VOGONS


First post, by Newreality

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Hello! I’ve been researching around this board for the past few days as I am planning on building a PC specifically for All Sound Tracker (AST). A particular musician that I admire has been using this and I just love the sound of the FM synthesis and sample quality. I’m wondering if anyone could provide some insight to some of the points below. Here is my plan:

-Finding an industrial/rugged/portable PC 486 IBM compatible machine with at least 40 MHz and 1024kB RAM, Open ISA slot (I’m looking for the smallest and most portable build)
-Soundblaster AWE32 sound card (ideally with everything maxed out... RAM, Optical output?)
-Install Windows 95, DOS 2.6, Drivers for Soundblaster (I’m assuming this is easily available online/eBay)

In addition, does anyone have information on “Advance Wavetable Upgrade” for Windows 95? I’m curious what this will do...

I would love to know if there is anything else that would be essential to this music tracker PC. A personal note, highly interested in getting this built for me. However, I’m normally a Mac guy for music but I love everything technical so any information is appreciated.

Thank you for your time!

Reply 1 of 9, by xjas

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Neat! I did the same thing for Impulse Tracker, which can take good advantage of an AWE32/64 and has some extra features (hardware filters, MIDI output) that way. Here are a few pointers - YMMV, of course:

- Skip the 486 and go with a Pentium MMX or Pentium 2 with 64MB RAM - AllSound needs a lot of horsepower for a DOS app, and you'll get a ton of quality-of-life stuff like larger HDD support, onboard IDE controllers, you'll be able to use a better quality ATX PSU, etc. Plus the platforms are an order of magnitude cheaper AND more reliable.
- DOS, Windows, etc. are readily available, but don't ask for links here as that's still considered a legal grey area. Search around. I'd skip DOS 6.2+Win95 personally and either go with the latest FreeDOS or Win98SE (which includes DOS 7.) Drivers for every Sound Blaster card can be found on https://vogonsdrivers.com .
- If you can't find an AWE32, grab an AWE64 Value and use a SIMMConn from SerdaShop (search around here). It's probably the cheapest way to go & works great.
- You used to be able to pick up "Dolch Pac 6x" (64/65/etc.) luggable PCs for relatively cheap, they had expansion slots, built-in LCDs, a nice keyboard layout for tracking, and a handle... But the supply of those seems to have dried up. It's worth a search anyway. Keep in mind they had wildly different specs and not all of them had ISA slots, so be sure you know what you're getting. There are SOME older Thinkpads and Compaq/HP laptops with expansion bays that would take an ISA card, but space is super limited in those and I'm not sure a full-length AWE32 or 64 with a RAM upgrade would even fit.
Otherwise you might have to give up on the portable idea and just build a small tower you can bring with you if you need to. IMHO you don't lose that much, especially not if the machine lives 99% of its life in your studio.

Who's the musician you're referring to using AST? I'd love to check their stuff out. It's a really underused tracker and incredibly powerful.

twitch.tv/oldskooljay - playing the obscure, forgotten & weird - most Tuesdays & Thursdays @ 7 PM PDT. Bonus streams elsewhen!

Reply 2 of 9, by Newreality

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xjas wrote on 2020-07-30, 18:19:

Neat! I did the same thing for Impulse Tracker, which can take good advantage of an AWE32/64 and has some extra features (hardware filters, MIDI output) that way. Here are a few pointers - YMMV, of course:

- Skip the 486 and go with a Pentium MMX or Pentium 2 with 64MB RAM - AllSound needs a lot of horsepower for a DOS app, and you'll get a ton of quality-of-life stuff like larger HDD support, onboard IDE controllers, you'll be able to use a better quality ATX PSU, etc. Plus the platforms are an order of magnitude cheaper AND more reliable.

Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough response!
I thought AST didn’t work with AWE64? Either way, lots of evidence points to AWE32 being better as far as sound quality and FM operation. Is there any reason to specifically choose AWE64?

Reply 3 of 9, by Newreality

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xjas wrote on 2020-07-30, 18:19:

Who's the musician you're referring to using AST? I'd love to check their stuff out. It's a really underused tracker and incredibly powerful.

Autechre has been known but I didn’t confirm which songs. I know for a fact Dabrye used it exclusively for most of his music, specifically his album One Third.

Reply 4 of 9, by xjas

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AllSound Tracker works fine for me on my expanded AWE64 + FreeDOS + Pentium MMX 233. AFAIK there aren't really any incompatibilities between the AWE32 & 64.

The output quality on even the "cheap" AWE64 cards is substantially improved over most of the AWE32 range, which can be pretty noisy. AWE64 Golds are another level up in output quality but they go for a decent chunk of money (I wouldn't pay more than $100 for one, but that's up to you.)

In general, for the AWE32, the physically smaller cards with less individual chips on them tend to be less noisy. You can get nice ones but it's a crapshoot, and most/all of them have variants of the infamous "hanging MIDI note" bug. No AWE64s have that bug.

The Yamaha FM chip was replaced with a Creative "CQM" knockoff on all AWE64s and some (most?) AWE32s. You'll find endless threads on here with people moaning about how "inferior" the Creative chip is, while they play the same tired old '90s games with cheap general-MIDI conversions and really uninspired patch sets. If you're actually programming the FM synth itself, like you do in AST, you can make some really nice stuff out of both chips, but they are a bit different.

The few variants of the AWE32 with a Yamaha OPL3 chip are considered a bit of a holy grail, and are both hard to find and expensive. There's also the AWE64 Legacy project, which aims to make a modern "perfect" re-creation with everything you could want, but I'm not sure how far along they are and those are gonna be expensive when they're released.

Thanks for the artist suggestions! Had no idea Autechre did stuff on trackers, that's really cool. Will check both of those out. 😀

twitch.tv/oldskooljay - playing the obscure, forgotten & weird - most Tuesdays & Thursdays @ 7 PM PDT. Bonus streams elsewhen!

Reply 5 of 9, by Newreality

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xjas wrote on 2020-07-30, 18:55:

The few variants of the AWE32 with a Yamaha OPL3 chip are considered a bit of a holy grail, and are both hard to find and expensive. There's also the AWE64 Legacy project, which aims to make a modern "perfect" re-creation with everything you could want, but I'm not sure how far along they are and those are gonna be expensive when they're released.

Thanks for the artist suggestions! Had no idea Autechre did stuff on trackers, that's really cool. Will check both of those out. 😀

Thanks again! Knowing myself, I would be going after the holy grail. Noise doesn’t bother me so much. I’m more concerned about the 1/8 TRS output being scratchy haha. Do you have any more information on specific variants? (Model numbers?)
Money is no object in this case as I’ve set a healthy budget.

The Dolch looks great! Will be looking out for one.. I’m seeing them 500-1500$

Also, Machinedrum early music is all Impulse Tracker 😉

Reply 6 of 9, by Newreality

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I did find this info very useful:

“ Don't forget the SoundBlaster 32 model CT3930. This is actually the only card in the SoundBlaster 32/AWE32 family with a true discrete Yamaha YMF262. The CT2760, CT3900 and CT3980 all use an ASIC variant of the YMF262 found inside a custom Creative ASIC labeled CT1747. However, the sound is identical between the ASIC-based YMF262 found in the CT1747 and a discrete YMF262.
Also, some models of the SoundBlaster 32 and AWE32 have solder spots for the Yamaha YMF289, a low-power variant of the YMF262. This is true for the SoundBlaster 32 model CT3600 and the SoundBlaster AWE32 model CT3990. But Creative, being the cheap ******** they are, decided to leave the solder spots for the YMF289 and all support circuitry for the accompanying DAC, the YAC516, empty and use CQM instead, which doesn't reproduce OPL2 and OPL3 music with 100% accuracy. I'm still curious as to what would happen if you were to add in the YMF289, the YAC516 and all support circuitry to a SoundBlaster 32 model CT3600 or SoundBlaster AWE32 model CT3990. Would the output from the YMF289 be mixed with the output of CQM or will CQM be automatically disabled(I know some models of the SoundBlaster 16 with CQM have YMF289s on them, and I believe only the YMF289 outputs sound. CQM is left silent)?”

Reply 7 of 9, by xjas

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Newreality wrote on 2020-07-30, 19:10:

Thanks again! Knowing myself, I would be going after the holy grail. Noise doesn’t bother me so much. I’m more concerned about the 1/8 TRS output being scratchy haha. Do you have any more information on specific variants? (Model numbers?)
Money is no object in this case as I’ve set a healthy budget.

If you want the top of the line, I'd honestly still go with an AWE64 Gold (CT4390) and a SIMMConn upgrade to max out the RAM. You get discrete stereo RCA jacks instead of 1/8" TRS, and can add a simple header to get S/PDIF digital output, which sounds really nice. It really was the premium end for these cards, better than any AWE32 IMHO.

Or wait for the AWE64 Legacy, which was slated to cost around $200-300 IIRC? Check that thread for more info.

I don't know the model variants of the AWE32 off-hand, but if you search around there's a thread on here detailing them all.

BTW nothing wrong with grabbing a cheaper variant of both and figuring out which one you like better. AWE64 Values go for ~$10-$40 typically, or you can find them in used PCs sometimes. Adlib Tracker 2 comes with a ton of modules you can try out the FM chip with. Personally, I love how a lot of AT2 modules sound on an AWE64 with CQM chip, especially if you use the EMU8000 to add a bit of chorus+reverb. 😀 It's mostly down to personal preference there, though.

Newreality wrote on 2020-07-30, 19:10:

The Dolch looks great! Will be looking out for one.. I’m seeing them 500-1500$

Yeah, don't pay that. A few years ago you could pick them up for $50 all day long, although I think $200-300 would be reasonable for one in good condition if you really want it now & don't want to wait around for a bargain. There's an issue that a lot of those got scrapped for their keyboards, but that's another whole thread worth of brough-ha.

BTW Creative's DOS drivers for all the AWE range were a bit crap - overcomplicated and buggy. Check out UniSound for a modern alternative driver that's being developed here.

twitch.tv/oldskooljay - playing the obscure, forgotten & weird - most Tuesdays & Thursdays @ 7 PM PDT. Bonus streams elsewhen!

Reply 8 of 9, by Newreality

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Great info again! Haha thanks

I’m not super familiar with PC capabilities but what exactly is the compability with All Sound Tracker as far as processor chips? Would some later processors not work? I suppose I am trying to gauge whether I could purchase a new build retrofitted with ISA slots...

For that matter, I will need to look up Sound blaster AWE compatibility 😀

Honestly I couldn’t find much information about AST compatibility

Reply 9 of 9, by xjas

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AllSoundTracker should run just fine on anything that has an ISA slot - there's no CPU sensitivity as far as I know. Pentium 2, P3, Athlon, etc. should all work.

Note: I haven't personally tested machines over ~1 GHz but that's an unlikely scenario anyway. Issues would start showing up earlier than that.

twitch.tv/oldskooljay - playing the obscure, forgotten & weird - most Tuesdays & Thursdays @ 7 PM PDT. Bonus streams elsewhen!