Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

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

Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby appiah4 » 2019-8-16 @ 13:57

I recently built a U5S-SUPER33 system to play 1990-1992 games with, and just dropped in a Sound Blaster 16 CT2290 because I wanted to use a DreamBlaster S2 with it.

Reality check results:

1. SB16 in 1990-1992 games is almost nonexistent, so I was actually probably better served with a card with SB Pro compatibility
2. GM support in 1990-1992 games is almost nonexistent and although DreamBlaster S2 can emulate an MT-32 to some extent, I would be better served with using a MUNT-Pi through the Gameport.

So I'm thinking about replacing the CT2290 with something. I'm torn on what to pick. My options are below:

Avance Logic ALS007 OPL3
Avance Logic ALS100Plus+ ALSFM
C-Media CMI8830/A C-Media FM
Crystal CS4232/CS4289 CrystalFM
Crystal CX4236B CrystalFM
ESS ES688FC OPL3
ESS ES1868F ESFM
ESS ES1898F ESFM
OPTi/ADI 82C929/AD1846 OPL3
OPTi/ADI 82C931 OPTiFM
Yamaha YMF-719B-S OPL3
Yamaha YMF-719E-S OPL3

Opinions?
A500:Rev6|+512K|ACA500+|C1084S
i386:Am386SX25|4M|GD5402|ES688
i486:U5S33|8M|GD5428|YMF719|DB-S2
i586:P133|32M|T64+/MX2|V1|CT3980/32M
i686:K6-2/400|128M|Rage|V2|CT4520/32M
S370:P3-1200|384M|GF4-4200|MX300
S754:A3700+|2G|X1950PRO|SB0350
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby gdjacobs » 2019-8-16 @ 14:35

appiah4 wrote:I recently built a U5S-SUPER33 system to play 1990-1992 games with, and just dropped in a Sound Blaster 16 CT2290 because I wanted to use a DreamBlaster S2 with it.

Reality check results:

1. SB16 in 1990-1992 games is almost nonexistent, so I was actually probably better served with a card with SB Pro compatibility
2. GM support in 1990-1992 games is almost nonexistent and although DreamBlaster S2 can emulate an MT-32 to some extent, I would be better served with using a MUNT-Pi through the Gameport.

So I'm thinking about replacing the CT2290 with something. I'm torn on what to pick. My options are below:

Avance Logic ALS007 OPL3

Maybe
Avance Logic ALS100Plus+ ALSFM

The one above has better features.
C-Media CMI8830/A C-Media FM

Compatibility is weak.
Crystal CS4232/CS4289 CrystalFM

Hello, no! Buggy/strange FM implementation, although PCM playback is wonderful.
Crystal CX4236B CrystalFM

See if you like this version of CrystalFM.
ESS ES688FC OPL3
ESS ES1868F ESFM
ESS ES1898F ESFM

ESS is probably my favourite. No fuss, no muss.
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby badmojo » 2019-8-16 @ 21:45

I’m messing around with sound options in a 486 currently and after much messing about am thinking I’ll just go with a CT2230 SB16. Why do you need SB Pro compatibility? What game does stereo and doesn’t have SB16 as an option?

ESS is also my fave - so easy and so awesome - but anything other than the ES688 is probably a bit modern for a low end 486.
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby carlostex » 2019-8-16 @ 21:48

You'll be fine with either an ESS or a Yamaha 719 card.
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby appiah4 » 2019-8-16 @ 23:15

badmojo wrote:I’m messing around with sound options in a 486 currently and after much messing about am thinking I’ll just go with a CT2230 SB16. Why do you need SB Pro compatibility? What game does stereo and doesn’t have SB16 as an option?

ESS is also my fave - so easy and so awesome - but anything other than the ES688 is probably a bit modern for a low end 486.


For stereo FM music and sound fx in games? I don't know if there are that many to actually pose a problem but off the top of my mind Dune 2 and Ultima Underworld appeared to lack SB16 options and I remember these having Stereo sound on an SB Pro..
A500:Rev6|+512K|ACA500+|C1084S
i386:Am386SX25|4M|GD5402|ES688
i486:U5S33|8M|GD5428|YMF719|DB-S2
i586:P133|32M|T64+/MX2|V1|CT3980/32M
i686:K6-2/400|128M|Rage|V2|CT4520/32M
S370:P3-1200|384M|GF4-4200|MX300
S754:A3700+|2G|X1950PRO|SB0350
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby maxtherabbit » 2019-8-16 @ 23:38

CT1330A Sb Pro
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby firage » 2019-8-16 @ 23:43

Pretty sure all SB Pro clones are of the CT1600, which has the same FM chip configuration as the SB16. The twin-OPL CT1330A would be a bit more unique, and quite rare.
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby appiah4 » 2019-8-17 @ 05:23

maxtherabbit wrote:CT1330A Sb Pro


Unfortunately not an option that I own..
A500:Rev6|+512K|ACA500+|C1084S
i386:Am386SX25|4M|GD5402|ES688
i486:U5S33|8M|GD5428|YMF719|DB-S2
i586:P133|32M|T64+/MX2|V1|CT3980/32M
i686:K6-2/400|128M|Rage|V2|CT4520/32M
S370:P3-1200|384M|GF4-4200|MX300
S754:A3700+|2G|X1950PRO|SB0350
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby derSammler » 2019-8-17 @ 07:01

Personally, I like the ALS100Plus+ and using it in a 486DX4-100 build. The ES1868F is a good one, too.

However, for a low-end 486, I'd choose the ES688FC OPL3. It fits best and nothing can beat real OPL3 anyway.
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby matze79 » 2019-8-17 @ 09:34

I would Choose the Yamaha Card if its one without cost cutting and cheapo components, then it will offer nice audio quality and also opl sound.

But if you use less then 16Mb RAM stay away from softsynth driver for windows 3.x. it uses a lot of memory.
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby derSammler » 2019-8-17 @ 10:06

matze79 wrote:But if you use less then 16Mb RAM stay away from softsynth driver for windows 3.x. it uses a lot of memory.

One of the reasons why I would not use the Yamaha card. It's wasted in a low-end 486, since you can not make full use of it.
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby dionb » 2019-8-17 @ 10:38

gdjacobs wrote:[...]

C-Media CMI8830/A C-Media FM

Compatibility is weak.

Eh? This is about the most trouble-free 'runs anything' card I have. For starters it does both SBPro2 and SB16, does both even in the more troublesome games I have and has an easily usable 'upside down' wavetable header. Not that it's the best match for what appiah4 is asking for, but that's because he doesn't want SB16 and probably could use a real OPL3 (although C-Media's FM isn't that bad).
[...]

ESS ES688FC OPL3
ESS ES1868F ESFM
ESS ES1898F ESFM

ESS is probably my favourite. No fuss, no muss.

As with the YMF719 cards, depends on the card. Driver-wise (or lack thereof) it's perfect, particularly the ES688 with non-PnP: just set the jumpers, add the corresponding SET BLASTER line and ready - SBPro2 with less bugs - and a real OPL3 as well. But some cards built with it are really shitty, with lots of hum and no high tones in output.

Of course how much noise is acceptable, what filtering (if any) is desirable, and whether OPL3 is the holy grail or other FM synthesis has merit are all subjective. Faced with this glut of choices I'd just try them out one by one and decide which sounds best for to me. I usually settle on an Aztech 2316 for SBPro2, but that's not one of these options...
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby oeuvre » 2019-8-17 @ 12:57

I'd use a YMF719 as well. Good quality, easy to setup, decent compatibility, no hanging notes.
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby matze79 » 2019-8-17 @ 13:09

derSammler wrote:
matze79 wrote:But if you use less then 16Mb RAM stay away from softsynth driver for windows 3.x. it uses a lot of memory.

One of the reasons why I would not use the Yamaha card. It's wasted in a low-end 486, since you can not make full use of it.



Using a SoftSynth does not make use of the Card except for Waveplay. Who cares about this one ? he uses a Dreamblaster S2.
So he does not need it at all.

The Yamaha Card benefits from full integration. And therefore has good Audio Quality.
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby appiah4 » 2019-8-17 @ 13:22

Thanks for all the feedback.

My first choice was to go with ES688/OPL3 as well but that card is what I use in my 386SX so some variety was welcome. Also it requires a TSR for MPU401 so its not ideal for MT32/GM.

I am curious about YMF71x cards honestly but I never tried them. Do they need memory consuming TSRs?

For the moment I am slapping on an el cheapo Formosa ES1868 card; I find ESFM to be on par with (even preferrable to) OPL3, and they have no driver overhead..

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Last edited by appiah4 on 2019-8-17 @ 13:38, edited 1 time in total.
A500:Rev6|+512K|ACA500+|C1084S
i386:Am386SX25|4M|GD5402|ES688
i486:U5S33|8M|GD5428|YMF719|DB-S2
i586:P133|32M|T64+/MX2|V1|CT3980/32M
i686:K6-2/400|128M|Rage|V2|CT4520/32M
S370:P3-1200|384M|GF4-4200|MX300
S754:A3700+|2G|X1950PRO|SB0350
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby Tiido » 2019-8-17 @ 13:24

YMF71x cards need no TSRs to run. You can also use my SETYMF utility to init and control the cards, which is a massive improvement over Yamaha's own software.
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby appiah4 » 2019-8-17 @ 13:40

Interesting. Which of these three is the better card to try?

Image Image Image
A500:Rev6|+512K|ACA500+|C1084S
i386:Am386SX25|4M|GD5402|ES688
i486:U5S33|8M|GD5428|YMF719|DB-S2
i586:P133|32M|T64+/MX2|V1|CT3980/32M
i686:K6-2/400|128M|Rage|V2|CT4520/32M
S370:P3-1200|384M|GF4-4200|MX300
S754:A3700+|2G|X1950PRO|SB0350
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby Tiido » 2019-8-17 @ 13:48

First one, it has both crystals. The others lack 24.576MHz crystal and in windows you'll have issues with 32 and 48KHz audio due to it.
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby appiah4 » 2019-8-17 @ 20:30

Tiido wrote:First one, it has both crystals. The others lack 24.576MHz crystal and in windows you'll have issues with 32 and 48KHz audio due to it.


I went with it.

I also used the latest Win3.1 drivers and your SetYMF utility for DOS (downloaded the latest version on your sound card homepage). I can't recommend SetYMF highly enough. Incredible work, well done. However, one small bug report: IRQ selections for Configurations A and B are reversed. Whatever I pick for A goes to B (MPU401) and whatever I pick for B goes to A (SB) and added to the SET BLASTER line.
A500:Rev6|+512K|ACA500+|C1084S
i386:Am386SX25|4M|GD5402|ES688
i486:U5S33|8M|GD5428|YMF719|DB-S2
i586:P133|32M|T64+/MX2|V1|CT3980/32M
i686:K6-2/400|128M|Rage|V2|CT4520/32M
S370:P3-1200|384M|GF4-4200|MX300
S754:A3700+|2G|X1950PRO|SB0350
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Re: Picking a sound card for a low-end 486

Postby badmojo » 2019-8-18 @ 01:05

appiah4 wrote:For stereo FM music and sound fx in games? I don't know if there are that many to actually pose a problem but off the top of my mind Dune 2 and Ultima Underworld appeared to lack SB16 options and I remember these having Stereo sound on an SB Pro..


A SB16 will do stereo FM, the SB Pro incompatibility only impacts digital voice. Not an issue for Dune 2 then but might be for Ultima Underworld, I've never tried that one. Not trying to be a jerk in pointing this out - this issue with the SB16 is brought up a lot but hasn't ever actually been a problem for me in the real world.
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