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!
Work in progress: Soon enough, I'll be recording each old soundcard I own (except the SSI-2001 since I don't have one yet) so you can listen how much difference there was between soundcards in the old days. It'll be pretty easy, since Ultima VI (from Origin), supports each of the soundcards listed here (except the GUS cards and the IBM Music Feature) and SQ3, Silpheed and other old titles support many soundcards too. I'll use an old PC and record the output of the soundcards with my current PC.
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.
Musics are/will be available in MPEG-1 Layer III format (mono or stereo depending on the soundcard). Another soundcard will soon be added (in addition to the IBM Music Feature): AdLib Gold 1000! (you got the "reverb/echo" module thingy for the AdLib Gold 1000 and want to give/sell it? Email me and ask your price - I need have 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 "computer music era".
Innovation SSI 2001
Innovation Computer Corporation (1988-1989 ?)
Made in (unknown)
Synth: SID 6581 (Commodore)
This soundcard uses the sound chip from the Commodore 64. The SID 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. The SID 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 in my museum!
Creative Music System (1988)
Made in Singapore
Synths: CMS-301 (x2) (unknown)
Less powerful than four Tandy 1000 soundchips, this was the first soundcard from Creative Labs. The music coming out of this soundcard is not impressive, as it sounds like four Tandy 1000 playing at the same time. Three (yes, only 3) types of noise allow snare-like sounds. For about the same price, you could buy the AdLib card, which was a lot better.
Ad Lib (1988-1989)
Made in Canada
Synth: YM3812, aka "OPL2" (Yamaha)
In my opinion, this is the soundcard that started it all. Low price, good quality, this card was very popular until Creative Labs found what FM chip was used and started selling SB cards. No digital audio capabilities (unless you tweaked a little), the 11-voices FM music was a world apart from the built-in PC speaker of PC's.
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)
This card never became popular and only a handful of games supported it. Sierra On-Line didn't even bother to support it (to my knowledge). It has a 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 made this card a loosy choice.
Advanced Gravis (1991,1992)
Made in Canada
Synth: GF1 (Gravis)
The first non-professional 32-voices wave-table soundcard. Since it was RAM-based (from 256KB to 1MB in 256KB increments), and didn't had ROM samples, you could upload whatever instruments, sounds and voices you wanted. It was a tracker musician dream come true. However, its uncompatibility with SB made a lot of people buy SB cards anyway. The strongest support for this card has been the demo scene, which made fun of the SB cards, and lots of demos just stopped supporting SoundBlasters when the GUS came out.
Roland Music Corp. (1989)
Made in Japan
Synth: LA (Roland)
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 32 voices capability, with 256 preset instruments and the ability to reprogram them. All these features made the LAPC-1 the #1 soundcard for many games. You can still find a LAPC-1, MT-32, CM-32L or CM-64 on eBay, even in 2007.
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 is selling at the moment.
Well, here's even more MP3 files for you to listen to. You'll be able to listen to actual samples of those soundcards. After listening to those samples, you might 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 was recorded (and what you'll hear, if you listen to the files) are the real things. I've been collecting thoses cards for the past 15 years, and it's been tough. And I'm still missing one card: the Innovation SSI 2001. So if you got one or know someone who has one, please sell it to me (or better yet, send it to me for free)!
Please note that mono soundcards have been recorded in mono.