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Soundblaster 16 vs AWE32 vs AWE64 vs SB Live!

Discussion in 'Retro Gaming and Vintage Computing' started by Guest2, 4 May 2021.

  1. Guest2

    Capodecina

    Joined: 6 May 2009

    Posts: 16,868

    The discussion between a few of these cards and the differences appears to have been done a few times on the likes of VOGONS and other retro furums.

    My question is though, why upgrade to to a newer card if retro only is required?

    I found this old thread for 2000 where someone is asking about mp3 playback on a soundblaster live / awe64. To me its laughable to swap an AWE32 (even SB 16) for a SB Live! but for music listening I use a Naim device anyway.

    https://forums.anandtech.com/threads/sblive-vs-sb-awe32-old-cards-sound-quality.384358/
    I have a Soundblaster Live! (CT4760) which I bought for retro gaming. The Soundblaster 16 emulation was terrible so I replaced it with a Soundblaster 16 ISA card (CT2230) The emulation PCI conflicts were also no end of a pain. Midi sounded wrong too

    The SB 16, has real OPL3, no conflicts as isnt PnP and great midi. Oh, and Scream tracker also works which it didnt on the SB Live!

    Now I have a query about the AWE32. Is this just a SB 16 with a built in software wavetable which is accessible by the on board hardware SIMM slots?

    If I bought a wavetable header for the SB16 (e.g. Waveblaster, DB50XG, Dreamblaster) does this effectively make it an AWE32 with hardware wavetable?

    Why bother upgrading to a newer card than the SB16 / AWE32 for retro?

    AWE 64 / AWE64 gold I understand was a cleanup of a few mistakes on SB 16 and AWE 32. No distortion at low volume as no amp, AWE features, no or less bugs…HOWEVER… Plug n Play, no OPL3 and no upgradable SIMM slots.

    I guess the ultimate card would have been an AWE64 gold with upgradable memory, OPL3 whilst keeping it ISA and non PnP
     
    Last edited: 4 May 2021
  2. almoststew1990

    Soldato

    Joined: 12 May 2011

    Posts: 5,532

    Location: Southampton

    Someone more knowledgeable than me can talk about the wavetable stuff but the AWE32 cards also have an effects processor, I am not sure if the SB16 does too?

    Also some peoples' retro builds focus on Windows 98 rather than DOS. In Windows the Live is a great card with EAX support, much better than having a SB16 or AWE32 in W98. You can load up various soundfonts and not be constrained by the card's memory. It supports General Midi. It's also dirt cheap and can be used in dirt cheap motherboards as it is a PCI card. The cost of a basic AGP card, a Live, and S478 /Socket A is still probably under the cost of a decent (nonPNP, real OLP3) SB16 or AWE32.

    To be honest I don't mind the live. For a basic, cheap sound solution for all the My First Retro Builds it's fine as it will give sound in most DOS games but work great in Windows.
     
  3. Guest2

    Capodecina

    Joined: 6 May 2009

    Posts: 16,868

    I mainly use Win 98SE, games around 1998. The SB 16 sounds the same to me as the live, unless playing games after ~2002 which started to use EAX.

    I do play DOS games too and use Screamtracker which is where the SB Live! falls apart. The emulation of SB 16 is not nice and in some cases doesnt work at all. Hence my Live! card lives in a storage box. Maybe ill reuse it if I do an XP build for gaming ~2002-2006.
     
  4. almoststew1990

    Soldato

    Joined: 12 May 2011

    Posts: 5,532

    Location: Southampton

    I also use it for the earlier EAX games like Half Life, Driver, NfS3, Motorhead, Freespace 2, Powerslide etc from 1998 to 1999 in my Windows 98 builds. Yeah, it's SB16 emulation is poo so I stick with what it can do acceptably - OPL2 and GM. For XP I just stick in an Audigy 2 as that has EAX 3 (or 4?) for the later EAX games.

    I just think for the money (£14 delivered compared to £38 for a SB16 vibra with real OLP3 or £90 for this AWE32 value) it does alright as an entry card. It' the TNT2 of soundcards!
     
  5. Guest2

    Capodecina

    Joined: 6 May 2009

    Posts: 16,868

    Good points about the cost. I paid more for my SB 16 CT2230 than I did my entire machine (Gateway 550T, including a P3 550 and Voodoo 3)
    I do however think if you want OPL3 there is no other way than paying for it. Personally I wanted to re-create my original Soundblaster experience

    For a cheap post 2000 build, the Live at ~£15 is fine
     
  6. LewisRaz

    Mobster

    Joined: 23 May 2016

    Posts: 3,091

    Location: North Essex

    If ONLY retro is required there is no reason to use a PCI soundcard except perhaps cost.

    I also use a SBLive in my main rig, but only for the sound. MIDI is handled by other cards. Perhaps there are some games where this does not work but for everything I have tried this works just fine!

    That being said if I needed a 1 card solution it would 100% not be a Live as the opl emulation is complete garbage.
     
  7. cee-S-dee

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 5 Dec 2002

    Posts: 1,468

    Location: The 80's

    The Live isn't really designed to be a sound card for DOS . It was more for the introduction of EAX and Windows 9x operating systems and the move away from ISA. Yeah it has dos compatibility through drivers which it achieves rather well using technology when Creative bought out ensoniq. OPL by this point had long passed and stuff was using GM, so if you look at the card from a SB16/GM device, its not bad and a good cheap entry to getting 16bit Digital Effects and some sort of GM music.

    The Statement about the SB16 in not entirely true either. Quite a large number of the SB16 cards were PnP (and depending on systems is not really a bad thing, especially with Unisound now able to initialize PnP cards with utter ease.) not all SB16's had OPL3 and the SB16 had no Onboard midi synth whatsoever. It had to ability to host a WT board or an External Module via the Joystick port but due to creative being creative, the MPU interface was bugged and depending on the DSP version you would face one or two bugs, (Hanging notes or stuttering with some games) and this was present in all cards across the SB16 line up.

    The Awe32 is a effectively, a SB16 (Bugged) with the EMU8000 Synthesizer attached with also the option to host a WT board /Midi Module on the MPU interface. Adding a WT board onto a SB16 doesn't make it a awe32, it makes it a SB16 with midi capability. You can't select AWE32 in some of the setup programs in games, as it won't be able to find the EMU8000. The Awe64 is more aimed at the Windows 98, as you could load soundfonts in Windows 98 and had the true SB16 compatibility through ISA. You need to place the cards in timelines in relation to the games released and what was being used. OPL wasn't really a thing in 1996 as GM was what soundtracks were wrote on etc.

    I'm about to put a SB Live into my Retro machine, along side my Awe32. I don't need to have any of the DOS compatibility stuff installed and can just use it for it's Win98 capabilities and the Awe can do the DOS stuff. I actually have a Setup where i have a Aztech card and a Live working together in DOS. The Aztech is the perfect SB 2.0 Pro card, Gen OPL, True Bug free midi, Really quite output and the Live is used for the stuff that can use 16 Bit digitized sound.

    Retro is a broad umbrella in todays scene. Not one card is the Perfect retro card.

    There are some Russian dudes on Vogons who have just completed the Awe64 Legacy card, which is what you described, but its about £300 I think. Bit to rich for my taste.
     
  8. Guest2

    Capodecina

    Joined: 6 May 2009

    Posts: 16,868

    Sorry, the statement was meant about my (CT2230) SB16. I know there are many variants of the SB16 including value versions using different chips like Vibra instead of OPL and PnP / none PnP.
    Similar with the AWE32, im sure there are some that dont support the WT header.

    AWE64 legacy sounds instesting. The Waveblaster / Yamaha WT headers are quite hard to come by and when they are available are around £150. I would be interested to hear a AWE64 legacy in comparison to say an AWE32 with DB50XG or SB 16 with DB50XG.
     
  9. cee-S-dee

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 5 Dec 2002

    Posts: 1,468

    Location: The 80's

    Just go and have a listen to a Awe64 gold on YT as the Legacy is just that, a Gold with OPL3 and built in ram. They actually salvaged parts from the lower model awe64

    If you want a WT Board, Serdaco has just released a new X2GS which is an X2 with a portion of the ram reserved for a newly licensed Roland GS patch set. Its very very close to the SC55 in terms of sound and you can upload a 2nd Sound font (Buran) in the remaining space. You can switch between the banks by sending sysex messages to the device.

    I'd put my money towards that instead of a db50xg. I am actually going to pick one up soon along with some of his other modules. I already have the S2 and the X2.
     
  10. Guest2

    Capodecina

    Joined: 6 May 2009

    Posts: 16,868

    Whilst the AWE64 legacy and X2GS read up as being great cards / boards, they are not retro. In fact they are the opposite, they may sounds lightyears ahead of tech from the 90s... but that is because its tech created 30 years later.

    Isnt the whole point in retro finding the best suitable (vintage) card for said applicaiton / game? They do interest me, but there is better tech current age.
    Would retro fans even be interested in such new technology? I also imagine retro parts were harvested in the making of the legacy card (awe32 / awe64?) :(
     
  11. cee-S-dee

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 5 Dec 2002

    Posts: 1,468

    Location: The 80's

    How is it really a issue though? I don't see why it has to be vintage. Retro doesn't have to be constrained to any ideology's or points. Its fun using different combos of stuff. The reason I never did it way back, because it would of cost an absolute fortune. I'm glad new stuff is being made to use on retro machines and Serdaco is making some really good sound modules, which are using new parts and sound great. The Yucatan he recently released is using news old stock GS Rom's from the 90's and a replicated Turtle beach design. Its like the retro consoles. Lots of new advancements in the picture quality field. The Roland patch set on the X2GS is derived from a midi module released in 1991. The Awe64 Legacy is utilizing the original EMU8000 Synth chip off the awe64 value and an original YMF262. I agree with the harvesting of parts on cards, but maybe they were harvested off fault cards, where the synth was found to be ok.

    Maybe its just me, I ain't hell bent on being period correct etc. I can see why some people like to replicate a machine they had from their childhood, but I like to build machines which hve awesome capability and can make the most out of the library of games I want to play, and experience different sound outputs from different cards/modules. There really are some big differences!
     
  12. LewisRaz

    Mobster

    Joined: 23 May 2016

    Posts: 3,091

    Location: North Essex

    I love period correctness but also admire the skill that has gone into these "new" products for older systems.

    There is a youtuber called theRasteri who literally made a soundcard from scratch for a pc104 system.
    There is also the fact that these "newer" cards (such as the oprheus) are made to a much higher standard using better/modern caps and have all but eliminated noise issues. Something a good portion of ISA (AND even PCI) cards suffer from.

    As above some people just like to max out what is capable in the area... Many of us could not afford wavetable cards back when... I had no idea about anything other than standard soundblaster midi until a couple of years ago but since then I have been able to go and appreciate what I missed out on back in the day.
     
  13. Guest2

    Capodecina

    Joined: 6 May 2009

    Posts: 16,868

    It's not an 'issue' more that retro hardware to me is vintage hardware, not new things made to work as old. Other people, like yourself see retro differently.

    Personally im really not a fan of the whole 'retro' mini consoles. Why would you bother buying a mini emulator in a small shell when you can get the real thing for cheaper? I guess my main dislike though for mini consoles is the often poor emulation. I had a Megadrive mini, granted not a Sega branded one but it was shocking

    That's a good thing if they are harvested off faulty cards, gives them new life :)

    In short, both vintage retro and 'new retro' (?) have their place

    As a child I had the SB 16, so it was the card grew up in the mid 90s with so purchased one not long ago. I had listened to a friends AWE32 and AWE64 in the late 90s which sounded incredible but were way out my reach as a ~12-15 year old child. The Wavetable boards were only things of tech magazines :D Who would have known that 25 years later I would be researching them along with things like a Roland SC-88 with the option of buying them
     
  14. cee-S-dee

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 5 Dec 2002

    Posts: 1,468

    Location: The 80's

    I wasn't referring to the mini consoles, (although, they do have a place when you consider the cost of stuff in the retro console scene now and todays TV technology) but more to modding original units with upgrades to video output etc. For example years ago I modded my Famicom Jr with RGB to improve the video quality. A clever dude designed and built a board to allow this to happen. Tiido who is a frequent poster on Vogons has created updated DB60XG boards and a YMF 719/704 Soundcard with newer circuitry and digital out. He was heavily involved in Mega Drive Scene and did a lot of work around the YM3438 and upgraded sound boards.

    I guess we see things differently. I just can't understand why someone would limit the ability to have some cool hardware and experience it because it's not vintage, even though it was designed to be used with a retro application (Dos games). Everyone has their own opinions and I respect that. The reason these boards are good in my eyes, is getting original WT boards is a pain/waiting game, and most of the time they cost loads of money, because a - they are rare or b - they have become popular in said community (DB50XG for example), where someone who wants some really good sounding GM Synths at a reasonable cost right now can look on Serdashop and find lots of different WT cards based on retro sound chips. I guess the SB16 has its place in its ability to allow the use of 16-Bit digitized sound. The reason I have the Awe32 in my system, is its the best compromise of a flawed card. I want the 16-Bit digitized sound for the games that support it, and I may as well have the EMU8000 to work alongside it with the games that support it. But that is also the reason, I won't pay a boat load of cash for any of the creative cards (nothing over £50 and that's for a high spec'd AWE).
     
  15. Ravenger

    Mobster

    Joined: 16 Jul 2010

    Posts: 3,145

    I loved my AWE32. I even had an 8mb RAM upgrade for it which I used to load high quality midi sound fonts.
    It took many years before on-board sound (or USB headphones and speakers) became high enough quality that I no longer bothered with add-in sound cards.
     
  16. Guest2

    Capodecina

    Joined: 6 May 2009

    Posts: 16,868

    How long did you have it before upgrading?
    I kept using internal soundcards right up until my Xonar Essense ST card, then I went to a Soundblaster G6 X (external usb dac/amp)
     
  17. Ravenger

    Mobster

    Joined: 16 Jul 2010

    Posts: 3,145

    Once I got a machine without ISA slots, and I got a PCI SBLive card instead. I can't remember what I did with it unfortunately.
     
  18. Guest2

    Capodecina

    Joined: 6 May 2009

    Posts: 16,868

    Are right :D
    I thought you meant you kept using the Awe32 right up until recently getting an external dac.

    Yeh, after my SB16 I got bought a SB Live, then audigy 2, then Xonar essense st.
    All great cards but the original SB16 is the one I remember most

    The Essense ST for music listing on a NAD amp and B&W speakers though was a different level. Those 603s and NAD C370 powered many a houseparty :)
     
  19. Ravenger

    Mobster

    Joined: 16 Jul 2010

    Posts: 3,145

    Gravis Ultrasound was the most impressive card I heard in the Soundblaster era, but its soundblaster compatibility was iffy.
     
  20. SexyGreyFox

    Man of Honour

    Joined: 29 Mar 2003

    Posts: 51,837

    Location: Stoke on Trent

    The AWE32 earned me a lot of money with music creation.
    I used to make backing tracks for myself and other artists in the 90s and the sounds on the AWE32 were very 'real' at the time.