Which ISA sound card is best for DOS/98SE games?

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

Re: Which ISA sound card is best for DOS/98SE games?

Postby PARUS » 2018-5-19 @ 20:55

BeginnerGuy wrote:a vibra 16 with the YMF-262 <...> paired with an Awe32.

Why?! There is no reason to plug two SB16 cards into one machine, for what? If you want true OPL plug SB Pro compatible card. SB Pro paired with SB16/AWE is real best. I would be looking for ES688F with YMF-262. If you'll find it you'll get excellent SB Pro compatibility (much more perfect than SB16/AWE gives), genuine OPL, SB16 compatibility, AWE synth.

ESS688 should be IO=220 IRQ=7 DMA=1 FM=388
AWE64 should be IO=240 IRQ=5 LDMA=0/3 HDMA=5/7 FM=OFF AWE=640 MPU=300/330
And a third-party good mixer for best sound quality. No wires between the cards, no excess noises.
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Re: Which ISA sound card is best for DOS/98SE games?

Postby jheronimus » 2018-5-19 @ 21:08

Since you've mentioned you want to use MusicQuest, I'd just go with OPL3 version of AWE32. It's just a very fun card: you get proper AdLib, SB16 and expandability via SIMM30 memory modules (yay, soundfonts!). If you ever want to use external MIDI devices (the main AWE32 weakness) — just feed them into MusicQuest.
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Re: Which ISA sound card is best for DOS/98SE games?

Postby gdjacobs » 2018-5-20 @ 02:18

Flare wrote:I've lost faith in my PCI motherboard's ability to play accurate audio and I'm starting over with a motherboard with some ISA slots.

I found a good deal on a Sound Blaster AWE64, but are there better cards I should keep an eye out for?

My goal is full compatibility with as many DOS games as possible with just one sound card.


Good options include:

  • Aztech 2316 and 2320 based cards. First generation cards are noisier but include DSS and Covox emulation (which is groovy). The AZT2316 and AZT2320 (later generation cards) feature SB Pro support and either genuine OPL3 or 100% clones. Some compatibility issues are present such as reversed stereo.
  • ESS cards - ES688 cards can come with OPL3 or 100% clones. ES1688 and later feature an onboard proprietary FM synth implementation called ESFM which I feel to be quite pleasant and close to true OPL3, but for some this is a deal breaker. All cards have very good SB Pro support.
  • Crystal Semi cards - These cards are the benchmark in SB Pro audio quality (IMO), but versions featuring genuine OPL3 support are rare and expensive. I have a CS4232 card with Crystal's version of OPL3. I really dislike this version of FM synth, but CS4236 and newer chips might be better.
  • Yamaha YMF-71x cards - These cards are pretty much perfect and can be modified to be even better. The only weakness is in a lack of support for ADPCM audio which is used by some early Apogee games like Duke Nukem 2.

Aztech cards have been creeping up a bit in price, but the other three lines of card are very inexpensive.
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Re: Which ISA sound card is best for DOS/98SE games?

Postby BeginnerGuy » 2018-5-20 @ 02:52

PARUS wrote:
BeginnerGuy wrote:a vibra 16 with the YMF-262 <...> paired with an Awe32.

Why?! There is no reason to plug two SB16 cards into one machine, for what? If you want true OPL plug SB Pro compatible card. SB Pro paired with SB16/AWE is real best. I would be looking for ES688F with YMF-262. If you'll find it you'll get excellent SB Pro compatibility (much more perfect than SB16/AWE gives), genuine OPL, SB16 compatibility, AWE synth.

ESS688 should be IO=220 IRQ=7 DMA=1 FM=388
AWE64 should be IO=240 IRQ=5 LDMA=0/3 HDMA=5/7 FM=OFF AWE=640 MPU=300/330
And a third-party good mixer for best sound quality. No wires between the cards, no excess noises.


Depending on OPS location, ESS688 isn't the most common thing in the world. In my case, they are almost always in Europe or RU requiring expensive over seas shipping. SB pro cards are expensive. Etc. I don't see anything wrong with a vibra 16 or sb 16 w/ YMF262. In fact there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. When I play games with FM synth, it goes through the vibra 16. Otherwise it goes through the Awe32. I'm failing to see what the issue with that is, considering I said "cheap" :P. The difference is CQM vs Genuine OPL3 after all right?

I have a CT1600 and plenty of other cards, the Vibra 16 has the cleanest output IMO (short of a few sound galaxies), and with the YMF262 it has perfectly faithful OPL3 reproduction.
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Re: Which ISA sound card is best for DOS/98SE games?

Postby dr_st » 2018-5-20 @ 07:23

PARUS wrote:Why?! There is no reason to plug two SB16 cards into one machine, for what? If you want true OPL plug SB Pro compatible card. SB Pro paired with SB16/AWE is real best. I would be looking for ES688F with YMF-262. If you'll find it you'll get excellent SB Pro compatibility (much more perfect than SB16/AWE gives), genuine OPL, SB16 compatibility, AWE synth.

ESS688 should be IO=220 IRQ=7 DMA=1 FM=388
AWE64 should be IO=240 IRQ=5 LDMA=0/3 HDMA=5/7 FM=OFF AWE=640 MPU=300/330
And a third-party good mixer for best sound quality. No wires between the cards, no excess noises.

You know, that sounds interesting. One of these days I may just try to plug the AWE64 and the Audician 32 Plus (+DreamBlaster S1 Daughterboard) at the same time, and configure them thus.

This should really cover the entire range of DOS games.

However, if the OP wants a single card, then the choice between an AWE64 and an SBPro2 clone (w/ genuine OPL3 and Wavetable header), is not an easy choice to make. For later games that can utilize SB16 stereo and AWE synth, the former may be better; For earlier games - the latter. If you have a Wavetable daughterboard, then it tips the scales towards the SBPro2 clone, but you still lose SB16 stereo effects...
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Re: Which ISA sound card is best for DOS/98SE games?

Postby lvader » 2018-5-20 @ 10:55

dr_st wrote:
PARUS wrote:This should really cover the entire range of DOS games.
.


The minimum for me is 8 and 16 bit digital, OPL3, Roland LA (MT32), GM (ideally Roland)

to achieve this I use 4 sound cards, AWE 64 gold, Resound OPL3, Roland LAPCI and Roland RAP10. That covers most things but not everything,
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Re: Which ISA sound card is best for DOS/98SE games?

Postby badmojo » 2018-5-20 @ 12:11

gdjacobs wrote:[*]Crystal Semi cards - These cards are the benchmark in SB Pro audio quality (IMO), but versions featuring genuine OPL3 support are rare and expensive. I have a CS4232 card with Crystal's version of OPL3. I really dislike this version of FM synth, but CS4236 and newer chips might be better.


Yes the FM synth in the later chipset is quite nice actually - I have a couple CS4237 based cards and they're cheap, the FM is nice, and the SB Pro quality is still up there. WSS support is also nice.

The QCM thing is overdone, it's fine, so the AWE64 is a fantastic option I think. Or grab a CT2230, or one of the good clones in gdjacobs' list.
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Re: Which ISA sound card is best for DOS/98SE games?

Postby lvader » 2018-5-20 @ 12:57

I don’t mind CQM most of the time, but in some cases it sounds completely wrong, Cannon Fodder is a good example, instead of gun shots you get a stange sound.
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Re: Which ISA sound card is best for DOS/98SE games?

Postby PARUS » 2018-5-20 @ 17:16

BeginnerGuy wrote:The difference is CQM vs Genuine OPL3 after all right?

No! You don't want to see anything except FM. The difference is SB clones work in SB/SBpro mode better than SB16/AWE. I mean SFX. Genuine OPL we can find not only with Creative cards. And two cards in system SBclone+SB16 is much better way than SB16+SB16. And my example with ESS688 is good because gives us perfect clean sound and has YMF-262. Not only Vibras can this. Another example - YMF718/719 - real OPL3, perfect SB compatibility, clean sound.

dr_st wrote:You know, that sounds interesting. One of these days I may just try to plug the AWE64 and the Audician 32 Plus (+DreamBlaster S1 Daughterboard) at the same time, and configure them thus.

This should really cover the entire range of DOS games.

:) Yeah, I know it about 10 years and use SBPro clone and SB16 together in one retro machine. And try to explain it.

lvader wrote:The minimum for me is 8 and 16 bit digital, OPL3, Roland LA (MT32), GM (ideally Roland)

to achieve this I use 4 sound cards, AWE 64 gold, Resound OPL3, Roland LAPCI and Roland RAP10. That covers most things but not everything,

OK, I welcome this with the great pleasure. I myself use 4 sound cards:
- Terratec EWS64XL with NEC XR385 (jwt27's spdif mod) - "SB Pro" card
- AV310 - "SB16" card
- GUS Ace - no comments
- AWE64 - EMU8k sound
Also there are MT-32 and SC-88 connected to MPU UART channels on these cards. If I need Intelligent I run SoftMPU.
All lines are connected to SB Live inputs, just one mixed output to amplifier.
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Re: Which ISA sound card is best for DOS/98SE games?

Postby gdjacobs » 2018-5-21 @ 18:28

PARUS wrote:
BeginnerGuy wrote:The difference is CQM vs Genuine OPL3 after all right?

Another example - YMF718/719 - real OPL3, perfect SB compatibility, clean sound.


As noted above, no ADPCM. This is only relevant for a handful of titles.
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Re: Which ISA sound card is best for DOS/98SE games?

Postby badmojo » 2018-5-21 @ 20:58

Also a hardware mod is required to fix the filter to make it sound like a real SB Pro, and the DOS software is not great.
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Re: Which ISA sound card is best for DOS/98SE games?

Postby fillosaurus » 2018-7-13 @ 11:51

I like a lot the ESS cards, not only from nostalgic POV (my first PC soundcard back in 1996 was a Miss Melody with ESS 688 chipset). They are easy to configure, have excellent SB Pro compatibility and they really flex their muscles in games with native support for ESFM, which IMHO sounds better than OPL3. On second place in my preferences are Yamaha OPL3-SAx cards. I use one of these in my current DOS/Win98 build; for a very simple reason, it has the WT connector in the right place so I can connect a NEC XR385 wavetable, which is kinda large and cannot be used directly with a reduced height card (I am too lazy to build a ribbon connector).
Worthy mentions are some pieces in my big collection of soundcards, like:
Aztech 2320 (That card is really PnP, the only thing I had to do to get it work in DOS was the SET BLASTER line, had no need for drivers, I do not use it now because it has no WT header and my MIDI projects like building an external MIDI module around the NEC XR385 or using a Raspberry Pi as a host for FluidSynth have stalled);
Reveal SoundFX, decent card, kinda noisy.
Yamaha SW20-PC, my only card with OPL4 and sort of a rarity.
Gravis Ultrasound ACE, which 16 years ago worked in tandem with the SW20, for that time they gave me the best audio experience for ISA cards.
Honorable mentions for ALS 100+ and 120, if I remember correctly they sounded good and were SB16 compatible. I still have an 100+, when (or if) I finish my external MIDI module projects I will give it a spin.

I have several SB16 Vibra and AWE64 cards, and a SB32. Can't say I was impressed in any way by them.
Crystal 4235 cards are horrible, missing FM notes, clicks, sometimes skipping digital audio. 4237 are better;
CMI 8330: I had one onboard on an old M726 P II board from champions of sleaze PC Chips. Have one discrete card, again not impressed by it.
Voodoo box: Celeron 800 MHz, 512 Mb SDRAM, Voodoo 3 3000 AGP, 80 Gig Seagate, Yamaha OPL3 SAx 718+NEC XR 385, SoundBlaster Live!, NEC USB 2.0 PCI card.
WIP: external midi module based on NEC wavetable (Yamaha clone); VLB 486
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Re: Which ISA sound card is best for DOS/98SE games?

Postby schmatzler » 2018-7-13 @ 21:08

gdjacobs wrote:Aztech cards have been creeping up a bit in price, but the other three lines of card are very inexpensive.

The Aztech MM Pro 16IIIS is very cheap (there is one on eBay currently that costs about 5 bucks including shipping) and also uses a 2320 chip.

They come up from time to time and always sell for a few bucks only.
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