal. BUT: sound quality is real perfect! And due to this it is possible to connect to EWS64 line/cd in other analog devices and get a joint signal to S/PDIF out channel. AND: on Terratec EWS64 it is possible to switch digital in source. It can be (a) - card mixer ADC, (b) - coax in, (c) - optical in.
2) AV310 CMI8330, digital "SB 16". It has S/PDIF IN and OUT. I connected EWS64 spdif out to AV310 spdif in and got joint signal from EWS64 and AV310. EWS64 is making sound in SB Pro format, AV310 in SB 16 format.
3) AWE64 Gold - it can give us only MIDI sound through spdif. I connected it to EWS64 S/PDIF IN COAX. Also it is possible to use Goldfinch CT1920 card.
4) NEC XR385 with S/PDIF mod by jwt27. Perfect Yamaha digital sound! It is connected to EWS64 S/PDIF IN OPTICAL.

Also I found:
The SB Live! card can play spdif sound in pure DOS. But not all revisions and not all DOS driver versions. It is necessary to try different combinations of card and driver revision. EMM386 is required.

I have my own review of assembled and full working S/PDIF sound system in pure DOS. It is in Russian.
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby gdjacobs » 2016-8-16 @ 23:35

Unfortunately, none of these cards feature a true OPL3 core.
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby Jo22 » 2016-8-17 @ 00:20

gdjacobs wrote:Unfortunately, none of these cards feature a true OPL3 core.

I fully agree - That's true! But I also remember playing a long session of SkyRoads on one of my PCI based CMI cards.
The emulation apparently was good enough to let this happen. Otherwise I can't think of a reason why I wrote "Average FM support, sounds authentic".
Because when I wrote this, I was very carefully in choosing my words.

But even if it wasn't 100% accurate, the good SNR and higher dynamic range of a digital connection makes up for that when using a pair of Hi-Fi headphones. ^_^

Imagine playing some of these awesome adventure games from Legend or MagneticScrolls with catchy Adlib tunes in high quality. Wow, just wow. :-)
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby gdjacobs » 2016-8-17 @ 01:09

Another item to add to my dream list, along with a universal optical serial/ps2/usb mouse and a gotek style optical drive emulator. A fully SB16 compatible sound card with a real OPL3 core that uses a digital to digital converter instead of the YAC512, multiple digital lines in, a WB header, SPDIF out (bit perfect), and no hanging note bug.

I can dream, right?
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby SquallStrife » 2016-8-17 @ 01:25

Jo22 wrote:
gdjacobs wrote:Unfortunately, none of these cards feature a true OPL3 core.

I fully agree - That's true! But I also remember playing a long session of SkyRoads on one of my PCI based CMI cards.


I think the "necessity" for "True OPL" is a bit overhyped.

I bet that in a double-blind test, to someone that isn't a diehard or oldtimer, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference, let alone that the real thing is "better" than clones.

The FM on CMI cards is decent, and given the S/PDIF functionality, may be a worthwhile trade-off.

Edit: Fixed a grammar omission.
Last edited by SquallStrife on 2016-8-17 @ 01:35, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby keenmaster486 » 2016-8-17 @ 01:27

Ha. Just try me. I'll tell the difference a mile away. :)
I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.
Very silly indeed: https://audaxeundum.wordpress.com
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby SquallStrife » 2016-8-17 @ 01:35

keenmaster486 wrote:Ha. Just try me. I'll tell the difference a mile away. :)


diehard or oldtimer


Is how that should have read. I'd put you in the former category, given some of the crazy lengths you're going to!

And even so, of course there's a difference, but to say that one is "better", or "the best" is highly subjective. Maybe someone grew up with an ESS card, so they prefer that sound, does that make them wrong?
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby gdjacobs » 2016-8-17 @ 04:07

I grew up with a card using Crystal Semi emulation. It was a dark point in a fairly good childhood.
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Re: Pure DOS gaming system with 100% digital audio output

Postby PARUS » 2016-8-17 @ 07:27

I told not about native OPL3 but S/PDIF. But if you want digital OPL nobody disturbs to try change 64Gold to AWE32. AWE32 plays FM by S/PDIF.
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