The Smallest Wave Blaster Card

In the early 90s, the Creative Sound Blaster was the soundcard. It wasn’t the absolute best sounding card on the market, but it quickly became the defacto standard and delivered good sound at the right price. It relied primarily on the Yamaha OPL-3 FM synthesis chip, but if you were feeling spendy, you could pimp it out with a Wave Blaster add-on card, which essentially bolted a sample synthesis engine onto the card. This gave the card a broad palette of sampled instruments with which to play MIDI tunes all the sweeter, so you could impress your grade school chums who came over to play DOOM.

It’s now 2017, if you hadn’t checked the calendar, and Sound Blasters from yesteryear are only going to go further upward in price. It goes without saying that add-on daughterboards and accessories are even rarer and are going to be priced accordingly. So, if you’re building a vintage gaming rig and are desperate for that sample-synth goodness, [Serdashop] are here to help with their latest offering, the Dreamblaster S2.

It’s reportedly the smallest Wave Blaster add-on board available, which is awesome. If you’re sticking it on top of your Sound Blaster 16, yes, it’s pointless – you’re not exactly short on room. But if you want to integrate this with a compact microcontroller project? Size matters. Yes, you can feed this thing MIDI signals and it’ll sing for you. A hot tip for the uninitiated: MIDI speaks serial, just like everything and everyone else. Your grandma learned to speak it in the war, you know.

Your options for hooking this up are either slotting it into a Wave Blaster compatible card, or buying the carrier board that allows you to use it with a Game Port, in addition to custom-wiring it to your own hardware. We’d love to see this as a HAT for the Raspberry Pi Zero. Do it, send it in and we’ll write it up.

We’ve seen [Serdashop]’s hardware here before – namely, the earlier Dreamblaster X2. Video below the break.

24 thoughts on “The Smallest Wave Blaster Card

  1. Wat? These things are sought after?! The SB32 had the wave samples onboard antiquating the add-on boards. Also, if memory serves, Yamaha released a driver which did the same for your sb16 in software using the very same wave samples. I remember the card had some number of instruments encoded within it and I don’t think it’d be much of a leap to do it in software without this (or the original) add on board.

    1. yes, there were a few programs that gave you the WAV table function but the enemy at the time was dos memory limits, EMM386/himem.sys , often people ran out of base or extended memory. having it on board the card saved that and also any old games using adlib would automatically use the wav table

      1. Selecting AdLib would mean using FM synthesis so nothing would automatically generate MIDI commands. You’d need to select either a card specific interface such as AWE32/64 or the generic MPU-401 support if you wanted MIDI. The TSRs for MIDI support were always crap due to how they needed to hook the NMI to work properly. Actual hardware synths with wavetable support were vastly better because of that.

        Cards which used main RAM for samples only appeared once PCI became widespread and the onboard RAM was removed for cost reasons. By that point, most games were targeting Windows anyway so a lot of the weird compatibility issues like the MIDI TSRs went away.

      2. That’s not the reason wave-table cards were popular. With wave table, the main CPU didn’t have to do the mixing. You just told the sound card when to do the mixing and how. You didn’t have to calculate effects in software like tremolo and vibrato. You just to the sound card to modulate the amplitude or frequency of a given sample by how much and when. A GUS sound driver consumed way more CPU than doing the equivalent work on a SB16.

    2. Unlike RAM or video cards, a low-end sound card wouldn’t prevent you from playing the latest and greatest games.
      Most people were content with whatever cheap Sound Blaster or SB clone they could afford, and didn’t upgrade after that.

  2. Even if I had a Soundblaster still lying around, I would not have board to put it into. :-) I think I dumped the ancient ISA stuff years ago.Even standard PCI gets rare these days.

  3. Not really, there are many new mATX boards with PCIs, just vendors got it wrong :) so you won`t be able to find mobo with PCI and without integrated 7 channel sound. if it is there what is the point to buy mobo with PCI for SB….

  4. > Sound Blasters from yesteryear are only going to go further upward in price. It goes without saying that add-on daughterboards and accessories are even rarer and are going to be priced accordingly.

    Really? People are paying money for that rubbish (has always been rubbish, still is rubbish) – I just got rid of over a dozen Soundblasters of various types and a few Yamaha DB50-or-something. Cost me actually money to drive to the electronic-waste-disposal.

    Man … I have some used toilet paper, are people paying for that, too?

      1. WOW.

        Just.

        WOW.

        I had a few of those other crappy sounding things as well, gave them away for a small donation to an animal shelter. Are people crazy? It’s so cool that we don’t have to use/listen to that garbage any more, why would anyone pay REAL money for that!

          1. I subscribe to the second half of your statement (“better than”), not the first. The noise/humm/bad signal-noise-ratio, the limited sound palette and the famous Yamaha sound (“bass is OK, everything is mega-meh”) did not exactly make them sound “pretty awesome” … :)

    1. I just paid actual money for an SB Pro a couple of weeks back…. $2 when I spotted it in a thrift store, because I saw they were getting in demand a few months ago.

      I’m going to put together several “retro gaming” PCs

  5. Sweet memories… back in the early 90’s, I bought a fully loaded Soundblaster with the stereo CMS (?) synth chips. Still regret selling it but the Soundblaster AWE32 Gold was another milestone because you could replace the standard midi sounds with your own samples (birth of the SF2 SoundFont format). I eventually upgraded that to the superior Gravis Ultrasound but finally stopped using the PC as a musical instument and moved back to hardware synths.

  6. “In the early 90s, the Creative Sound Blaster was the soundcard… It relied primarily on the Yamaha OPL-3 FM synthesis chip”

    Uhh, what? The whole point of the SB/SBPro/SB16 was that they *weren’t* FM synthesis. Sure, many models had an OPL2/3 for AdLib compatibility, but if you had a choice at the time for in-game music or sfx, it’s highly likely you were choosing digitized sound rather than FM.

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