VOGONS


First post, by ChrisTOTG

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Hey guys,

Edit: Lemme ask this question differently: What's the best DOS sound card that covers as much Sound Blaster (1/2/pro/etc) digital and FM territory as possible, while connecting to a real Roland MT-32?

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I have a Roland MT-32 and would like to use it on the new DOS gaming system I'm building. I plan to put Windows 98SE on it to make file transfer easy (e.g. I can use a web browser) but I'll boot to DOS when Windows gets in the way. Most of the games I plan to play are from the DOS VGA era.

I think a Sound Blaster AWE64 would be good, if it provides good support for the MT32. If not, what recommendations do you guys have? And what about adding CD audio for games such as World of Xeen?

PC build (in progress)

  • 440BX chipset with PCI, AGP and 1 or 2 ISA slots (not sure if I can get 2!)
  • Pentium 3 550MHz
  • Basic VGA (nothing special, just a basic card. No Voodoo, etc)
  • Roland MT-32. I may get an SC55 at some point, but no specific plans yet.

I'd sure love some sound card advice!

Reply 1 of 18, by kolderman

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Mt32 is better with intelligent mode mpu401.

Gold standard is a music quest clone/hardmpu paired with something like an awe64 (or any other good isa card). However you could also get one of the excellent modern isa cards like orpheus which include intelligent mode mpu. If you want genuine opl you often have to trade off digital sound quality. There are a of threads here about sound card trade offs, you might want to peruse them.

And a sc55 alongside the mt32 would be an excellent choice.

Reply 3 of 18, by ChrisTOTG

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kolderman wrote on 2022-09-15, 04:40:

Mt32 is better with intelligent mode mpu401.

Gold standard is a music quest clone/hardmpu paired with something like an awe64 (or any other good isa card). However you could also get one of the excellent modern isa cards like orpheus which include intelligent mode mpu. If you want genuine opl you often have to trade off digital sound quality. There are a of threads here about sound card trade offs, you might want to peruse them.

And a sc55 alongside the mt32 would be an excellent choice.

Thanks a lot for that info. I've been reading a huge list of sound card threads, but there are hundreds and hundreds of comments to get through.

Orpheus cards seem pretty sweet as an all-in-one - hopefully they can get parts in stock again!

Reply 4 of 18, by ChrisTOTG

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RockstarRunner wrote on 2022-09-15, 05:06:

The Orpheus (V1 or if you can wait V2) fit your requirements perfectly, I'd say. It even comes with a HardMPU built in, so perfect for midi gear.

I see their "Orpheus Soundcard" with intelligent MPU is out of stock. Is that the V2? What's the V1?

Reply 5 of 18, by dionb

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ChrisTOTG wrote on 2022-09-15, 05:12:

[...]

Thanks a lot for that info. I've been reading a huge list of sound card threads, but there are hundreds and hundreds of comments to get through.

No wonder, it's a massive rabbit-hole to dive down 😉

At least you seem to have set some clear priorities for your build, which helps narrow down the options a bit.

That said, I would suggest you go back to the drawing board. If you want MT-32, you're talking about very old games. A lot of them are speed-sensitive and you'll struggle to get a P3 down to the sort of speeds they will work with. Some can also be very touchy when it comes to sound card compatibility.

After trying for a long time to do an "all DOS games and all sound standard in one system" monstrosity, I gave up and split it over two systems:

1) dedicated system for really old games, based on a 486SX-33, with turbo to go slow at the press of a button. It has my Snark Barker SB1.0 replica (with CMS chip upgrade) and a Roland MPU-401AT intelligent mode MIDI card. Oh, and some more obscure stuff (SSI-2001 replica, Covox and/or Tandy) as well.
2) almost identical system to the one you're building for later DOS stuff, with P3-600 on i440BX board (with 3 ISA slots 😉 ), an AWE64 Gold, a GUS and an Aztech AZT2320-based card for real OPL3 and bug-free MPU-401 MIDI.
Both are hooked up via a Roland A-880 patchbay to all my MIDI devices, but 1 mainly uses MT-32, and 2 mainly SC-55ST

If you don't have a GUS, you only need two ISA slots for build 2. The AWE64 Gold gives you excellent 16b sound and the EMU8k synth. It lacks real OPL3 and if you use its MIDI for an external device, it gives you slowdowns when playing 16b sound simultaneously. That's why I have the AZT2320 next to it, to give bug-free MIDI and a real OPL3. Added bonus is WSS, although I've yet to find a game that does support WSS and not SB16. Note that the AZT2320's not so unique - you could just as easily use an OPTi 929/930 or ALS/CMI based card as well.

This is great for everything from Master of Magic to Quake - but not so great for the really old stuff. I really think you should look at an older, slower system for that. If you really want a single system for all your DOS needs, look for a Via C3 CPU, as it can be slowed down much more effectively than a P3. Support for those on BX boards isn't universal so you might need to shop around.

Reply 6 of 18, by ChrisTOTG

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dionb wrote on 2022-09-15, 08:22:
[...] That said, I would suggest you go back to the drawing board. If you want MT-32, you're talking about very old games. A lot […]
Show full quote

[...]
That said, I would suggest you go back to the drawing board. If you want MT-32, you're talking about very old games. A lot of them are speed-sensitive and you'll struggle to get a P3 down to the sort of speeds they will work with. Some can also be very touchy when it comes to sound card compatibility.

After trying for a long time to do an "all DOS games and all sound standard in one system" monstrosity, I gave up and split it over two systems:
<...>
This is great for everything from Master of Magic to Quake - but not so great for the really old stuff. I really think you should look at an older, slower system for that. If you really want a single system for all your DOS needs, look for a Via C3 CPU, as it can be slowed down much more effectively than a P3. Support for those on BX boards isn't universal so you might need to shop around.

This all makes sense... however, my situation is affected by not just DOS compatibility but also spouse compatibility: I have room for one more PC but not two 😀

For now, I'm happy to get a too-fast PC as many of the games I care about will play just fine on them, and if I get enough use AND enough frustration, I'm sure I can find a way to get a second PC eventually. My inventory at home consists of an MT32 and the 440bx motherboard/cpu/ram, so I'm trying to get the rest of the PC built around those parts.

I'm gonna be asking more questions elsewhere on the forum as they come to me, like "how do I SSD" and "how do you guys mix audio sources". (Not yet though - I'll get to that soon enough)

As an aside, this post included a question about World of Xeen. According to my post history, I asked about redbook audio on the same game back in 2003. I guess my favourite games are still my favourite games 😀

Reply 7 of 18, by Namrok

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I don't know about your spouse, but my spouse had no idea I added more retro PC's to my office, since I put them behind a KVM to the same monitor and keyboard, and the PC cases all go under my desk. A 4 way KVM was fantastic for that.

Win95/DOS 7.1 - P233 MMX (@2.5 x 100 FSB), Diamond Viper V330 AGP, SB16 CT2800
Win98 - K6-2+ 500, GF2 MX, SB AWE 64 CT4500, SBLive CT4780
Win98 - Pentium III 1000, GF2 GTS, SBLive CT4760
WinXP - Athlon 64 3200+, GF 7800 GS, Audigy 2 ZS

Reply 8 of 18, by Sombrero

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ChrisTOTG wrote on 2022-09-15, 17:31:

For now, I'm happy to get a too-fast PC as many of the games I care about will play just fine on them, and if I get enough use AND enough frustration, I'm sure I can find a way to get a second PC eventually. My inventory at home consists of an MT32 and the 440bx motherboard/cpu/ram, so I'm trying to get the rest of the PC built around those parts.

I've just gone and tested 31 DOS games with a 650MHz P3 and of those 31 games only one is completely unplayable, one is pretty much unplayable and two are a bit iffy but playable. That leaves 27 games out of 31 that work perfectly, a few need ACPI throttling but play well with it. That said majority of those games are from 1993 -> so like dionb said you are more likely to run into issues with games from MT-32 era.

Was about to answer your question about Orpheus but I see you found the Orpheus II topic so I expect you know the difference now.

Also I had not realized italic smileys were a thing and they are awesome 😀

DOS/Win98SE: Abit BX133-RAID / P3 650MHz / Voodoo3 3000 / 128MB SDRAM / SB Live! / Orpheus
WinXP: Asus P5K / P4 HT 651 3.4GHz (65W) / 6800 GT / 2GB DDR2 / X-Fi
WinXP/7: MSI Z77A-G43 / i5-3570 / GTX 960 / 8GB DDR3 / X-Fi

Reply 9 of 18, by mrzmaster

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Sombrero wrote on 2022-09-15, 18:02:

I've just gone and tested 31 DOS games with a 650MHz P3 and of those 31 games only one is completely unplayable, one is pretty much unplayable and two are a bit iffy but playable. That leaves 27 games out of 31 that work perfectly, a few need ACPI throttling but play well with it. That said majority of those games are from 1993 -> so like dionb said you are more likely to run into issues with games from MT-32 era.

Hey, I'm just curious, which were unplayable?

I recently built a PII 450MHz system with a McCake and have been playing a lot of MT-32 games and haven't run into any that are unplayable (except for Sam & Max, which doesn't use MT-32 music anyway). I'm a big fan of LucasArts and Sierra games from 1990 onwards and every one of those titles that I've thrown at the machine run fine.

Reply 10 of 18, by Sombrero

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mrzmaster wrote on 2022-09-15, 18:33:
Sombrero wrote on 2022-09-15, 18:02:

I've just gone and tested 31 DOS games with a 650MHz P3 and of those 31 games only one is completely unplayable, one is pretty much unplayable and two are a bit iffy but playable. That leaves 27 games out of 31 that work perfectly, a few need ACPI throttling but play well with it. That said majority of those games are from 1993 -> so like dionb said you are more likely to run into issues with games from MT-32 era.

Hey, I'm just curious, which were unplayable?

I recently built a PII 450MHz system with a McCake and have been playing a lot of MT-32 games and haven't run into any that are unplayable (except for Sam & Max, which doesn't use MT-32 music anyway). I'm a big fan of LucasArts and Sierra games from 1990 onwards and every one of those titles that I've thrown at the machine run fine.

Crystal Caves is the completely unplayable one, black screen after selecting new game. I assume it doesn't like 3dfx Voodoo3.

The Incredible Machine is pretty much unplayable, it runs fine when PC Speaker is selected as sound device apart from having CPU speed issues with some animations and TIM is one of those games that do not like ACPI throttling. But when Sound Blaster is selected as sound device the game stops responding to anything the moment you move the mouse. So I'd either have to play the game S-L-O-W-L-Y using keyboard or with PC Speaker sounds, no thanks to both.

The iffy ones are Alone in the Dark and Wolfenstein 3D, AitD works fine with L1 cache disabled but for some reason locks up the PC every time I quit the game and Wolf3D is also one of those games that is sensitive to CPU speed and doesn't like ACPI throttling. Disabling L1 cache alone isn't enough, the game is playable but has some speed inconsistence.

Sam & Max works perfectly on it though, odd that it doesn't work on a PII. Edit: it is a CPU speed sensitive game and I need to throttle the pc down or the sounds are garbled pretty bad, maybe you also have CPU speed related issues.

DOS/Win98SE: Abit BX133-RAID / P3 650MHz / Voodoo3 3000 / 128MB SDRAM / SB Live! / Orpheus
WinXP: Asus P5K / P4 HT 651 3.4GHz (65W) / 6800 GT / 2GB DDR2 / X-Fi
WinXP/7: MSI Z77A-G43 / i5-3570 / GTX 960 / 8GB DDR3 / X-Fi

Reply 11 of 18, by dionb

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ChrisTOTG wrote on 2022-09-15, 17:31:

[...]

This all makes sense... however, my situation is affected by not just DOS compatibility but also spouse compatibility: I have room for one more PC but not two 😀

For now, I'm happy to get a too-fast PC as many of the games I care about will play just fine on them, and if I get enough use AND enough frustration, I'm sure I can find a way to get a second PC eventually. My inventory at home consists of an MT32 and the 440bx motherboard/cpu/ram, so I'm trying to get the rest of the PC built around those parts.

Which BX board? Again, if it supports a Via C3 CPU, that would give you more options to slow it down.

For MT-32 aside from CPU speed, the availability of Intelligent Mode MPU-401 is a thing. You can emulate it in software with SoftMPU. That will work in most cases, but SoftMPU requires EMM386. Some of the last, most ambitious non-GM games have their own memory managers and won't work with it. Now, most of those do work with UART mode ('dumb') MPU-401, but there are a couple like Beneath a Steel Sky that both require intelligent mode and cannot work with EMM386 (and thus SoftMPU). If you hit one of them, you need additional hardware (old Roland card, old MusicQuest card or new HardMPU).

As for the dual sound cards: if you particularly like OPL3 and you also want AWE (EMU8k) and you want the MIDI to be bug-free, you will need a second card. Early AWE32 have OPL3 but multiple MIDI bugs, late AWE64 have just one MIDI bug (MIDI music slowdowns when playing 16b digital audio - present on literally all ISA Soundblaster 16/32/64 with or without AWE) but no real OPL3. With two cards you can get best of both worlds: real OPL3 and bug-free MIDI, but also SB16 and AWE. Plus AWE64 cards (or eve better: CT3670 SB32) are cheaper than early AWE32 with OPL3.
Note that impact of the slowdowns is subjective. They drive me mad, so I have an overriding desire to avoid. Others don't even notice. If you don't, you might have different priorities - although even then the OPL3 vs AWE64 is still a good reason.

Last edited by dionb on 2022-09-20, 17:51. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 12 of 18, by gdjacobs

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I've done quite a bit of looking into all-in-one DOS machines. There are machines which cover an amazing range of performance, but they're rare unicorns indeed.
WIP 2: The 6-in-1 Turbo-switched Socket 7 - from XT to 500MHz; dual Tseng powered...

K6-2+ based systems can be tuned down to fast 386 speeds. PMMX based systems clock down to slow 386 territory with more granularity in speed. Socket 370 C3 cpus can poke into 286 territory on motherboards that can do 50mhz fsb clocks. Any one of these would work great for your application.

All hail the Great Capacitor Brand Finder

Reply 13 of 18, by RiverBoa

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kolderman wrote on 2022-09-15, 04:40:

Mt32 is better with intelligent mode mpu401.

Gold standard is a music quest clone/hardmpu paired with something like an awe64 (or any other good isa card). However you could also get one of the excellent modern isa cards like orpheus which include intelligent mode mpu. If you want genuine opl you often have to trade off digital sound quality. There are a of threads here about sound card trade offs, you might want to peruse them.

And a sc55 alongside the mt32 would be an excellent choice.

Why are the clones considered the gold standard? Are the original MPU-401 or variants just not desirable for some reason other than being too expensive?

Reply 14 of 18, by SScorpio

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RiverBoa wrote on 2022-09-17, 16:39:

Why are the clones considered the gold standard? Are the original MPU-401 or variants just not desirable for some reason other than being too expensive?

Original Rolands are very expensive and don't functionally offer anything extra for gaming for that price premium. The argument is that the gold standard for DOS gaming is an intelligent mode compatible MPU like the Music Quest/HardMPU paired with an AWE64.

But I'll argue against the need for an intelligent mode card versus just a solid error-free MPU401 interface. All of the DOS games I'm aware of that rely on intelligent mode are older and work just fine when you have EMM386 or QEMM loaded to allow you to run SoftMPU. Yes, there is some very minor overhead versus running it in hardware. In my personal rig, I have a YMF719 with a McCake as its MIDI daughterboard, this works great as an internal MT32 configuration as well as giving decent General MIDI playback, though I still like using a real Sound Canvas or Yamaha XG synth depending on the game.

For current day, it looks like the Orpheus II will be the GOAT giving, SB PRO/16/WSS/HardMPU/GUS on a single ISA card. It can be argued that an AWE32/64 would complete the set. But personally, I'd prefer real MIDI modules in games that would make use of the AWE with the only exception would be EMU8000 effects added to OPL3 music.

Sound will always be subjective so there will never be a single buy this and everything is perfect for everyone. Some people grew up with CMS and real OPL3 sounds off to them. MIDI modules are likely what music was originally composed on but which one is correct Roland, Yamaha, Casio, Kawaii, etc?

Reply 15 of 18, by AppleSauce

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RiverBoa wrote on 2022-09-17, 16:39:
kolderman wrote on 2022-09-15, 04:40:

Mt32 is better with intelligent mode mpu401.

Gold standard is a music quest clone/hardmpu paired with something like an awe64 (or any other good isa card). However you could also get one of the excellent modern isa cards like orpheus which include intelligent mode mpu. If you want genuine opl you often have to trade off digital sound quality. There are a of threads here about sound card trade offs, you might want to peruse them.

And a sc55 alongside the mt32 would be an excellent choice.

Why are the clones considered the gold standard? Are the original MPU-401 or variants just not desirable for some reason other than being too expensive?

Too expensive usually , I mean I've got an OG Roland MPU 401 breakout box attached to a replica MIF IPC card but it cost me a decent amount.
But with the large amount of games I've played using it to enjoy bug free general midi and intelligent mode I feel like it was a decent investment.
But I can get why people would refuse to pay money for what is just basically a midi interface card.

Usually you'd be looking at around 200 AUD + for one + the MIF clone card is another like 50 AUD if you get the external version.
Sometimes they go for better prices , i.e. : I saw a Roland MPU 401AT , which is the integrated ISA card version of the original break out box sell for around 100 AUD on ebay complete in box.

https://www.ebay.com.au/itm/ROLAND-MPU-401AT- … =p2047675.l2557

But you do need to look around quite alot to get a good deal , which is why maybe Keropi's PC midi card or a Orpheus with pc midi built in is a better bet in terms of availability and cost in general.

Reply 16 of 18, by kolderman

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RiverBoa wrote on 2022-09-17, 16:39:
kolderman wrote on 2022-09-15, 04:40:

Mt32 is better with intelligent mode mpu401.

Gold standard is a music quest clone/hardmpu paired with something like an awe64 (or any other good isa card). However you could also get one of the excellent modern isa cards like orpheus which include intelligent mode mpu. If you want genuine opl you often have to trade off digital sound quality. There are a of threads here about sound card trade offs, you might want to peruse them.

And a sc55 alongside the mt32 would be an excellent choice.

Why are the clones considered the gold standard? Are the original MPU-401 or variants just not desirable for some reason other than being too expensive?

If you can even find one. But yes they would also do. But having a bug-free, intelligent mode midi that "just works" on a jumper configured port makes it much easier to select your main sound card, as bug-free midi is usually one of the "here are three essential things, you may choose only two" elements of the ISA sound card dilemma.

Reply 17 of 18, by dionb

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kolderman wrote on 2022-09-17, 20:43:

If you can even find one. But yes they would also do. But having a bug-free, intelligent mode midi that "just works" on a jumper configured port makes it much easier to select your main sound card, as bug-free midi is usually one of the "here are three essential things, you may choose only two" elements of the ISA sound card dilemma.

Actually I've found a couple, both Roland and a few MusicQuests. Didn't break the bank on any of them. Trick is that they are very hot among vintage computing fans, but back in the day were mainly bought by amateur musicians. They generally aren't computer nerds and have the habit of keeping a MIDI setup they actually managed to get working completely unchanged for an inordinate length of time. Then one day some part of the system dies and they find their beloved old ISA card won't fit into any new PC, so they buy a modern USB interface and try to sell the card - as an ancient curiosity in the music electronics section of classified ads, not the computing one. Found two of my three that way. Number three was good old 'untested old crap' lot that had a very interesting-looking backplate with a few mini-DIN sockets on the obligatory fuzzy photograph. That was the MPU401AT 😉

Reply 18 of 18, by Shreddoc

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^that "untested old crap/fuzzy photograph" thing is how I got a pristine Voodoo + other stuff for cheap once. Once.

That sort of thing doesn't happen often though, especially for people who live more remotely. You wouldn't want to rely solely upon that method to obtain gear you really wanted/needed to have in the near future, put it that way. Some people could fruitlessly wait a lifetime for the correct unicorn to run past!

It's nice when it happens. But for the rest of us, most of the time, the realistic choices to obtain such rarities are either to pony up the big bucks, or find a less rare alternative or workaround - or, go without. Such is the main reality of Rarity.

Easily obtained; Low price; High quality - pick any two. Whichever your choices, they come at the cost of the third.