OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

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

OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby kirikl » 2019-1-09 @ 05:16

Hello! I finally connected KORG TR-Rack + Yamaha MU100 + ROLAND MT32 to a computer and keyboard to play some music :) Also can add Yamaha PSR-36 (FM). All instruments has different configuration and list of sounds.
Just thought about standalone box like those Sound modules I mentioned before but FM, yes 128 sounds + drums.

I don't like desktops like mine. I build desktop based on AMD K6-2+, but that creature generates a lot of sh*t out of sound card and I don't know what is the reason, is it sound card itself or the whole thing with all those cracking/tracking sounds. I packed that machine, loaded with all possible things, USB 2.0/Internal/external cards, two sound cards Sound Blaster 16 (with real OPL!) and Live!, but the whole thing is just too big and clumsy. Supposed to be my main entertainment and hobby machine with old games operating from MS-DOS 6/Win 3.1/Win NT 4/Win 98 SE/Win XP and it is like that crazy... I even bought ROLAND MT32 for that! but... I think I'm gonna pass on idea of having that desktop in the future. I'm pretty satisfied with Boxer application on Mac, it is emulating even MT-32 pretty accurate too. Ok enough with lyrics....

So the subject is STANDALONE OPL3 FM module with 128 sounds and drums on 10 channel. Not just random FM module which is on the market.
Any ideas?
I think my best bet is https://ebay.us/aRAw1E
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby kode54 » 2019-1-09 @ 05:24

OPL3 doesn’t have MIDI support. You need a MIDI controller, and a set of FM instruments. That device, as expensive as it is, sounds like exactly that. But does it have any flexibility over which MIDI features you get, or which instruments you can use? Does it even detail what it does?
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby Tiido » 2019-1-09 @ 05:37

Almost all the MIDI based FM chip stuff is useful for music making only, they don't do General MIDI or other standards. You typically have a load of parameters that get controlled over MIDI to make the sounds you want, how well you can achieve stuff depends very much on your music software. A game isn't gonna get much more than "fart" sounds out such a device lol.
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby yawetaG » 2019-1-09 @ 06:25

kode54 wrote:OPL3 doesn’t have MIDI support. You need a MIDI controller, and a set of FM instruments. That device, as expensive as it is, sounds like exactly that. But does it have any flexibility over which MIDI features you get, or which instruments you can use? Does it even detail what it does?


At a quick glance it doesn't say it's General MIDI compatible.

Most professional FM instruments will do MIDI, but not General MIDI. Instead, they use their own MIDI implementation for the purpose of programming the FM synth concerned and making music.

The closest way to get what kiriki wants is to use a Yamaha-based soundcard and use Yamaha's General MIDI-to-FM Windows MIDI driver (if you can find it*). That will translate GM patches to data usable on a OPL3, but only on Win 9x AFAIK.

* It's installed on a system I got from Japan, but I don't know how to extract the driver from Windows 98...
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby LunarG » 2019-1-09 @ 08:04

I honestly have to say that I don't understand the purpose of configuring an OPL synth as a GM device. Emulating "natural" instruments is what the OPL chip does worst. It can create wonderful synthesizer sounds, but trying to get it to make the sound of a french horn for example, is an exercise in futility.
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby kirikl » 2019-1-10 @ 03:35

Thank you guys. The purpose is to make exactly what you can make with Desktop (any sound blaster with OPL) thru midi but just the device itself. I discovered my sound blaster 16 making as much as possible noise out of the output. It is just horrible.
So yes FM 128 sounds, exactly as it on Creative FM synth or ESS FM synth but the box of 3-5 inches. not dinosaur with tons of sh&t out of the cable.
Again, you probably never tried to use Laptops (which could be alternative) for playing keyboard with it. It is a pain, cause all of them at this point are slow. Laptop which is responsive to USB-MIDI (for playing and sending data = almost no latency) doesn't have FM already at all and it is P4 (almost all P3 laptops too) and above era.... Anything below P3 which could have FM in it is slow due the hardware-software connection and I know zero laptops with MIDI IN/OUT connections. Again, thank you, no desktops.
I think that link I found is the best bet for what I want.

P.S. I honestly don't understand what is the problem to make Midi IN -> Creative FM Synth. It works all the time on desktops. When I said General Midi I meant List of the sounds, not wavetable of any kind. Even MT-32 is wavetable but not GENERAL MIDI. Also all of modern FM is not what I want in this case for the same reason. Maybe I could create my own bank of 128 sounds hypothetically by just setting each sound to the bank, but it is too much and those are expensive. I'm not that fanatic to do that kind of job :) and those instruments are expensive, although that device I mentioned here is not cheap either :D
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby yawetaG » 2019-1-10 @ 05:10

kirikl wrote:P.S. I honestly don't understand what is the problem to make Midi IN -> Creative FM Synth. It works all the time on desktops. When I said General Midi I meant List of the sounds, not wavetable of any kind. Even MT-32 is wavetable but not GENERAL MIDI. Also all of modern FM is not what I want in this case for the same reason. Maybe I could create my own bank of 128 sounds hypothetically by just setting each sound to the bank, but it is too much and those are expensive. I'm not that fanatic to do that kind of job :) and those instruments are expensive, although that device I mentioned here is not cheap either :D


FM MIDI implementations don't work that way. What you're looking for is a device with FM presets that are MIDI triggerable via the GM spec (128 patches + bank 10 for drums), which AFAIK doesn't exist. However, most FM synths have preset patches, even the really professional ones. They just don't follow the order defined in General MIDI, which is just a limited subset of the full MIDI specification. Most FM synths with MIDI are 4-operator or 6-operator (some 8 -operator), not OPL3 2-operator. The MIDI implementations (if present) are usually unique for a family of FM synths, e.g. DX7 and friends (6-op), TX-81Z and compatibles (4-op). Perhaps the easiest to do is drums on channel 10: Get a MIDI module with FM drums, set that module to react to channel 10.
But look at 1980s Yamaha PSR and PSS keyboards really; some have MIDI and use chips that were also used on SB cards, some also have FM drums. Also, they are cheap (secondhand, of course) - under 100 dollar usually. I'll PM you a list of models to avoid prices going through the roof.

Edit: If you don't mind 4-op, get a Yamaha FB-01.
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby root42 » 2019-1-10 @ 10:36

There is a project which does roughly what you want:

http://www.ucapps.de/midibox_fm.html

This is basically a synth module with MIDI in/out and the YMF262 at its core. You can program different soundbanks into it and use it to play MIDI music.
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby kirikl » 2019-1-24 @ 04:49

Well. I decided to run OPL3 through Sony Picturebook laptop! Surpassingly Yamaha's FM OPL (don't know exactly which one? in there! DS-XG chip. Hope it is not cheap modificatio) is connected directly to my awesome iConnectMIDI4+. And now I'm able to play all my hardware with one keyboard connected to there. It is tiny laptop, exactly what I need :) I hope it is full FM in there! Connected this picture book to big display! Nostalgie!
It's funny that Cakewalk is super slow! latency is terrible. So you can't use CakeWalk for realtime playing. Unless maybe USB 2.0 card? But what I tried causes Kernel panic! So.. anyway... I use Midisoft Studio 4, perfect!

I wish I can do some blocks like arduino pc or something and put OPL chip there and MIDI controller and boom! haha. But... well..
I was in computer store here in Richardson TX. Big store... tons of sh&t. A lot of that blocks for arduino pc
Well, my choice is small laptop for now, which have FM still but able to handle USB-MIDI without latency. So perfect laptops is from PII era. That one is Crusoe, unknown beast for me!
I still hope FM chip is good there, I compared it with ESS FM from REX 5570 PCMCIA card (running from my 486 laptop and Windows 95) and, and.... REX is so bad! Sound itself is clear from output, but that OPL doesn't have key sensitivity! So just like those first PSRs from 80s, terrible!

Thank you everyone! That device doesn't worth it for me. I juts thought it exists and I just don't know about it.
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby kirikl » 2019-1-24 @ 07:24

yawetaG wrote:
kirikl wrote:P.S. I honestly don't understand what is the problem to make Midi IN -> Creative FM Synth. It works all the time on desktops. When I said General Midi I meant List of the sounds, not wavetable of any kind. Even MT-32 is wavetable but not GENERAL MIDI. Also all of modern FM is not what I want in this case for the same reason. Maybe I could create my own bank of 128 sounds hypothetically by just setting each sound to the bank, but it is too much and those are expensive. I'm not that fanatic to do that kind of job :) and those instruments are expensive, although that device I mentioned here is not cheap either :D


FM MIDI implementations don't work that way. What you're looking for is a device with FM presets that are MIDI triggerable via the GM spec (128 patches + bank 10 for drums), which AFAIK doesn't exist. However, most FM synths have preset patches, even the really professional ones. They just don't follow the order defined in General MIDI, which is just a limited subset of the full MIDI specification. Most FM synths with MIDI are 4-operator or 6-operator (some 8 -operator), not OPL3 2-operator. The MIDI implementations (if present) are usually unique for a family of FM synths, e.g. DX7 and friends (6-op), TX-81Z and compatibles (4-op). Perhaps the easiest to do is drums on channel 10: Get a MIDI module with FM drums, set that module to react to channel 10.
But look at 1980s Yamaha PSR and PSS keyboards really; some have MIDI and use chips that were also used on SB cards, some also have FM drums. Also, they are cheap (secondhand, of course) - under 100 dollar usually. I'll PM you a list of models to avoid prices going through the roof.

Edit: If you don't mind 4-op, get a Yamaha FB-01.


Well yeah, I know they are in different order. Somehow inside of old soundcards they are in GM order, that what I asked yes. Exact question about FM synth standalone, GM order. I have PSR-36, I don't think it is in GM order there...
Anyway, that laptop is making a deal I think :) I will test last laptop Sony Vaio with Creative FM synth and compare the sounds. ESS FM goes down.... I don't like that sounds and no sensitivity
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby Scali » 2019-1-24 @ 08:28

yawetaG wrote:Edit: If you don't mind 4-op, get a Yamaha FB-01.


Oh yes... There's a Japanese guy on YouTube who converted some Sega game music to the FB-01.
I happened to come across it when I was looking for IBM Music Feature Card resources (an ISA card that is basically a MIDI interface and FB-01 in one).
Check it out:
https://youtu.be/wDymft6Jn5w
https://youtu.be/ZHc_Tll4yOg
https://youtu.be/jwymDbzZvzg
https://youtu.be/TFHioNHM6Zk

He gave me the MIDI files, and I ran them through my IMFC on my 286, and it worked great, sounded exactly the same.

The FB-01 only has 8 note polyphony. But they had an interesting solution for that: you can use two FB-01s in parallel. Send the same MIDI data to both, and have one process the even notes, and the other process the odd notes.
That way you double the polyphony to 16, which gives you a pretty decent FM MIDI synth.
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby SirNickity » 2019-1-24 @ 19:19

I'm not sure I totally understand what you're trying to do. Generally, a synthesizer has two purposes, depending on who's using it:

1) You're trying to use it as a sound (music) device in games, and want the most authentic playback possible. Either you have to find old hardware and old software and make it all work, or you're trying to get old software to work on new hardware -- which is an entirely different set of problems.

If this is what you're trying to do, then MIDI has nothing to do with it. The OPL synths on old soundcards (Ad-Lib, SB, and various clones) were not MIDI devices. They were programmed as a raw synthesizer. True, the music data may be stored as MIDI in the game, but the game's music driver took those MIDI commands and translated them to OPL instructions. This is process that is unique to each driver, if not each game, so no external box can do this correctly unless it is exposed to the computer the exact same way an actual Ad-Lib / SB is -- raw I/O and IRQs, etc. MIDI won't work. It's the wrong protocol for this job.

And then there's the other purpose of a synth...

2) You want to write your own music, or edit existing MIDI to use your own synths. (Or just fool around with it and make noises that entertain you. No judgment.)

In this case, you CAN do this with MIDI, but it won't be General MIDI. GM is a very rigid specification that defines a list of specific "instruments" that, as said above, the OPL will not emulate very well. FM synths like the OPL are best used to produce tones that lend themselves to simple operators. Bells, chimes, pads, etc. MIDI (not GM, but just "MIDI") is loosely defined enough that you can use any of its generic controllers as a way to program the OPL registers in any way you see fit. The mapping of OPL registers to MIDI commands would have to be defined by the implementation of such a device, and then you could go to town twisting knobs and seeing what kind of sounds come out.

I actually have two OPL ICs (and DACs) sitting on my workbench to do basically this. I salvaged them from crappy sound cards that were being disposed of, figuring I might locate a round-tuit some day and build a frankenstein box like that. I'm not a huge OPL fan, and have a DX7 already if I just really feel like messing with FM, but you know... tinkerers gonna tinker.


One more thing... I used MIDI software back in the 486 / Pentium days that ran plenty fast. I used Voyetra's MIDI Orchestrator for years. Very simple to use, lightweight, and adequate for basic stuff. I also had a copy of Cakewalk Gold.... I wanna say.... 4.0? It came with my Awe32 I think. I could be remembering this wrong, I've slept since then. I used that up until Cakewalk 6 or 7, I think, and then 9, and then Sonar, and then gave up on MIDI for a while when I started doing multitrack audio on Cool Edit Pro / Adobe Audition. Recently took it up again using Studio One.
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby yawetaG » 2019-1-24 @ 21:39

kirikl wrote:Well. I decided to run OPL3 through Sony Picturebook laptop! Surpassingly Yamaha's FM OPL (don't know exactly which one? in there! DS-XG chip. Hope it is not cheap modificatio) is connected directly to my awesome iConnectMIDI4+. And now I'm able to play all my hardware with one keyboard connected to there. It is tiny laptop, exactly what I need :) I hope it is full FM in there! Connected this picture book to big display! Nostalgie!<snip>
I still hope FM chip is good there, I compared it with ESS FM from REX 5570 PCMCIA card (running from my 486 laptop and Windows 95) and, and.... REX is so bad! Sound itself is clear from output, but that OPL doesn't have key sensitivity! So just like those first PSRs from 80s, terrible!

Thank you everyone! That device doesn't worth it for me. I juts thought it exists and I just don't know about it.


If you're playing the DS-XG-based integrated sound using a General MIDI instrument mapping, I strongly suspect you're actually playing its integrated XG (Yamaha-specific extended General MIDI) sound set, not the FM synth part of the chip. Which also explains why it sounds much better than the REX 5570 FM card...

FM, whether 2-operator, 4-op, or 6-op, will always have a particular type of sound, somewhat fuzzy...

If you use General MIDI-compatible sequencer software, it is sometimes possible to have it convert the data to OPL3-compatible instructions, but you need to explicitly set up the sequencer to do so and have the correct MIDI drivers installed.
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby cyclone3d » 2019-1-25 @ 05:24

The Sony laptops with the DS-XG chips pretty much all have the YMF744 chip in them. The newest ones that have the Yamaha chip in them are the AC97 version and it is unclear if they have OPL3 or not as I don't have one.

I do have a good selection of the older ones that have the YMF744 chip in them. They have OPL3 and it is genuine as Yamaha is the maker of the real OPL chips.

The other great thing about them is that the chips are hardwired with PC/PCI / SB-Link so you have full DOS compatibility for games because it works just like a real ISA card as far as the DMA channels go.

Are you sure you are running it through OPL and not through the MIDI synth?
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby kirikl » 2019-1-25 @ 05:41

cyclone3d wrote:The Sony laptops with the DS-XG chips pretty much all have the YMF744 chip in them. The newest ones that have the Yamaha chip in them are the AC97 version and it is unclear if they have OPL3 or not as I don't have one.

I do have a good selection of the older ones that have the YMF744 chip in them. They have OPL3 and it is genuine as Yamaha is the maker of the real OPL chips.

The other great thing about them is that the chips are hardwired with PC/PCI / SB-Link so you have full DOS compatibility for games because it works just like a real ISA card as far as the DMA channels go.

Are you sure you are running it through OPL and not through the MIDI synth?


Yes I think. It is saying PCI Yamaha FM (So I guess i is real OPL, I just cannot see OPL chip, I think it is built in in one big chip then? I have exact notebook for parts. I can disassemble at take a look inside )

What do you mean MIDI synth? I'm running it through YAMAHA PCI FM as it says there. It doesn't have any wavetable though! or at least those drivers I put there. I downloaded YMF drivers for dos, put IRQ and |Load TSR and IT WORKS!!! OPL worked before, but after that drivers 16bit audio works! I'm impressed. I remember Toshiba with WSS, but SB emulation was through BIOS. and here just on/off sound in BIOS. I have Sony PIII laptops, but they already doesn't have any FM, crappy AC97...
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby yawetaG » 2019-1-25 @ 06:15

kirikl wrote:
cyclone3d wrote:The Sony laptops with the DS-XG chips pretty much all have the YMF744 chip in them. The newest ones that have the Yamaha chip in them are the AC97 version and it is unclear if they have OPL3 or not as I don't have one.

I do have a good selection of the older ones that have the YMF744 chip in them. They have OPL3 and it is genuine as Yamaha is the maker of the real OPL chips.

The other great thing about them is that the chips are hardwired with PC/PCI / SB-Link so you have full DOS compatibility for games because it works just like a real ISA card as far as the DMA channels go.

Are you sure you are running it through OPL and not through the MIDI synth?


Yes I think. It is saying PCI Yamaha FM (So I guess i is real OPL, I just cannot see OPL chip, I think it is built in in one big chip then? I have exact notebook for parts. I can disassemble at take a look inside )


The DS-XG is a Yamaha XG-compatible chip with an integrated OPL3 in the same chip (AFAIK). See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamaha_YMF7xx#DS-XG_family

What do you mean MIDI synth? I'm running it through YAMAHA PCI FM as it says there. It doesn't have any wavetable though! or at least those drivers I put there. I downloaded YMF drivers for dos, put IRQ and |Load TSR and IT WORKS!!! OPL worked before, but after that drivers 16bit audio works! I'm impressed. I remember Toshiba with WSS, but SB emulation was through BIOS. and here just on/off sound in BIOS. I have Sony PIII laptops, but they already doesn't have any FM, crappy AC97...


Your posts are rather confusing to me.

In your other post you wrote you were using it with your iConnectMIDI4, which is an external MIDI connection box for connecting MIDI gear together, hence I assumed you were using a MIDI controller keyboard with it. Now you're using it in DOS for sound in games...

The FM portion will work properly for games set up to use FM, that's logical. But you can't use it with a MIDI controller keyboard that sends according to the GM spec, because (as SirNickity explained) the OPL portion will not listen to GM MIDI commands; the keyboard will control the XG (GM) portion of the chip instead. Quoted from the Wikipedia page:

The XG synthesizer on the DS-XG series features not only basic XG System Level 1, but also some of the MU-50 additions, and can reproduce most musical data previously programmed for the popular DB50XG daughterboard. YMF7x4 cards shipped with a 2 MB bank of 8-bit samples by default, which must be loaded into system RAM during booting. Neither the resolution nor content of the sample bank are hardware limitations. A user can load their own banks using third-party tools to further improve sound quality or completely change the set of instruments.[2] As with most other XG standard tone generators, YMF7x4 can switch itself into TG300B mode, which is an emulation of the Roland GS standard that allows adequate playback of musical data bearing the GS logo.

Legacy support includes an OPL3 FM synthesizer, Sound Blaster Pro (22 kHz 8-bit Stereo) emulation and MPU-401 compatible MIDI interface. In addition to OPL3, DOS applications running under Windows 9x/Me can also use the XG tone generator.


Also, perhaps you ought to read this:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frequency_modulation_synthesis
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_MIDI
and/or just Google the difference between controlling a FM synth and a General MIDI one :happy:

Programming a FM synth is generally much more involved than programming a GM one. Your PSR really isn't a good example of how complex it is, because it's a consumer-level keyboard with a limited set of changeable parameters.
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby kirikl » 2019-1-31 @ 07:43

yawetaG wrote:The FM portion will work properly for games set up to use FM, that's logical. But you can't use it with a MIDI controller keyboard that sends according to the GM spec, because (as SirNickity explained) the OPL portion will not listen to GM MIDI commands; the keyboard will control the XG (GM) portion of the chip instead. Quoted from the Wikipedia page:


That is confusing for me. 1.There is no wavetable at all in this laptop. 2.I just finished to play with all this "old time" sounds, reminded me of DOS gaming era. Maybe I will compose something for FM synth or will use it in my compositions. Since everything connected to Audio In to my main computer through Line mixer. iConnectMidi4+ the best USB Midi hub ever!
It supports MIDI commands: Notes - yes. Volume - yes, program change - yes, key velocity - yes, It is not reading pitch bend or other CC controllers and that is ok, I understand. But it is better then PSR-36 and it is better then that ESS-FM in PCMCIA REX weird card with no key velocity, similar to PSR-36, except sounds are different
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby kirikl » 2019-1-31 @ 07:57

I was not correct. Pitch bend also fine. Maybe I'm wrong and it's MidiSoft Studio is doing all that stuff, but... Even pitch is working. And my light controller on Roland A49 is controlling Pitch and volume
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby yawetaG » 2019-1-31 @ 08:02

From your own post on January 24th:

kirikl wrote:Well. I decided to run OPL3 through Sony Picturebook laptop! Surpassingly Yamaha's FM OPL (don't know exactly which one? in there! DS-XG chip. Hope it is not cheap modificatio) is connected directly to my awesome iConnectMIDI4+. And now I'm able to play all my hardware with one keyboard connected to there. It is tiny laptop, exactly what I need :) I hope it is full FM in there! Connected this picture book to big display! Nostalgie!


You know what? I give up, because I honestly have no idea what you're doing, with what machine, etc.

Perhaps if you want help you should start by writing consistent and logical posts that you don't contradict a few days later... :-/
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Re: OPL3 standalone box/device with MIDI IN/OUT?

Postby kirikl » 2019-1-31 @ 08:16

yawetaG wrote:From your own post on January 24th:

kirikl wrote:Well. I decided to run OPL3 through Sony Picturebook laptop! Surpassingly Yamaha's FM OPL (don't know exactly which one? in there! DS-XG chip. Hope it is not cheap modificatio) is connected directly to my awesome iConnectMIDI4+. And now I'm able to play all my hardware with one keyboard connected to there. It is tiny laptop, exactly what I need :) I hope it is full FM in there! Connected this picture book to big display! Nostalgie!


You know what? I give up, because I honestly have no idea what you're doing, with what machine, etc.

Perhaps if you want help you should start by writing consistent and logical posts that you don't contradict a few days later... :-/


Subject was about standalone device allowing me to play/send info to and from it. So I decided to use small laptop for that. I'm good with this for now and understand that device (FM synth set to 128 sounds + 10 drum channel) doesn't exist, which is ok. I think subject could be closed.
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