Sound Cards

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Sound Cards were additional peripherals that enhanced the sound output of an IBM PC to something more than simple beeps. There was no standard at the time, which led to a plethora of options and highly variable price points and capabilities. Once CD Audio arrived however, the war for sound card dominance was primarily over, with Creative as the primary winner.

Emulated Sound Cards

AdLib Gold 1000

The Gold 1000 used a later generation Yamaha YMF262 (OPL3) and 12-bit digital PCM capability while retaining backward compatibility with OPL2 through the OPL3 chip. The onboard Yamaha YMZ263-F also performs 2x oversampling, which would affect the OPL3 output slightly. Very few games supported it.

AdLib Music Synthesizer Card

A 6-voice FM synth with 5 percussion instruments. It did not support digital audio.

Covox Speech Thing

The Covox Speech Thing is an external audio device attached to the computer to output digital sound. It was composed of a primitive 8-bit DAC using a resistor ladder and an analogue signal output, and plugged into the printer port of the PC.

Creative Music System

Essentially a 12 channel Tandy chip on steroids. AKA Game Blaster at Radio Shack.

Creative Game Blaster

It's like a soundblaster run through a garbage disposal. It's neat, especially for the time, but isn't very common.

Creative Sound Blaster

The most common sound type, and the one most games in previous versions of eXoDOS were set to use. It's what your dad had. It combined an 11-voice FM synth with a DAC.

The Sound Blaster is widely considered the most popular audio device standard. In the DOS era of games, it came in several editions. In most cases sb16 is the best option for DOSBox, though many older games that were produced before the SB16 was manufactured might have some issues with working with the otherwise backwards-compatible device.

Due to its advanced features, competitive price point, and backwards-compatibility with AdLib cards, Soundblaster became considered the "standard" for special effects reproduction in many applications and games. (Sadly, once they drove all the competition out of business, the "competitive price point" went away.) Although they have internal synthesizers, Sound Blaster cards are not MPU-401 compatible, and were therefore often coupled with a MIDI card for enhanced music emulation.

Creative Sound Blaster Pro II / Sound Blaster 16

The Sound Blaster Pro II and Sound Blaster 16 featured OLP3 with the SB16 supporting 16bit CD quality digital sampling, MPU-401 compatability, and the ability to connect a WaveBlaster daughterboard.

Disney Sound Source

The Disney Sound Source was an external audio device that connected to a PC via a parallel port, also known as the printer port. An enhanced version of the Covox Speech Accelerator with "Mickey Mouse" ears on top, the device was surprisingly capable of producing polyphonic audio and voice. The sound quality is distinctive and tinny, though by no means high quality. One notable game that supported the device was Sierra's King's Quest 6 which managed to provide an audio experience similar to the Sound Blaster audio card.

The Disney Sound Source became popular due to its brand name and ease of configuration: There are no Base Address, IRQ, or DMA settings because it connects to any available parallel port. However, applications that utilize a printer might lock up if they try to talk to this device by mistake, so if you are having parallel port trouble and are not using this device for audio, you may want to consider disabling it.

A Windows driver exists (as with the PC Speaker) that can let the device work as an audio device in Windows 3.11.

The Disney Sound System is configured under the speaker category in DOSBox's CONF file.

Innovation Computer Corporation SSI 2001

The SSI 2001 is a sound card that was manufactured by Innovation Computer Corporation. It is essentially a Commodore SID chip for PCs, in particular, the 6581. Despite the popularity of the SID in the Commodore 64 scene, the card never caught on in PC market and was only supported by a handful of games, mostly because cards that offered FM synthesis (including the AdLib) were already on the market.

Gravis Ultrasound

With certain games, this card really stands out. Technology wise, it is very comparable to a Sound Blaster 16. The GUS allowed custom sound banks to be loaded to it as well as the use of wavetables to mimic real-life instruments.

The Gravis Ultrasound was an advanced synthesizer released by an unlikely manufacturer: Canadian joystick company Advanced Gravis. Its audio was far ahead of any other consumer device of the time, supporting wave-table synthesis, stereo sound, 14-channel playback at 44.1 KHz or a whopping 32 channels of playback at 19.2 KHz.

However, the Ultrasound eschewed any attempt at backwards-compatibility with AdLib or Soundblaster cards. Programs had to be written to specifically take advantage of its capabilities. Many DOS users kept a Sound Blaster in their PC in addition to an Ultrasound, in case they needed to run a program that did not support the more advanced card.

One quirk of the Ultrasound is that, unlike most synthesizers, it did not come with any voices pre-installed on the card. All voices had to be installed from disk either at driver load time or by the application. Because of this, a set of drivers and "patch files" is needed in order to use the Ultrasound in DOSBox.

PC Speaker

It beeps and boops. A noise emitter capable of one sound at a time.

The most ubiquitous audio device of all time. Built into every personal computer to this very day, the PC Speaker acts as diagnostic device during the initial booting up of a computer. (to inform the user, in a series of beeps, if there is any low level hardware issue) Early game developers utilized the PC Speaker to generate music and sound effects - to good effect. Later, some developers invented ways to generate complex audio through the PC Speaker, even reproducing voice. Very few games utilized the PC Speaker in this way, as the CPU requirements were high and the quality was severely limited. However, a Windows driver was written that allowed Windows games to utilize the PC Speaker in this manner, which was useful if the user had no other sound device.

Roland MT-32

The gold standard for games from 1987-1992. Many composers created their music on this, so it is the most "original" sound for games of the period. At an original price of $695 though, you might have been considered a rich douche-bag if you had one. This was not an internal sound card but rather an external midi box. Sometimes known as LAPC-I if used with a MPU-401.

Roland Sound Canvas (SC-55)

A 24 voice external device which supported the General MIDI standard. It had a sound bank of 128 instruments. Roland's follow-up to the MT32. The SC-55 was the first sound module to incorporate the new (at the time) General MIDI format. It overtook MT-32 as the standard from around 1993. It quite often sounds amazing. This one was even more expensive than the MT-32 though, so there were only 3 verified owners in the entire world. Sometimes know as SCC-1.

Tandy 3 Voice

It's like a PC speaker with extra reverb and synthy sounds. It's what the 80's thought the future sounded like. It could generate 3 tones as well as white noise (useful for synthesizing percussion).

The Tandy 1000 was based on the IBM PCjr and like the PCjr it included not only the standard PC speaker but also the TI-SN76496 sound chip which provided three square wave tone generators and one white noise generator. This made for much higher quality sound effects and music than the standard PC Speaker. The Tandy 1000 TL and SL added an 8-bit DAC for realistic sound effects.