VOGONS


Sound Blaster Timeline

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First post, by James-F

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Sound Blaster Timeline

Most of the following material comes from Computer Gaming World magazine museum/archive, COMPUTE magazine, and PC MAG on google books.
I inspected page by page 1988 to 1993 of the CGW magazine, COMPUTE, and PC MAG of the same month till a clear timeline picture formulated.
Without further ado, lets start:

1988, The "Ad Lib" is mentioned once a month or two but not advertised at all, it is the single reasonably priced and obtainable sound card besides the PC speaker.

September 1989, "Gamers Guide to Sound Boards" article p.18 announces "Killer Kard" in CGW.
PIC Article

December 1989, Sound Blaster first ever advertisement review on COMPUTE magazine.
PIC Article

December 1989, Adlib starts to advertise its card like crazy (Gee, I wonder why) on COMPUTE and CGW magazines every month.
PIC

December 1989, First LAPC-1 advertisement on CGW, up till now the MT-32 could be obtained but only by the rich.
PIC

April 1990, Sound Blaster advertisement on COMPUTE and great article about sound cards of the period.
PIC
https://archive.org/details/1990-04-compute-magazine

June 1990, First Adlib advertisement on CGW, up till then Adlib didn't bother to advertise on CGW.
PIC

October 1990, First Sound Blaster advertisement on CGW by Brown-Wagh the distributor in the US;
As we know Creative is a Singapore based company.
PIC

December 1990, "Re-Sounding Personal Computer" article p.60, an update to the Sept 1989 article on CGW.
PIC Article

August 1991, The Sound Blaster Pro and Adlib Gold, are exhibited in COMDEX but not yet for sale.

November 1991, First Sound Blaster Pro advertisement in all magazines.
PIC

January 1992, First Adlib Gold advertisement, on the second page of the magazine (they paid big money for that), Adlib is in a critical economical state.
PIC

June 1992, The SBPro1 (CT1330A) is advertised in a Multimedia package, this apparently is the final month the CT1330A was officially for sale.
CGW COMPUTE

July 1992, The SBPro2 (CT1600) is advertised in a Multimedia package, now with 20-voice OPL3, the change was swift without much noise or ads.
CGW COMPUTE

August 1992, First Sound Blaster Pro 2 advertisement on CGW
PIC

October 27 1992, The Sound Blaster 16 was announces in PC MAG, no advertisements yet.
PIC

December 1992, Sound Blaster Pro 2 advertisement on COMPUTE.
PIC

January, 1993, First Sound Blaster 16 (CT1740) advertisement in PC MAG, not advertised in CGW yet, might not be for sale yet.
PIC

April 1993, First Sound Blaster 16 advertisement on COMPUTE.
PIC

June 1993, First Sound Blaster 16 advertisement on CGW.
PIC

July 1993, Sound Blaster 16 advertisement on PC MAG.
PIC

I strongly suggest you have a look in the CGW and Compute magazines especially the 90s when PC went from CGA to a 3D accelerated monster we have today.
You can find tons of information about games and hardware in these magazines alone, but then there is THIS where the information never ends.

Last edited by James-F on 2017-04-17, 15:28. Edited 23 times in total.


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Reply 1 of 22, by PhilsComputerLab

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Nice!

Puts everything into context. I always wondered, but never looked it up. I'm just amazed that within 4 years it went from SB to SB Pro to SB 16.

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Reply 3 of 22, by Scali

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Interesting timeline.
I'd have to check when I bought my SB Pro 2 (I bought the whole kit with Voyetra and MIDI interface).
I didn't even know there were two versions when I bought it, mine must have been an early SB Pro 2. Pretty sure I bought it in 1992, might have been around July.

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Reply 4 of 22, by Tetrium

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Interesting timeline, instead of foggyness, things get put a bit more into perspective.

Are you gonna make an extensive timeline like someone else did on graphics cards?

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My retro rigs (old topic)
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Reply 5 of 22, by brostenen

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James-F wrote:

December 1989, Sound Blaster first ever advertisement review on COMPUTE magazine.
PIC Article

Is that not the prototype card they have taken pictures of? If so. Then the review might have been written on basis of that card. Or they might have been supplied with prototype pictures of the card.

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Reply 6 of 22, by clueless1

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I love looking through the old CGWs. It's amazing how some if it just comes right back after all this time. There are reviews and articles that were so influential on me at the time that when I see them again after over 20 years, it's like I read them last week. Thanks for compiling this, James-F.

Cheers!

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Reply 8 of 22, by Ozzuneoj

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firage wrote:

Cool.

Great Hierophant has an interesting related article: http://nerdlypleasures.blogspot.fi/2013/05/ho … d-hardware.html

Wow, that's fascinating!

I knew that Sierra was pushing hardware in 1996, since I have a Scream'n 3D in its original box, but I had no idea that they were directly involved in selling early sound hardware.

We really owe a lot to Sierra IMO. Higher quality sound would certainly be a natural progression of computers, but there's something to be said about it being so focused on games from the start. If another company had aimed computer sound at a different market, things could have developed much differently.

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Reply 9 of 22, by Cloudschatze

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The computing magazines provide a decent general timeline, but more-precise announcement and release dates have been sourced and are known for many of the mentioned cards otherwise. What we're largely missing, and of particular interest, are development timeframes.

The early advertising of the Ad Lib MSC is a bit of a special case. While largely responsible for defining the PC soundcard market segment, gaming support and applicability of the Ad Lib card didn't arrive until a year after its release. This limited the appeal and initial audience to the amateur/hobbyist musician, but for whom the "Personal Computer Music System" was advertised in full-page spreads in magazines like Electronic Musician, as early as the latter half of 1987.

Here's one such Ad Lib advertisement from the September, 1987 copy of PC Magazine even:
https://books.google.com/books?id=sc4TnHAYBSU … epage&q&f=false

Reply 10 of 22, by peklop

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James-F wrote:

https://archive.org/stream/1990-04-compute-ma … ge/n21/mode/2up

What five ISA cards are pictured in the original Sound Blaster ad?
First two are known:
1. Game Blaster
2. original Ad Lib
but what are three other card

3. unknown digital sound card with. Why picture of frog?
Long card with 8bit ISA connector. But not so long as IBM MFC.

4. unknown MIDI card. Looks similar as Music Quest but different.

5. unknown game port card with joystick.

I checked many old sound, midi and game card photos and still without success.

thanks

Reply 12 of 22, by peklop

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Thanks!
Youre right, this articke confirmed CMS401 with Roland chipset:
https://books.google.cz/books?id=TJuFGeKsMJ0C … CMS-401&f=false

Now main question is name of the unknown Sound Card.

Reply 13 of 22, by Burrito78

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Exactly what i was looking for! Thanks for writing that up and taking screenshots!
This may be the most definite writeup of Sound Blaster history on the internet (please prove me wrong, i found nothing as complete as this, esp. with sources).

What about the release date of the Sound Blaster 2.0 (CT 1350B)? Did it get released alongside the Sound Blaster Pro (Nov. 1991)?
Look here: http://www.mediafire.com/convkey/76f1/dlkqm16h7ehvda4zg.jpg

The "reduced price" (middle right of the ad) of the original Sound Blaster could be the giveaway (because the redesign of the Sound Blaster 1.0/1.5 as 2.0 was mostly for cost reduction).

Thanks again James, great work!

Reply 14 of 22, by rasz_pl

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InfoWorld 16 Nov 1992 had a small news note about SB 16 ASP starting shipments "this month".

Article relevant to the topic: https://www.pcgamer.com/author-of-sound-blast … ys-of-pc-audio/

included link to

Rich Heimlich, author of "Sound Blaster: The Official Book", one of the first voice announcers in sports games, and creator of the first game QA company is interviewed about sound cards, VO and PC game audio history

https://vimeo.com/143875621

btw I love how Creative couldnt make up their mind about number of channels in own products. 20 overall, 22 FM only, 20 4 operator (clear lie). Another lie about 90dB SNR on SB16 was also cute.
Wow, I didnt know Multimetia kit included full Windows 3.1! quite a deal considering it was the first actually usable Microsoft system, and retailed at $150 alone.

Reply 15 of 22, by SirNickity

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Wow, 1 year and 2 months from first ad for SB Pro to first ad for SB 16. That's quite a jump -- mono 8-bit PCM to CD-quality after a couple years of AdLib dominance. What a rough time to be paying >$100 for a sound card. As an original owner of a SB Pro 2 (with MIDI kit), I was quite envious of 16-bit sound cards once they started appearing in friends' computers.

Reply 16 of 22, by rasz_pl

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SB16 CD Quality was paper only, like the mentioned 90dB SNR figure in their marketing material. IRL output was very noisy (closer to average tape deck) with half the expected features either broken or outright missing (midi port, clicking, pro compatibility).

InfoWorld Jan 1993 had 16ASP test where the card couldnt even play non compressed 44KHz Stereo sounds without severe distortions! prompting Creative to sent technicians just to conclude there is nothing do be done about it, blaming standard and popular Adaptec bus mastering SCSI controller card 😒 (*)
Whats worse it took Creative ~5 years to halfass fix only some of the problems. They fixed engineering deficiencies with acquisitions and dirty lawsuits (Ensoniq , Aureal).

(*) I guess shallow buffer + ISA bus contention was to blame, compressed sound used ASP chip with 2KB of ram instead of main 16byte one. Similar problem to using MIDI and 44KHz digital sound together like in Duke Nukem 3D.

Reply 17 of 22, by Cloudschatze

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rasz_pl wrote:

SB16 CD Quality was paper only, like the mentioned 90dB SNR figure in their marketing material. IRL output was very noisy (closer to average tape deck)...

For what it's worth, the advertised 90dB figure is the dynamic range of the (Asahi Kasei) CODEC chip itself. While this is hardly representative of the card as a whole, your statement about the SB16 output being "closer to that of an average tape deck" (60dB) isn't any less dubious.

Keyboard Magazine published a set of comprehensive soundcard test results in late 1994, arriving at the following signal-to-noise ratios for the cards involved:

85.51 dB - Turtle Beach Monterey
80.09 dB - Antex Z1
78.81 dB - Roland RAP-10
78.29 dB - AWE32 (CT2760)
77.40 dB - Ensoniq Soundscape
75.82 dB - Media Vision Premium 3-D
74.48 dB - SB16 MCD (CT1750)
65.32 dB - Logitech Soundman Wave
63.16 dB - Wearnes Classic 16

These weren't even optimized tests, but rather, "out-of-the-box" installs/configurations, coupled with maximized Wave and Master mixer-volume settings. Where the SB16 MCD and AWE32 share a similar architecture, the discrepancy between the two is largely explained by the amplified output being used on the former, and the line-level output on the latter.

Claims of the SB16's "noisiness" often solely relate to the static/popping experienced during single-cycle DMA, gameplay-driven playback. Concerning the noise floor itself, I've found that the SB16 can be substantially less "noisy" than several of its contemporaries, given a disabled internal amplifier and properly-configured mixer - that is, where the levels are nominal, and non-essential input/output channels are muted.

Reply 18 of 22, by SirNickity

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CD-quality refers to the sampling rate and bit depth. If there's any commentary to be made on the quality of the DAC and analog output, and whether that equates to the quality of an actual CD, I would be forced to ask: What CD player are we using as a reference? I would expect there to be equally significant differences between a ludicrously expensive Mark Levinson player, the Kenwood 7-CD changer I had, the Sony Discman I carried around with me, and the player stapled onto the top of someone's alarm clock at the time.

Yeah, 90s sound cards were noisy. They were also typically connected to tiny plastic boxes with $0.80 drivers installed in them, powered solely by the sound card, or maybe... just maybe... 4 C cells or a Radio Shack 9V AC adapter. The games we played were using 11kHz samples recorded at a volume setting of 11-and-a-half out of 10, and the entire symphony was draped over a backdrop of 4200 RPM disks with steel bearings, a 2000 RPM fan sucking air through the case from between the drive faceplates, and just a hint of CRT whine.

If we turned off the computer and went back to watching TV, we would be hearing it through a cheap oval speaker crammed into the spare cavity between the tube and the tuner knobs / buttons, and probably sourced from analog FM broadcast, or a 2-hour VHS tape with everything recorded in 8-hour extended play mode, from a PREVIOUS analog broadcast. The media we consumed at the time had such poor quality, it would almost be more fair to rate its noise-to-signal ratio than the inverse.

Things got a bit better in the very late 90s, to mid-2000s, until the Loudness Wars and MP3s put a hard ceiling on fidelity. It has since degraded to the point that most people I know listen to TV on speakers smaller than the ones in their childhood CRTs, and listen to music in speakerphone mode, or perhaps (if they're fancy) from a Bluetooth boombox small enough to swallow.

So... all in all, if you put things in perspective, the SB 16 wasn't really all that bad. 😉

Reply 19 of 22, by Scali

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SirNickity wrote:

Yeah, 90s sound cards were noisy.

I think the point here is that not all 90s sound cards are equally noisy.
I've used a PAS16 and a GUS on high-end amplifiers and speakers, and they had very clean and crisp sound without any audible noise, basically indistinguishable from a reasonably high-end CD player.
In fact, even my Amiga (which is technically 80s tech, not even 90s) was extremely quiet when connected to an amplifier and speakers. Even though it only has 8-bit sample resolution (well effectively 14-bit when two channels are combined), it is far less noisy and distorted than the early Sound Blasters (if I were to guess, it's easily 80+ db I'd say). Which is especially ironic when you figure that an entire Amiga 500 or 600 had about the same price as just a Sound Blaster Pro or 16 card alone.

As far as signal-to-noise ratios go.... around 60 db is where you'd expect high-end cassette decks to be (which is still very audible tape hiss, to the point where you can tell how loud your amp is even when there is no music playing... which is fun... I had an SB Pro 2 in my machine for a few years, and got used to being able to tell from the background hiss how loud the volume was. When I got my GUS MAX rev 2.1, there was no hiss whatsoever, so I often got 'surprised' when I started a game or a demo, and the volume was apparently still wide open). CD players are in the 90+ db range.

Here is another test with signal-to-noise ratios:
https://books.google.nl/books?id=RjY3gFmnC8UC … epage&q&f=false

Interestingly, they tested two SB16 models, and apparently they aren't all alike. Still, the SB16 is a lot better than the SB Pro 2 was.

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