What made old 'sound' so good - and why is it hard to get?

General chat related to ScummVM, adventure gaming, and so on.

Moderator: ScummVM Team

rtr86
Posts: 24
Joined: Thu May 10, 2007 2:22 pm

What made old 'sound' so good - and why is it hard to get?

Post by rtr86 » Tue Jul 13, 2010 11:29 am

Hi all,

I've herd a lot of talk about one of the things people miss with the classic games is the sound.

I've herd terms like 'midi' and roland' come up alot. Why is it with all the 'next-gen' speakers and soundcards we can't replicate that sound now?

User avatar
MeddlingMonk
Posts: 132
Joined: Wed Jan 21, 2009 10:06 pm

Re: What made old 'sound' so good - and why is it hard to g

Post by MeddlingMonk » Wed Jul 14, 2010 12:50 am

rtr86 wrote:I've herd terms like 'midi' and roland' come up alot. Why is it with all the 'next-gen' speakers and soundcards we can't replicate that sound now?
You'll get more technical answers from others, but one major problem that affects MIDI is that over time where and what which instruments are slotted in have changed over time. And, sometimes in very old games, the programmers just went for whatever most closely approximated what they wanted. So what back in 1987 might have sounded vaguely like violins and Spanish guitar might today come out as an accordion and a glockenspiel. (That example is made up, but the problem isn't.)

Anyway, considering the really crap sound cards I used to have, I'm not very nostalgic about the old sound. On my Mac, I find that just going with CoreAudio for the MIDI does a good job. In Fedora (Linux) FluidSynth with the Scc1t2 soundfont is what I go with (currently). Windows 7...the Windows MIDI isn't all that bad, but just don't make the mistake of leaving it on 'default' in Windows 7 or Vista. There's a thread around here somewhere about getting better MIDI in Windows but I don't bother with Windows much.

User avatar
surdules
Posts: 16
Joined: Wed Nov 10, 2010 10:25 pm

Post by surdules » Wed Nov 10, 2010 10:37 pm

I recently got interested in learning more about MIDI and the reason why old "sound" was so good, and put together a quick write-up about it at Musical Archaeology.

I am still amazed at how good the old Roland music sounded, even compared to modern music.

Razvan.

jepael
Posts: 26
Joined: Sat Oct 25, 2008 8:16 pm

Post by jepael » Thu Nov 11, 2010 8:32 pm

The sound cards today play only PCM samples or PCM audio streams.

Ancient sound chips like SID (C64), Tandy, OPL2 (Adlib), CMS (some Sound Blasters) were given some parameters like frequency and volume and they generated the sound internally, perhaps directly to analog output with their internal D/A converter.

To faithfully reproduce that sound, we need to emulate by running the same algorithms the chip uses to generate the sound, and figuring those algorithms out is not exactly easy.

And talking about Roland MT-32, it is a complete synthesizer but has only MIDI input interface instead of keyboard. It has a CPU inside, running software from a memory chip. That CPU then controls the sound generation chip, which in turn has some ROM memory where sound waves are stored. So to emulate that, it is not enough to emulate just the sound chip, but you need to have the program memory contents, emulate the CPU running the program, and that is most likely the easiest part. Then you need to have the sound wave memory contents, and emulate the synthesizer chip.

If I just had the time, I could participate in the Adlib emulation part of ScummVM.

User avatar
envisaged0ne
Posts: 149
Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 9:17 am
Location: United States

Post by envisaged0ne » Thu Nov 11, 2010 9:05 pm

I bought an MT-32 back when KQ4 came out in 1988. I was 15 (really showing my age!). So for a kid barely working back then, saving up $530.00 took a long time. When I finally got it connected to the IBM PS/2 (which was a chore in itself since it used different hardware from other standard PC's), I couldn't believe how amazing it was.

My Dad worked at IBM at the time and he was so amazed that he even invited some of his friends over to listen to it while I played some of my fave games. I still have it today. I haven't heard anything really faithfully replicate or emulate it. I've tried the MT-32 emulation and the soundfont's. And while they do a decent job (depending on the game), nothing seems to sound as good as the MT-32. At least not for the older games that supported it and used MIDI to play the music. I wish they could find a way to emulate it 100% so that people can get the whole amazing musical experience without having to actually go out and buy the hardware. I just don't like playing those old games through anything else.

balpat
Posts: 58
Joined: Fri May 08, 2009 8:46 am

Post by balpat » Thu Nov 11, 2010 10:03 pm

I always used a CM-32L (which is basically a MT-32 minus the display but adding some - mostly unused - noise channels).

It sounds awesome.

Of course, having the music recorded by a live orchestra is even better but those Roland-devices sounded almost like an entire orchestra.

I even think their "General MIDI" sounds way better than what todays soundcards produce.

User avatar
MusicallyInspired
Posts: 1033
Joined: Fri Mar 02, 2007 8:03 am
Location: Manitoba, Canada
Contact:

Post by MusicallyInspired » Fri Nov 12, 2010 4:54 am

Audio as a whole seems to be simply thrown on the back burner of technological advancements in this day and age. Everyone's concentrating on graphics and processing power. Audio is in a stunted state. Nobody cares about fidelity or quality anymore in sound.

User avatar
bobdevis
Posts: 563
Joined: Fri Jan 16, 2009 10:52 am

Post by bobdevis » Fri Nov 12, 2010 6:40 am

MusicallyInspired wrote:Audio as a whole seems to be simply thrown on the back burner of technological advancements in this day and age. Everyone's concentrating on graphics and processing power. Audio is in a stunted state. Nobody cares about fidelity or quality anymore in sound.

That is because currently it is trivial to do audio that is done in software and is better then the sound system most people have. Besides, there is no-one who would ever want anything better then the already existing 7.1 setup.


On the other hand there are still quite some things that may convince people to buy expensive video cards in the future.
OpenCL/PhisX, procedural texturing, curved surface calculations, just to name a view. You can never have enough power for these kind of things.

Personally I am hoping for VM-awareness of future video card drivers. It would be so much better if browsers or other VM's can just pass all the calls without slow transcoding.

User avatar
MusicallyInspired
Posts: 1033
Joined: Fri Mar 02, 2007 8:03 am
Location: Manitoba, Canada
Contact:

Post by MusicallyInspired » Fri Nov 12, 2010 8:26 pm

I'm not talking about surround sound. I personally think that 7.1 is excessive. Audio clarity has nothing to do with the number of speakers one has. I'm referring to sampling rate and bit-depth and people buying actual quality (stereo) speaker monitors for their setups. It's worth just as much as an expensive video card or large computer monitor in my book. Once that happens we can do away with compressed audio formats like MP3 and OGG that destroy audio clarity to experience sound as it should be.

I just hope the focus switches from graphics to sound again at some point.

User avatar
bobdevis
Posts: 563
Joined: Fri Jan 16, 2009 10:52 am

Post by bobdevis » Sat Nov 13, 2010 6:42 pm

I guess destructive audio compression will not go away soon. Heavy traffic sites (like YouTube) will continue to opt for it.

Personal music collections can go destructive compression free on a large scale as soon as we hit the Peta-Byte harddisks and the Tera-Byte phones.
I wouldn't see the point of compressing audio tighter then .flac by then at least. Hopefully all the online music stores will come to agree with that sentiment.

User avatar
MusicallyInspired
Posts: 1033
Joined: Fri Mar 02, 2007 8:03 am
Location: Manitoba, Canada
Contact:

Post by MusicallyInspired » Sat Nov 13, 2010 10:31 pm

Indeed.

User avatar
LogicDeLuxe
Posts: 398
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 9:54 pm

Post by LogicDeLuxe » Sun Nov 14, 2010 10:03 pm

While I agree that mp3 etc. becomes more and more obsolete with bigger media and faster connections, it isn't far from that bad when using decent encoders and bit rates.

What is much worse than those lossy codecs is excessive dynamic compression done for no artistic reason. Many recent audio CDs suffer from this. If you don't know what I'm talking about, take a look here: http://www.dynamicrange.de/
To bad, most studios don't care for quality.

User avatar
MusicallyInspired
Posts: 1033
Joined: Fri Mar 02, 2007 8:03 am
Location: Manitoba, Canada
Contact:

Post by MusicallyInspired » Sun Nov 14, 2010 10:25 pm

MP3 will always be sub-par quality because like it or not, it removes frequencies. It's never the way music was intended to be heard. Listen to the best MP3 encoding you can make and compare it to an uncompressed format with quality speakers and there's a big difference. But because everybody has crap sound equipment they don't care. But it really removes from audio. Everyone's more concerned with quantity over quality right now and are willing to make sacrifices.

Dynamic range is another matter altogether and is also a problem, and it ruins music whether you compress it to MP3 or not.

whatever
Posts: 27
Joined: Fri Jun 30, 2006 5:21 pm

Post by whatever » Mon Nov 15, 2010 10:43 am

MusicallyInspired wrote:MP3 will always be sub-par quality because like it or not, it removes frequencies.
Every digital audioformat removes high frequencies, this is a result of finite samplingrate and the nyquist theorem.
For CD-Audio the cutoff is somewhere around 19-20kHz, for high quality MP3 it's often at 17-18kHz. Most adults are unable to hear higher frequencies anyway.

It's easy to rant about MP3 being inferior (because it clearly is in theory), but 99,9% of people cannot distinguish high-quality LAME MP3s from uncompressed CD-Audio.

User avatar
Red_Breast
Posts: 785
Joined: Tue Sep 30, 2008 10:33 pm
Location: The Bar Of Gold, Upper Swandam Lane.

Post by Red_Breast » Mon Nov 15, 2010 12:47 pm

Guess I must be in the 0.01 % then.
Also even though flac is compressed I can hear the difference between flac and mp3 when I rip a ScummVM game with CD Audio.
Having my PC audio going through my early 90s NAD amp and Sony speakers no doubt has something to do with this.

Post Reply