Tecmar ARPA sound card

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

Tecmar ARPA sound card

Postby bristlehog » 2018-1-11 @ 18:07

I've just got one. It's a 1989 variant of IBM M-ACPA card.

Image

Seems it uses interrupts and shared memory window (no DMA). Any ideas on how to run it under DOS? Anybody knows anything?

I've seen these resources:

http://ps-2.kev009.com/ohlandl/sound/ACPA.html
http://ohlandl.ipv7.net/sound/ACPA.html

Thing is that I've got seemingly different version with other jumpers and switches. If someone had the experience or the ideas I'd hear that to simplify the process of getting acquainted with this long-forgotten and unpopular card.

Update: I managed to run the card almost without trouble. It supports PCM sound and some Adlib-like synthesis for MIDI music.

Recordings
Last edited by bristlehog on 2018-1-13 @ 05:58, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Tecmar ARPA sound card

Postby cyclone3d » 2018-1-11 @ 19:15

I recently acquired one of these as well but have yet to test it.

I had another one over 20 years ago and ended up getting rid of it because I couldn't find any information whatsoever about it.

I'll post back here once I get it installed and tested.

Hint: The newest beta drivers are supposed to have Sound Blaster support.
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Re: Tecmar ARPA sound card

Postby bristlehog » 2018-1-11 @ 19:27

cyclone3d wrote:I'll post back here once I get it installed and tested.


You need to manually create a new MIDI map in your MIDI Mapper, if you want MIDI to work in Windows 3.1. It's described here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkk0YW_qd-Y
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Re: Tecmar ARPA sound card

Postby squiggly » 2018-1-11 @ 19:43

bristlehog wrote:It supports PCM sound and some Adlib-like synthesis for MIDI music.


I've never quite got the connection between FM Synthesis and Midi. If FM synth can be used to generate Midi sounds without a wavetable....why can't I select a wavetable-free card as General Midi in games? To do that, I *need* a wavetable device connected to the internal header or the gameport. FM synth sounds more like what you would use to generate sound effects.
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Re: Tecmar ARPA sound card

Postby cyclone3d » 2018-1-11 @ 20:30

squiggly wrote:
bristlehog wrote:It supports PCM sound and some Adlib-like synthesis for MIDI music.


I've never quite got the connection between FM Synthesis and Midi. If FM synth can be used to generate Midi sounds without a wavetable....why can't I select a wavetable-free card as General Midi in games? To do that, I *need* a wavetable device connected to the internal header or the gameport. FM synth sounds more like what you would use to generate sound effects.


Some of this is going to be sorta off-topic, but it is one of the things I am very interested in so here goes.

It really depends on the implementation. FM is addressed on a certain range of ports depending on if you have single or dual FM, while MIDI is addressed on a different range of ports.

There is a Windows driver software that allows you to use OPL3 as a MIDI device. I am guessing it would work if you play DOS games from within Windows but I haven't tried that yet.
http://www.midiox.com/html/fmsynth.htm

There are also midi players that use the FM to play the MIDI files.
http://vgmrips.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=1935
https://bisqwit.iki.fi/source/adlmidi.html

FM MIDI was a huge thing back in the day.
Go take a look at what the old FM synthesizers could do.. such as the Yamaha DX7 and DX7II range (I have a DX7II FD that was working but completely died for no obvious reason.. makes me sad).

I also have a Yamaha SY99. I've really got to make use of it once I get other projects finished.

Then take a look at what the Yamaha SY series can do. FM+Wavetable.. pure awesomeness.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamaha_SY99

And Yamaha's newest keyboards have gone back to FM+Wavetable after years of dropping FM. I really, really, really, really want a Yamaha Montage keyboard.
https://usa.yamaha.com/products/music_production/synthesizers/montage/index.html

Watch/listen to some music made with these keyboards... with a good sound setup to get the full effect.
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Re: Tecmar ARPA sound card

Postby bristlehog » 2018-1-12 @ 04:59

squiggly wrote:I've never quite got the connection between FM Synthesis and Midi.


FM synthesis is a type of synthesis that was adapted to play MIDI music when there was little to no sample-based synthesis.

squiggly wrote:If FM synth can be used to generate Midi sounds without a wavetable....why can't I select a wavetable-free card as General Midi in games?


You can't because Adlib and other FM sound cards aren't MIDI compatible. With MIDI-compatible cards you write MIDI commands into the card's ports and get music playing, like this:

Code: Select all
select instrument A on channel B
play note X with duration Y


FM synthesizers like Adlib don't know anything about instruments and MIDI, they only can synthesize sound with given parameters, so there is nowhere to send MIDI commands. After MIDI gained huge popularity with DOS game development, a workaround solution was invented: a middleware driver that accepts MIDI commands and converts them into FM synthesis commands using a table translating each General MIDI instrument into FM control information.

This is the way it works in, say, Warcraft. Game's music engine sends MIDI commands to a middleware music driver, and it cares not about how on earth the driver is going to make hardware play. If a General MIDI sound card is selected in setup program, then the middleware driver just passes the MIDI commands to the MIDI port and that's it. But if there's an FM sound card selected, then the middleware driver loads it's GM-to-FM bank and sends corresponding FM commands to Adlib's port.

For Warcraft, the mentioned middleware drivers are:

drivers\mpu401.mdi - General MIDI
drivers\adlib.mdi - Adlib
drivers\warcraft.ad - GM-to-FM bank for Adlib
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Re: Tecmar ARPA sound card

Postby squiggly » 2018-1-12 @ 07:12

Interesting, so it is very game specific. I suppose some games might make use of GM through the MIDI port if selected, but if FM is selected generate different music entirely (rather than converting GM to FM on the fly)?
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Re: Tecmar ARPA sound card

Postby bristlehog » 2018-1-12 @ 09:57

squiggly wrote:Interesting, so it is very game specific. I suppose some games might make use of GM through the MIDI port if selected, but if FM is selected generate different music entirely (rather than converting GM to FM on the fly)?


Of course. An example of a game that uses different music file formats for different hardware is UFO: Enemy Unknown. It has MIDI files for generic MPU-401 devices, but for Adlib and compatible sound cards it uses some files containing FM commands.

Some games, like aforementioned Warcraft, while using middleware drivers, nevertheless use different sets of MIDI files for different hardware. Warcraft has different MIDI files for GM and FM hardware, although the differences are not very expressed.

Offtopic: my, I'm so educated in the subject and so craving for attention! Perhaps I should write an article.
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Re: Tecmar ARPA sound card

Postby squiggly » 2018-1-12 @ 10:44

Wonderful thanks for the explanation!
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Re: Tecmar ARPA sound card

Postby bristlehog » 2018-1-12 @ 15:57

Recordings of Tecmar ARPA:

Doom - E1M1
Heretic - E1M1
Warcraft II - Human theme #2
Tyrian - Asteroid Dance Part 2
Dune II - Title
UFO: Enemy Unknown - Lose

It's obvious that I was mistaken calling it Adlib like synthesis. It's nowhere close to OPL, I have no idea what kind of synthesis it is. Alas, it seems that the MIDI driver doesn't support pitch bends.

Feel free to request music to render on Tecmar ARPA. Note that due to channel restrictions complicated tracks cannot be played properly - some instruments might be missing in tight passages.
Last edited by bristlehog on 2018-1-12 @ 18:10, edited 7 times in total.
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Re: Tecmar ARPA sound card

Postby cyclone3d » 2018-1-12 @ 16:37

That doesn't sound half bad.

What are the specs for the system you have it installed on? I am wondering if the card is speed sensitive or not.

In other news... I need MOAR ISA slots!
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Re: Tecmar ARPA sound card

Postby bristlehog » 2018-1-12 @ 16:41

cyclone3d wrote:What are the specs for the system you have it installed on? I am wondering if the card is speed sensitive or not.


Compaq Presario CDS 762 - with a Socket 4 Pentium 60 at the heart of it, and a built-in Sound Blaster compatible sound card - meaning that Tecmar ARPA doesn't conflict with one, at least on default settings.
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