Sunday, April 20, 2014

Scoring Vintage ISA Sound Cards' Gaming Suitability

I have tried to make an objective rating system to judge the gaming suitability of a particular vintage sound card.  I have avoided including more subjective qualities like measurement of audio output quality.  My basic standard for rating each element of a sound card is as follows :

0 - Not present or not widely supported
1 - Useful but often troublesome or problematic
2 - Mainline support
3 - Superior Features
4 - The Best of the Best

1. Gameport
0.00 - None
0.50 - Crippled (2axis/2buttons only) or Non-standard : Covox Sound Master
1.00 - Standard : Sound Blaster 1.0-Pro 2.0
1.50 - Speed Sensitive : Sound Blaster 16-AWE64
2.00 - Speed Adjustable : Gravis Ultrasound

2. MIDI Hardware Interface
0.00 - None
0.50 - Not Widely Supported : IBM Music Feature, Pro Audio Spectrum, Gravis Ultrasound, Adlib Gold
1.00 - Sound Blaster MIDI
1.50 - Widespread UART MPU-401 Hanging Note Bug : Sound Blaster DSP 4.11-4.13
1.75 - Minimal UART MPU-401 Hanging Note Bug : Sound Blaster DSP 4.11-4.13 & CT-1747
2.00 - UART MPU-401, Sound Blaster DSP <= 4.05 or DSP = 4.16
2.50 - MPU-401 Hardware Emulation
3.00 - Roland MPU-401 or 100% Fully Compatible

3. Music Synthesizer
0.00 - None (Digital Only)
0.50 - Not Widely Supported : Innovation SSI-2001, Covox Sound Master, IBM Music Feature, IBM PS/1 Audio/Game Card
1.00 - Game Blaster
1.50 - Gravis Ultrasound, Creative CQM : Later Sound Blaster 16 & AWE32s, most 32s, all AWE64s
2.00 - OPL2 : Adlib, Sound Blaster 1.0-2.0, Thunderboard, Covox Sound Master II
2.25 - Dual OPL2 : Sound Blaster Pro 1.0, Pro Audio Spectrum; OPL3 : Sound Blaster Pro 2.0, 16, AWE32, 32; Pro Audio Spectrum Plus/16, Adlib Gold
2.50 - AWE32/64 EMU-8000, Waveblaster 1/2, OPL4
3.00 - Ensoniq Soundscape, Yamaha DB50XG, SW60XG, Roland SCB-7
4.00 - Roland LAPC-I, SCC-1 or SCB-55

4. Digital Audio Output
0.00 - None (Music Only)
0.50 - Not Widely Supported : IBM PS/2 Speech Adapter or Compatible, Covox Sound Master/Plus, Covox Voice Master
1.00 - Covox Speech Thing or Disney Sound Source, Roland RAP-10, Covox Sound Master II
1.50 - Adlib Gold, Pro Audio Spectrum
2.00 - Sound Blaster DSP 1.xx, Microsoft Windows Sound System, Gravis Ultrasound
2.25 - Sound Blaster DSP 2.00
2.50 - Sound Blaster DSP >= 2.01, Thunderboard
2.75 - Pro Audio Spectrum Plus/16
3.50 - Sound Blaster Pro, Sound Blaster 16 <= DSP 4.05
3.75 - Sound Blaster 16 >= DSP 4.05, Sound Blaster AWE32
4.00 - Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold (SPDIF)

Thus if you add up the total scores, you can get a good idea of the overall suitability of an ISA sound card for DOS gaming. A Sound Blaster 1.0 or Gravis Ultrasound gets a 6, Roland LAPC-I or SCC-1 would rank a 7, a Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold a 10. A Sound Blaster AWE32 with SCC-1 would probably rate the highest at 11. Note that only the highest score for each individual category is counted. A basic AWE32 gets a 2.5 in the synthesizer category, not a 4.5.

2 comments:

Farfle said...

Thanks this was fun to read. Haven't messed with my retro stuff since 2010 but from what I recall I think I had an AWE64 w/o a midi connector. But I also had an Aural Vortex 3D that did have a midi connector, which I then connected a cheap NEC version of the Yamaha DB50XG I bought off eBay.

The vortex was a PCI card, but I seem to recall it not needing much configuration to get the midi part working on it

So I use the AWE64 for it regular sound effects capability and the vortex w/midi to synthisize General Midi. The midi sounds freaking awesome, so much better than either just the awe64 or of course an older sound blaster 16

Anonymous said...

Roland Roland! Yeah baby!