If you think Creative Labs invented everything, don't know there's something else than Sound Blaster or just want to learn about the PC soundcards history, this page was made just for you!
Please note this is a work in progress, especially the Taste Test section.
Thanks to Trixter of OldSkool, I now added an IBM Music Feature soundcard to my collection. I guess he got the better part of the deal since I exchanged a Roland LAPC-1 to get that IBM souncard… but the LAPC-1 is more common, so I think it all evens out. Please note, the IBM Music Feature is not yet included in the museum. I also need to add the Roland SCC-1, which was based on the MIDI GS standard.
Musics samples are be available in .mp3 (MPEG-1 Layer III), mono or stereo depending on the soundcard. Another soundcard has yet do be added, in addition to the IBM Music Feature, the AdLib Gold 1000. And if you have the reverb/echo module for the AdLib Gold 1000, email me and ask your price, I want it!
Read along, the soundcard taste test is at the bottom of this page. Let's see if you could've lived in the 1989-1994 period and survived the "sound cards wars". It wasn't called that, but it does remind me of the browsers wars between Netscape and Internet Explorer in the '90s.
Innovation SSI 2001
Innovation Computer Corporation (1988-1989 ?)
Made in (unknown)
Synth: MOS/CSG 6581 "SID" (Commodore)
Voices: 3, mono
This soundcard uses the SID (Sound Interface Device) sound chip from the Commodore 64. The 6581 has 3 voices which can be programmed with duty cycle, waveform, noise and ADSR parameters. This doesn't results in real instruments sounds, but rather electronic sounds. In fact, a lot of chip-tunes were written on the Commodore 64.
As crude as the 6581 was, however, it was still a lot better than most sound chips available on the market when it was designed. The 6581 still lives today in the form of the HardSID and the SID Station.
Got that card? E-mail me and ask your price! That's the only card I don't have!
Creative Labs (1988)
Made in Singapore
Synths: SAA1099 (x2), a.k.a. "CMS-301" (Philips)
Voices: 12, stereo
First known as the Creative Music System, this was the first soundcard from Creative Labs. Each of the 12 voices allowed for either a square wave or one of three types of noise, usually used for percussion-style instruments. Each voice also had 15 levels of left/right volume, allowing for stereo capabilities.
If you ever heard the 3 built-in voices of a Tandy 1000, this card sounded about the same as four Tandy 1000 playing at once. For about the same price, you could buy the AdLib card, which was a lot better.
Made in Canada
Synth: YM3812, aka "OPL2" (Yamaha)
Voices: 9 in melodic mode / 11 in percussion mode, mono
In my opinion, this is the soundcard that started it all. With a relatively low price and good audio quality, this card was very popular until Creative Labs started making their Sound Blaster cards. The FM music of the AdLib card was a world apart from the built-in PC speaker.
The complete 1990 (?) AdLib Catalog is now on-line for you to browse! (warning: page graphics total over 400KB!)
Read a part of history!
Made in USA
Synth: AY8930 (Microchip)
Voices: 3, mono
This card never became popular and only a handful of games supported it. To my knowledge, Sierra On-Line didn't even bother to support it. It has an 8-bit DAC, which was great at the time, and two 8-bit digital gameports, which was incredible and a must in those days (the analog gameport on a PC is badly designed and has many shortcomings). But lack of support and a weak soundchip killed this card.
Advanced Gravis (1992)
Made in Canada
Synth: GF1 (Gravis)
Voices: 32, stereo
Also known as "GUS" (Gravis UltraSound), this was the first non-professional wave-table soundcard. Since it was RAM-based (from 256KB to 1MB in 256KB increments), and didn't had ROM samples, you could upload any instruments, sounds and voices you wanted. It was a tracker's dream come true.
However, its uncompatibility with Sound Blaster made a lot of people buy SB cards anyway. The strongest support for this card has been the demo scene, which not only started to laugh at the SB cards when the GUS came out, but even had some demos lack Sound Blaster support entirely.
Roland Music Corp. (1989)
Made in Japan
Synth: LA (Roland)
Voices: 9 MIDI channels, stereo
(32 notes polyphony)
Back in 1989, this was the top-of-the-line soundcard you could buy for games. The sound quality was incredible, especially when compared with the other soundcards available at the time. Its Linear Arithmetic synthesizer had 9 MIDI channels with 32 notes polyphony, 256 preset instruments and the ability to reprogram the instruments. All these features made the LAPC-1 the #1 soundcard for many games. You can usually find the LAPC-1, MT-32, CM-32L or CM-64 on eBay, even in 2007. This card was often referred to as LAPC-1 instead of LAPC-I.
The Taste Test
So there you are. You've read all thoses specs (you did read them, didn't you?) but you're just wondering what the fuzz is all about. You're just happy listening to MP3's with your Sound Blaster Xtreme, or whatever new model Creative Labs is selling at the moment. Or maybe you never even heard about sound cards since there's an audio chip built-in on your motherboard.
Well, here's even more MP3 files for you to listen to. You'll be able to listen to the actual soundcards. It can't compare to what we have in today's games, but once you listen to a Game Blaster or an AdLib, you can understand why everyone wanted a Roland MT-32.
For thoses interested in technical details, the games and soundcards were used on an intel 486 DX2/66 and sampling was done with my main computer. No emulator was used, what you'll hear (if you listen to the files) are the real things. I've been collecting thoses cards for over 15 years, and it's been tough. I'm still missing one card: the Innovation SSI 2001. So if you got one or know someone who has one, please tell me!
Please note that mono soundcards have been recorded in mono.