A little bit about sound cards with OPL2 / 3 FM synthesizers for PC ...

In my opinion, FM synthesizers in sound cards are undeservedly forgotten and therefore I decided to share my thoughts on this matter.


Now, some kind of excitement has gone on ISA sound cards - they just buy up wildly everywhere, on ebay prices are just space ... Perhaps collectors are buying up, and maybe the fact is that only FM synthesizers were used on ISA sound cards (OPL2 / OPL3). Now FM synthesizers have been superseded by the completely programmed WaveTable technologies, and in games, after switching from DOS to Windows, music on FM / WaveTable synthesizers ceased to be used in favor of mp3 via DAC.

Most people think that music on FM synthesizers (OPL2 / OPL3) is not very good, and WaveTable is much better. This is a common misconception that sound cards with WaveTable technology are better. Yes, on WaveTable, many classical instruments sound more realistic, better for classical works, and worse for Techno, because the "cosmic", "electric" sound is lost. You can easily see this by playing X-COM: UFO Defense on SB AWE32 and AdLib (OPL2 on a Yamaha YM3812 chip) or by listening to xcom-sounds siterecording sound Adlib-FLAC.zip. And on a real sound card, the music is even more vibrant than on the FLAC recording (I made sure on my PC with an ISA sound SB16, which I assembled specifically for this purpose). You will not get such a pleasure from music through the OPL2 / OPL3 sound emulators in DosBox, as from an ISA sound card. The difference is the same as if you compare listening to music from mp3 recording 64-96 kb \ s and CD recording without compression - the difference is quite noticeable.

And so why the opinion that FM synthesizers on PC sound bad?

Firstly, if a slow composition for classical instruments plays, then yes, the OPL2 / 3 will sound quite faded. But if the fast paced Techno / RAVE style then the FM synthesizer flourishes in all its glory. You can verify this if you download Adlib Tracker 2for modern PCs under Windows - 458 tracks are attached with the player. This is a tracker player / editor developed by Adlib, but unlike MOD / S3M it does not use digital soundtracks, but plays directly through the FM synthesizer. Program interface Dosovsky, press F3 to open the explorer for loading the track from the MODULES catalog, F5 for playback, F7 for stop. The quality of the emulation is very good, but not as tube-like as on a live chip. In the MODULES \ ben directory there is an interesting track sonic.a2m - the music from the same-name game on SEGA sounds like the original, I haven’t met such sound in usual midi files.

Secondly, in my opinion, AdLib has not chosen the best chip for its sound card as a trendsetter - Yamaha YM3812. For the history of DOS games, I can remember a few games with amazing FM music - this is what X-COM already called X-COM: UFO Defense, Tyrian, Cybersphere. In DOOM and Duke Nukem 3D, WaveTable already sounds better (well, the main thing is not music). But on the SEGA game console on the Yamaha YM2612 chip, I can already name a lot more games with amazing “space” music - these are Skeleton Krew, Alien Soldier, Exo Squad, BOB and many others.
Some time after the publication of this article, when I listened to the sonic.a2m track, I realized that it was not the YM3812 chip that was to blame, but the midi format. which is most common

And here I had a thought - and not whether to revive the FM-synthesizers on the sound cards for the PC? There is no competition! Nobody makes new, old ISA sound cards in any way insert into modern PCs. There is only one manufacturer Arstech manufactures an ISA to USB adapter , but its price is just space - $ 149. There is another manufacturer that manufactures OPL2 / 3 sound cards for the LPT port. But they do not have a DAC and therefore cannot be called full-fledged sound cards.

It makes no sense to make a modern PCI-e sound card with an FM synthesizer only on the OPL2 / 3 chip, because there is little good music in the format, but for 2-3 DOS it is also not very interesting. Another SSG part is needed, based on AY-3-8910 or its equivalent. Similar sound cards in 1989 were already made by Creative in earlier versions of Sound Blaster 1.0 CT1310 - installed CMS Phillips SAA-1099s chips, sounding similar to AY-3-8910, but due to the fact that game developers did not support in the next versions of Sound Blaster 1.5 CT1320 Creative has excluded CMS chips. But it was at the time of 1989-1990, and already in the mid-1990s, under the AY-3-8910 muzprocessor, they began to rapidly write music on the ZX-Spectrum and now all this music is available for listening on a PC. Emulators reproduce very well AY-3-8910, but the real chip sounds clearer, richer and more interesting, as well as some special effects are possible only on the chip. And the music of OPL3 + AY-3-8910 will be even more interesting, a tracker for such a symbiosis will quickly appear if there is a real sound card. As DSP, you can put C-Media MI8786 - for most gamers will be enough.

Similar projects for the PC have already been - until the 2000s, ISA sound cards “CatWeasel” were made that were not compatible with AdLib on SID 6581 chips for listening to SID music. Such a sound card would be very relevant today - it would have been bought up like hot burgers (thousands and thousands of people listen to SID music), but 6581/8580 chips are not made and there are no analogues, on ebay they are only sold at astronomical prices.

You probably ask - why am I throwing an idea for a Startup to others? Because I myself will not do it, but I really want to have such a sound card, let the other one at least get rich! If a potential producer reads this, but you have doubts that it will pay off, then it can be done very simply - start the project on Kickstarter. I am sure that this project will interest at least tens of thousands of people around the world, and maybe more, because there are no analogues on the PC market at all!

I know a lot of people who became programmers because in their youth they fell in love with 8-bit games just because of Chiptune music. I don't know of any DOS games that would hook the music on WaveTable! WaveTable is an evil that has deprived the entire computer community of beautiful “cosmic” chip music; As the history of WaveTable has shown, it turned out to be a dead-end branch of sound card development. At first I supplanted chic FM synthesizers, and then she left the stage herself. Many hit games of the past had just chiptune music. By the way, mp3 is also evil. Because music even with a 320 kbps bit rate sounds worse than a CD! Mp3 is just for your reference, constantly listening to mp3 is to deprive yourself of great pleasure. And Microsoft has cut the sound card hardware capabilities (EAX) after Windows XP starting with Windows Vista and later.

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