The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

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The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby Great Hierophant » 2005-6-15 @ 21:18

Now that I have had my Roland CM-500 sound module for a couple of weeks, I would like to share my observations not only about the unit but also about true Roland synth.

The CM-500 is something approaching a DOS Gamer's wet dream. DosBox can emulate just about every major sound standard out there, PC Speaker, Tandy 1000, Game Blaster, Sound Blaster, Sound Blaster Pro, Sound Blaster 16, Gravis Ultrasound and General Midi (the last with the help of the on-board sound.) But DosBox does not natively emulate the Roland MT-32 Multi-Timbre Sound Module. Munt does at a high performance cost and it is not yet 100% accurate (but its getting very close to it.) DosBox does emulate the MPU-401 midi interface in both intelligent and dumb modes. Many games that supported the MT-32 tended to use intelligent MPU-401 mode because it relieves the host processor of having to deal with the midi data, improving performance.

Thus with DosBox we can use our midi modules natively, without emulation by connecting them to a midi port on a sound card and selecting the midi out in the multimedia properties.

What exactly is the Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module? Well, it is really two modules in one.

First, for MT-32 synthesis there is a Roland CM-32L module. This module is 100% compatible with the MT-32, but has 33 extra sound effects in the rhythm part. A very few Dos Games take advantage of these extra sound effects, but for the most part Dos games treat it as an MT-32. The MT-32 was designed for professional ("prosumer") musicians and has buttons for controlling the module on the front as well as an LED screen that displayed sysex messages. The CM-32L was designed as a reduced cost device for computer users and only has a volume dial and two leds in the front. You need software to gain any control over the device. The important thing about the CM-32L is that it will sound exactly like an MT-32.

Second, for General Midi synthesis there is a Roland CM-300 module included in the CM-500. This module is also compatible with the Roland GS extention to General Midi. General Midi alone allows only for 128 pre-defined tones, GS allows for 128 variations on each of those predefined tones. The CM-300 has 61 variation tones in addition to the 128 General Midi standard tones and the 128 preset MT-32 tones, (which are useless for this module.) It also has eight drum kits and 24 voice polyphony. The important thing about this module is that Dos Games generally had a Roland GS module like this in mind for if they supported General Midi. A Roland GS module was superior, for midi music, than virtually anything on the market at that time, including Creative's Wave Blaster and Sound Fonts.

The CM-500 has a four-position switch on the back to select between LA synthesis, GS synthesis or a combination of both. Two of the selections are useless for Dos Games.

There are four major disadvantages to using this module for Dos Games.

First, this module does not have a LED screen to display sysex messages. Some companies used this to transmit cute messages, which are lost to me.

Second, you must constantly switch the module from LA to GS and back again either by the switch or through sysex messages if you play games that support the MT-32 and Roland GS.

Third, the CM-500 emulates a Roland CM-32P module in the CM-32L mode using the GS hardware. The Roland CM-32P module was an add-on to the CM-32L module that added additional very high quality PCM samples. The Roland CM-64 is a true CM-32L and CM-32P combination. I know of no Dos Game that specifically supports this PCM, after all the basic Roland sound hardware was already very expensive! (I do know there are a few X68000 and MSX Turbo-R games that do, but they are in Japanese.) Unfortunately, the earliest Sierra SCI games, which were released before these PCM modules, don't sound right unless they are disabled. Later games account for these modules and don't have that problem.

Fourth, the Roland CM-500 GS hardware is based on the SC-55 GS Sound Module. Unfortunately, Roland improved the GS Sound Module range slightly in the SC-55mkII, increasing the variation tones to 98, the polyphony to 28 voices and perhaps adding another drum set later. The extra tones were included in later SCC-1 sound cards, and I may know of a game that may take advantage of the extra features.
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby HunterZ » 2005-6-16 @ 02:55

Here is a good site for pictures of Roland synths (although the text is in Japanese): http://www.dearhoney.idv.tw/MUSEUM/midi-1.php

I've been thinking of trying to pick up one or two Roland synth modules on eBay to use with DOSBox, but I'm trying to decide between either a CM-500 or a combination of MT-32 and Sound Canvas. To that end, I have some questions:

- What kinds of audio outputs do the various Roland synths use? I heard that the MT-32 uses two mono phono (jumbo headphone) plugs, which I gues makes sense being that it's meant for semi-professional use.

- What are the SC-88 models about? It looks like it might be an enhanced SC-55. edit: after running that page through Babelfish, it looks like it might be the SC-55 but with the addition of Yamaha XG support - neat!

- I don't see any CM-500's or SC-88's on eBay right now. I see one CM-55, one CM-55MkII, and a handful of MT-32s.

- How good is the MT-32 emulation mode of the SC-55 series?
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby Kippesoep » 2005-6-16 @ 05:34

HunterZ, you're right about the MT-32's output. Two 5.5mm mono jacks.

The SC-55 emulates the MT-32's default instrument set pretty much perfectly, but doesn't understand MT-32 sysex data. Any custom sound wil therefore not be heard.
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby Cloudschatze » 2005-6-16 @ 14:44

Great Hierophant,

Your issue with the earlier Sierra games is not a fault of the CM-500, but rather the MT-32 driver used for these games. You will need to use one of the later mt32.drv files, which included support for the MT-32 AND variants. An easy way to tell the correct driver is to edit the file. You want to see the following in the top line: "Roland MT-32, MT-100, LAPC-1, CM-32L, or CM-64."

Hope this helps.
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby HunterZ » 2005-6-16 @ 15:14

One comment I forgot to add:

- The LCD output of those synths (especially the Sound Canvas series) looks pretty cool. Would I really not be missing much by sacrificing it for the all-in-one capabilities of a CM-500?
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby Great Hierophant » 2005-6-16 @ 17:47

All Roland modules seem to use two 1/4" mono phono jacks, so you will need an adapter and a splitter for the 1/8" stereo phono jacks that PC speakers use.

Your issue with the earlier Sierra games is not a fault of the CM-500, but rather the MT-32 driver used for these games. You will need to use one of the later mt32.drv files, which included support for the MT-32 AND variants. An easy way to tell the correct driver is to edit the file. You want to see the following in the top line: "Roland MT-32, MT-100, LAPC-1, CM-32L, or CM-64."


I thought as much, the question is where to get replacement drivers. I
can't simply copy the file from a later Sierra SCI-0 game into the earlier SCI-0 game becuase the drivers contain the custom sounds for each game.

I am hesitant about recommending an SC-88 because I am not sure if that will reproduce the same sound of the earlier Sound Canvases. I would if it could play back a midi file composed for the earlier SC-55 or SC-55mkII perfectly (as in it would sound the same.) Is it beyond reason that Roland would want to "improve" on the standard GS sound set, especially as it shows its age? I think Quest Studios' forum may have more information.
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby HunterZ » 2005-6-16 @ 19:20

It would be odd for them to give it the Sound Canvas label if it's not fully backwards-compatable. I'm not much of a Roland buff though, so I couldn't speculate about how much of a priority full backwards-compatability is/was to Roland.
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby Leolo » 2005-6-16 @ 20:38

Great Hierophant, there's a solution to your problem.

We need to bribe vladr, canadacow and KingGuppy to get an SC-55 emulator! ;)

No, I'm serious, let's bribe them!

Cheers.
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby HunterZ » 2005-6-16 @ 21:11

Sounds good to me, but I'd like them to finish the MT-32 emulator first.
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby Cloudschatze » 2005-6-16 @ 21:50

I thought as much, the question is where to get replacement drivers. I
can't simply copy the file from a later Sierra SCI-0 game into the earlier SCI-0 game becuase the drivers contain the custom sounds for each game.


Yes, you can use the driver from another SCI0 game. The custom sounds for each game are not located in the driver, but rather in Patch files within the game resources (resource.001, etc.). The MT-32 patch file will always be named patch.001.
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby Great Hierophant » 2005-6-16 @ 21:54

Actually, I can solve the problem by finding someone to trade the CM-500 module for a Roland CM-32L and a SC-55mkII/55ST or something similar.

Interestingly, the Roland GS sound set is licensed by Microsoft from Roland in DirectX. The sounds are contained within a DLS file, but I only have an SB Live!, which does not use it. (The SB Audigy 2 ZS supports DLS.) I also have an excellent SCC-1 sound font.

One last thing, I would love either a Roland SCB-55 GS daughterboard or a SCP-55B PCMCIA sound card. The first can be used with PCI sound cards like the Aureal SQ2500 and the second can be used as a PCI sound card with an adapter. Both are decended from the SC-55mkII (extra sounds and polyphony.)

According to their manuals, the SC-88 and SC-88Pro contain SC-55/mkII sounds so files composed for those synthesizers will play back properly.
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby robertmo » 2005-6-17 @ 15:43

before you force anyone to make a SC emulator or spend money on cards/modules, try:

Roland Virtual Sound Canvas
or
Yamaha SoftSynthesizer S-YXG100plus
or
Yamaha SoftSynthesizer S-YXG50

;)
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby HunterZ » 2005-6-17 @ 16:45

I once got my hands on a copy of Roland Virtual Sound Canvas, and I couldn't get it to work in WinXP (it seemed very old). Same with one of the Yamaha XG SofySynths. I did get one Yamaha XG SoftSynth working and it was decent (sounded good with Final Fantasy 7 I guess).

There's something inherently sexy about the idea of having a real synth box connected to my computer though :)
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby Leolo » 2005-6-17 @ 18:07

robertmo wrote:before you force anyone to make a SC emulator or spend money on cards/modules, try:

Roland Virtual Sound Canvas
or
Yamaha SoftSynthesizer S-YXG100plus
or
Yamaha SoftSynthesizer S-YXG50

;)


But they are for Windows only :(
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby HunterZ » 2005-7-04 @ 00:57

Some updates:

Got my hands on a copy of Roland Virtual Sound Canvas 3.22 (after applying patches from Edirol's site I think). Sounds decent, although it sucks in DirectSound mode for some reason (have to use WaveOut mode for low-latency - 22.7ms - and correct sound with DOSBox). It's a nice substitute for not being able to use SoundFonts on my new computer (except via SynthFont, which is buggy as all hell and not designed well for use as a realtime soundfont software synth). I had soundfonts that sounded better, but none that were balanced as well as VSC (obviously). I should also mention that VSC has "sound sets" for SC-55, SC-88, and SC-88Pro and has General MIDI 2 and GS modes.

Also, SC-88's, SC-55MkII's, SC-55's, and MT-32's seem to be not all that hard to find. The CM series is much more rare, but I really find them much less attractive looking anyways even though they do have unique features (I think the SC series look like car stereos, while the CM series look like old external modems). The SC-88Pro is also rare, but as I intend to use it with old games which were primarily designed with the SC-55 and SCC-1 in mind I don't think I'd be missing much by having a normal SC-88. I'd also settle for an SC-55MkII for the same reason, and of course the SC-55 as a last resort.

The MT-32 stands on its own for me, and there are lots around so I have no worries as far as selection or availability. I've read that the CM-32L has less background noise, but without hearing the two models side-by-side I doubt it'd ever bother me.
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby HunterZ » 2005-7-04 @ 02:54

w00t, I won the SC-88: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?Vi ... 7333037719

I managed to avoid signing up for an eBay and PayPal account until the other day when I got a serious itch to buy some of these old synths for use with DOSBox. I also do some music composing (both MIDI and MOD tracker) and will definitely use the SC-88 for doing that as well.

Yeah, so it was my first eBay purchase. It slowly climbed to just under $100 over the last week, so I decided to wait until 1 minute left to put in a bid of $277. Some other guy bid about $255 a second before me, which sucked but I expected it (good thing I didn't go with $250 like I was thinking before I saw similar synths going for around that much)
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby Snover » 2005-7-04 @ 06:07

Hurray for cheating the system! >.>
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby Great Hierophant » 2005-7-04 @ 06:26

The MT-32 stands on its own for me, and there are lots around so I have no worries as far as selection or availability. I've read that the CM-32L has less background noise, but without hearing the two models side-by-side I doubt it'd ever bother me.


The CM-32L has four advantages over the MT-32, the CM-32L has double the ROM for 33 extra PCM sounds, the CM-32L has less noise outputs, the CM-32L is much less finicky about midi transfer speeds than an MT-32 and due to the CM-32L's lack of buttons it is idiot proof. It has three disadvantages compared to the MT-32, you have no buttons to control the parameters, so you must use software or sysex midi messages, it does not have the MT-32's LED screen to display midi messages and MT-32s are far more common.
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby HunterZ » 2005-7-04 @ 06:30

Actually I think that is the system. The way it's set up, bidding before the last couple of minutes just serves to run the price up higher for everyone. For example, if I had made that $277 bid a couple of days ago, someone would have decided they were willing to pay more than that and would have run the price up even more - until some poor sucker who was willing to pay way too much would gets stuck with the bill because everyone else cut their losses and went home.

It's not much better this way though - waiting until the last minute to bid the maximum you're willing to pay (or just a little more than what you think everyone else is at least), and hoping that they'll be greedy and walk up their bid amounts too slowly from whatever the last public bid was. I probably only won because the price was at $100 until the last couple minutes, and I jumped in at almost triple that when there was less than a minute left for everyone to guess my bid without going way over. The fact that the last bid that someone else made was only around $20 less than mine tells me that I was right to bid no sooner than I did.

Anyways, those're just my observations as someone who is new at it but spent a week thinking about these strategies while drooling over the desired items :)
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Re: The Roland CM-500 GS/LA Sound Module

Postby robertmo » 2005-7-04 @ 06:38

Roland Virtual Sound Canvas has a control pannel (in window's control pannel) which allow to configure latency. It is actually the first thing to be done before using it. So I set Response to 90,7 mSec and hear no delay, and the quality is perfect.
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