Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

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Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby retro games 100 » 2018-10-11 @ 14:58

Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite,

1) It's got an ATAPI / IDE connector. That's cool. Can you boot from it? If not, were there any 16-bit ISA sound cards that would allow you to do this?

2) How much was it when new, and was the ESP daughterboard an optional extra, and if so, at what cost?

3) Does the output for speakers require amplification, and also, is there a jumper onboard that might be used in connection with the card's (amplified?) output?

Thanks a lot.
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby cyclone3d » 2018-10-11 @ 19:17

Don't know about 1 and 3, but here is some information on #2.

Press release with pricing: Looks like it was $200
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/comp.sys.ibm.pc.soundcard.advocacy/sZv7u93FeoA

Looks to me like the ESP daughtercard was included.
https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Ensoniq_Soundscape_Elite
https://web.archive.org/web/19970607104214/www.ensoniq.com/html/mm-pi.htm - Look at the "Soundscape Elite Specification Sheet" below.
https://web.archive.org/web/19970607112942/http://www.ensoniq.com:80/html/5200.htm
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby 640K!enough » 2018-10-12 @ 15:07

I think I paid closer to $150 (USD) with the introductory trade-in offer (shipping extra, and I don't remember what the arrangement was to send in the used board). The effects daughterboard was a core part of the Elite feature set; although it was possible to remove it and still have the card work, I am not aware of it ever having been shipped that way.

I never had a use for the on-board drive controllers, but am not aware of any sound card that allowed booting from an on-board ATA/IDE controller.
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby retro games 100 » 2018-10-12 @ 16:27

Thanks for the info! :)
It seems extraordinarily cheap, if you compare that with say the AWE32 at $400. At least, I think that's what it cost when it was released. Amazing that Ensoniq disappeared soon afterwards. So sad.
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby cyclone3d » 2018-10-12 @ 16:33

retro games 100 wrote:Thanks for the info! :)
It seems extraordinarily cheap, if you compare that with say the AWE32 at $400. At least, I think that's what it cost when it was released. Amazing that Ensoniq disappeared soon afterwards. So sad.


Creative bought Ensoniq.
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby 640K!enough » 2018-10-12 @ 16:45

It was a really good deal at the time. If you compare it to the price of a GUS, AWE 32, or Audiotrix Pro (over $500 CAD when similarly equipped, at launch), you were really getting a great card for the money. Comparing the built-in instrument banks, it easily blew the competition from Creative out of the water. The GUS wasn't much of a competitor for MIDI quality, either, especially with the mess of instrument substitution with less than 1MiB and developers' refusal to use it to its full potential. The Audiotrix Pro was a more worthy competitor, but sometimes delivered odd results with files composed for Sound Canvas, and cost as much as several Ensoniq cards, to say nothing of the lack of additional drum kits or GS instruments.

The sad story is that Creative first tried to sue Ensoniq into oblivion because they were succeeding where Creative had failed: good Sound Blaster compatibility on the PCI bus in a low-cost solution. When that didn't work, they bought what was left outright; a familiar pattern of dirty tricks with Creative.
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby swaaye » 2018-10-12 @ 20:38

IIRC, Ensoniq's musical instrument division wasn't doing super hot. Their sound cards probably weren't either, aside from the OEM wins with Gateway and multimedia kits. So the low prices were probably necessity and weren't sustainable. The Soundscape Elite was actually available direct for $160 in mid/late 1995.

Their Sound Blaster compatibility actually wasn't very good and it's mono-only with Soundscape, but they did well getting native support from game companies.

There was a Soundscape II that was an Elite without the ESP card.

HERE IS THE INFORMATION YOU REQUESTED
Soundscape Direct Offer

What's the Deal?
Soundscape, Soundscape ELITE, and the Soundscape DB daughter board
are all available direct to your door from ENSONIQ. Choose your
card, send us the order form with your payment, and we'll ship
you the most incredible sound card value available.

Prices are as follows:
Soundscape Elite $159.95
Soundscape $129.95
Soundscsape DB $64.95
Altec Lansing ACS-31 $99.95
Altec Lansing ACS-5 $44.95 (speakers available only while supplies last)
Shipping: UPS Ground is free, 2nd day is $12.00,
overnight is $17.50,
overnight Saturday is $27.50.
International shipments via DHL for $25.00
PA residents must add 6% sales tax.
Attachments
dirsales.txt
(2.64 KiB) Downloaded 2 times
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby Cloudschatze » 2018-10-12 @ 21:13

640K!enough wrote:The sad story is that Creative first tried to sue Ensoniq into oblivion because they were succeeding where Creative had failed...

Are you mistakenly referring to the Aureal debacle? I've never encountered a mention of Creative suing, or attempting to sue, Ensoniq.
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby 640K!enough » 2018-10-13 @ 01:09

Cloudschatze wrote:Are you mistakenly referring to the Aureal debacle? I've never encountered a mention of Creative suing, or attempting to sue, Ensoniq.

No, I thought this was another instance of the same sort of strategy. I may be remembering incorrectly, but I thought there were a number of lawsuits related to Sound Blaster compatibility, with Ensoniq among the targets. I haven't managed to find any documentation of this, so consider it [citation required] for now. I'll keep looking if I have time, and will post a link if I find credible supporting documentation.

swaaye wrote:Their Sound Blaster compatibility actually wasn't very good and it's mono-only with Soundscape, but they did well getting native support from game companies.

If you were referring to their FM emulation, then I agree; it was rather abysmal. The digital audio side of things was pretty solid, as far as I remember (though mono-only, as well, I think). The distinct advantage was that absolutely no TSRs were required; once the code was uploaded to the on-board 68000, emulation was completely hardware-based.

If they were so inclined, and unafraid of Creative's legal department, they could probably have done stereo and Sound Blaster 16 support. The hardware was already more than capable, and the design likely flexible enough.

It was a superior solution to Creative's cost-reduced emulation TSRs on the AWE line. Unfortunately, Ensoniq resorted to the same tactics to reduce the cost of their later ISA cards, which lends credibility to the claims that they weren't doing too well financially (though I don't remember reading about that at the time).

swaaye wrote:The Soundscape Elite was actually available direct for $160 in mid/late 1995.

Yes, I probably used a similar, earlier version of that offer. This was slightly before the Elite shipped, and they were taking used cards as part of a trade-in offer. Later, I guess not wanting to deal with the large number of cards being sent in, they expanded the offer, but said, "just throw it out" of the old card.
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby pyrogx » 2018-10-13 @ 10:13

To answer the remaining questions:

retro games 100 wrote:Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite,
1) It's got an ATAPI / IDE connector. That's cool. Can you boot from it? If not, were there any 16-bit ISA sound cards that would allow you to do this?


No, you cannot. The base address of the cdrom controller is SYNTH_BASE+0x8, and it has to be enabled with a separate DOS driver first. An IDE port on a sound card should be bootable if it uses a standard IO port (0x170h for secondary IDE, i.e.) and standard IRQ (15 for IDE2), but I never tried it.

retro games 100 wrote:3) Does the output for speakers require amplification, and also, is there a jumper onboard that might be used in connection with the card's (amplified?) output?

There's no "real" amplifier on the Soundscape, only a small 4565 OpAmp coupling the output to the DAC. So no jumper for that as well.
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby retro games 100 » 2018-10-13 @ 10:39

Thanks very much for everyone's helpful and really interesting comments!
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby 640K!enough » 2018-10-13 @ 13:30

pyrogx wrote:There's no "real" amplifier on the Soundscape, only a small 4565 OpAmp coupling the output to the DAC. So no jumper for that as well.

I had a look again and, as mentioned, they specify powered speakers or headphones. It seems that it was meant as a line out, rather than an amplified output. There is no selection jumper offered, either; that is the only option.
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby swaaye » 2018-10-13 @ 18:07

640K!enough wrote:If you were referring to their FM emulation, then I agree; it was rather abysmal. The digital audio side of things was pretty solid, as far as I remember (though mono-only, as well, I think). The distinct advantage was that absolutely no TSRs were required; once the code was uploaded to the on-board 68000, emulation was completely hardware-based.

If they were so inclined, and unafraid of Creative's legal department, they could probably have done stereo and Sound Blaster 16 support. The hardware was already more than capable, and the design likely flexible enough.

It was a superior solution to Creative's cost-reduced emulation TSRs on the AWE line. Unfortunately, Ensoniq resorted to the same tactics to reduce the cost of their later ISA cards, which lends credibility to the claims that they weren't doing too well financially (though I don't remember reading about that at the time).

swaaye wrote:The Soundscape Elite was actually available direct for $160 in mid/late 1995.

Yes, I probably used a similar, earlier version of that offer. This was slightly before the Elite shipped, and they were taking used cards as part of a trade-in offer. Later, I guess not wanting to deal with the large number of cards being sent in, they expanded the offer, but said, "just throw it out" of the old card.


I kept using my SBPro 2 alongside my Soundscape back then. No TSRs with that combo. I did experiment a little with the Ensoniq's SB support out of curiosity. The SB 2.0 support doesn't work with all games, and that OPL FM emulation is a curiosity at best. Fortunately many games started to have native support and that was very high quality compared to any Creative product.

Creative's AWEUTIL / MPU-401 emulation might not be cost reduction. The E-Mu synth just isn't natively designed to be like Roland hardware. But yeah the success and popularity of AWE cards is interesting. I believe I bought Ensoniq because the articles I read said they sounded great and they were relatively low priced. My dream setup was probably SB16 + Roland SCD-15 but I couldn't afford that back then.
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby retro games 100 » 2018-10-13 @ 18:16

I really like the SB Pro 2. I prefer it to a SB 16.
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby swaaye » 2018-10-13 @ 18:20

Good to see you around RG100. :)
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby retro games 100 » 2018-10-13 @ 18:28

Thanks very much swaaye! And to all of the awesome people on this amazing forum too!
I was listening to the incredible Ensoniq Soundscape Elite powered Dark Forces opening soundtrack yesterday on your youtube channel! I don't think I've ever heard a better sounding trumpet sound (is that correct?) than from that card.
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby 640K!enough » 2018-10-13 @ 19:26

swaaye wrote:Creative's AWEUTIL / MPU-401 emulation might not be cost reduction. The E-Mu synth just isn't natively designed to be like Roland hardware.

The Elite's synthesiser wasn't, either; that was the point of the supporting hardware, including the 68000. In fact, that is what Creative did when they put the E-Mu 8000 on the second-generation Wave Blaster, so it seems reasonable to accuse them of cost-cutting, or arrogantly assuming that, because it was a Sound Blaster, native support was guaranteed, so why bother with standards support, proper firmware or added cost?

Contrast that with Mediatrix, where they added not only a custom control chip to the OPL4 (which also wasn't natively MPU-401 compatible), but firmware loaded into a micro-controller that customised the parameters for the standard Yamaha instrument ROM, providing Fat-certified instrument balance. The result, again, was a TSR-free experience and generally solid compatibility with most software, no matter what variation of protected mode was used.
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby swaaye » 2018-10-13 @ 20:27

On the other hand Ensoniq cut costs by not implementing RAM expansion for samples or using an OPL3 chip to shore up compatibility. Pick your preferred set of compromises.

I don't think it's hard to understand why Creative wouldn't go out of their way to support MPU-401. Roland was competition. It kept me from buying an AWE though. I could even see AWEUTIL's flakiness being intentional.
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Re: Ensoniq Soundscape Elite - some questions

Postby swaaye » 2018-10-13 @ 20:35

retro games 100 wrote:Thanks very much swaaye! And to all of the awesome people on this amazing forum too!
I was listening to the incredible Ensoniq Soundscape Elite powered Dark Forces opening soundtrack yesterday on your youtube channel! I don't think I've ever heard a better sounding trumpet sound (is that correct?) than from that card.

Yeah it has some nice patches. And some not so great ones. The percussion is particularly powerful on the Elite. Some people preferred the original Soundscape's patch set.
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