First post, by SirNickity
Story time, boys and girls. 😀
In the early 90s, when I was a young teenager, I had my very own AST Advantage 486SX/25 desktop PC. It was a bare-bones model -- 80MB HDD, 2MB RAM, no CD-ROM, no audio. But it was mine, and mine alone, and I loved it dearly. Now, I always have been, and always will be an audio nerd, so I managed to convince my dad into giving up the Sound Blaster Pro that he had bought for the family 386. And that was great. Right up until a friend of mine got a Pro Audio Spectrum 16.
This friend of mine had a gadget-loving dad, and he always had the latest and greatest. First person I knew that had a PC. First person I knew that had a CD-ROM. A laser printer. A tape backup. All the best toys. 😁 So, when I dropped by his house and he showed me his brand new 16-bit audio card playing MODs through the bundled Trackblaster Pro software, I was stunned. SO COOL. WANT. 😳
The SB16 was still brand new and more expensive (and didn't have that beautiful 256-color VGA MOD player!), so the PAS16 became the item of my desire. Top of the list. Soon -- I think as a Christmas present -- I got my very own*, and so dad got his SBPro back. (* Well, Pro Audio Studio 16, technically -- but same thing.) My dad eventually upgraded his computer with a Sound Blaster 16 multimedia kit -- SB16, Panasonic 2x CD-ROM drive, and new speakers. We had little wars over whose was better. He had the nice Yamaha Super SAPI FM driver for Windows, but mine was cooler because... well, it just was, OK? 😉
So here we are, years later, and I'm back into retro PCs. I'm planning out my spread of machines, and the cards I will put in each one, and figured -- hey, it would be cool to have each platform represent a point in time, and the hardware I would've had -- which changed as we swapped parts, and one of us upgraded and handed down the older stuff, so plus or minus a little fudge factor. Ergo, my 386 build will have the SBPro, the 486 build will have the SB16 and 2x CD-ROM (which I later inherited because it could rip audio CDs, while my CD-620E Hex Speed IDE drive could not), the Pentium will have a PAS 16 because I rocked that card until upgrading to a Cyrix 5x86 and then an AWE32....
I don't have my original PAS16 anymore, so I went to Ebay and found one. It arrived with a bit of corrosion on the bracket and the I/O ports. No problem, the bracket cleaned up nicely; the game port is a standard footprint and was easily replaced; the audio jacks are too -- except there are a few different common heights, and the exact match was NLA from the parts houses. So I got something close and figured I would enlarge the holes in the bracket to accommodate. Well, then I had no end of issues with the card.
For one, it took a while to resolve all the resource conflicts, but eventually I got Win95 to select a config where everything worked. Then I ran into the second problem.
The sound was barely audible, and running MUCH too fast. Some research indicated that the speed issue was a known side effect of not having a -5V rail. Sure enough, I was using an ATX supply with an AT converter cable. After securing a standard AT supply, that problem was solved.
The sound was STILL barely audible, though. Crackly, whisper quiet, heavily distorted. Huh. Maybe I need to replace the caps? So I did. (Need to swap them out again, though -- the larger values I had on-hand were too high on the voltage rating, and thus physically too large to fit in a single slot form factor.) No help -- sound was still quiet and terrible.
Then I read a post where someone mentioned off-hand that the PAS16 had an odd grounding scheme, where the audio ground was actually tied to the bracket and grounded to the chassis when the card was installed. Well, mine was still missing the bracket! So, I finally got around to testing this theory out.
Don't mind the disaster area of a workbench here...
In this case, I just used an alligator clip to ground the bracket fastening pad to the AT keyboard port. But, this was a hybrid AT/ATX board, and I was using another ATX supply without -5V, so I had to improvise:
Some day, I might create a short ISA card that back-feeds -5V from the -12V rail. It would come in handy in cases like this.
At any rate, I can now report that the PAS16 is FULLY functional, and works like a champ! 😎
I even sat down with some headphones and listened to the MOD files bundled with the Trackblaster Pro player. .... Now why would they include MODs that used looped samples if TBPro didn't handle loop points correctly? Some of those sample files sound awful with this player. I can say that, now, visualization has come a long way, and TBPro is not a very full-featured player. (4 channel limit? C'moooonnn...) I later discovered Inertia Player (which frequently sang out of tune), and then later Cubic Player (viva la CP!), and then MOD4Win, and WinAMP.... heck, I still enjoy MODs. 😀 So TBPro isn't quite the hardware seller it would've been for me back then, but it was definitely a step up from Modplay -- which is what I would've been using before.
All in all, there's not much about this card that is just better than a Sound Blaster of equivalent vintage. The allure of the PAS16 was definitely a period thing -- what was available for CD-quality PCM at the time, the onboard SCSI controller is a nice bonus, price point was good, etc. Still, I might have to build another PC just to keep this bad boy in use. (The Pentium has since inherited my old AWE32, and I think I like that better for late DOS and early Win95 games, so this will have to go elsewhere.)