VOGONS


First post, by jefklak

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Hi guys,

I bought an old PC case that had nostalgic values for me (AOpen HQ45) and it came with a motherboard and some cheap cards I threw out in favour for an Athlon-based board. I built a Win98SE PC like so many of you, but it turned out that the only PCI sound card I own is one that came with the case: the Sound Blaster PCI128, a cheap looking card that does the job well enough.

Since I had a Sound Blaster Live! back in the day, I am looking to upgrade. However, I can't find comparisons the PCI128 and the Live!. In my mind, the Audigy cards are for WinXP builds - or should they...

Is EAX the only advantage I'm getting out of it? Is it worth it? The external pin header is absent in my card, but I wouldn't know that to do with it anyway (yet). I don't have a fancy front bay (yet).
Thanks!

Reply 1 of 15, by cyclone3d

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You also get hardware acceleration with the Live! through X-Fi cards so your FPS will not suffer with sound enabled. EAX is super nice for the games that support it.

I would go with an Audigy 2 ZS or Audigy 4 Pro for the Win98 build. The Audigy 2 ZS and even the regular Audigy 2 card has much cleaner output than the Live! series. The Audigy 4 Pro has even cleaner output.

See here for 98SE support for the Audigy series:
How to get Audigy 2 or Audigy 4 support in Win98

Basically, you will need the Win98 VXD drivers from the install CD. vogonsdrivers.com should have most/all of them.

Theoretically, the Audigy 4 series should work in 98SE but I haven't tried it yet. Guessing the .inf file would need the PCI ID added for it to work.

That being said, the Audigy and Audigy 2 series is going to be a whole lot cheaper to get than an Audigy 4 Pro... and there is really no reason to get a regular Audigy 4 over an Audigy 2 ZS.

Yamaha YMF modified setupds and drivers
Yamaha XG resource repository - updated November 27, 2018
Yamaha YMF7x4 Guide
AW744L II - YMF744 - AOpen Cobra Sound Card - Install SB-Link Header
Epstein didn't kill himself

Reply 2 of 15, by SScorpio

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I feel EAX 3 is more of a WinXP thing as well. The original Audigy does have a little better sound than a Live, but you can use Audigy drivers with a Live and most of the benefits will work on the Live.

As for Live vs PCI128, the Live is an all-around better card. If the price is mostly the same maybe get an original Audigy rather than a Live I've seen them for around $15 shipped.

If you were asking about XP, I'd tell you to skip to an X-Fi.

Reply 3 of 15, by darry

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SScorpio wrote on 2020-11-02, 21:49:

I feel EAX 3 is more of a WinXP thing as well. The original Audigy does have a little better sound than a Live, but you can use Audigy drivers with a Live and most of the benefits will work on the Live.

As for Live vs PCI128, the Live is an all-around better card. If the price is mostly the same maybe get an original Audigy rather than a Live I've seen them for around $15 shipped.

If you were asking about XP, I'd tell you to skip to an X-Fi.

I agree and will add the following .

Also, if you don't like the Live's or the Audigy's analogue output, you can relatively easily connect a cable to the proper S/PDIF out header on the AUD_EXT connector that most Lives and Audigies have and route that to a cheap but decent external DAC .

A Live drive or Audigy drive may be an even better alternative if you use headphones .

As for XP and newer, an X-FI is a fantastic choice, again with an optional X-FI drive if you use headphones. This is still my current preferred card for listening to music, even in a newish Windows 10 machine .

Reply 4 of 15, by The Serpent Rider

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Win 9x - Audigy or Audigy 2.
Win XP - X-Fi.

P.S.
Audigy 4 Pro is just slightly fansier Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro with external IO block. Their external blocks are identical in terms of sound quality (headphone jack) and match installed DACs on Audigy 4 Pro itself.

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Reply 5 of 15, by maximus

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Don't be too quick to ditch the PCI 128. Sound cards with the ES1371 and ES1373 chips are awesome for Windows 98 builds. Creative's latest Sound Blaster PCI 128 drivers are super solid and seem to work on all cards with those chips, even on integrated sound. Signal quality is generally excellent and the 8 MB waveset sounds really, really good. DOS support is there too if you need it. Only real downsides are lack of hardware acceleration and EAX.

I've played around with some Sound Blaster Live! cards and was not impressed. Drivers were finicky, EAX was hit or miss, and worst of all, there was a LOT of noise on the analog output. Like a lot a lot. Had the same issue across multiple cards, on both Windows 98 and Windows XP. All these downsides are magnified when you compare the Live! against the Audigy 2 ZS, which is basically flawless.

Anyway, that's my two cents. Not only not worth the upgrade, but maybe even more of a downgrade.

PCGames9505

Reply 6 of 15, by cyclone3d

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I dunno, I had a PCI64 (which I cobbled together a driver set to make it a PCI128 because they were the same exact card except that Creative stuck an extra ID chip on the PCI128 so the PCI128 drivers wouldn't install on a PCI64). A couple months after I released my driver set, Creative released an "official" driver set that made the PCI64 a PCI128... Heh.

Pretty sure the only reason they released that driver set was because I exposed their little charade for what it was.

After that, I went to a Live! and it was way better for Windows games at least.

The PCI128 may be ok-ish for DOS digital audio but the FM emulation is super sucky just like all the Creative PCI cards.. except for probably the AWE64D / AWE64 PCI.

Yamaha YMF modified setupds and drivers
Yamaha XG resource repository - updated November 27, 2018
Yamaha YMF7x4 Guide
AW744L II - YMF744 - AOpen Cobra Sound Card - Install SB-Link Header
Epstein didn't kill himself

Reply 7 of 15, by Joseph_Joestar

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As someone who has used the SB128 PCI (CT4810) during the early 2000s, I can't recommend it in good faith.The software emulated EAX never sounded quite right to me. Sometimes, it would even bug out and get all scratchy. That never happened with my Live and Audigy2 ZS cards and their hardware EAX sounded richer overall.

As far as DOS compatibility is concerned, it's ok if you're mainly playing later games which use digital sound effects and music (e.g. Command & Conquer). Its emulated FM synth sounds absolutely terrible. The ECW files that are used for a General MIDI sound very bland to me, but that's personal preference. With the Live and Audigy, you can use soundfonts for General MIDI in DOS games (while running them under Win9x) which can be made to sound like this.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 8 of 15, by jefklak

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Joseph_Joestar wrote on 2020-11-03, 07:47:

As someone who has used the SB128 PCI (CT4810) during the early 2000s, I can't recommend it in good faith.The software emulated EAX never sounded quite right to me. Sometimes, it would even bug out and get all scratchy. That never happened with my Live and Audigy2 ZS cards and their hardware EAX sounded richer overall.

As far as DOS compatibility is concerned, it's ok if you're mainly playing later games which use digital sound effects and music (e.g. Command & Conquer). Its emulated FM synth sounds absolutely terrible. The ECW files that are used for a General MIDI sound very bland to me, but that's personal preference. With the Live and Audigy, you can use soundfonts for General MIDI in DOS games (while running them under Win9x) which can be made to sound like this.

Holy shit. That does it. I have the exact same card (CT4810) and that sounds horrible. I do have a 486 PC to play DOS games, but it can't run Duke3D smoothly (or the later DOOM engine games), so I was planning to use this one for my Duke needs. Thanks for sharing those links.
I know the Audigy 2 ZS card is one of "the best" to use in a win9x build but it doesn't really feel period-correct to me. It's not a huge issue, but I like to more or less have an accurate build. The 2 ZS is from 2003 and the 4 Pro from 2004 - I have my WinXP build for 2003 and up, and indeed did plan to install a X-Fi card in there since it's now running on embedded motherboard audio.

Original Audigy cards are cheaper than Live! ones from what I've found nearby, have less different versions that confuse me, and don't need me to cheat by installing Audigy drivers on a Live! card, so an original Audigy it is. And even if a Live! is technically more period-correct, I plan on upgrading my TNT2 to a GeForce3Ti200 anyway and that's also from 2001 😀

Reply 9 of 15, by jmarsh

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The upside of the SB128 PCI is that you get wavetable synthesis for any game that supports general midi/MPU-401, unlike the AWE32 and such that require explicit support. The poor fm synth isn't really all that important when most games support midi anyway.
It supports loading custom .ecw files under DOS as well, at least the drivers I'm using do; SBINIT is loading a 32MB library into XMS RAM.

Reply 10 of 15, by kolderman

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jmarsh wrote on 2020-11-03, 08:45:

The upside of the SB128 PCI is that you get wavetable synthesis for any game that supports general midi/MPU-401, unlike the AWE32 and such that require explicit support. The poor fm synth isn't really all that important when most games support midi anyway.
It supports loading custom .ecw files under DOS as well, at least the drivers I'm using do; SBINIT is loading a 32MB library into XMS RAM.

What's the actual dos gaming support like in general tho?

Reply 11 of 15, by Falcosoft

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jmarsh wrote on 2020-11-03, 08:45:

The upside of the SB128 PCI is that you get wavetable synthesis for any game that supports general midi/MPU-401, unlike the AWE32 and such that require explicit support.

Of course this is also true for the SB Live! which this topic is about, no none mentioned the AWE 32/64 before 😀.

jmarsh wrote on 2020-11-03, 08:45:

It supports loading custom .ecw files under DOS as well, at least the drivers I'm using do; SBINIT is loading a 32MB library into XMS RAM.

The problem is there are no 'custom' .ecw files. Even today the only available ones are from Ensoniq/Creative namely the 2MB/4MB/8MB GM/GS variants. So I seriously doubt your SBINIT loads a 32 MB version for you since such ecw soundfont never existed.

The reasons for the missing custom ecw format soundfonts are that on one hand its proprietary format was not properly documented and on the other hand the ecw format lost its relevance when Creative started to use SF2 format soundfonts.
http://johnengelmann.net/ecw/index.html
ECW Wavetable format available!? (SBPCI/Live)

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Reply 12 of 15, by darry

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jmarsh wrote on 2020-11-03, 08:45:

The upside of the SB128 PCI is that you get wavetable synthesis for any game that supports general midi/MPU-401, unlike the AWE32 and such that require explicit support. The poor fm synth isn't really all that important when most games support midi anyway.
It supports loading custom .ecw files under DOS as well, at least the drivers I'm using do; SBINIT is loading a 32MB library into XMS RAM.

Running under native DOS, AWE32/64 , Live! , Audigy, SB 128 all require a memory resident driver to trap General MIDI data sent to an MPU-401 and re-direct it to the actual synth (or softsynth in the case of the PCI cards). Maybe the PCI cards' solution is more compatible in practice (I honestly do not know), but none of those are ideal, IMHO.

When running DOS software under Windows 9x, the AWE32/64 can very reliably (IMHO) redirect MIDI data sent to an MPU-401 to the EMU8000. This actually works better than in native DOS (for DOS games that can run under Windows). I have not used an SB128 very much back in the day and do not remember much, but I doubt that it does better than the AWE32/64 under Windows for DOS games. At best, it probably equals it .

The AWE32/64 actual Sound Blaster 16 compatibility is obviously better than the SB128 's .

The ECW based softsynth is decent, AFAICR, and does not require RAM on the souncard, unlike an AWE32/64. I agree this can be a plus to the SB128 and other Creative PCI cards that use it under native DOS .

Reply 13 of 15, by The Serpent Rider

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This actually works better than in native DOS (for DOS games that can run under Windows).

If it's not 486 or old Pentium system (where performance for DOS is precious), easier to launch games with MIDI support from Win9x dosbox. Performance mitigation is negligible and I don't recall any problems with compatibility.

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Reply 14 of 15, by SScorpio

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One issue I ran into with a Live and Audigy 1 in Win98se is that the MPU401 always output to the card's MIDI synth. You can change the Soundfont, but you can't redirect to an external MIDI device.

I have a Diamond MX300 in the same machine and that card's control panel has the option to set the "DOSBox" MPU401 MIDI endpoint. This lets you set any Windows MIDI device so external synths work. And I'm guessing you could use MUNT and Virtual Sound Canvas. But I'm sticking with external synths for now.

Reply 15 of 15, by jefklak

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SScorpio wrote on 2020-11-03, 15:05:

One issue I ran into with a Live and Audigy 1 in Win98se is that the MPU401 always output to the card's MIDI synth. You can change the Soundfont, but you can't redirect to an external MIDI device.

I have a Diamond MX300 in the same machine and that card's control panel has the option to set the "DOSBox" MPU401 MIDI endpoint. This lets you set any Windows MIDI device so external synths work. And I'm guessing you could use MUNT and Virtual Sound Canvas. But I'm sticking with external synths for now.

Thanks for the remark, didn't know that, but I don't have or plan to buy an external MIDI device anyway.
If there ever will be one, it'll be for my DX2-66 which is equipped with an awesome SB16 CT2290 - including S2 daughter board 😀

I ended up buying an Audigy 1 and X-Fi at the same place. Will let you know in a few weeks how it sounds!