Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

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Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby gerwin » 2009-1-15 @ 23:07

Past month I was searching for the ISA card that had it all. And eventually I thought I found it:

Codec:
Crystal CS4232-KQ
Up to 16-bit 48KHz, full-duplex, hardware compression.
Compatible with Soundblaster, SB Pro Stereo, WSS 2.0.
Potentially excellent SNR and good compatibility.
Latest Windows 9X generic driver update: 1998.
Plug and play.

FM-Music:
Yamaha YMF262-M
Compatible with SB Pro, Adlib.

Midi-Music:
Crystal MPU-401 (UART), for use with external Midi Daughterboard on waveblaster connector or Sound-Module on gameport.

Edit:
Note on windows installation, to get the card working properly I think it needs to be set to flexible PNP mode, so you need cwdinit.exe or cs4232c.exe loaded with the '/w' or the '/a' parameter in your config.sys or autoexec.bat. '/a' differs from '/w' in that it also supports SBPro emulation.
In windows 2000/XP you normally cannot load the dos initializer prior to windows startup, this will leave you with a non-functional MPU...
Attachments
acer_magic_s23.jpg
Soundcard: Acer Magic S23
acer_magic_s23.jpg (78.33 KiB) Viewed 13505 times
Last edited by gerwin on 2009-2-24 @ 23:59, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby gerwin » 2009-1-16 @ 14:24

I have already installed the s23 on a 'Via apollo pro 133' based PC with one ISA slot. That PC never fancied me, but now I think the chipset is quite interesting. It only had windows 2000 and dos 7.10 installed. The soundcard works quite well in pure dos so far (Tie-fighter CD / System Shock CD / Psycho pinball). In windows 2000 it installed within seconds using Pre-installed Microsoft drivers 'crystal WDM xxx'. The opl-3 is available as a midi device, yet the mpu-401 is not. I need to look into that...

The circuit board layout of the card suggests that it can be used for an alternate chipset. that would be the s32 with the Creative Soundblaster Vibra 16S, similar to the ct2800. see image. Still some slots remain empty on either board.
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acer_magic_s32.jpg
Soundcard: Acer Magic S32
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby elianda » 2009-1-19 @ 12:25

Well I am not so sure for the Crystals 4232 WSS support.
On the more professional cards like EWS64 or Maxisound 64 there is a CS4236 and I also tried a rather cheap ISA card with CS4232. With all I had problems getting WSS running in DOS. While the cards hardware compatibility says it is WSS compatible it mostly locks up in DOS (or doesn't give any signal). Despite of the somewhat problematic WSS support the Crystal seems to be a decent all in one codec for SB Pro and stuff.
I think at its time it was even one of the chips with the highest SNR ratio.
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby swaaye » 2009-1-19 @ 19:39

The perfect ISA sound card would have about 256MB of onboard RAM so I could load any soundfont I desired. Hell, maybe it would just have a compactflash card slot!

It would have flawless OPL3 support. It would have crystal clear audio output and a fully configurable equalizer. It would be capable of 16-bit 48KHz too, of course. Its digital audio section would be fully compatible with SB16. It also wouldn't need any TSRs and would be configured entirely by jumpers.

:)
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby gerwin » 2009-1-19 @ 22:59

@swaaye; Yes.. When I could make such demands your description would better fit the perfect isa soundcard. But now from the ones that have actually been made.

@eilanda;
I haven't tested the WSS functionality enough myself judge that. Do note that there is a cs32wss.exe utility to switch it to WSS mode once it has stuck to SB-Pro mode.
Also I think there are actual miles-sound drivers for this chipset: digmaxi.dig and mdimaxi.mdi. So you by installing these manually in a game you can also use it in another way then SB-Pro. Though I am not sure it really matters much, because most games have 8-bit sound.
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby leileilol » 2009-1-20 @ 05:23

i've had issues with wss-based hardware being incompatible with having opl3 or pcm at the same time, or if it worked it had mad static (like in Tyrian)
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby swaaye » 2009-1-20 @ 19:43

gerwin wrote:@swaaye; Yes.. When I could make such demands your description would better fit the perfect isa soundcard. But now from the ones that have actually been made.


:)

Well, unfortunately, there is no perfect ISA card. The manufacturers tried and tried but all of the intellectual property issues basically made it impossible. There weren't any solid standards for them to follow and every company wanted to do things their way.

The safest combo is something like a SB16 or SBPro2 + a Roland MIDI card. I personally like the Ensoniq cards for their clean audio quality. Lots of games made after 1994 support them natively for digital audio. They can be run alongside a SB card without any trouble.
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby gerwin » 2009-2-12 @ 23:15

To continue about this card...
Maybe topic title was a little provoking, but still, The Magic S23 is extraordinarily sweet. some advocacy:

1)
Here the top 5 of Rich Heimlich's Patch Set Overview. He knew what he was talking about back then on the newsgroups. (The full document is attached below)
7/95 Rich Heimlich's Patch Set Overview [Top 5 only]
Turtle Beach Tropez 8.0
Roland SCC-1 8.0
Ensoniq Soundscape 7.9
Ensoniq Soundscape Elite 7.9
Media Vision Pro 3-D (Korg AI2) 7.8

SCC-1 and Tropez share 1st place, there is the Soundscape too. The SCC-1 is a music only card, so his highest rated General purpose soundcard at that time is the Tropez. That's a CS4231/Opti based card with a Wavefront wavetable with RAM and a real OPL3. I read the CS4231 was the most expensive mainstream sound codec chip to find on a sound card, with excellent SNR. The CS4231 is a big chip, but no standalone sound card chip.
What followed whas the Tropez Plus, based on the new CS4232, and the other parts somewhat similar. Now if you could just replace the wavefront wavetable with a soundcanvas in the form of a SCB-55 on a daughterboard header... but it has no such header.

2)
I had the Terratec Maestro 32/96 installed for a while. Based on the CS4232 chipset. It sounds flawless, and every game digged it as a SBPro compatible, indeed it was not always WSS compatible. Its wavetable is a well done yet imperfect SoundCanvas clone, but it has a header for a daughterboard so you can fix that. Its FM is done by one of the wavetable FM chips, very nice but not genuine OPL3.

3)
In october 1998 when I look a the most expensive sound cards (set out to some well known others):
ZYSTM/INFORMATIQUE [price in Dutch Guilders]
Crystal Soundcard 16 bit PnP .......................... 23,-
Soundblaster Pro compatible PnP ISA ................. 34,-
Soundblaster 16 PnP ISA ............................. 69,-
Soundblaster Live! PCI ................................ 470,-
Terratec EWS64 S ...................................... 475,-
Guillemot Maxi Sound 64 Home Pro ISA ................. 551,-
Terratec EWS64 XL ..................................... 985,-

The two most expensive Semi-Pro cards use the CS4236 chipset. The cheapest probably uses the CS4235 or CS4237. Strangely enough the CS4232/35/36/37(B) are very similar, allmost identical. Often you can use the same drivers. But only the CS4232 has no integrated FM. AFAIK this is the only chip of the series you can hope to find on a board with a real OPL3.

The point I want to make is... Even though it looks humble, the Magic S23 retains most essentials of the above mentioned cards (highly rated and priced), with less drawbacks.


swaaye wrote:The safest combo is something like a SB16 or SBPro2 + a Roland MIDI card. I personally like the Ensoniq cards for their clean audio quality. Lots of games made after 1994 support them natively for digital audio. They can be run alongside a SB card without any trouble.

That will certainly allow you to get some great sound out of DOS games. :) But you will need four ISA slots, many system resources and an external mixer, and still... how to get OPL3 music without noise, you would need a SB16 of the Vibra-S kind and no other, and then one would have no working wavetable header on any of these cards. The Soundscape seems like a fine card, and sure it deserved it's 7.9. But it has crappy FM and is not SBPro compatible. Neither is any SB16 SBPro compatible in stereo. SBPro games will need the noisy genuine SBPro then, which has its stereo reversed.

leileilol wrote: I've had issues with wss-based hardware being incompatible with having opl3 or pcm at the same time, or if it worked it had mad static (like in Tyrian)

I tried it and tyrian only detects the CS4232 as a WSS in the setup program, but gives no sound as such in the game. The OPL3 music worked fine. When I configure it for SBpro both sound and music work well.

Another thing: Terratec gave a fix for their Maestro 32/96 as it may give bootup or rebooting problems on some systems. But I found the problem and the fix to apply to other CS4232 cards as well: Topic with info on the bad capacitor rating

Last but not least a screenshot I made of the generic CS4232 DOS setup. The cwaudio.bin line is no error, it is an optional thing. I don't know if the initializer is required as a TSR and how much memory it uses. It never gave me any problems with games as such.
...And sorry for this big post ;) .
Attachments
cs4232_init.png
CS4232 Dos Setup Verbose Mode
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Heimlich.txt
7/95 Rich Heimlich's Patch Set Overview
(26.16 KiB) Downloaded 346 times
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby gerwin » 2009-2-13 @ 19:57

As requested by tikbalang: Attached the Crystal (=Cirrus Logic) Dos drivers, latest version that should work with these chipsets: CS4232/35/36/37(b). There are later driver versions too, but they dropped CS4232 support IIRC.
The full Dos driver package is a bit hard to obtain as the package on the cirrus logic website requires a Windows 3.1 installation.
Attachments
README.TXT
Crystal Dos drivers for CS4232/35/36/37(b) - Readme
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cwd_dos.zip
Crystal Dos drivers for CS4232/35/36/37(b)
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby swaaye » 2009-2-13 @ 20:18

What is the best ISA card to host a daughtercard? That's what I'd like to know. Aside from the Roland MPU-AT or whatever it is called.

I have a setup right now with the Ensoniq Soundscape + Monster Sound MX300. The Aureal card can host a daughtercard and put out superb audio quality. It is truly amazing how much better the DB sounds on there than on a SB16. But this setup lacks quality FM. FM isn't a big deal for me though, honestly. I'll usually use GM in a game or run DOSBOX on another comp for FM games...

I've tried like 6 different AWE32/SB32/SB16 cards and have found none that put out good, clean sound. It is truly amazing how low quality those cards are. And, the only one that would host a Roland DB without stuck note problems is my first edition SB16!

AWE64 Gold is actually decent quality, but the card has so little RAM and it only has the dumb proprietary expansion method. And there's no DB header. AND, I'm sure it has poor FM quality as it must have the wannabe Creative FM synth.
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby gerwin » 2009-2-13 @ 20:57

There is a Vortex-2 in my system, it is a good DB host indeed.

Here is a quick overview of the series of ISA cards that can be found with a waveblaster header (I might have missed some), you pick your favorite:
-Roland MPU-401-AT
-Crystal CS4232/35/36/37(b)*
-Yamaha Opl-SaX*
-Avance Logic ALS-100*
-Aztech (Waverider etc)
-Opti, or combinations of Opti with either CS4231 or AD1845
-Creative SB16 (most later cards are defective in this regard)
-ESS audiodrive
*card may be small, and the waveblaster header might be placed on a inconvenient location, or be unsuitable for a full size daughterboard.

Most of them I have not tried, I can only recommend a CS4232 ;)

EDIT: added the ESS audiodrive, It was on my written list, but forgot to type it in.
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby Silent Loon » 2009-2-13 @ 21:42

Terratec Gold 16/96 is another option. It has an ESS chipset (I think ESS1868F?) no true Opl3 but very good Adlib / SBpro compability. Simple to configure, and of course with wavetable header. MPU-401 Uart mode, good SNR, as long as you use the unamplified line out.
Vibra 16S (CT2800) is for me one of the best SB16 cards as it is not so noisy as the other ones. To me the only one you could really use, the drawbacks are lacking SBPro compability and the infamous hanging notes bug, that those cards might have (I have the card, but didn't test it out.)

@gerwin: Turtle Beach Tropez Classic is a great card, ICS Wavefront sounds a bit special, but great in games that are not so strictly designed for the Sound Canvas. There is a second midi header on the board for an external midi2 device, but I don't know if it is possible to change this somehow to a Waveblaster header? But you could connect a MT-32 or a SC-55 to it and have a nearly perfect combo with only one card. As said, the card has a real OPL3 chip and the Opti929 + CS4231 combo, that is said to be SBPro compatible (how could this be tested?). You could also change the compability mode in the setup and choose WSS instead.
In WC Privateer this card is my first option. Mass drivers never sounded more like mass drivers.
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby swaaye » 2009-2-14 @ 00:15

Anyone remember the Crystalake cards? Computer Gaming World raved about them. I was never able to find one though. Obviously they are related to Crystal Semi.

http://groups.google.com/group/comp.sys ... card&pli=1
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby gerwin » 2009-2-14 @ 20:51

@swaaye
Yes, just past years that I read about the existence of these cards on google groups. It seems Crystalake was a small company that went out of business after releasing only a few types of sound cards. I read about the 105, having a CS4231. And the praised 140, which appears in every way to be another Terratec Maestro 32/96. (Crystal CS4232 chipset, 4MB ROM GM/GS dream wavetable, 4 layer PCB). Very rare indeed, I can't even find a picture of a crystalake card.

Some weeks ago I also read about a card by the famous Adlib company that is very similar: The Adlib ASB 64 image (CS4232, CS/Dream wavetable)

Reading through the old sound card newsgroups I keep seeing certain names: mr. Heimlich, mr. Mullen, The Crystalake guy, and the Audiotrix guy. I think there is currently an Audiotrix Pro shipping towards me... But the ad on ebay did not have a picture, so I am not really sure what I will get. I sure hope it is this one: image (CS4231, Opl4, 2MB ROM)
It got a 7.1 from mr Heimlich, its biggest drawback; being expensive.

@Silent Loon
The midi-2 connector on the Tropez, does it have 4 pins in a row like on my Maestro 32/96? I did figure out the pinout of that one: Midi-out; GND; Midi-in; +5Volt.
If you got a serial-midi signal you can always route it to a daughterboard. (Pin 12 of the gameport, Pin 4 of the waveblaster header, Pin 1 of the Midi-2 connector etc..) But you have to supply the daughterboard with power in an alternative way then. I'll show you my home-build solution in a topic of it's own later.

I also have that CT2800, you had a topic about it some weeks ago. I bought it after that great article on queststudios by dvwjr, and it is the only creative ISA card I own. I don't really have a home for it though; I could accept one of its two bugs (Midi/SBPro), but both?
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby Cloudschatze » 2009-2-24 @ 04:43

swaaye wrote:I've tried like 6 different AWE32/SB32/SB16 cards and have found none that put out good, clean sound.

You might look into the CT2940, which is based on the ridiculously quiet CT2502 ASIC, and can be found with either CQM, or a Yamaha OPL3-L. I recently installed a DB50XG onto one (of the OPL3-L variety), and can state that the CT2940 provides the cleanest output of any DB-capable Creative offering I've heard.

It may not be the "perfect soundcard," but it's remarkably decent, all-the-same.
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby Agrajag27 » 2009-9-07 @ 05:14

(from Rich Heimlich)

WOW, I must say I wish I saw this a lot sooner when you guys were still
discussing this. A friend pointed me to this thread. Thanks for the kind words and MANY thanks for the last patch set overview I did as I actually had lost it and meant to track it down. Now I have it again.

In my view the "best" ISA sound card was the ONLY one I ever allowed my name to appear on as a recommendation to users (including the Sound Blaster's) and that's the Ensoniq Soundscape Elite. It did pretty much everything well with very few trade-offs. Wonderful SB support, solid AdLib support, one of the very best patch sets out there (and just 2MB if memory serves), etc.

It got a 7.9 in my overview but it was right at the top of products that supported the Sound Blaster. The Tropez nipped it but back then we were willing to put up with a few annoyances you wouldn't want to bother with today. The Elite just worked.

There was a Crystal Lake card with a really solid CS-4232 (the 140 if memory serves .... later a 4280 but they might not have even made retail) that was tremendous but almost no one saw one so I never got around to really recommending it before the whole market evaporated.

RAM on an ISA card was entirely a waste of resources as far as the user community was concerned. Almost no one ever used the RAM put on the cards that had it.

All of this said, I agree most with swaaye. There was no perfect ISA card for many reasons. Many of us ran multiple cards (I used to, quite normally, run five different cards in my rig for a while).

FORGET clean audio out of ANYTHING Creative from the 90's. Just not going to happen. They didn't believe in filtering (too expensive) and just thought no one cared so they never bothered to try to make it clean.

Sorry to get to this, again, so late but it's still great to see. One of these days I have some stories to share about Creative and some things they did but I'm sort of waiting for a few people to pass on before I spill the beans. Hoping I'm still around after that to tell it.
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby elianda » 2009-9-07 @ 08:14

Nice to hear from you again.

I wonder whats your recommendation nowadays, when the cards are rather cheap if you can get one. Also memory upgrade is not much of a problem.
f.e. a EWS64XL using the not so official Roland SC soundfont for Dream based cards. (the one Dream got a lawsuit from Roland)
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby leileilol » 2009-9-07 @ 09:28

I've had an unavoidable noise floor coming from the CS4231, and CS4232 and CS4248 chipsets. Noise is the big no-no for the crystal semiconductor cards
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby elfuego » 2009-9-07 @ 10:20

Agrajag27 wrote:One of these days I have some stories to share about Creative and some things they did but I'm sort of waiting for a few people to pass on before I spill the beans. Hoping I'm still around after that to tell it.


You can just as well spill the beans as an unknown member. We're all gonna catch it, and nothing must point to you :blush:
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Re: Perfect ISA soundcard, in theory

Postby ih8registrations » 2009-9-07 @ 11:10

I have a wavetable daughterboard that has the same as the adlib asb 64, cs9233 and cs8905, and another three, all the same, that have cs4110 and 9331/sam 9203 dream. From what I remember of looking this up, dream is the copyright notice for the company that created the patch set.
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