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ESFM details

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First post, by Error 0x7CF

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I've gotten quite curious about ESS's ESFM. It seems to be pretty common knowledge that it has a superset of OPL3 features, though sounds slightly different, but what in particular can it do better besides having more voices?

Operator waveforms: It has the waveforms OPL3 adds over 2, I think, but does it add additional ones over that? Do its base waveforms vary from the Yamaha ones in any meaningful way?

Operator combinations: It has 72 operator cells and 20 voices. It can obviously be configured into any way the OPL2/3 can, but what other ways? Can it be configured as 16 4-op + 4 2-op? That adds to 72, and that's a lot of 4-op FM voices.

Do any games have music specifically composed for ESFM? Is there any tracker that supports it?

I can't seem to find this information on any datasheet I can find, and it seems to me that from the little I've been able to read up that it'd be quite capable. Obviously it sounds a little different from an OPL3, but it seems horribly underused as anything but an okay OPL3 clone and a pretty good MIDI playback device under Win9x.

Old precedes antique.

Reply 1 of 23, by pc-sound-legacy

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I recently compared ESFM vs. generic OPL3 in Siedler 2 (Settlers 2) and it seems to me that it supports ESFM because it sounds more brilliant and superior to my ears.

https://youtu.be/Bpk3vkreSsA

I'm also interested to know other games with ESFM support for more comparisons!

Reply 2 of 23, by foil_fresh

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pc-sound-legacy wrote on 2021-01-17, 23:23:

I recently compared ESFM vs. generic OPL3 in Siedler 2 (Settlers 2) and it seems to me that it supports ESFM because it sounds more brilliant and superior to my ears.

https://youtu.be/Bpk3vkreSsA

I'm also interested to know other games with ESFM support for more comparisons!

i've been loving the uploads lately, keep them coming 😀

Reply 3 of 23, by Joseph_Joestar

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pc-sound-legacy wrote on 2021-01-17, 23:23:

I'm also interested to know other games with ESFM support for more comparisons!

Some late-era DOS games which use the Miles Sound System have "ESS Technology ES688 FM Audio" as a music setup option. I know that WarCraft 2 as well as Heroes of Might and Magic 2 support this, but there are probably even more games that do.

Note that there is also a separate "ESS Technology ES1688, 1788, 1888 Enhanced FM Audio" option which differs quite a bit from the ESS688 option. From my experience, implementation varies from game to game. It sounds ok in Heroes2 but kinda bad in WarCraft2, at least on my 1868F card. I'll see if I can make some recordings later today.

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Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 4 of 23, by Cyberdyne

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I have also tested it with Warcraft 2 and with many ESS Audiodrives all the way to 1869. And there are like some sounds missing, or the implementation is broken.

PS. My favourite meat and potatoes sound card.

I am aroused about any X86 motherboard that has full functional ISA slot. I think i have problem. Not really into that original (Turbo) XT,286,386 and CGA/EGA stuff. So just a DOS nut.

Reply 5 of 23, by Joseph_Joestar

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Tracks recorded and uploaded. I also added an OPL3 version for comparison purposes. Hardware used: Yamaha YMF724F-V for OPL3; ESS AudioDrive ES1868F for ESFM and ESFM Enhanced. Game versions used: Heroes of Might and Magic 2 + Price of Loyalty expansion pack + patch 2.1; WarCraft 2 + Beyond the Dark Portal expansion pack + patch 1.50. Everything was recorded in-game, not from setup menus or by playing MIDI files externally. Operating system used: DOS 6.22.

I was very impressed with how nice ESFM Enhanced sounded in Heroes2. You can really tell how big the difference is around 0:30 of that track. There seem to be a lot more instruments in the ESFM Enhanced version. On the other hand, WarCraft2 sounds broken on ESFM Enhanced. Possibly a developer oversight since digital sound is also broken when using the ESS AudioDrive option.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 6 of 23, by Bondi

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Joseph_Joestar wrote on 2021-01-18, 06:51:
pc-sound-legacy wrote on 2021-01-17, 23:23:

I'm also interested to know other games with ESFM support for more comparisons!

Some late-era DOS games which use the Miles Sound System have "ESS Technology ES688 FM Audio" as a music setup option. I know that WarCraft 2 as well as Heroes of Might and Magic 2 support this, but there are probably even more games that do.

Note that there is also a separate "ESS Technology ES1688, 1788, 1888 Enhanced FM Audio" option which differs quite a bit from the ESS688 option. From my experience, implementation varies from game to game. It sounds ok in Heroes2 but kinda bad in WarCraft2, at least on my 1868F card. I'll see if I can make some recordings later today.

I think that's logical that ES688 is separated as it actually has no built in FM synthesizer and it relies on an external one. And it may vary from Yamaha chips to different clones.

Reply 7 of 23, by Joseph_Joestar

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Bondi wrote on 2021-01-18, 11:27:

I think that's logical that ES688 is separated as it actually has no built in FM synthesizer and it relies on an external one. And it may vary from Yamaha chips to different clones.

Good point.

It also appears than the ES688 music option is a sort of "catch all" for ESS cards, at least judging by the description. Not sure if there are any differences when using that instead of "SB Pro" or "Generic OPL3" for music with an ESS card. Doesn't seem like it at first glance, but I haven't done any extensive testing.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 8 of 23, by Srandista

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Man, that "enhanced" Warcraft... Let's make it regular one, ok? 😁

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Socket A - ASRock K7S41GX, AMD Athlon XP 3000+, 512MB RAM, GeForce4 Ti4200, SB Live, Win 98

Reply 9 of 23, by Joseph_Joestar

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Srandista wrote on 2021-01-18, 15:06:

Man, that "enhanced" Warcraft... Let's make it regular one, ok? 😁

I wonder if Blizzard did any QA testing on ESS cards for that game.

Digital sound in AudioDrive mode is extremely muffled and distorted, but thankfully it works fine in SBPro mode. And as you can hear, ESFM Enhanced sounds like they are pushing music intended for a completely different sound device to the ESS card.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 10 of 23, by pc-sound-legacy

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Joseph_Joestar wrote on 2021-01-18, 12:40:
Bondi wrote on 2021-01-18, 11:27:

I think that's logical that ES688 is separated as it actually has no built in FM synthesizer and it relies on an external one. And it may vary from Yamaha chips to different clones.

Good point.

It also appears than the ES688 music option is a sort of "catch all" for ESS cards, at least judging by the description. Not sure if there are any differences when using that instead of "SB Pro" or "Generic OPL3" for music with an ESS card. Doesn't seem like it at first glance, but I haven't done any extensive testing.

That's correct. ESFM Starts with the ES1688. Earlier models like the ES688 does not feature ESFM. These external FMs are original Yamaha OPL3 or 100% clones like the LS212.

Reply 11 of 23, by pc-sound-legacy

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Joseph_Joestar wrote on 2021-01-18, 10:30:
Tracks recorded and uploaded. I also added an OPL3 version for comparison purposes. Hardware used: Yamaha YMF724F-V for OPL3; ES […]
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Tracks recorded and uploaded. I also added an OPL3 version for comparison purposes. Hardware used: Yamaha YMF724F-V for OPL3; ESS AudioDrive ES1868F for ESFM and ESFM Enhanced. Game versions used: Heroes of Might and Magic 2 + Price of Loyalty expansion pack + patch 2.1; WarCraft 2 + Beyond the Dark Portal expansion pack + patch 1.50. Everything was recorded in-game, not from setup menus or by playing MIDI files externally. Operating system used: DOS 6.22.

I was very impressed with how nice ESFM Enhanced sounded in Heroes2. You can really tell how big the difference is around 0:30 of that track. There seem to be a lot more instruments in the ESFM Enhanced version. On the other hand, WarCraft2 sounds broken on ESFM Enhanced. Possibly a developer oversight since digital sound is also broken when using the ESS AudioDrive option.

Very nice, thank you for the records! Enhanced ESFM sounds great in comparison.

Reply 12 of 23, by dr.zeissler

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some specs

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Reply 13 of 23, by Joseph_Joestar

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pc-sound-legacy wrote on 2021-01-18, 20:42:

Very nice, thank you for the records! Enhanced ESFM sounds great in comparison.

Cheers! If you want to check which other titles might support it, here's a list of games which use the Miles Sound System:

https://www.mobygames.com/game-group/sound-en … offset,0/so,1a/

I'm not sure when the ESS 1688 card first came out, but some versions of its datasheet have 03/95 listed as the publication date, so it's probably a good idea to start with games that came out in 1995 and later.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 14 of 23, by appiah4

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pc-sound-legacy wrote on 2021-01-17, 23:23:

I recently compared ESFM vs. generic OPL3 in Siedler 2 (Settlers 2) and it seems to me that it supports ESFM because it sounds more brilliant and superior to my ears.

https://youtu.be/Bpk3vkreSsA

I'm also interested to know other games with ESFM support for more comparisons!

Descent and Screamer do.

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

Reply 15 of 23, by Joseph_Joestar

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appiah4 wrote on 2021-01-19, 08:25:

Descent and Screamer do.

Descent does support ESS688 for digital sound, but it has no native ESFM support for music. At least not in version 1.4 that I'm using.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 16 of 23, by Cyberdyne

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ESFM was late to the game, so no real support, everybody was moving to full digital(software based MOD) and CD audio, so all those Roland and Gravis stuff was getting obsolete after like 95. Lets be honest even the OPL3 was under utilized by game industry, it was mainly used as a stereo OPL2. Hey even Warcraft 2 had CD audio option, so no need for OPL/GM or anything like that. But yes I think that ESFM would have made General Midi devices run for their money.

I am aroused about any X86 motherboard that has full functional ISA slot. I think i have problem. Not really into that original (Turbo) XT,286,386 and CGA/EGA stuff. So just a DOS nut.

Reply 17 of 23, by appiah4

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Joseph_Joestar wrote on 2021-01-19, 08:39:
appiah4 wrote on 2021-01-19, 08:25:

Descent and Screamer do.

Descent does support ESS688 for digital sound, but it has no native ESFM support for music. At least not in version 1.4 that I'm using.

My memory failed I guess.

I vaguely remember Tomb Raider 1 also having an ESS option?

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

Reply 18 of 23, by Joseph_Joestar

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appiah4 wrote on 2021-01-19, 09:40:

My memory failed I guess.

I vaguely remember Tomb Raider 1 also having an ESS option?

Yup, many games support ESS cards for digital sound, including Tomb Raider.

However, only a few games seem to natively support Enhanced ESFM for music. We're trying to figure out which ones do it properly and which ones butchered the implementation like WarCraft 2.

Using Audigy drivers with a Sound Blaster Live
Installing DOS drivers on an Audigy2 ZS
OPL3 vs. ESFM vs. CQM vs. SBLive
OPTi 82C930 review

Reply 19 of 23, by Stretch

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Have you tried a newer ESFM.MDI driver? Maybe that will fix the music.

Win10 - AMD Ryzen 9 3900 - 16 GB - GeForce RTX 2060S - Sound BlasterX AE5-Plus
Win98SE - ASRock 775i65G R3.0 - Celeron 2.2 GHz - 2 GB - GeForce FX5700 - Audigy 2 ZS
Win98SE - Via Apollo Pro Mobo - Pentium II 233 - 256 MB - Voodoo 3 1000 - Yamaha YMF724