Reply 20 of 24, by eightbit
I received it today. So what do I think?
WOW. This card is fantastic. I mean...really really fantastic!
I first tested Unisound and that finds the card properly right away which is great. No need for the Windows drivers if you are planning to use this in pure DOS. Everything sounds wonderful. I have been testing various cards on a 486 DX-4 100 I built looking for the "right card" on a budget. Just something that sounds good in most games and does not have any MPU-401 bugs. I have a few Soundblasters, but they all have MPU-401 bugs. A real PITA as I use a SoundCanvas.
I eventually settled with a Crystal 4239-KQ card which is actually a really good card. But it (as with almost all of the other cards I tested including the ESS Audiodrive) had sound quirks especially with Tyrian which is one of my favorite games. The sound effects are not great with any of my cards other than the Soundblasters. The female voice always sounds like she is clearing her throat while speaking 😀
But this Rockwell card, nope, sounds perfect! I went through a bunch of games. Blake Stone, Keen 4, Doom, Hexen, Heretic, Epic Pinball....everything sounds awesome! Future Crew's "Second Reality" using Soundblaster Pro setting sounds better on this card than any other card I own. Even Wolf3D sounds great. Usually with this particular game and most cards its the music is really low and sound effects really loud, or clicking/popping in the menu select...and other stuff. This card works with that game perfectly which I am really happy about because I love a good Wolfenstein 3D experience!
I did install the WaveArtist drivers which are Windows 3.1 . You cannot install them from DOS. Even launching the setup.exe FROM DOS invokes Windows 3.1 to load to continue the install. It installs a few tools like a sound recorder, a CD player app, a simple mixer and midi player. Oddly all it adds to the autoexec is a setpnp executable which sits in the Windows directory that inits the card on bootup much like Unisound does. That tool has a bunch of options as well when I checked the help. It works fine, but again if your goal is a DOS only machine Unisound will work just the same.
As an added bonus the Afterdark Windows screensaver of the flying toasters works fine now with sound and runs smoothly. Previously with most other cards the animation would be jerky while the sound played on that screensaver for some odd reason. Not on the others...but on flying toasters. I have no idea why many sound cards do this on that screensaver. But, this Rockwell is good 😉
I was not able to activate the Dreamblaster X2GS in it however. I am certain it is muted, but I cannot see anywhere in the mixer settings to unmute and increase the volume for the internal header. I will have to investigate that further at some point. I had an issue similar with my Crystal card but that was rectified by launching the DOS mixer and changing source to line in and upping the volume. This however does not provide a DOS mixer at all. The mixer is in Windows and all settings set there carry over to the DOS init. But, none of those mixer settings unmuted the header. But, I also have an external Roland SC-50 and that works beautifully with this, so I think I'll keep using it with this machine and reserve the wavetable board for another machine. Maybe Unisound has the ability to unmute whatever I need to in order to get the wavetable header on this to output MIDI. If anyone knows please let me know.
And, testing joystick calibration using some DOS tools I found here on Vogons (thanks rfnagel!)
The first application called "Joystick Check" has the calibration of the controller perfect dead center. I have tested various sound cards in my collection with the same generic gamepad controller and it is always wonky and off (although appears fine in games?) and thought maybe it was the pad itself, but checking the port and the same controller with this card displays a perfect center. No other sound card I have tested with this tool using my same generic game pad using this tool has resulted in a perfect dead center reading other than this one. I don't know if that means anything at all really... but it was a surprise to see that result. On a side note I have had some sound cards with bad gameports. Not too long ago I had an ESS Audiodrive card that after a short period of time would start pulling the controller to the left. I pulled my hair out trying to hone down that issue (which ended up being the sound card) so I am always testing gameports now 😉
At the end of the day all of this said, this card is staying in this 486. It works better than the dozen or so ISA sound cards I already own. Too bad its so rare...I would love to have a few more. Is it the "dream" sound card? I am not one to make that determination for anyone. But for me...hell yeah it is!
Rockwell did a superb job here...too bad it didn't receive a more widespread release. I really love this WaveArtist! I haven't found anything bad about it at all. Of course more testing is needed, but so far I am very impressed. This is certainly a keeper...and CERTAINLY worth the $20 with free shipping I paid for it!