MIDI And Vintage FM Synthesis


Before the days when computers could play and record audio that far surpassed the quality of CDs, sound cards were very, very cool. Most audio chips from the 80s, from the Commodore SID is pretty much a synth on a chip, but you can also find similar setups in ancient ISA sound cards. [Emilio] pulled one of these cards with an ADLIB OPL2 chip on it, and used a PIC micro to create his very own FM synthesis synth (IT, translatatron, although Google is screwing up the formatting).

The Yamaha YM3812 chip, otherwise known as the OPL2, was a fairly complete synthesizer in a very tiny package using FM synthesis for some very unique sounds. Once [Emilio] had the PIC sending commands to the sound chip, he added MIDI support, allowing him to play this vintage ‘synth on a chip’ with a keyboard instead of a tracker.

Judging from the video below, it sounds great, and that’s with [Emilio] mashing the keys for a simple demo.

11 thoughts on “MIDI And Vintage FM Synthesis

  1. Makes me feel old. I recall having to learn hex for our first expansion sound card, the pro audio spectrum lol to get it to output note C3 etc. I think my SB AWE64 gold is ISA and is retired to the closet from the late 90s techno god days :( There is actually a lot of fun to be had creating soundfonts and exploring the somewhat hidden capabilities of the chip you don’t get in the standard 128 midi pack. Good times and glad to see folks getting into this “ancient” gear :)
    Next week on HaD: Mod trackers. I keed I keed.

    1. Indeed, I have a Yamaha YMF724 XG based sound card that was great for games like Final Fantasy VII that used the XG sounds to their full effect. I had a fairly nice (for the brand) Casio full size keyboard with MIDI in/out and weighted keys, that I used in conjunction with that card to make some really nice tracks back in the day.

      I lost the keyboard in a move years ago, but somehow managed to hang on to the sound card. I should pull it out and put it in an old Athlon box I’ve got sitting around, and install Windows 98 on it. Relive the XG MIDI glory days!

      1. @kaidenshi I would say to go for it :) Heck if you have xp 32 bit it should load up fine. If you can find cakewalk 7 and install it, iirc the serial is all 7s hehe. Cakewalk 9 is 9and a bunch of 0s ;) XG was so nice compared to the standard offerings of the day. My PSR-530 had an XG expansion cart that was loads of fun. I even gigged a bit with it during the DHR days. A psr-330 and a turbo rat- an in your face combo hehe.
        Definitely look up Technotoys for low level cc event fun :) If you are near the detroit area I can just give you a midi controller (sorry not weighted). Once ya get the 98 or xp box up and running head over to hitsquad.com’s shareware music machine to get some old school software for her. VETUS audio abandonware is another. Best to ya and glad that spark is back :)

  2. Those sounds take me back to my first keyboard a Yamaha PSS460. Stable as hell, dinky keys and all.
    I would like to see ZynAddSubFX made to run on a Linux board. The smaller the better.

    1. Those things are loads of fun. I have a PSS-480 that I absolutely adore. It has minikeys allowing for insane scale runs :) When I originally got it at the thrift back in the day, I was excited about using its shuttle functions with my midi rig. The PSS’s are fun little machines :)

    1. Shame that, in most games, they spent their time emulating Soundblasters!

      Actually I never heard one. Did it’s Soundblaster emulation sound better than the real thing? Maybe playing the MIDI music most 1990s games had?

      1. Its soundblaster emulation was lackluster, because it tried to reverse map OPL parameters into MIDI patches. Did an ok job, but … just didn’t sound right to me (it didn’t have the same twangy FM synth sound). Made worse by the limitation of only having 256-1024KiB of RAM for the wavetable synth, and no infrastructure for dynamically changing patches during game play.

        Streaming raw PCM data worked just fine.

        That said, a fairly large number of games at the time used some kind of audio middleware (such as early versions of the Miles Sound System) that supported the GUS quite nicely, and I thought sounded better than the SB16 did.

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