Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

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

Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby leileilol » 2017-4-17 @ 05:06

WSS cards tend to be the "good on paper, suck at execution" in their design so sadly no.
by the way, DOSBox is not for running Windows 9x
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby badmojo » 2017-4-17 @ 07:01

leileilol wrote:WSS cards tend to be the "good on paper, suck at execution" in their design so sadly no.


My only real experience with WSS is via my Crystal CS4232-KQ based Magic S23 but it's been great for the most part - a couple of games complain that they can't detect a WSS it but both had 'WSS no detect' options and work fine.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby James-F » 2017-4-17 @ 07:24

In my experience WSS behaves and sounds exactly like the SB16 if the game supports it, that includes the dynamic nyquist filter.
If the game supports the more rare WSS it should definitely support the more common SB16.
But as leileilol said, WSS is not as stable as the SB16, in my experience WSS crackles and sometimes the sound completely disappears in DOS games.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby gdjacobs » 2017-4-17 @ 10:31

badmojo wrote:
My only real experience with WSS is via my Crystal CS4232-KQ based Magic S23 but it's been great for the most part - a couple of games complain that they can't detect a WSS it but both had 'WSS no detect' options and work fine.


Real OPL3 on that one, is it not?
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby badmojo » 2017-4-17 @ 11:34

gdjacobs wrote:
badmojo wrote:
My only real experience with WSS is via my Crystal CS4232-KQ based Magic S23 but it's been great for the most part - a couple of games complain that they can't detect a WSS it but both had 'WSS no detect' options and work fine.


Real OPL3 on that one, is it not?


Yes that's the one - wavetable header too which makes it a very useful card.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby cyclone3d » 2017-4-17 @ 13:55

I'm kind of surprised that nobody has mentioned any of the early Aztech Sound Galaxy cards - the ones that supported 5 different types of cards. (Adlib, Sound Blaster Pro II, Windows Sound System, Disney Sound Source & Covox Speech Thing) and have real OPL3.

See here:
viewtopic.php?f=46&t=48887
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby fsmith2003 » 2017-4-17 @ 15:14

Kind of a side question to the discussion. When it comes to Sound Blaster cards I've had a hard time finding any sort of a release date timeline for each of their cards. Does anyone have some sort of a list of each model and when it was publicly released?

Also, when it comes to the SB Live! series. What sort of DOS compatibility is possible with those cards? I've heard some say there isn't much but others seem to do alright with them. However once you get to a 1998-99 era build is it really necessary to have DOS compatibility in general if you already have an older build sitting around?
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby James-F » 2017-4-17 @ 15:20

fsmith2003 wrote:When it comes to Sound Blaster cards I've had a hard time finding any sort of a release date timeline for each of their cards. Does anyone have some sort of a list of each model and when it was publicly released?

Sound Blaster Timeline

cyclone3d wrote:I'm kind of surprised that nobody has mentioned any of the early Aztech Sound Galaxy cards

Well, the OP asked for "THE BEST", so the originals are preferred over the clones.
The Aztech cards very system speed sensitive and are noisier than Creative, in my experience.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby cyclone3d » 2017-4-17 @ 15:50

James-F wrote:
cyclone3d wrote:I'm kind of surprised that nobody has mentioned any of the early Aztech Sound Galaxy cards

Well, the OP asked for "THE BEST", so the originals are preferred over the clones.
The Aztech cards very system speed sensitive and are noisier than Creative, in my experience.


Not sure why the originals are more preferred.

Back in the day I ditched a Sound Blaster Pro 2.0 for an Opti 930 based card with OPL3 and onboard wavetable. I still have the card.

It worked better, sounded better, and supported more things than the Sound Blaster card did.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby fsmith2003 » 2017-4-17 @ 16:44

James-F. Thanks for the info! However, I did come across that post a while back. I guess I should have been more specific though. I was hoping for an extension of that timeline you linked to. Something that would go from 1993-whichever the latest or last year they had cards in production.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby gerwin » 2017-4-17 @ 19:17

badmojo wrote:My only real experience with WSS is via my Crystal CS4232-KQ based Magic S23 but it's been great for the most part - a couple of games complain that they can't detect a WSS it but both had 'WSS no detect' options and work fine.

I also like WSS as a bonus feature on such a SBPro2 compatible. WSS is not that well supported, but good enough to get 16 bit sound where it matters, Like Windows and MPXplay. With some modding I could get other software to work well with WSS too. The Soundscape, ESS and UltraSound PnP interfaces are technically a variant of WSS.

As for the original question: To me it is not that useful to try and list the 'best' soundcard of each year. It is not like CPUs/GPUs, where progress was obvious each year. DOS sound is the problem child of hardware standards. One is fortunate to just find a few soundcards that work to one's liking, regardless of release date.

If chronology matters, there is the Phonomenal article. It does not cover the ESS/Crystal/Yamaha cards etc. which are not well known, but functionally competitive.

Edit: Spelling.
Last edited by gerwin on 2017-4-17 @ 20:12, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby firage » 2017-4-17 @ 20:01

Thanks for posting the article, gerwin. A lot of good starting info, although not all of the advice in there is perfectly on point. (Like how to pick an SB16.)
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby Cloudschatze » 2017-4-17 @ 21:58

firage wrote:The main issue with the Sound Blaster Pro in the SB16/AWE32 dominated "16-bit" era of 1993-1996 is its heavy coloration ... The only other concern might be games that used lower mixing rates for the SB Pro than later cards for no compelling technical reason.

A more-consequential, and undefeatable, limitation of using an SBPro or compatible for late DOS titles (1994-onward) is that several game audio engines support 16-bit software mixing (of 8-bit samples) with corresponding 16-bit output routines, resulting in an appreciable difference in fidelity when a supported 16-bit soundcard is used. With an SBPro/compatible, you're stuck with (inferior) dithered 8-bit output in such titles, and lower playback rate options besides. This is, of course, a separate issue from the even less-common use of 16-bit samples, which can be found in titles released as early as 1993, if not sooner.

The Apogee Sound System (Rise of the Triad, Duke Nukem 3D, Blood) and Asylum Sound System (Crusader series) are examples of audio engines that support both 16-bit mixing and 16-bit output, for what it's worth.

Rather than trying to determine the subjectively "best" soundcard for a particular year, I would instead suggest an alternate approach of determining the objectively "best" soundcard(s) for specific software titles of personal interest.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby PhilsComputerLab » 2017-4-17 @ 22:55

Cloudschatze wrote:Rather than trying to determine the subjectively "best" soundcard for a particular year, I would instead suggest an alternate approach of determining the objectively "best" soundcard(s) for specific software titles of personal interest.


+1 I'd like to see more discussions in this direction also.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby gdjacobs » 2017-4-18 @ 02:12

James-F wrote:Well, the OP asked for "THE BEST", so the originals are preferred over the clones.
The Aztech cards very system speed sensitive and are noisier than Creative, in my experience.


Hmm... which codecs were those cards using?
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby fsmith2003 » 2017-4-18 @ 11:14

My most memorable year of PC Gaming is 1997. I was obsessed with Blood, GTA, and Final Fantasy 7. Also, like most, games from previous years such as Duke3D, Tomb Raider, and the Doom and Doom engine games (Hexen, Heretic etc.). As far as sound goes, back then I wasn't too concerned. Basically because I didn't know any different. However, now that I know better, I am obsessed with having the "best" experience possible while reliving these older games. I know that the definition of "best" is different for each person. I'm sure those are the more popular titles that a lot of my generation grew up on as well. So, if the discussion is gearing more toward preferred sound card for the software you will be using instead of by year then what are some of the options you all prefer for those titles?
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby firage » 2017-4-18 @ 12:44

FF7 is the only pure Windows game, but you should be able to use higher fidelity PCI cards to play those games under Win9x. The AWE64 is fine, especially in pure DOS, but you probably get the ultimate quality out of something newer.

GTA, Tomb Raider and Blood have CD audio, the others are improved by good General MIDI. FF7 has special soundtrack options; it's one rare game that makes use of Yamaha's GM extensions in their XG line, and alternatively I believe there's a Soundfont for Creative cards that sounds very similar to the PSX originals.

Cloudschatze wrote:A more-consequential, and undefeatable, limitation of using an SBPro or compatible for late DOS titles (1994-onward) is that several game audio engines support 16-bit software mixing (of 8-bit samples) with corresponding 16-bit output routines, resulting in an appreciable difference in fidelity when a supported 16-bit soundcard is used. With an SBPro/compatible, you're stuck with (inferior) dithered 8-bit output in such titles, and lower playback rate options besides.

Interesting. Thanks.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby awgamer » 2017-4-18 @ 13:22

for 93-99, notable releases were
93 scc-1a rap-10
94 gusmax awe32 soundscape ess sc-88
95 guspnp db50xg soundscape elite
96 awe64 sw60xg vsc-55(roland soft synth)
97 vortex s-yxg50(yamaha xg softsynth)
98 live! vortex2
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby jade_angel » 2017-4-20 @ 13:53

I can't really add a whole lot to the year-by-year lists other than to point out that thanks to various improvements as time went on, a game from '95, say, might actually sound better on a card that didn't exist at the time. (And, of course, 'better' is subjective; some think Doom's soundtrack sounds better with FM, others say you're a heretic for using anything but an SC-55, say.)

That, and when you add MIDI music into the mix, there really is no one ultimate card for any era - just try covering the most popular wavetable/GM options and still being able to do FM synth well! AWE64 Gold, for example, has a nice wavetable synth and you could strap on an SC-55 externally, but its CQM FM synthesizer sucks hosewater compared to an SB Pro II (real OPL3) or ESS Audiodrive (ESS OPL workalike, which sounds pretty darn good). Of course, it has things like dual-channel RCA output that can, in theory, be cleaner than the output from an ESS card (which vary a lot, from mediocre to very good), and will definitely be less noisy than an SB16, say. All that doesn't even touch on GUS (yet another wavetable option, good 16-bit PCM audio too) or PAS16 (no experience with this one, but some swear by them)! Lots of tradeoffs!

The latest and greatest cards (From 97-2000) will be PCI cards, but many of those don't work at all in DOS, and those that do can be ticklish.
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Re: Best Sound Cards each year of the 90's

Postby badmojo » 2017-4-20 @ 20:42

Yes in my experience the only solution to the perfect DOS era sound card problem is to have multiple PCs with multiple sound cards in them and then keep buying more sound cards as you come across them and testing those out, then continue that process until the end of time.

Not a solution at all some might say but it's fun!
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