WaveBlaster III - any interest?

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

WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby hard1k » 2019-4-29 @ 11:45

Hello everyone,

While the modern replicas and newly designed soundcards projects are on the rise, I've decided to come up with an idea that I've had for quite a long time already.
So, what would be the degree of interest for a possible newly made WaveBlaster III daughterboard based on the less known EMU8030 chip?
The chip originally belongs to the OEM family of Creative chips, here you can find its official mention: https://www.creative.com/oem/products/chips/emu8030.asp
Fortunately enough, they have also published its datasheet:
EMU8030.pdf
EMU8030 Datasheet
(112.46 KiB) Downloaded 14 times
While you can check its features by following the link above, the most important one would be its presumable native support for SF2 soundfonts - hey, that's what you've been after, haven't you?

E-MU itself produced at least 2 final designs based on this chip, those are the LONGboard 61 and SHORTboard 49 keyboards (source: http://www.creative.com/emu/media/press ... .aspx?id=2). They were quite expensive and are a bit rare nowadays.
Apart from E-MU/Creative I've found 2 other designs produced by a Taiwanese company MIDIPLUS (http://www.midiplus.com.tw/), those are its original S-Engine (http://www.midiplus.com.tw/S-Engine.htm) and the (improved?) S-Engine MKII modules, feel free to check its manual (as it isn't even mentioned on the MIDIPLUS website):
S-Engine MKII Manual V0.01.pdf
MIDIPLUS S-Engine MKII Manual
(1.56 MiB) Downloaded 8 times

Unfortunately I haven't found any NOS EMU8030 chips (I've checked eBay, AliExpress, Taobao - no luck). However what we do have, is some stock of those MIDIPLUS modules, they all tend to cost about $100 (a bit less for the original one, a bit more for the MKII), and the stock isn't that large - some 10-20 units discovered after the initial search.

So, some conclusions:
1. There is at least one integrated SF2 capable MIDI synth ready to be incorporated into a relatively not that complex design.
2. There are at least two readily available sound modules based on that chip that can be used for feature checking / prototyping / cannibalizing parts, including the EMU8030 itself.
3. The cost is rather high (the units cost about $100, so add at least $50 for a custom PCB and other possible parts, let alone the R&D).
4. The final product will be a niche one given its final price and scarce availability of parts.
5. However if the demand is high enough, we could address Creative directly to see if they still have some stock of those chips.

Given all of the above, should we go further?

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a hardware engineer, nor can I design it. What I can do is to fund the project up to some extent, and if the general interest is confirmed, I could contact some guys if they are willing to participate in the engineering phase. Moreover, if the interest is confirmed, I may choose this specific project as the one for my MBA studies, so I will kindly ask the interested public to respond to some questionnaires on the way. But if the idea is not that interesting, just disregard it and move along :)
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby BloodyCactus » 2019-4-29 @ 13:57

Given all of the above, should we go further?


Without having a supply of chips, whats the point?
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby hard1k » 2019-4-29 @ 14:16

20 happy users is a nice number too, especially if you are one of them - that's the point of any niche ("limited edition") product.
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby gdjacobs » 2019-4-29 @ 17:04

hard1k wrote:Hello everyone,

While the modern replicas and newly designed soundcards projects are on the rise, I've decided to come up with an idea that I've had for quite a long time already.
So, what would be the degree of interest for a possible newly made WaveBlaster III daughterboard based on the less known EMU8030 chip?
The chip originally belongs to the OEM family of Creative chips, here you can find its official mention: https://www.creative.com/oem/products/chips/emu8030.asp
Fortunately enough, they have also published its datasheet:
EMU8030.pdf
While you can check its features by following the link above, the most important one would be its presumable native support for SF2 soundfonts - hey, that's what you've been after, haven't you?

E-MU itself produced at least 2 final designs based on this chip, those are the LONGboard 61 and SHORTboard 49 keyboards (source: http://www.creative.com/emu/media/press ... .aspx?id=2). They were quite expensive and are a bit rare nowadays.
Apart from E-MU/Creative I've found 2 other designs produced by a Taiwanese company MIDIPLUS (http://www.midiplus.com.tw/), those are its original S-Engine (http://www.midiplus.com.tw/S-Engine.htm) and the (improved?) S-Engine MKII modules, feel free to check its manual (as it isn't even mentioned on the MIDIPLUS website):
S-Engine MKII Manual V0.01.pdf

Unfortunately I haven't found any NOS EMU8030 chips (I've checked eBay, AliExpress, Taobao - no luck). However what we do have, is some stock of those MIDIPLUS modules, they all tend to cost about $100 (a bit less for the original one, a bit more for the MKII), and the stock isn't that large - some 10-20 units discovered after the initial search.

So, some conclusions:
1. There is at least one integrated SF2 capable MIDI synth ready to be incorporated into a relatively not that complex design.
2. There are at least two readily available sound modules based on that chip that can be used for feature checking / prototyping / cannibalizing parts, including the EMU8030 itself.
3. The cost is rather high (the units cost about $100, so add at least $50 for a custom PCB and other possible parts, let alone the R&D).
4. The final product will be a niche one given its final price and scarce availability of parts.
5. However if the demand is high enough, we could address Creative directly to see if they still have some stock of those chips.

Given all of the above, should we go further?

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a hardware engineer, nor can I design it. What I can do is to fund the project up to some extent, and if the general interest is confirmed, I could contact some guys if they are willing to participate in the engineering phase. Moreover, if the interest is confirmed, I may choose this specific project as the one for my MBA studies, so I will kindly ask the interested public to respond to some questionnaires on the way. But if the idea is not that interesting, just disregard it and move along :)


The level of polyphony it supports is interesting. Could the RAM bank be dual ported for programming via an ESP or Cortex M chip instead of relying on transfers over the MIDI bus?
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby 640K!enough » 2019-4-29 @ 17:42

gdjacobs wrote:The level of polyphony it supports is interesting. Could the RAM bank be dual ported for programming via an ESP or Cortex M chip instead of relying on transfers over the MIDI bus?

The document doesn't mention support for a RAM bank, just flash ROM. I doubt there is anything that would prevent you from using SRAM for an uploadable bank, though. The RAM that is supported seems to be intended for effects processing use, rather than the instrument bank.

There is a built-in x86 MCU that also gets its firmware from the flash, so customisation is a possibility, with enough documentation, but that is where the problems begin. There isn't nearly enough detail in that one document to do anything remotely useful; no detail on the programming interface, registers or the standard firmware. I suspect Creative would have wanted an NDA, as indicated in that document, and a cheque for a considerable sum. Given that, and the small number of chips available, it hardly seems worth the effort. It's not like Creative is likely to be reasonable, in terms of pricing, even if there is an additional stash of chips somewhere.

Also, if it just ends up being a SoundFont-in-ROM daughterboard, how is it different from what has been done with the Dreamblaster X2?
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby hard1k » 2019-4-29 @ 18:03

Could the RAM bank be dual ported for programming via an ESP or Cortex M chip instead of relying on transfers over the MIDI bus?

As far as I get from the datasheet and manual, it doesn't have any RAM bank, only flash ROM based one.
I don't have any idea if you can get access to the flash ROM bypassing the EMU8030, but I actually have a slight hope that the chip might be able to flash the ROM itself, without any need for desoldering and using some specific flashing equipment. It would seem logical to make this possible via USB, but we're talking Creative here, so the human logic is irrelevant ITT :D

To sum up, if at least some interest gets confirmed, I guess I should buy one of those modules NIB and see what kind of USB support it has and what software I find bundled with it (if any). And then I'll open it up and we'll be able to investigate it even further...
But before that I'd like to get a group of interested people, at least 10 of them.

UPDATED:
It's not like Creative is likely to be reasonable, in terms of pricing, even if there is an additional stash of chips somewhere.

Well, look:
The datasheet for the chip is dated 2005.
The press-release from E-MU is dated 2010.
The Taiwanese website of MIDIPLUS is dated 2016 and already mentions the original S-Engine (but still no mention for the MKII).
The latest firmware update for the S-Engine is dated 2018.
The new website of MIDIPLUS (www.midiplus.com) is dated 2018 and doesn't mention any of the S-Engines.
So, deducting from that we can assume that at least between 2016 and 2018 there was some supply of EMU8030 chips, and that Creative provided the necessary support as MIDIPLUS could make and update the firmware.
The current price of NIB modules ($100) and their possible sold volumes (you won't see reviews in every corner of the Web, nor do you have any forum discussions) doesn't give grounds to suggest Creative's request for a big cheque... Moreover, Creative seems to be somewhat reasonable lately (just give a glance at all the Super X-Fi related hype - Creative's official comments, pricing, terms and conditions, etc. seem much more pleasant than they used to be, say, 10-20 years ago). What if MIDIPLUS just asked them for some chips back in 2015, signed an NDA, and Creative just granted them the access to their SDK/software for the already outdated and unnecessary chip designed back in 2005?.. And if that was the case (I doubt it, but still) - what if we try to address their PR department with some request of technical support for a group of hobbyists out there who in the end might give them some additional relevant circles on the water?..
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby 640K!enough » 2019-4-29 @ 18:44

Well, if you can generate the interest, I guess there is no harm in asking Creative. It might even be an interesting exercise. Given the apparent cost of the Cirrus Logic kits that others are using, I doubt we'll be pleasantly surprised.

Without the essential information from Creative, however, it would be a rather arduous task. One could theoretically dump the flash of an existing device, disassemble the software and work from there, but that sounds like an even more expensive project.
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby hard1k » 2019-4-29 @ 19:07

I've just had a nice online chat with them. The OEM contact form doesn't work, the developers' contact link doesn't work. On the chat they told me I'd better contact E-MU directly. So, I've dropped them a line to both contact e-mails, fingers crossed...
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby hard1k » 2019-4-30 @ 16:38

Just wanted to let you know that I've checked Amazon and eBay once again, and the stock for those MIDIPLUS modules is significantly higher than I estimated in my first post. I guess, some 50+ units are readily available for purchase with free shipping.

Meanwhile no response from Creative yet...
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby 640K!enough » 2019-4-30 @ 16:44

hard1k wrote:Meanwhile no response from Creative yet...

Not much of a surprise there. If they reply, it will be interesting to see what they have to say. They may simply ignore it, either because it's a community project or because they can't/won't deliver those parts or information.
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby BloodyCactus » 2019-4-30 @ 17:36

Business only want to sell 10k minimums anyway.
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby hard1k » 2019-4-30 @ 18:26

Lack of parts is not such a problem as the ready modules are available, and I believe they should have 95% of the needed BOM inside, so $100 for the parts is not that much.

The documentation and SDK is a problem, but that shouldn't be limited to 10k order, should it?..
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby 640K!enough » 2019-5-08 @ 04:26

No response so far, I expect?
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby hard1k » 2019-5-08 @ 04:28

Nope :(
But I've ordered an MKII module, it's on the way.
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby Salient » 2019-5-08 @ 05:07

I just noticed this thread now.
I would be more than interested in a Wave Blaster III!
MIDI comparison website: << Wavetable.nl >>
(Always) looking for: Any Wavetable daughterboard, MIDI Module (GM/GS/XG)
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby dogchainx » 2019-5-13 @ 22:49

Keeping an eye on this....
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby SirNickity » 2019-5-14 @ 22:29

I was wondering - if there's already a fully baked module using this chip - why the need to make a new one. (OK, form factor, DIY curiosity... I guess there's reason enough.) But then I read the manual. 64 GM sounds? Um. How is that GM then? It just stops halfway through the instrument list. Sorry, Soundtrack fans. No soup for you.

Seems interesting, but a little daunting, to recover the parts and start over with little in the way of support. At least a datasheet exists though. Kind of. Pins labeled "TDB" (to determined be?), no register list, no application diagrams or recommended support circuits (although it's nearly a drop-in MPU-to-DAC solution.) Would definitely have to RE firmware for it.
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby 640K!enough » 2019-5-15 @ 02:38

SirNickity wrote: But then I read the manual. 64 GM sounds? Um. How is that GM then? It just stops halfway through the instrument list. Sorry, Soundtrack fans. No soup for you.

I haven't looked at the manual for the existing module, but this is part of the appeal of creating a new board based on the chip. The theory is that the software can be customised, and any sufficiently decent SF2 bank can be used.

The "datasheet" was minimal at best. Likely, anything more will be under NDA, even if Creative/E-mu were ever to respond. We outsiders likely won't ever find out how much they wanted for the information, SDK and support or the parts. However, I suspect they'll quietly ignore the request.
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Re: WaveBlaster III - any interest?

Postby SirNickity » 2019-5-16 @ 20:28

There wasn't much manual to read. :-) Pretty simple device that just had a few superfluous features meant for musicians to use while practicing. The instrument limit took a perfectly functional device and crippled it. They even talk about using it for MIDI file playback. I suppose if you just have a large collection of piano and drum accompaniments it would be fine... heh.

Hm, well it's definitely interesting. Here's hoping they respond. I would dig having a portable SF2 module.
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