Sound cards - from best to worst

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

Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby swaaye » 2005-9-22 @ 18:55

Anonymous wrote:AWE64 ISA > *


Not if you have a SB32 or AWE32 with 8MB+ of RAM :) Creative went into ultra-marketing mode with the AWE64 and built expensive custom RAM modules that you can hardly find anymore. AWE32 uses standard 30pin SIMMs. Otherwise AWE64 IS a AWE32. It may be less noisy on analog though since the circuitry looks cleaner and it has gold connections (I have a AWE64 Gold in my collection)

Alkarian wrote: Awesome material, just skipping through it. Btw, what issues does you CGW archive span? (I'd be interested in other articles as well)

I have earlier soundcard tests by CGW (1992 I think) but no scanner at hand.

I have issues from 1989 thru today. Some gaps in between but not many. eBay let me fill in some gaps and grab some older issues. I've had a subscription from 1995 onward and bought many issues off the shelves before that.

I too have earlier sound card articles but they aren't scanned. Scanning takes hours per issue so I don't do it very often.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby swaaye » 2005-9-30 @ 17:53

Moderator can this thread get moved to the PC forum? Perhaps stickied there as I think it's a pretty good resource for old sound card info.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby HunterZ » 2005-9-30 @ 18:19

(done)
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby swaaye » 2005-10-03 @ 20:16

Ensoniq Sound Card Info

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ensoniq
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby HunterZ » 2005-10-03 @ 20:32

I can confirm that Creative used Ensoniq's DOS drivers for their PCI cards right up through the early Live! series. They of course took out references to Ensoniq (as Creative owned them by then), but they still used Ensoniq's proprietary .ECW wavetable MIDI instrument bank format. Also, the Win9x drivers for the SB PCI128 (my first PCI sound card) could load only ECW banks for MIDI, which was frustrating because there were only 3 or so available (2MB, 4MB, 8MB).
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Cloudschatze » 2005-10-03 @ 23:55

The Ensoniq information is well-appreciated! I too was (am?) a fan of their products.

I snapped a photo of the Soundscape DB, in case anyone is interested.

There are actually two versions of the DB - an early version, containing the Soundscape's 2mb sample-set, and a revised version, featuring an "optimized", 1mb set.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby swaaye » 2005-10-04 @ 01:02

Thanks for the photo of the Soundscape DB! I've never seen one of those anywhere. Daughtercards are such nifty little creations. I just picked up a Roland SCD15 off eBay (I lucked out to be passing by when that was listed!)

I added some MP3 recordings of the ELITE and OPUS cards playing game music for everyone's enjoyment. LOL
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Cloudschatze » 2005-10-04 @ 14:43

Not to keep tooting the horn of a dead soundcard-line, but I thought I would mention the Soundscape's excellent MIDI implementation. I posted the following on the QuestStudios forum a while back:

Ensoniq was one of the few companies that included the partial implemention of the bi-directional COMMAND/STATUS port in their hardware, and (in later models) into their software-based MPU-401 emulation. The ONLY command that it will respond to is the ACK, but, apparently it is enough. I have tested with several cards, including the Ensoniq Elite, which has hardware-based UART compliance, and the Ensoniq VIVO, which has software-based UART compliance. With an attached MT-32, Sierra software has performed flawlessly with both. (Consequently, the software MPU emulation actually performed better, as it would throttle the MIDI data, preventing buffer overflows.)
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby swaaye » 2005-10-07 @ 19:33

I've recorded some more game music. This time from my new acquisition: a Roland SCD-15. I put it on a SB16 ISA card. Creative's ISA cards are sure noisy cards. I had tons of trouble getting the noise down and volume up for decent recording. I couldn't use the speaker out port at all because it distorted and popped at even medium volume. So I used the Line-out port. I had to switch from a AWE32 to a SB16 because I couldn't get the card to use the SCD-15 in Win98 in DOS games. Both of the Creative cards I have with waveblaster headers are PnP cards so getting plain DOS working is too much effort.

All Recordings So Far:

Roland SCD-15 on Creative Sound Blaster 16 VibraC CT2960
Dark Forces Title & Credits
Dark Forces Mission - Talay Tak Base
Dark Forces Mission - Research Facility

Creative Sound Blaster AWE32 CT3990 ISA 1MB EMU ROM
Dark Forces Title & Credits (lol this is BAD)

Ensoniq Soundscape OPUS (Gateway OEM chip)
Dark Forces Title and Credits
TIE Fighter Credits
TIE Fighter Title

Ensoniq Soundscape ELITE
Betrayal At Krondor Title
Dark Forces Title and Credits
TIE Fighter Title and Credits
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby HunterZ » 2005-10-07 @ 20:08

The high brass notes in the AWE32 recording sound like someone is stepping on a rodent.

The SCD-15 recordings sound nice though. I'll have to compare them to the output from my SC-88.

Does the SCD-15 have the same exact sample set as any of the SC- series synths? The SC-88 has both its own and SC-55 MkII sample sets (plus the default CM-64 set)
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby swaaye » 2005-10-07 @ 21:30

The box and card say SCB-55 on them. It's hard to tell it's even a SCD-15 unless you look at a sticker on the box.

Exciting Google Linkage
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby HunterZ » 2005-10-07 @ 21:49

Ah, so it's pretty close to the SC-55mkII
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Great Hierophant » 2005-10-07 @ 23:40

I thought the SCD-15 refers to the SCB-55 + MPU-401/AT combination, but it may actually refer to the package of the Daughterboard and the Software. But the Google link has something wrong with it. A SCB-55 does use an 18-bit DAC, I looked it up. Its synthesis engine should be identical to the SC-55mkII's.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Spotted Cheetah » 2005-12-31 @ 09:19

After that XWave junk (QS3000A, PCI card) what i had my ESS AudioDrive 1686F (ISA) sounded much better. I took it out from one of my old P133s as i got completely enough of the above. Anyone knows what is the 'F' sign after '1868'? Or in general what this card is capable to? For me it was reported to be SoundBlaster Pro 2 compatible - like the XWave card - both in pure DOS and Windows until that last worked - need a reinstall; and it really seemed to be compatible, at least the mixer chip appeared to be functional unlike the QS3000A's case (Although some time ago for some reason i could catch that being functional too, but later i could not reproduce that. It is not a hardware failure as XWave's DOS mixer is functional - but only that).
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby ux-3 » 2005-12-31 @ 11:10

I have an ISA 1868F, as well as a few other ESS Cards and integrated ESS chips (P90 notebook). So far, I have found these cards to be very compatible, and I found their sound to be highly reminiscent of the SBPro I once had in the golden days... :happyhappy: My ISA1868F needs configuration software, which I was able to dig up in the net. Once configured, it will not need any software, i think...

In fact, a while ago, I took out a SB64 in favor of a low ESS688 cause later card needed absolutely no software and took up no ram. I couldn't tell any difference in sound.

I have now been pursuaded to try the SB16 ISA (dial/jumper) card. It should also be working without software. But I haven't finished building the PC yet...
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Spotted Cheetah » 2005-12-31 @ 17:11

I could now reinstall my system ( := completely got rid of all the junkies remained from that damned XWave card), and it works great! Win98 recognized the card nicely, although i needed the DOS driver to make it working fine under DOS too. It really does not load anything, the driver set appears to be just for configuring the card by that which ports should it use (I set them both in Windows' control panel and in my Autoexec.bat to the same values, so it should be fine). So far everything i tested appeared to recognize it fine as SB Pro2, and the FM synthesis of the card appeared to be better than that XWave's too.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby a mc » 2006-1-09 @ 11:17

ahh.. Edison Gold 16, ESS688.. with this card I had only ONE problem:
I once installed some RPG (smth. about Krynn world, AFAIR) and it was locking up right at start of the game. "Strange" thinked I, "everyhing works perfect, whats wrong?". Tryed to run without sound, worked OK, "So this is sound problem!", well, as I setuped sound with settings as remembered them, so I run SET to check settings, and they was same (port, irg and dma)! "Very strange!" thinked I again, and started to check other games what I had installed and working, only to found what half of my games were setuped to IRQ=5 and other half to IRQ=7! AND THEY ALL WORK! I don't even remember what settings were on card itself, because I changed to another IRQ, and game started working fine.... thats ESS card!
don't sure about quality of SB emulation, never bothered about quality at that time, but if it was avaible, I've set at maximum quality, and some games (especialy with Miles SS) had ESS688 driver, so it would be maximum quality anyway...
about PCI128: I have this card now (creative one), and I never had GOOD music with it, SB-MIDI emulation just sucks, it even not sound properly (some instruments not playing, some plays at different speed then they should), General Midi plays right (at normal speed and all instruments) but sound awful, and I never figured out how to force it to use ECW banks in DOS... maybe original Ensonig was better, altough many programs detect it as Ensonig, not Creative =)
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby swaaye » 2006-5-26 @ 21:16

PCAVTech Sound Card Analog Quality comparison

This will show you how the various sounds cards out there compare with each other on output quality. The list is a bit out of date, but so are we! :)
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby Great Hierophant » 2006-6-07 @ 03:47

The most important thing, when it comes to choosing a sound card, is the number of games that support it. It doesn't matter how impressive the specs of the card are if the game won't work with the card or use those features. I would like to concentrate on several important issues:

Sound Blaster Pro Compatibility
Very few cards are truly "Sound Blaster Pro" compatible. The Sound Blaster Pro 1.0 has three major components, the dual OPL2 chips, the 1345 Mixer Chip and the 1341 DSP chip. For stereo programming, each of these components act differently than their later replacements in important ways. Even the Sound Blaster Pro 2.0, while sharing the same mixer and DSP, loses two FM voices to the OPL2 chips. Sound Blaster 16s lose some of the DSP modes of the Sound Blaster Pros and Sound Blaster 2.0. The Mixer chips handle stereo differently enough that a game programmed for the Sound Blaster Pro will not work in stereo on the Sound Blaster 16. The Sound Blaster Pro is truly downard compatible in its OPL and DSP with the Sound Blaster 1.0-1.5 (Non-Pro Sound Blasters don't have Mixers.)

Sound Blaster 16 Compatibility
The Sound Blaster 16s are more advanced than the Sound Blaster Pros, but share similar functional components, a 1745 Mixer Chip, a 1741 DSP and a OPL3 chip. Later Creative cards, beyond the 17x0 series, lack one or more of the chips, sometimes condensing their functionality into ASICs, othertimes emulating them. A card cannot be truly Sound Blaster 16 compatible unless it possesses all three components. Vibra chips and cards lack the Mixer chip and its functionality, and no AWE card has a true OPL3 chip. Not many ISA cards explicitly state that they are Sound Blaster 16 compatible, and those Sound Cards that do only offer basic emulation.

True Yamaha OPL Chips
A card boasting that it is Adlib or Sound Blaster compatible must have one or two OPL2 or one OPL3 chips on the card. The chips must be Yamaha chips, YM-3812 and YMF-262, respectively. Nothing else, except an Yamaha OPL4 chip, on a sound card will accurately reproduce the sounds of these chips. A single OPL3 chip can, excpet for the most demanding programmers, be able to replace a single OPL2 chip, but cannot quite reach the level of voices that dual OPL2 chips of the Sound Blaster Pro 1.0 and the Pro Audio Spectrum can provide. Cards like the Gravis Ultrasound and PCI cards usually try to emulate the OPL chips with some help from their wavetable capabilities.

MPU-401 Compatibility
Early games that support the Roland MT-32 Sound Module and its derivatives expect to communicate to the device through a Roland midi interface. All Roland ISA midi interfaces and the LAPC-I Sound Card support Intelligent midi as well as UART midi processing, and games often rely on the particular features of the intelligent midi mode to ensure their data passed through to the MT-32 safely. Devices supporting the Roland SCC-1 Sound Card also sometimes require intelligent midi mode. Games that support General Midi only require UART compatibility. While the Sound Blaster 16 is UART compatible, the compatibility is quite buggy and should never be used if you possess a true Roland midi interface. If you have such an interface, the only time you should use the Sound Blaster for midi communications is if the game only supports the old Sound Blaster midi standards. Few do.

General Midi, Roland GS, Yamaha XG
It is important to note that these sound standards refer to the particular capabilities and specifications of the sound producing device. Roland GS and Yamaha XG support more voices and drum kits than General Midi, but both are downwards compatible. If you only have a General Midi option in your game, you can use either a Roland GS or Yamaha XG device, and either would likely sound better than a General Midi-only device. Yamaha XG is downward compatible with Roland GS to an extent but is no substitute for a Roland GS device. I would not recommend using any "GS compatible" device other than true Roland manufactured products, and for Yamaha XG devices, use only the following cards or daughterboards: SW60XG, SW1000XG, DB50XG, DB51XG, DB60XG. Be careful, as Yamaha also introduced several inferior PCI XG cards.

Roland MT-32 Compatibility
A favorite marketing phrase Sound Card manufacturer's liked to tout was their MT-32 compatibility. Now, the basic circuitry of an MT-32 takes a half-sized ISA board to properly replicate. Even though a manufacturer may have MT-32 tones in its patch set, it takes more than that to replicate the MT-32's sound. Only a true MT-32 or Multi-Timbral LA Synthesis device can properly set the parameters or use custom patches. Nothing else, even Roland's Sound Canvas MT-32 variation set, comes close to the real thing. Once you have experienced it, you never want to go back.
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Re: Sound cards - from best to worst

Postby robertmo » 2006-7-15 @ 10:11

Ultima Underworld 1 and Ultima Underworld 2 play stereo music with Sound Blaster Pro 1 (using two opl2 chips for stereo)

With all other Sound Blaster cards (SB Pro 2,SB 16,SB AWE32) both games will play mono music :)
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