Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

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

Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby fsmith2003 » 2017-4-16 @ 03:28

I am trying to figure out which sound card was the best to get each year from 1993-1999? I am attempting to build the best the industry had to offer each of those years. I know the AWE64 Gold came out in late 1996. So to many would this be considered the best that there was as long as you had an ISA motherboard? what would be the "best" before 1996 in your opinions?
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby rgart » 2017-4-16 @ 03:55

I'll throw a few out there.

1989 - Roland LAPC-I
1992 - Creative Sound Blaster Pro II
1994 - Gravis Ultrasound Max
1996 - Creative Awe 64 Gold
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby fsmith2003 » 2017-4-16 @ 04:08

How about 97-99? Do you have any recommendations for those years as well?
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby gdjacobs » 2017-4-16 @ 04:39

What year did the Tropez Plus come out?
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby derSammler » 2017-4-16 @ 08:05

I am trying to figure out which sound card was the best to get each year from 1993-1999?

The best in what? Compatibility, sound quality, noise level, versatility..? I don't think this can be answered easily.

ps: The AWE64 Gold was by no means the best card in 1996 (or any other year).
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby rgart » 2017-4-16 @ 08:49

The best sound card for each year will always be very subjective. Different people value different things and everyone has a different ear.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby firage » 2017-4-16 @ 09:20

Compatibility and versatility were Sound Blaster's selling points, and their top model was always the one to get for digital sound in games c. 1992-1996. Sound Blaster 16 came out in 1992, AWE32 in 1994, AWE64 Gold in 1996. They were the real deal, though the quality of their sound was by no means ever the best on the market - not among their compatibles, let alone more professional music cards.

It took them a long time to get their act together for the Win9x PCI market, so it was split when the Sound Blaster Live! came out in 1998; Aureal Vortex 2 based cards were the top competition.

Music on the other was dominated by Roland; the LAPC-1/MT-32/CM-32L from the 1980's until games supported General MIDI around 1993, and then their Sound Canvas SC-55/SCC-1/SCB-55/... product as the gold standard for GM. A MIDI card or module was a major sonic improvement over Adlib/SB FM for music.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby PhilsComputerLab » 2017-4-16 @ 09:23

Fsmith2003 welcome to Vogons. I'd recommend digging into some of our many excellent existing threads for a while. That will answer a ton of questions out of the gate. It will let you post questions with a smaller scope that people have an easier time to answer :)
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby derSammler » 2017-4-16 @ 09:55

firage wrote:Compatibility and versatility were Sound Blaster's selling points, and their top model was always the one to get for digital sound in games c. 1992-1996. Sound Blaster 16 came out in 1992, AWE32 in 1994, AWE64 Gold in 1996. They were the real deal [...]

Let's not forget that no Soundblaster starting with the SB16 was compatible to SB Pro (stereo) and the buggy DSP made the wavetable header quite useless. The AWE couldn't load soundfonts in DOS and the AWE64 even lost the wavetable header completely (a shame, since that one had the DSP bug finally fixed). So much for compatibility and versatility. The Soundblaster cards were successful because of their name, nothing else. Back then, a sound card was a Soundblaster; people hardly knew about other cards.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby James-F » 2017-4-16 @ 10:00

fsmith2003 wrote: what would be the "best" before 1996 in your opinions?

For DOS games, SBPro2, bar none.
Alongside with an MPU-401 & SC-55 for MIDI stuff.

This is of course in my experience, if your goal is to cover a lot of ground.
For Windows 9x the options greatly expand.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby firage » 2017-4-16 @ 10:06

derSammler wrote:
firage wrote:Compatibility and versatility were Sound Blaster's selling points, and their top model was always the one to get for digital sound in games c. 1992-1996. Sound Blaster 16 came out in 1992, AWE32 in 1994, AWE64 Gold in 1996. They were the real deal, though the quality of their sound was by no means ever the best on the market - not among their compatibles, let alone more professional music cards.

Let's not forget that no Soundblaster starting with the SB16 was compatible to SB Pro (stereo) and the buggy DSP made the wavetable header quite useless. The AWE couldn't load soundfonts in DOS and the AWE64 even lost the wavetable header completely (a shame, since that one had the DSP bug finally fixed). So much for compatibility and versatility. The Soundblaster cards were successful because of their name, nothing else. Back then, a sound card was a Soundblaster; people hardly knew about other cards.

As they came out close together, there are no games supporting the Sound Blaster Pro that don't also support the Sound Blaster 16, AFAIK. The MPU bugs were one of the company's failings, although never catastrophic. The AWE cards also had direct support in some games outside of Win95, but again they were always about the digital sound effects and the only music option for the top-of-the-line PC was Roland.

I generally prefer the SB Pro 2's late revisions for bug free digital sound myself, although the AWE64 would often be a better option together with a nicer quality Yamaha card for OPL3 FM, and always Roland for MIDI. There are of course a few titles that really show off different cards, too, like the Gravis Ultrasound from 1992, dual-OPL Sound Blaster Pro 1 or Pro AudioSpectrum, etc.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby rgart » 2017-4-16 @ 10:19

firage wrote:As they came out close together, there are no games supporting the Sound Blaster Pro that don't also support the Sound Blaster 16, AFAIK. The MPU bugs were one of the company's failings, although never catastrophic. The AWE cards also had direct support in some games outside of Win95, but again they were always about the digital sound effects and the only music option for the top-of-the-line PC was Roland.


Not everyone likes there sound card to click like a Kalahari bushman everytime the DMA address is accessed. Sound Blaster 16 clicks like a mofo and if you havent noticed your not exposing yourself to a broad enough spectrum of games or are just not sensitive to it.

Sound Blaster Pro 2 is godly without the clicks. :)
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby firage » 2017-4-16 @ 10:22

rgart wrote:
firage wrote:As they came out close together, there are no games supporting the Sound Blaster Pro that don't also support the Sound Blaster 16, AFAIK. The MPU bugs were one of the company's failings, although never catastrophic. The AWE cards also had direct support in some games outside of Win95, but again they were always about the digital sound effects and the only music option for the top-of-the-line PC was Roland.


Not everyone likes there sound card to click like a Kalahari bushmen everytime the DMA address is accessed. Sound Blaster 16's clicks like a mofo and if you havent noticed your not exposing yourself to a broad enough spectrum of games or are just not sensitive to it.

Yes, I prefer the Sound Blaster 16's that are free of that particular ailment. ;)


The thread poses a big open question - the quest for the ultimate version of the Sound Blaster or clone is always ongoing.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby James-F » 2017-4-16 @ 10:40

firage wrote:Yes, I prefer the Sound Blaster 16's that are free of that particular ailment. ;)


The problem with SB16 is you have to do a PhD Research to understand the various bugs of each revision, and there are a LOT of revisions.
In my sig you'll find some info about SB16 Bug.

Some have OPL3, some don't.
Some have bug free MPU-401, some don't.
Some noisy as hell, some don't.
Some (most) click, some don't.
Some distort, some don't.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby gdjacobs » 2017-4-16 @ 10:56

Made worse by the Chinese restaurant menu of models with significant differences between cards even within the same model, usually with no information to distinguish revisions. So, even if you can identify a SB16 card that's good (I have one I'm pretty happy with), there's not a lot of hard information such as model identifiers you can provide to others to select a card which works well without a bench full of test equipment (or at least a good ADC and some software).
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby firage » 2017-4-16 @ 11:18

The main issue with the Sound Blaster Pro in the SB16/AWE32 dominated "16-bit" era of 1993-1996 is its heavy coloration. The filtering and distortion give a distinct muffling effect, which went out of style as audio production quality improved. The new clarity of sound was a marketing point then, though the sound is down to personal taste. The only other concern might be games that used lower mixing rates for the SB Pro than later cards for no compelling technical reason.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby James-F » 2017-4-16 @ 12:07

Most DOS games used 11025Hz 8bit sampling rates and lower, even the newest ones like Carmageddon, Duke Nukem 3D, Blood up to 1997.
The SBPro indeed has simpler output filter than the SB16 and uses less evolved way to handle stereo sounds for the lack of technology at the time.
For higher sampling rates the sound blaster programming guide instructs to disable the output filter on the SBPro which doesn't sound worse than the SB16, it is in lower sampling rates the filter is needed to filter out aliasing, which the SB16 does automatically.

Using higher sampling rate with a more capable sound card does not make the recorded sound any better.
Playing 44.1kHz 16-bit (CD) on a 192kHz 24bit audio card will not sound any different.
Same in DOS.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby fsmith2003 » 2017-4-16 @ 12:08

Wow, lots of good info here that is definitely gonna be useful. Let me just ask the question this way instead though. If you were to choose or have chose your favorite era specific card for each of the years 1993-99 what would it be in your opinion? If the response is decent I think it would be fun to tally up the answers and maybe make a list for everyone to look at.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby firage » 2017-4-16 @ 13:27

I need multiple cards in my machines. :) Reckon I'd be happy with the following in each year, for that year:
1993 - SB Pro 2 CT1600 rev 07/08, Roland SCC-1, Gravis UltraSound rev 3.7
1994 - AWE32 CT3900, Roland SCC-1, Gravis UltraSound rev 3.74
1995 - AWE32 CT3900, Roland SCC-1, Gravis UltraSound ACE
1996 - AWE64 Gold CT4390, Roland SCC-1
1997 - AWE64 Gold CT4540, Roland SCC-1
1998 - Diamond MX300 + Yamaha DB50XG, SB Live! CT4620
1999 - Aureal SQ2500, SB Live! Platinum 5.1 SB0060

An AWE64 Gold with an SCC-1 and a GUS (limited number of titles, but some of my favorites) would perfectly handle everything between 93-97. For older stuff I'd want a card with an OPL chip and the LAPC-I instead of SCC-1 (or just connect a CM-32L). Newer gear, I'd ditch the Live! for an Audigy 2, maybe consider Sensaura.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby Jo22 » 2017-4-17 @ 04:07

No love for PAS16, WSS or EWS64XL in this thread ? ;)
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In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

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