Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

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

Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby andreja6 » 2017-12-30 @ 06:34

I'm curious as to what people have had experiences with. This is generally focused on actual sound CARDS but integrated could work since its still a sound device. This could help anyone building a "new" PC decide on a good sound card

As for best sound card, I own an ESS AudioDrive 1868F (ISA), and absolutely love it. it's quiet and extremely compatible with games. It has SB Pro II support, and instead of Emulating OPL3, its "ESFM 1868F" Chip is "Register Compatible". I don't really know what that means but I do know the FM Synthesis is really impressive and barely distinguishable from real OPL3. (Although there are some differences, i personally don't notice them).

As for worst, Sound Blaster Live! Value (PCI). It's a disaster. At least in my experience. First off, the SB 16 emulation is absolutely horrid. Grabbag (Duke 3D) sounded like a car crashing into xylophones, Skyroads had random notes dropping, completely wrong instruments, and popping. The regular windows sounds themselves were okay, but playing back any music would have a hiss in the background which rivals tape hiss. I never expected that on a digital sound card. That was not the end of my troubles, next came the IRQ issues. It keeps forcing the SB16 emulation to be on IRQ9 on any slightly more modern PC, which no game on the face of the planet uses. And you can't change it. Lastly, some programs using the SB16 emulation had severe slowdowns (On a P2-400Mhz Mind you). TIM was virtually unplayable.

What experiences did you guys have?
(I only own like 4 sound cards, I dont have a big experience)
Last edited by andreja6 on 2017-12-30 @ 08:04, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby WildW » 2017-12-30 @ 06:56

Here's a few. . .

Ensoniq AudioPCI (ES1370) - alright I'll admit it produces an "interesting" interpretation of FM sound/music, but otherwise it's really nice and versatile. Decent MIDI playback (at least, I like it), Ensoniq Soundscape support for late DOS games, drivers for DOS, Win9x and XP. Nothing amazing about it I guess but it "just works" in a lot of situations. Still using it in my main retro-PC.

Creative Soundblaster X-FI Xtrememusic - A decade ago I used to be really into Battlefield 2 online play, and this sound card genuinely improved things massively. Maybe I just hadn't had a good soundcard before and earlier cards would've done the same thing, but suddenly I could hear the exact position of sounds in 3D through my normal stereo headphones and the improvement in immersion was truly astonishing. I think this kind of functionality got absorbed into Windows/DirectX/etc so now it's pretty standard, but at the time it was awesome.

Yamaha Audician 32 Plus - bought this after reading very good things about it in various places, not least the fact it has a real OPL3 and you can still buy it new. It's given me nothing but trouble. Nasty hiss, sound crackles and breaks up in games. Maybe mine is just broken though.
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby derSammler » 2017-12-30 @ 09:42

Best: ALS100+ Plus
Does everything one needs: Adlib, SB Pro 2.0, SB16, bug-free MPU-401. Also, drivers are superb. Very small, not bloated with crappy tools no one needs anyway, and while the card is PnP, the DOS init program A3INIT.EXE will work when no PnP is available, too.

Worst: Terratec TT1816
What a piece of shit... FM is ridiculous.
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby firage » 2017-12-30 @ 10:40

Takes a bit of thought to pin this down.

Never had a real EAX or A3D card in their golden age (c.1999-2005), nor proper MIDI until a few years ago. I think the Roland SCC-1 is the card that made the biggest impression even so many years later; hearing old games in a totally new way.

For the worst, I guess the $20 Sound Blaster PCI 128 (Ensoniq AudioPCI) counts. The crappy FM emulation was a real bummer for DOS gaming, and the soft wavetable wasn't good. Its mediocre analog quality still beat motherboard integrated solutions for years, though.
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby CkRtech » 2017-12-30 @ 11:45

Hmm. Fun question, andreja6.

So my main machine sound card progress from 1991 to present is:
Sound Blaster 2.0 -> SB16 + Wave Blaster -> AWE64 Gold -> Diamond MX300 (Vortex 2) -> Turtle Beach Santa Cruz -> HT Omega Striker -> Scarlett 6i6 (currently in use)

I don't really know that I've owned a bad sound card from that bunch, and I am not counting the cards I have picked up for retro computing. Each time I upgraded the sound card, it was usually for a specific reason & generally always involved reading reviews first - at least from the MX300 forward.

As for the best, I suppose the most significant change aside from sound quality was moving to the MX300 and using A3D. It was really the last hurrah for sound card evolution and added some amazing punch to the now-rolling era of 3D gaming at the time (1998/1999).

Side note - My favorite would have to be the Wave Blaster. It is actually a daughterboard, but I had wavetable sound as early as Christmas 1993 & look back on that blessing quite fondly!
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby Zup » 2017-12-30 @ 12:42

I've had few sound cards...

GOOD:
- Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold. Never gave me any problem in DOS or Windows, it was 100% compatible with every game. Also, it played soundfonts in hardware.
- Asus Xonar DS (current sound card). Although not an EAX sound card (not a problem, I've got no 3D speaker setup), it works flawlessly and I've used it on three OSs (XP, 7, 10) without having troubles with drivers. The amplifiers are surprisingly good for a low cost card.
- SOCOM 2 USB headset (made by Logitech). Not a "proper" sound card, but a good USB sound device. It was mono, but when used on voice chats the quality was clearer than any headset connected to sound cards and was with me on countless WoW raids. Also, it was cheap because the game didn't sold very well (I get mine for 10€).

BAD:
- Sound Blaster AudioPCI. Not so bad, but it was installed in my girlfriend Pentium 75. I heard background noises every time the card was playing sound and the CPU was busy (=games)... maybe with later motherboards/CPU the card would be qualified as a correct soundcard. Also, DOS compatibility was not good.
- Sound Blaster Live! (Value). The main reason I don't buy any Creative sound card anymore. The CD that came with the card was useless (the drivers game me BSODs, I had to use drivers from the web) and full of bloatware. XP drivers lost capabilities compared to 98 drivers, and I reverted to using kX drivers. After XP there are no drivers for Live! anymore, so I bought the Asus card instead.
- Sound Blaster Audigy 2 (I don't remember which version). My wife had one of those. Although it didn't throw BSODs, their drivers lost capabilities with newer releases of Windows and became unsupported after a short time. Keep in mind that Live! and Audigy aren't "bad" cards, but the software and support cripples them.
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby andreja6 » 2017-12-30 @ 18:25

Zup wrote:- Sound Blaster Live! (Value). The main reason I don't buy any Creative sound card anymore. The CD that came with the card was useless (the drivers game me BSODs, I had to use drivers from the web) and full of bloatware. XP drivers lost capabilities compared to 98 drivers, and I reverted to using kX drivers. After XP there are no drivers for Live! anymore, so I bought the Asus card instead.

Same issues i had! The driver CD was overfilled with a bunch of garbage nobody would ever want, It's like one of those toolbar viruses. Also, the BSODing of the card was absurd, I had to switch through all my PCI slots so it would stop crashing!
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby Ozzuneoj » 2017-12-30 @ 19:07

This is a tough thread for me. I had a ton of sound cards back in the day and always had a terrible time with drivers and other compatibility issues because I was a dumb kid and was trying to do it all on my own (plus, the internet had a tiny fraction of the toubleshooting ability it has today...).

Honestly, my favorite sound device that gave me the least problems and gave the most unique features would have been the onboard "Soundstorm" audio on my Abit NF7-S 2.0 board. I had a really old Dolby Pro Logic capable surround receiver from the early 90s and the Soundstorm was able to encode a rear surround channel into the ANALOG stereo signal using Dolby Surround, which gave me some form of surround sound. It wasn't as good as using discrete analog channels or dolby digita\DTS live, but it was incredible considering how old my setup was. I don't think any other PC sound device has ever had this ability. Many can encode digital audio, but hardly anything was designed to provide true Pro Logic surround. I believe it was only ever prevalent in VHS tapes where the extra surround data could be matrixed in without causing problems but it was there if the receiver knew what to do with it. Pro Logic II was more common and was a completely simulated surround, so it was a totally different thing.

Aside from this, I had an ES1370 integrated, some generic PCI sound card that I think was a Yamaha XG (but the windows drivers kept give me blue screens so I never used it), a Vortex 2 SQ2500, integrated AC97 on K7S5A (HORRIBLE!), Sound Blaster Live!, Turtle Beach Santa Cruz, Soundstorm, integrated RealtekHD on Nforce 3 and 4, X-Fi xtreme music, Xonar DX, Xonar DG... None were ever problem free, and all had their ups and downs. Honorable mention goes to the Vortex 2 for the amazing A3D effects, but right after I got one Aureal was already defunct so driver support and A3D features vanished. Very sad.
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby badmojo » 2017-12-30 @ 20:15

The PAS16 was one of my worst and best sound cards experiences, all in one.

I spent my life savings on it as a teen circa 1994 because “16 bit”, but mainly I needed stereo in DOOM and my trusty SB 2.0 couldn’t do it. I didn’t realise - and the sales rep at the local computer store didn’t mention - that if a game didn’t support the PAS16 then I was back where I started from with mono SB 2.0, and although DOOM added support later it didn’t have it at the time. No stereo in Wolf3D either.

It was also a very hissy card, but thanks to Vogons I’ve learnt that it’s possible tame the hiss with the mixer and it really is a lovely card in hindsight. Game support did come but a little too late for me back in the day and I moved on to a Vibra16 and ESS audiodrive in pretty quick time - the PAS16 is my sound card of choice in my 486 these days though :)
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby gdjacobs » 2017-12-30 @ 20:28

PAS16 was awesome if you were a fan of Sierra games. Even back then, there was no perfect solution in PC audio.
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby Ozzuneoj » 2017-12-30 @ 20:51

gdjacobs wrote:Even back then, there was no perfect solution in PC audio.

Hehe, after seeing builds around here with between two and five soundcards, I tend to agree with you... :lol:
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby ODwilly » 2017-12-30 @ 21:22

Worst would be built in cmedia chip on a 478 board. It shared the irq with the ps/2 mouse port. So what would happen if you used a ps2 mouse is that the cursor would skip and lag across the screen. Solved by using usb or a pci audio card.
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby KCompRoom2000 » 2017-12-31 @ 01:39

Here's what I've experienced so far.

Best sound cards:
- Sound Blaster AWE64 : Great card for what I use it for, has never let me down for late-DOS and Windows 95 gaming. I even got it to output DVD Audio which is kind of amazing for an old ISA card.

- Sound Blaster Live! (Retail, not OEM) : Seems to be a fine card for Windows 9x gaming (I'm not using it for DOS since I have other machines with ISA cards for that), it's even better that I managed to get the basic driver package from Creative's website to work with it so no need to worry about the bloatware from the driver CDs. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not knowing the difference between a Retail card and an OEM card when I was younger (see below for the bad review on the Dell OEM version) so I ended up buying a CT4670 to replace the CT4780 at another RE-PC trip.

will think of some others later since it's already dinner time for me as of the writing of this post.

Worst sound cards:
- SoundMax Intel AC'97 : Would've been nice if it had DirectSound support, but since it didn't, I couldn't put up with it when I used my Dell Dimension 4300S for 9x gaming, which brings me to the reason why I took chances with an OEM Sound Blaster Live!...

- Sound Blaster Live! Value Dell OEM : I'm not surprised these cards have already been mentioned for having terrible driver support. A few years ago, I bought a SB Live! CT4780 card at RE-PC (this was before I knew the difference), the card worked great with the built-in drivers on Windows 2000 and XP, but getting it to work on 98SE was a total nightmare, the drivers from Creative's website and even Dell's drivers pages refused to work so I had no other choice than to take chances with the bloatware Driver CD images (taken from VOGONS Vintage Driver Library), the EAX animation on startup gets a little nerve-wreaking, and even then the card would stop outputting sound after a while of usage. No way hose, even a non-OEM Sound Blaster Live! is better because at least I don't have to put up with the bloatware that I was forced to use with my Dell OEM (CT4780) card.

- Crystal CS4237 : I once had a laptop (Dell Latitude CP M166ST) with this sound chipset, worked on Windows but not on DOS, therefore the laptop was useless for gaming, of course, this was before I knew about the VOGONS Vintage Driver Library so I didn't know DOS drivers existed for this chip, but they're intended for the CS4232 so IDK how well they would've worked.
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby heretic » 2017-12-31 @ 09:56

I never had a really bad sound card in my pc, but to mention the worst of what i had: integrated Soundmax on Asus M2N motherboard. It had problems with several games, like for example Oblivion was stuttering pretty bad in given moments, when alot of sound samples were played at a time.
As of the best card its AWE64 - nothing much to say here, superb card for late DOS games
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby chinny22 » 2017-12-31 @ 16:42

Best card
Dos- AWE32.
Always wanted one growing up, and when I finally got one few years ago I wasn't disappointed.
True OPL, SB16, and Doom sounds nice (Not as nice as external MIDI, but they were never meant to be mainstream)

Windows- Audigy 2 ZS
Upgraded the on board Audio PCI ES1370 to a Live! growing up and wouldn't say I was disappointed but wasn't blown away, like above the Liveware 2 and Liveware 3 drivers for Windows were bloated mess.
Also only got the ZS few years ago and the clean sound and good support in my eras of interest Win98-XP) I like it so much they go in almost all my Windows PC's.

I'll forgive a lot of the cards mentioned above, as mostly they are onboard/cutdown, fine for their intended use as basic windows sounds and not really meant for gaming (It's like criticising onboard Intel graphics for poor 3d performance) but I do hate Soundmax/AC97 cards as generic drivers never seem to work so you have to dig around and find exact matching one to that motherboard!
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby JayCeeBee64 » 2017-12-31 @ 18:23

Of all the sound cards I've owned over the years, two in particular are my personal best: Sound Blaster Pro 2 and Gravis Ultrasound ACE.

They SB Pro 2 just works, no buts, ifs or whens; configure any game or application to use its assigned resources and that's it. Yes its noisy and a bit dull, but I'm fine with that.

The GUS ACE is awesome. It was when I bought it in 1996, and it still is today. Games like OMF 2097, Pinball Fantasies and Jazz Jackrabbit sound incredible. It is a bit temperamental at times, but I've owned mine long enough to know what to do and get it to behave again.

My absolute worst was an Aureal Vortex 2 SQ2500. I bought it at a computer show in 2000 and gave me nothing but trouble - system crashes/freezes, black/blue screens, skipping/clipped sfx. It did this with three different motherboards, that told me I had a bum card. The seller gave me a refund but refused to take it back, so I tossed it at the local recycle center.
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby andreja6 » 2018-1-01 @ 22:23

JayCeeBee64 wrote:Of all the sound cards I've owned over the years, two in particular are my personal best: Sound Blaster Pro 2 and Gravis Ultrasound ACE.

They SB Pro 2 just works, no buts, ifs or whens; configure any game or application to use its assigned resources and that's it. Yes its noisy and a bit dull, but I'm fine with that.

The GUS ACE is awesome. It was when I bought it in 1996, and it still is today. Games like OMF 2097, Pinball Fantasies and Jazz Jackrabbit sound incredible. It is a bit temperamental at times, but I've owned mine long enough to know what to do and get it to behave again.

My absolute worst was an Aureal Vortex 2 SQ2500. I bought it at a computer show in 2000 and gave me nothing but trouble - system crashes/freezes, black/blue screens, skipping/clipped sfx. It did this with three different motherboards, that told me I had a bum card. The seller gave me a refund but refused to take it back, so I tossed it at the local recycle center.



I've heard things about Creative cards being noisy, I've never actually owned one. As a kid i had the glorious PC speaker music, all the way until I got my XP machine. That startup sound was the first time I've heard a computer make anything but beeping noises.

As for the Aureal Vortex, considering he refused to take it back, I'm sure he knew it was faulty!
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby elod » 2018-1-02 @ 21:00

I only bought new sound cards twice.

Best
The most memorable was the first (bought after a homemade Covox): Yamaha 71x. I think I played a couple őt hours of Wolf3D straight away.

Worst
After moving to PCI I got a PCI 64 (Ensoniq rebrand) and a Fortimedia, do not remember the precise order but both were bad and went back to the store. I ended up with a Live Value 4.1 that I used until I moved to my AM2+ system. This was one piece of hardware that I used for more than 10 years. My TV tuner is second, almost as long as well.
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby SteveC » 2018-1-02 @ 21:19

Worst - OPTi 931 - used to install them on new PC builds back in the day. Could be a nightmare to get working at times and the sound was poor. (Runner up was the SB Live due to the poor software as others have mentioned)
Best - Soudblaster AWE32 - just used to work flawlessly with anything you threw at it.
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Re: Best and worst sound cards you have ever owned?

Postby leileilol » 2018-1-02 @ 23:38

AD1816 might be the worst. Some of those OPTi/CS423x WSS-compatibles were pretty bad too (even if they sound great on paper, some of them had the worst dacs and amplification)

And while it's not techincally a card.....of all the modern motherboad audio hardware, i'd have to say nVidia nForce3 is the worst.
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