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Well your ESS AudioDrive 1869 is a good card to start with. Although it is a basic / value card, its compatibility won't let you down!
It's a highly integrated device which combines basically all its features in one single chip.
Basically it is divided into two sections:
1. "Digital Audio" - This means PCM / waveform sample playback . This section plays all the sound effects like guns, explosions etc. The ES1869 is compatible to the de-facto standards SoundBlaster and SoundBlaster Pro, the latter gives you stereo effects.
2. "Music card" - Obvious for music playback. The ES1869 has a built-in FM music synthesizer that interprets the notes the games send to the card. The ES1869s internal FM-synthesizer is compatible to the Yamaha OPL3 (SoundBlaster Pro (2 or NEW model) and Yamaha OPL2 (Adlib).
In many newer games there is direct "ESS Audiodrive" support available which you can choose as an alternative to the options above.
For DOS there's a device driver to initialize the card, the program is called "ESSCFG". With this tool you can set the ressources of the card. Typical ressources are: Address 220h , Interrupt 5 or 7 and DMA1 for the Digital Audio part. The music part is defaulted to address 388h. There is another tool that allows you to adjust the volumes, it's called "ESSVOL".
So when you start the setup program of a DOS game you can choose SoundBlaster or SoundBlaster Pro (NEW / 2) in the "Digial Audio" or "Effects" section and change the asked values to those meeting your configuration (most common 220/5 (or 7) /1). In the "Music device" section you can choose either AdLib, SoundBlaster, SoundBlaster Pro or "4OP" or "Generic OPL3" mode. AdliB and SoundBlaster will output the music in mono. "4OP" stands for "4-Operator-FM" and just means OPL3. Very old games might not have a sound setup and default to basic values. For very old games it is often wise to change the IRQ from 5 to 7, otherwise you won't hear any sound effects.
Depending on your actual card it might have a 26-pin header for a wavetable / midi expansion daughterboard. That would add the "General Midi"-standard to the card, a different method of music rendition for old games. General Midi uses real instrument samples for a much more realistic appeal of music while FM music uses different types of waveforms to imitate instruments. In basically all DOS games since late 1993 you can choose "General Midi" as a music device which usually means the best possible quality of music.
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