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Reply 40 of 60, by Eep386

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Best card? I've seen quite a few that I like, probably a Sound Blaster Pro 2, lousy floating amps aside. It doesn't sound that bad, and it's hard to beat its compatibility.
I also very much like the sound of the original Ad Lib card.
I've also met a good number of rather great-sounding clone cards from ESS, OPTi (gotta be mindful of off-pitch sound under Joshua Jensen sound driver games though) and Yamaha (though these often need quite a lot of tweaking in the mixer to get rid of the evil hiss from the "Ymersion" nonsense, when they have it). But the clones all vary, seemingly from one card to another, and oftentimes the really cheap, cut-rate looking ones (almost always the ones without any pre-amp chips onboard) sound exactly as they look - cheap and cut-rate.

One pleasant surprise I got was from a random Media Vision Jazz16 card. Its Sound Blaster Pro compatibility is very good and the sound is crisp and clean.
An Ensoniq Opus also didn't sound bad at all, barring the lame FM "emulation", provided you don't run into some issues with the remapped ports. Just don't expect it to sound like a 2MB patchset SoundScape.

Worst? AdMOS QS3000, Ensoniq AudioPCI, and almost anything else Creative made past the original 8-bit compatible sound cards. (Some of the Sound Blaster 16s do fix up fairly nicely, but it's annoying to have to fix them in the first place. All the same, I do keep a number of ViBRAs on hand for compatibility's sake.)

Life isn't long enough to re-enable every hidden option in every BIOS on every board... 🙁

Reply 41 of 60, by Joseph_Joestar

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Best

Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium PCIe (model SB0880). Pretty much the perfect WinXP sound card, with no noticeable drawbacks. Optical in/out, EAX 1-5 support, excellent resampling algorithm and soundfont loading capabilities. My card of choice for the 2001-2007 era of gaming. I also have one in my modern PC since Creative ALchemy can provide EAX support for certain games even under Win7 and up. Lastly, its recording capabilities are quite good, and I often use it to capture in-game music and audio from my retro rigs.

Worst

Sound Blaster 128 PCI (model CT4810). This card has the worst FM synth emulation that I've ever heard, no contest. Its General MIDI is based on ECW sets (not soundfonts) and the instruments used there sound bland and artificial to my ears. And while it supports EAX 1&2, it does so only through software emulation, which sounds noticeably worse than a SBLive while taxing your CPU a lot more. Overall, a fairly useless card.

Build #1: Celeron 466 / Abit ZM6 / Voodoo3 / AWE64 / YMF744 / SC-155
Build #2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / GeForce4 / SBLive / ALS100
Build #3: Athlon64 3700+ / DFI LanParty / 9600GT / X-Fi Titanium

Reply 42 of 60, by Oetker

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dionb wrote on 2021-02-26, 01:20:
Warlord wrote on 2021-02-26, 01:15:

Ya, I can't stand anything creative. While the AWE64 has been card I have ever owned there is enough things wrong with it to always experiment and look elsewhere for other alternatives.
It pretty much just works but the wavetable is not that good and the CQM is not that good, other than that its like a jack of all trades.

If I could get SB16 + Good wave table and Real OPL3 that would be the best card but I don't know what card that is.

Sounds like an ALS100 card with decent components (a challenge in itself) and wavetable header, with something good inserted there. Then again, a later (non-noisy) SB16 for SB16 with a separate card for OPL and MIDI also works fine - take that Aztech MMSN824 for example. Add a CT2230 to it and you have a pretty nice setup, or an AWE64 Gold for an even nicer one.

All three ALS100 cards I've bought now refuse to work on my machine, one is detected by Windows/UNISOUND only works for a couple of seconds, the others aren't detected most of the time and when they are they refuse to play audio as well.
It might be due to my specific machine (Compaq Deskpro) or it might be to the low quality of all three cards, but it sure is annoying because it would be the perfect card for me.

I agree that Aztech cards are a good choice, I'm using a 2320 now and used a 2316 before that. Both have/had some small issues though, like refusing to play sounds in game A unless game B is started first, refusing to play sound if booted to DOS from Windows instead of directly to DOS.

Reply 43 of 60, by dionb

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Oetker wrote on 2021-02-26, 07:39:

[...]

All three ALS100 cards I've bought now refuse to work on my machine, one is detected by Windows/UNISOUND only works for a couple of seconds, the others aren't detected most of the time and when they are they refuse to play audio as well.
It might be due to my specific machine (Compaq Deskpro) or it might be to the low quality of all three cards, but it sure is annoying because it would be the perfect card for me.

Yes, that's the frustrating bit. I have one that actually works as I want, another that is nice and compatible, but is missing the left audio channel, which, coincidentally my ALS007 card also suffers from. It's a real shame no one made a bullet-proof high-quality card with this chip as it really has about everything you could want on paper.

I agree that Aztech cards are a good choice, I'm using a 2320 now and used a 2316 before that. Both have/had some small issues though, like refusing to play sounds in game A unless game B is started first, refusing to play sound if booted to DOS from Windows instead of directly to DOS.

DOS-from-Windows is a place I've decided not to go, it's a whole different ballgame. No surprise then that different cards would be best there.

Reply 44 of 60, by Oetker

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dionb wrote on 2021-02-26, 13:31:
Yes, that's the frustrating bit. I have one that actually works as I want, another that is nice and compatible, but is missing t […]
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Oetker wrote on 2021-02-26, 07:39:

[...]

All three ALS100 cards I've bought now refuse to work on my machine, one is detected by Windows/UNISOUND only works for a couple of seconds, the others aren't detected most of the time and when they are they refuse to play audio as well.
It might be due to my specific machine (Compaq Deskpro) or it might be to the low quality of all three cards, but it sure is annoying because it would be the perfect card for me.

Yes, that's the frustrating bit. I have one that actually works as I want, another that is nice and compatible, but is missing the left audio channel, which, coincidentally my ALS007 card also suffers from. It's a real shame no one made a bullet-proof high-quality card with this chip as it really has about everything you could want on paper.

I agree that Aztech cards are a good choice, I'm using a 2320 now and used a 2316 before that. Both have/had some small issues though, like refusing to play sounds in game A unless game B is started first, refusing to play sound if booted to DOS from Windows instead of directly to DOS.

DOS-from-Windows is a place I've decided not to go, it's a whole different ballgame. No surprise then that different cards would be best there.

So you've also got ALS cards that plain refuse to work? Which model is the one that works well for you? I've got an unbranded one, an ASound and a Pro16PNP-4.
Just to be clear, with 'DOS from Windows' I really did mean 'Restart in MS-Dos mode', the 2320 driver that comes with Win98 puts the card in a state where it won't work in DOS anymore.
The 2316 had problems playing sound in Doom unless I started another game (which could be Doom itself) first.

Reply 45 of 60, by Bancho

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Its hard to choose a best card really.

I would probably lean towards the Terratec EWS64XL.

I currently run these two as a pair and make for a pretty awesome duo.

Turtle Beach Malibu - (You could say this is extremely close to what the Orpheus card is, instead swapping the WT header and MPU401 options with the Kurzweil Synth)
Sound Blaster Awe32 CT3900 - I have this loaded up with a 8mb ram and a Korg Wavetable board and this one has the OPL3 on too.

Both have nice clean sound and even SPDIF if I wanted to go digital.

Worst card

Aztech Waverider 32+ - Not so much with its abilities but more on getting the bloody thing to work. I wanted to use it in my 486 and when enabling the Onboard synth would cause the machine to reboot. I find Aztech cards can be quite the pain to get going, but there quite decent when they do run.

Reply 47 of 60, by mkarcher

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I was surprised to see the AD1816-based cards get so much hate. I bought one (a board called TT-AD1816, likely a OEM edition of the Terratec Base 1) in 2000 for 10€ or less new, and it worked like a charm in linux, with arbitrary sample rates between 5kHz and 55kHz, and even full duplex. The DOS PnP initialization tool is a no-frills tool that just does what it is supposed to do. I would always choose that tool over CTCM/CTCU. SB Pro emulation works perfectly, even in stereo. Those cards have a working (bug free) wave blaster header.

The "3D Stereo enhancement" feature is (as usual) not useful for every purpose: On the one hand, it certainly makes some mono (SB 2.0 + OPL2) applications more pleasant, but it severly degrades good stereo mixes. For example, the positioning of instruments in software MIDI synthesis is way clearer with the "stereo enhancement" turned off than with that enhancement turned on.

One major problem with the AD1816 cards is that the chip does not have WSS support, which in fact is a real bummer for modern DOS retrogaming. The Analog Devices data sheet of the AD1816 is extremely misleading by prominently pointing out that the card is compatible with Windows Sound System standards, but they just mean the drivers they have conform to some Microsoft Software API.

Reply 48 of 60, by effy

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I haven't played with many yet but am amassing a small collection I'll be testing out.

So far the Best for me is an SB Live CT4670 with the Audigy Drivers. Sounds great in general, and the SC-55 soundfont is excellent.

Worst has to be an Mwave card with an ESS ES1989S chip. I need to work with it some more and maybe try in a different motherboard but it's got all kinds of weird noises on boot/shutdown. DOS compatibility is pretty weak with the drivers I've found so far.

Reply 49 of 60, by pc-sound-legacy

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I don't think there's THE best card. But I definitely would be aware of these late 90s OPTi 930/931 and ALS120+ cards with even no line out configuration as at least mine are very noisy. (They have this small pcb with the gameport connected by flatbed-cable)

Reply 50 of 60, by Rawit

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dionb wrote on 2021-02-26, 01:04:

Best:
Aztech MMSN824

I've been using an MMSN830 for a little while now. It's really solid, great sound, not a crackle or pop to be heard. I haven't compared noise levels but from what I heard I like it even better then my Turtle Beach Tropez.

Worst:
Asus I-A16C (Vibra 16C chipset). Basically a Sound Blaster 16 built by ASUS. I was hoping it meant that it wouldn't suffer as much from the known bugs as his Creative brethren... It's noise free but basically has issues with all my favorite games with the hard clipping bug being the worst offender.

Last edited by Rawit on 2021-03-24, 08:50. Edited 2 times in total.

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Reply 51 of 60, by creepingnet

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My best cards have all been official SOundBlasters of some kind. Currently I run an AWE64 in my 486 DX4-100. Second runner up would be the ESS Series cards. My first SoundCard was one - an I/O Magic MagicSound 16 with an ESS1869 Chipset in it. Probably the most proper Soundblaster clone I've ever seen for a 486 machine. Probably third is the SOundBlaster Pro 2.0.

Next up is the Meh and Weird cards. Though not actually a card, my Versa M/75's WSS compatible Crystal CS-4231-KQ goes in this category. No OPL, and has hilarious glitches in digital audio, like slowing Diablo down so it sounds darker and more evil. Listening to the town drunk like a 78 record on 33rpm is HILARIOUS and creepy. Next up would be the Reveal Packard Bell card Creeping Net 1 had for a time, I think it was Aztech based, and it had this strange habit of the Yamaha synth going completely off the rails in Monkey Island 2 in Stan's Previously Owned Coffins.....like each instrument started to slowly follow it's own tempo, leading to a hilarious cacauphony.....at first I thought it was deliberate because I witnessed it as I had just finished nailing Stan in the coffin.....but I sat there for about 5 minutes and listenined to the entire MI2 soundtrack go totally unraveled by tempo, and as Stan pleased and begged to get out of that Coffin, it just added to the comedy of the glitched out MIDI orchestration. The SB 2.0 in Monkey Island also falls into this category......I once moved to that card while in the Catacombs and almost thought to goopi racket that ensued due to the high-speed-computer glitch almost seemed legitimate, at least until those ear-raping shreiks and honks started. Another one that was a bit annoying was the DIamond TElecommander 2300 SoundCard/14.4K modem my GEM 386/Pentium 233 MMX had before I went full PCI in that system - I had to use TEleCommander 2400 drivers on it becuase nobody had the 2300 drivers anywhere on the internet.

Worst sound cards? Some other Aztech based Packard Bell crap I had. For a time around 2002-2007 I was getting a LOT of these cards, loose and in old systems, some Packard Bell, some fraknensteins put together by Auburn college students I suppose. Some never worked, some would not auto-detect OPL, some of them I could never find drivers for at the time. For all I know a bunch of those plus a SB1.0/Clone? and probably even the Diamond Telecommander and Reveal cards might still be at my childhood home. If there ever comes a time I can snag them, I will. Might eb fun to capture that crazy old Reveal on YouTube.

~The Creeping Network~
My Website - https://sites.google.com/site/thecreepingnetwork/home
My Youtube Channel - https://www.youtube.com/creepingnet

Reply 52 of 60, by appiah4

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Best: Zoltrix Audio Plus 6400 3D PnP V.5 (AV310)
Very integrated CMI8830/A chipset that is SBPro, SB16 and WSS compatible, and has a 100% genuine OPL3 FM Synth, as well as SPDIF I/O, bugfree MPU-401. Only downside is that it is a PnP card, but I LOVE mine.

Worst: Any card with CS/CX4235
Garbage

Retronautics: A digital gallery of my retro computers, hardware and projects.

Reply 53 of 60, by Joseph_Joestar

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appiah4 wrote on 2021-03-24, 08:41:

Best: Zoltrix Audio Plus 6400 3D PnP V.5 (AV310)
Very integrated CMI8830/A chipset that is SBPro, SB16 and WSS compatible, and has a 100% genuine OPL3 FM Synth

Is there any evidence that CMI8830 has a 100% OPL3 clone? As in datasheets or a detailed analysis.

I've listened to some recordings online and they sound pretty good. Just curious if there's empirical evidence to back it up.

Build #1: Celeron 466 / Abit ZM6 / Voodoo3 / AWE64 / YMF744 / SC-155
Build #2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / GeForce4 / SBLive / ALS100
Build #3: Athlon64 3700+ / DFI LanParty / 9600GT / X-Fi Titanium

Reply 54 of 60, by appiah4

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Joseph_Joestar wrote on 2021-03-24, 08:46:

Is there any evidence that CMI8830 has a 100% OPL3 clone? As in datasheets or a detailed analysis.

I've listened to some recordings online and they sound pretty good. Just curious if there's empirical evidence to back it up.

Not that I know of, to be honest. I can't even find its datasheet via google. However, going by what my ear can judge and comparing waveforms, and how it behaves on quirky chiptunes, it seems 100% genuine.

Retronautics: A digital gallery of my retro computers, hardware and projects.

Reply 55 of 60, by darry

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Joseph_Joestar wrote on 2021-03-24, 08:46:
appiah4 wrote on 2021-03-24, 08:41:

Best: Zoltrix Audio Plus 6400 3D PnP V.5 (AV310)
Very integrated CMI8830/A chipset that is SBPro, SB16 and WSS compatible, and has a 100% genuine OPL3 FM Synth

Is there any evidence that CMI8830 has a 100% OPL3 clone? As in datasheets or a detailed analysis.

I've listened to some recordings online and they sound pretty good. Just curious if there's empirical evidence to back it up.

See this thread for some useful info and tools on the subject --> The way to detect OPL3 clone

Reply 57 of 60, by Joseph_Joestar

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darry wrote on 2021-03-24, 08:58:

See this thread for some useful info and tools on the subject --> The way to detect OPL3 clone

That test is nice, but it passes on ESS cards. Which is probably a testament on how good their proprietary ESFM is at emulating OPL3.

That said, there are audible differences (though very minor) between ESFM and OPL3. It's more noticeable in some tracks than others, and one probably wouldn't be able to hear it out without a side-by-side comparison, or an ABX test.

Build #1: Celeron 466 / Abit ZM6 / Voodoo3 / AWE64 / YMF744 / SC-155
Build #2: AthlonXP 1700+ / Abit KT7A / GeForce4 / SBLive / ALS100
Build #3: Athlon64 3700+ / DFI LanParty / 9600GT / X-Fi Titanium

Reply 58 of 60, by appiah4

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Rawit wrote on 2021-03-24, 09:06:

How is the output of the Zoltrix? I think I read that the CMI8830/A has weak output, but that seems more a card design issue than a chip issue IMHO. Do you use SPDIF?

The line output is indeed weak, compared to what I am used to from other cards at least. I find that I need to add quite a bit of amplication to my USB sound card's Line In in the mixer for proper sound. It is however very clean. I do not currently use the SPDIF on mine. I will eventually rout the SPDIF Out to a PCI card once the setup is complete though.

Retronautics: A digital gallery of my retro computers, hardware and projects.

Reply 59 of 60, by darry

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Joseph_Joestar wrote on 2021-03-24, 09:06:
darry wrote on 2021-03-24, 08:58:

See this thread for some useful info and tools on the subject --> The way to detect OPL3 clone

That test is nice, but it passes on ESS cards. Which is probably a testament on how good their proprietary ESFM is at emulating OPL3.

That said, there are audible differences (though very minor) between ESFM and OPL3. It's more noticeable in some tracks than others, and one probably wouldn't be able to hear it out without a side-by-side comparison, or an ABX test.

ABXing would be good, but still subject to implementation variation on given boards .

One way to more quantatively compare chip accuracy without being influenced by variations in board implementation would be to compare (analyze sectrally or ABX levels matched recordings using the same test setup) the digital (S/PDIF) output of an OPL3 capable card such as the CMI8330 to that of a YMF7x4 (also has S/PDIF) or even the Nuked emulator . It may be better to use Nuked to have control over rendered sample rate, as not all clones (or even Yamaha implementations) use the same one (~49KHz , 44.1KHz and possibly others) . Then again, the CMI8330 may be resampling its OPL3 internally for it's S/PDIF out .