A EuroRack synthesizer module with an oscilloscope in the background showing a waveform

Recreating The Sounds Of The ’90s With A YM3812 Synthesizer

One reason the x86 PC became the dominant game platform in the early 1990s was the availability of affordable sound cards like the AdLib and Sound Blaster. These provided a quantum leap in sound quality compared to the PC speaker’s tinny beeps, thanks to Yamaha’s YM3812 chip, also known as OPL2. [Tyler] has made a detailed study of the various OPL series chips and wrote a comprehensive guide describing their operation.

[Tyler] begins by explaining the theory of FM synthesis. The basic idea is that you generate sine waves of different frequencies, combine them through mixing and modulation, and then adjust their strength over time. This way, a few simple operations on the chip’s nine sound channels can generate an astonishing variety of sounds from clear notes to chaotic noise. He then delves into the details of the YM3812 chip, including its 279 different register settings that enable all these operations.

The final goal of [Tyler]’s research is the design of a YM3812 EuroRack module that fits inside standard modular synthesizers. He’ll go into detail on the board’s design and construction in future blog posts, but he already shows the finished product and demonstrates its features in the video embedded below. It’s a great introduction if you’re new to FM synthesis and want to recreate those magic DOS game sounds.

Of course, you can also just connect the OPL2 chip to your DOS computer, whether through a classic sound card or through a parallel port. The related YM2612 from the Sega Genesis also makes a fine synthesizer.

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