VOGONS


First post, by SierraGamer

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What external sound module would you all recommend for someone who already had an MT-32 and a SC-55mk2 and who wanted a third module (new or old) that would play old general MIDI DOS games' music with the most realistic (as in closest to real instruments' sound) and impressive (a subjective term, I know) sound available and for under $1000 and in a form factor that isn't too humongous. It could be by Roland or another brand. I really like the sound of the Roland Integra 7, but it is rather large and you'd probably be paying for more features than would be necessary for playing old games. It would be great if I could find something less expensive than an Integra 7. And I also saw this video of a Roland Fantom XR playing Quest for Glory IV music and was impressed:
https://youtu.be/ZnApN4B_nP8

Basically, what I want is the best for my next purchase. I still love my MT-32 and SC-55 (and consider them "the best" for me when playing certain games), and am looking for something different this time to change it up. For this purchase I am not as concerned about authentic sound/how it was "intended" to sound when the music was written. I want it to sound as close to real instruments as possible. I don't want any software or internal stuff. I want a box that will sit on my desk on top of, under or next to my other modules. It would be great if it were somewhat close to the SC-55/88 form factor size. I was considering getting the SC-88 pro, but then I wanted to see if there were much better options than that out there.

Thanks!

Reply 2 of 22, by MMaximus

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This question seems to come up once in a while - I don't think there's any module out there that could make DOS Midi game soundtracks sound much better than the module they were originally programmed with (Roland SC-55 for the vast majority of GM games). Of course later modules have much more realistic sounding instruments, but because of timbre and level differences compared to an original Sound Canvas, the game soundtracks often sound unbalanced on these. If you were to take each midifile from a given game and arrange it for the newer module you could come up with music that sounds much better, but straight out of DOS, I'm not so sure.

gdjacobs wrote:

Maybe find a Roland JV or XV module and begin adding expansion samples?

Please correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think you can use the expansion cards for game soundtracks. These modules have a GM (or GM2 for the XVs) bank, and the game wouldn't be able to access the expansion sounds if the unit is in GM mode.

Reply 3 of 22, by Scali

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MMaximus wrote:

This question seems to come up once in a while - I don't think there's any module out there that could make DOS Midi game soundtracks sound much better than the module they were originally programmed with (Roland SC-55 for the vast majority of GM games). Of course later modules have much more realistic sounding instruments, but because of timbre and level differences compared to an original Sound Canvas, the game soundtracks often sound unbalanced on these. If you were to take each midifile from a given game and arrange it for the newer module you could come up with music that sounds much better, but straight out of DOS, I'm not so sure.

I second this.
The arrangement and mix will suffer when a MIDI track is played on any unit other than the one it was composed on.
There is an interesting YouTube channel that has recordings of the same MIDI songs on a large number of units (where the MIDI songs are even adjusted to the units in at least some cases, especially the non-General MIDI compatible ones).
Check this playlist of CANYON.MID on almost 100 units:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxnrg1CMc6E&l … rIDw7JsGiJKxJUu

Clearly it doesn't sound that great on most of them, the balance of instruments is often wrong... They just don't match together that well. Like many DOS games, CANYON.MID seems most at home on the Roland SC-55 and related units. That is probably what it was composed on.

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Reply 4 of 22, by gdjacobs

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MMaximus wrote:

Please correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think you can use the expansion cards for game soundtracks. These modules have a GM (or GM2 for the XVs) bank, and the game wouldn't be able to access the expansion sounds if the unit is in GM mode.

I would hope it would be possible, but you may be right. Depends on whether a SYSEX is issued to bank select preset D, I think.

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Reply 5 of 22, by MMaximus

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Thanks for the Canyon.mid link - a good illustration of the problem at hand.

Often we want the "best" device or gear, but in some instances it doesn't make much sense. I guess an anology would be to get a 4K TV to watch old VHS tapes. Even if the TV is the best one, the result wouldn't be so good because you're limited by the source material. In case of game soundtracks you will be limited by the way the midifiles were arranged to begin with.

Reply 6 of 22, by moturimi1

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The canyon.mid rendering on youtube is not the original playback on these devices, even if being played on a GM compatible sound module.
Check it out the different intrument map here: e.g.
for SC-55MKII: http://piano.tyonmage.com/roland/canyon/sc-55mk2_index.html
and SC8850: http://piano.tyonmage.com/roland/canyon/sc-8850_index.html
So the playback was "tweaked".

I guess this is also true for the video shown earlier in this thread: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnApN4B_nP8&feature=youtu.be

I used to own a lot of different external GM modules to test the playback capacities in DOS games.
SC-55, SC-8820, SCD-70, SC-8850, SD-20, SD-50, SD-90, SD-80, K2000, K2000XV, MU-10, MU-50, XV-5050, XV-3080, JV-1010, NS5R, AG-10, DOX-1 (Korg PA-60).
I have to say that in most cases the GM bank of the modules is underwhelming. Most use only basic instrument patches. The modules shine with individual sound banks or instruments.
I still have the AG-10, DOX-1, SD-80, K2000XV (including K2000). (I do not need any sound canvas, because sound canvas va is available)

I am very impressed by the GM bank of the K2000 and K2000XV (which uses the sound expansion for GM too):
K2000 XV (dark forces intro): https://1drv.ms/u/s!AuD8nQsQeS3hhGlAeINPPRY62pMO
K2000 (dark forces intro): https://1drv.ms/u/s!AuD8nQsQeS3hkG3j4sj7B0MhqsJ7

But honestly each brand is specialized in some ways. Kurzweil has great orchestral instruments, Yamaha and Korg great Synthi-Sounds and Roland a good mix.

I think the Integra-7 would be a cool tool to play with, as it has a loadable GM2 bank that uses a lot of great instruments from other banks. So it won't sound like a fantom XV or a XV5080 (which is rather good for GM).
So anyone with a Integra-7. I would love to hear some recorded GM midi game music, of course not tweaked in any kind.

Here is a comparison of GM Music:
https://1drv.ms/f/s!AuD8nQsQeS3hkG4dB_RRLEIy9k77
https://1drv.ms/f/s!AuD8nQsQeS3hkG9evJmbypnLa10z
https://1drv.ms/f/s!AuD8nQsQeS3hkRD5ALFoTCU3ffbn

Last edited by moturimi1 on 2018-03-04, 11:23. Edited 2 times in total.

Reply 7 of 22, by Scali

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moturimi1 wrote:

So the playback was "tweaked".

That's what I said.
If you played it as-is, it would be even worse.

I actually arrived at that YouTube channel because I was looking for IBM Music Feature Card/Yamaha FB-01 stuff.
Then I found that he even got CANYON.MID to work on the FB-01. Not bad.

http://scalibq.wordpress.com/just-keeping-it- … ro-programming/

Reply 8 of 22, by SuperDeadite

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I'd say the best bang for the buck is a Yamaha MU1000/2000. The performance for price ratio is about as good as it gets. The more professional level units like the Fantom are really hit and miss with games. Sometimes they sound fantastic, but other times they sound totally off. If you have no intention of tweaking things, the MU500 contains the same sounds and the digital output as the 1000/2000, but sells for almost nothing on yahoo japan auctions.

Roland wise, the SC-88 Pro is my module of choice. The 8820 is a nice choice too though.

But after that, it really depends on what you want to play. The Akai SG01k is a personal favorite of mine, fantastic for in your face stuff like Doom, but horrible for anything more subtle or orchestral.

Modules: CM-64, CM-500, SC-55MkII, SC-88 Pro, SY22, TG100, MU2000EX, PLG100-SG, PLG150-DR, PLG150-AN, SG01k, NS5R, GZ-50M, SN-U110-07, SN-U110-10, Pocket Studio 5, DreamBlaster S2, X2, McFly, E-Wave, QWave, CrystalBlaster C2

Reply 9 of 22, by Shponglefan

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As others have said, there really is no "best" module for General MIDI. The biggest challenge is finding a module with a properly balanced sound set. This is where newer modules can actually sound a bit worse than older modules in some instances. Sometimes a single out-of-place instrument can ruin an other great rendition of a MIDI track.

I can echo SuperDeadite's comment that the Yamaha MU 2000 is a nice alternative to the Roland SoundCanvas series. Yamaha does synth sounds very well, so I find synth tracks benefit the most from it. Descent in particular sounds great with it.

The module with my favorite GM sample bank is the Roland JV-1010. But unfortunately the JV-series of Roland modules suffers from latency issues during patch changes. The result is certain tracks will have slightly delayed sounding notes during patch changes (usually right at the beginning of the track). It's not a complete deal breaker for me, but it is an annoying flaw on an otherwise great-sounding module.

If you're interested, I posted some MIDI module comparisons awhile back in this thread. You can get an idea of how different modules sound compared to what you already own: Comparison of MIDI sound modules (Roland vs Korg vs Yamaha vs Kawai)

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Reply 10 of 22, by Spikey

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You answered your own question with the higher end modules, but the issue is that the best instruments are not in the GM banks, they are elsewhere.

A good compromise between 'most realistic' and 'best GM sound' would be a Roland SC-8820 or 8850. They sound great with the default GM map in 8820/50 mode, in fact, I think most times they sound better than a SC-55 playing the tracks, with no tweaking. It literally sounds like an 'expanded SC-55'.

Yamaha XG modules sound radically different at GM level from the Roland Sound Canvas, and given Roland SC was what games wer composed for, I wouldn't recommend it. I find the high end Yamaha XG modules significantly less realistic sounding than the Roland GS ones, but that's possibly personal bias/opinion.

Reply 11 of 22, by SierraGamer

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Thank you to each person who responded. I will be reading through each of your responses carefully. So much helpful info! Don't have a lot of time to respond in more detail now. I will respond more later. Suffice it to say you all know way more than me about this topic.

I also saw this other earlier thread on this site about a "hidden SC-55 in Integra 7":
Re: Hidden SC-55 in Integra-7

Does this^ mean that the Integra 7 would be able to play old DOS general MIDI games composed on SC-55 more or less without issue, but perhaps with even better sounds?

I'll admit that all I did was Google "what's the top of the line Roland sound module for general MIDI," and then I found out about the Integra 7 and liked how it sounded in YouTube videos.

I've been way more than pleased with the SC-55 and don't find it lacking at all. I'm just itching for another sound module. It's crazy, yes. But I justify it by reminding myself that I'd always be able to resell it... and even if I don't resell it I'm entitled to indulge myself now and then. 😎

Spikey wrote:

You answered your own question with the higher end modules, but the issue is that the best instruments are not in the GM banks, they are elsewhere.

A good compromise between 'most realistic' and 'best GM sound' would be a Roland SC-8820 or 8850. They sound great with the default GM map in 8820/50 mode, in fact, I think most times they sound better than a SC-55 playing the tracks, with no tweaking. It literally sounds like an 'expanded SC-55'.

Very interesting. So the newer modules like Integra 7 wouldn't even use their super realistic instrument sounds when playing DOS games? Sorry for the dumb questions. Still trying to figure this all out.

Reply 12 of 22, by yawetaG

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SierraGamer wrote:
Thank you to each person who responded. I will be reading through each of your responses carefully. So much helpful info! Don't […]
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Thank you to each person who responded. I will be reading through each of your responses carefully. So much helpful info! Don't have a lot of time to respond in more detail now. I will respond more later. Suffice it to say you all know way more than me about this topic.

I also saw this other earlier thread on this site about a "hidden SC-55 in Integra 7":
Re: Hidden SC-55 in Integra-7

Does this^ mean that the Integra 7 would be able to play old DOS general MIDI games composed on SC-55 more or less without issue, but perhaps with even better sounds?

The real question is: Are you willing to shell out 1500 bucks for a professional high-end 1U rompler synthesizer just to get a GM bank that is merely SC-55-like with better sound due to higher quality components?

I mean, this again basically comes down to the same point as the question asked in this thread, to which the answer basically is:

Yes, there are electronic musical instruments available with much better sound than a run-of-the-mill GM/XG module from the mid- to late 1990s that can also play GM/XG, but buying them just for GM/XG is, frankly, a major waste of money. For the amount you will shell out for one such professional module (Yamaha Motif or Roland Integra 7) you can buy 5-15 lesser GM/XG modules and get more fun out of them if you're only in it for the GM/XG sounds that are part of a game soundtrack.

On the other hand, if you're interested in creating your own music and playing around with the settings, use a MIDI keyboard to compose your own tunes or play others' compositions, etc. and you have the money to burn, by all means, get your high-end module. However, depending on the type of sound you want to make, a real synth (instead of a rompler) might be more interesting, and in some cases such a real synth can be considerably cheaper than a Integra 7 or other high end rompler...

Reply 13 of 22, by Spikey

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yawetaG nails it.

The Integra 7 seems to have an SC-55 emulation bank, but that is less exciting than using an actual SC-55/mkII! The bottom line is these modules all have 1000+ patches, but when you play a game, it will send a GM reset and call up the GM bank. The GM banks in almost every module from 1998-now are very basic and unexciting, and not representative of the module they came from. So buying a high end module to game is almost always a waste of money.

You would still get good mileage out of a Roland SC-8850, it has an LCD screen and uses an easy to understand system, so for example if a Distortion Guitar is playing and you want to get a better patch, you scroll over to where it is playing and dial the knob to the right to go to other Distortion Guitar patches (variations). Most modules are not laid out in this easy way either, so you would be scrolling through random patches in those situations, not variations.

One other thing about the Roland Integra 7, it does have a set of inbuilt "HQ GM" expansions, which can be loaded upon startup. I haven't played with them, because that's not why I bought the module, but they could be interesting. I think much of it comes from the Fantom.

I have heard great things about the Roland Sonic Cell as well, it is a fork from the Roland XV 5050/Fantom XR and has a lot of popular sounds as well. I think the GM bank is supposed to be good. Roland ones usually are.

Anyway, enough for now!

Reply 14 of 22, by Woolie Wool

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SierraGamer wrote:
What external sound module would you all recommend for someone who already had an MT-32 and a SC-55mk2 and who wanted a third mo […]
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What external sound module would you all recommend for someone who already had an MT-32 and a SC-55mk2 and who wanted a third module (new or old) that would play old general MIDI DOS games' music with the most realistic (as in closest to real instruments' sound) and impressive (a subjective term, I know) sound available and for under $1000 and in a form factor that isn't too humongous. It could be by Roland or another brand. I really like the sound of the Roland Integra 7, but it is rather large and you'd probably be paying for more features than would be necessary for playing old games. It would be great if I could find something less expensive than an Integra 7. And I also saw this video of a Roland Fantom XR playing Quest for Glory IV music and was impressed:
https://youtu.be/ZnApN4B_nP8

Basically, what I want is the best for my next purchase. I still love my MT-32 and SC-55 (and consider them "the best" for me when playing certain games), and am looking for something different this time to change it up. For this purchase I am not as concerned about authentic sound/how it was "intended" to sound when the music was written. I want it to sound as close to real instruments as possible. I don't want any software or internal stuff. I want a box that will sit on my desk on top of, under or next to my other modules. It would be great if it were somewhat close to the SC-55/88 form factor size. I was considering getting the SC-88 pro, but then I wanted to see if there were much better options than that out there.

Thanks!

You don't want an overly "realistic sounding" MIDI module. As the samples get increasingly lifelike you'll run into an uncanny valley effect similar to what you get with large soundfonts. You could plug something crazy like a Korg Triton into your sound card if you wanted to, but I really don't recommend doing such a thing. The Roland SC-88 or SC-88 Pro is a good step up from what you have--better sound quality but not trying too hard to be real, and reasonably close to the SC-55's timbres so as to preserve the arrangements of the vast majority of MIDIs written for the SC-55 or knockoffs. Personally I recommend the standard 88 as you will save around $100 and the Pro has a couple of instruments that sound awful with certain SC-55 midis (like the Descent menu theme).

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Reply 15 of 22, by SierraGamer

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Scali wrote:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxnrg1CMc6E&l … rIDw7JsGiJKxJUu

Clearly it doesn't sound that great on most of them, the balance of instruments is often wrong... They just don't match together that well. Like many DOS games, CANYON.MID seems most at home on the Roland SC-55 and related units. That is probably what it was composed on.

YES! It really does sound best Roland SC-55. I'm really glad I heard this. These comparisons are exactly what I was looking for.

moturimi1 wrote:

I used to own a lot of different external GM modules to test the playback capacities in DOS games.
SC-55, SC-8820, SCD-70, SC-8850, SD-20, SD-50, SD-90, SD-80, K2000, K2000XV, MU-10, MU-50, XV-5050, XV-3080, JV-1010, NS5R, AG-10, DOX-1 (Korg PA-60).
I have to say that in most cases the GM bank of the modules is underwhelming. Most use only basic instrument patches. The modules shine with individual sound banks or instruments.

Very good to know. Thank you for those links. Extremely helpful.

SuperDeadite wrote:

I'd say the best bang for the buck is a Yamaha MU1000/2000. ...

Roland wise, the SC-88 Pro is my module of choice. The 8820 is a nice choice too though.

But after that, it really depends on what you want to play. The Akai SG01k is a personal favorite of mine, fantastic for in your face stuff like Doom, but horrible for anything more subtle or orchestral.

That makes sense. I believe those are excellent recommendations. I am happy that the "best" modules for old DOS gaming are NOT necessarily the most expensive modules out there.

Shponglefan wrote:

If you're interested, I posted some MIDI module comparisons awhile back in this thread. You can get an idea of how different modules sound compared to what you already own: Comparison of MIDI sound modules (Roland vs Korg vs Yamaha vs Kawai)

Extremely helpful comparisons. Thanks!

yawetaG wrote:

The real question is: Are you willing to shell out 1500 bucks for a professional high-end 1U rompler synthesizer just to get a GM bank that is merely SC-55-like with better sound due to higher quality components?

Nope. I've gotten the thoughts of buying things like an Integra 7 out of my system now. Excellent points made in this thread.

As for composing, I'd love to try it sometime in the future, and will look at real synths then.

Spikey wrote:

One other thing about the Roland Integra 7, it does have a set of inbuilt "HQ GM" expansions, which can be loaded upon startup. I haven't played with them, because that's not why I bought the module, but they could be interesting. I think much of it comes from the Fantom.

I have heard great things about the Roland Sonic Cell as well, it is a fork from the Roland XV 5050/Fantom XR and has a lot of popular sounds as well. I think the GM bank is supposed to be good. Roland ones usually are.

I will definitely look into those.

Woolie Wool wrote:

Personally I recommend the standard 88 as you will save around $100 and the Pro has a couple of instruments that sound awful with certain SC-55 midis (like the Descent menu theme).

Very good to know. Frustrating when there isn't a simple "this one is the best" answer. Makes me want to just get all of them. Whoever would have thought that collecting these things was so addictive? I am going to limit myself to three. Seems there are many great deals to be had out there!

Reply 16 of 22, by derSammler

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Woolie Wool wrote:

Personally I recommend the standard 88 as you will save around $100 and the Pro has a couple of instruments that sound awful with certain SC-55 midis (like the Descent menu theme).

The 88 Pro has an SC-55 emulation mode (not to be confused with simply selecting the SC-55 map), that sounds exactly like a real SC-55, even with Descent. Still, since GM only uses the standard 128 instruments anyway, the Pro makes no sense, as none of its additional features are used.

Reply 17 of 22, by Shponglefan

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n'mind

Last edited by Shponglefan on 2018-03-11, 16:11. Edited 1 time in total.

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Reply 19 of 22, by Shponglefan

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derSammler wrote:

"not to be confused with simply selecting the SC-55 map"

I should read more closely shouldn't I? 😵

But how is the SC-55 mode otherwise set on the SC-88 Pro? I know there's an SC-88 compatibility mode, but not aware of how to set an SC-55 one.

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