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Last updated (11/27/2012)

Latest card!!!
Sound Blaster 16 CT2290!!!




Overview:
Alright guys, you like sound blaster cards? Yeah sure I love them too, but I've never been a massive fan. Creative Labs just have too many damn CTnumbers and many of them are somewhat lackluster. 
But then I tried CT2290. Now that's a quality sound card!
This makes me forget some of the prejudices I have about creative labs. Looks like they can give you a No-Compromise product when they want to!

Ok, I might be stretching it a bit, Creative labs made a bunch of very cool cards but if you want to invest in a sound blaster 16, this one is a sure value.

Firstly, It has one of the best FM sound i have heard so far. Its on par with cards like the Rock16. Very clean output, wide and clear spectrum range. The FM out of this card will please your ears. 

I was actually very troubled deciding if i liked this card or the Rock16 better. They are both of very good acoustic quality but have different default coloration, or default EQ if you prefer.  In the end I decided it did not really matter as it amounts to personal taste and you can always EQ them to your need. 

I think that the Rock16 might be a little more "natural" sounding but it does not matter, this Card beats the Rock16 as an overall package.

It has superior compatibility. The Rock16 is excellent for a clone card but the CT2290 is a cut above. It worked with the more anal games out there like Comanche maximum overkill and provided a glitch free performance in everything I tried.

Talking about glitches, this card did not exhibit the hanging note symptoms. It has DSP 4.13, which has mixed reports about it however i can vouch that this card passed the Hexen Test with flying colors.

It also has very good digital Audio. I got some very clean results with my digitized sound tests.  Its always harder to test old ISA cards for this type of performance using games but I can say its better than your average card. Just listen The Dig, much better than say, the AV303 right?  Ok it may not be as clean as the ATI stereo F/x but that does not count.

  CT2290 sound samples
CT2290 Sample Pack


ATI Stereo F/X

Download ATI stereo F/X Driver
Overview:
The ATI stereo F/X is a 8 bit ISA card released in the early 90s. It is a Sound blaster clone with a true OPL2 and it can also use the CMS chips which makes it Gameblaster compatible. This card is very easy to install and configure. A funny thing about this card is that it is jumperless and stores its settings in a EEPROM. You can change the settings such as volume and address config with the utilities that come with the disks and the card will  apparently remember them forever afterward, until you change them again of course.

 One special thing with this card is that there is a powerful onboard amp that you cannot bypass. The card has only one output. The signal is very strong, enough to drive 8 watt speakers on itself. This was a bit troublesome to record as basically i had to put everything way down in order to not clip my recording input. I was unsure of the best approach as with the default volume i had to turn the Amp potentiometer almost to the minimum, which i felt was not a good thing.  I ended up putting the potentiometer to about in the middle and adjusting the card volume to approx 20% in order to have a not too strong signal. I made some comparative recordings of that alone and it was not apparently a signification factor in overall sound of the card. The first recordings i had made i accidentally set the output just a little too loud and the result was the limiter of my recording sound card clipped the excess and i ended up with some compression on my final product. This actually made the recordings sound fatter and richer but I started over and remade them to be consistent. Overpowered onboard amp aside, I found this card to be very clean and the output is rich and clear.

One drawback of the card and its utilities is that you apparently cannot adjust Voice and FM volumes individually, you only have control of the master.

Compatibility: Compatibility wise it is average-good, here are the games i tried and the results.

Duke Nukem 2 : All good.
Wolf3d: All good
DooM: FM music is good but could not get audio.
Comanche Maximum overkill: nothing works
Descent : All good
OMF2097: All good
Dune: FM music is good, forgot to check audio
Monkey island : Adlib FM music is glitched, really not pleasant, its plain wrong. Howerver CMS was fine.

Stereo FX ?:

 According to this Article, the stereo FX can simulate stereo out of Mono sound blaster files. That is not exactly a clear explanation and I have no manual or other source of info about this, but i made tests!! Its apparently the FM music that gets a stereo FX, I have no reliable source to confirm how this is supposed to work but seems like its actually true!
It creates a small difference between the left and right FM channels, i suspect its a sort of frequency separator, as in each channel has a slightly different EQ. I look at the spectrum analyzer when i record the cards and ALL the other cards when they play Mono FM will output the same spectrum on both L and R.
The ATI stereo FX however does not outputs a mirror L and R, its slightly different. Not by much really but there is something going on. This light artificial stereo separation on the FM can be quite pleasant actually,  this is really a surprising card. Need to hear to believe? The samples are right there, compare and judge by yourself. Too bad the card is not the most compatible out there because when it wants to work its quite an awesome....   I played some Wolf3d with the output volume slightly overdriven and ir was stellar, really, possibly the best card in existence to play Wold3d? 

Pro / Cons

-Very  good FM output
-Has epic Stereo F/X.
-Not 100% compatibility

Stereo f/x sound samples
Descent-Intro
DooM e1m2 normal
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
Monkey Island - Intro
OMF2097 Intro
The Dig - Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1

AV206 = Zoltrix audio plus 1600 rev 2 -SCD100 chipset

Download AV206 Driver

This is another Sound blaster 2.0ish clone. I really like the look of this card. Its rather large with a big socketed chip and has those ceramic caps with a lot of old fashioned resistors, really has that badass classic look of the earlier peripheral cards that somehow reminds me of some cyberpunk setting. 
Anyway, I truly wanted this card to be extraordinary for some reason. Well, its not.
Its not really terrible mind you but its rather lackluster. It has a little background noise and the FM output quality, while accurate, is rather dull and lacks clarity. Compatibility wise its a little better than the Ati SFX, I had sound fx in DooM and Comanche but on the other hand it had some nasty random glitches on my celeron 500 where sound would freak up and produce some audio skid marks at random. It also had some occasional weird sounds on the FM.  Another thing i found  quite annoying is that the audio was really loud compared to the FM and there does not seem to be any way of adjusting this with the driver software. If you play a game that allows you to adjust this in the options (i.e DooM)  you are ok but otherwise you are in for some sonic roller coaster. 
Descent-Intro
DooM e1m2 normal
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
Monkey Island - Intro
OMF2097 Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1


AV303 Zoltrix Audio Plus 3200 V.1( Zoltrix, Voicon, Audioexcel ?)

Download AV303 Driver

Overview:

This card looks pretty no name, no brand whatsoever on it. Only a number (AV303).  After looking it up it appears to be a Zoltrix Audio Plus 3200 V.1, they even had the jumper details for it on the Zoltrix website. ( http://www.zoltrix.com/support_html/Multimedia/sound/AV303JP.HTM ). I also found references of it being a card by Voicon or Audioexcel. Did they make this card too? The card in the picture was bought on eBay and was listed as Voicon.  This might stay a mystery forever... The drivers I found were specified for the Audio_excel but they worked without a hitch and once installed it only takes 2k of conventional memory.

Now about the quality. Well, its surprisingly good!! At least for FM, GM and compatibility... (read on)
It worked in all my games without a problem, both audio and FM. It seems to be very compatible with SB and SBpro but not with SB16.

It has a genuine yamaha OPL3 and the FM sound quality is very nice.  I bypassed the onboard amp with the jumpers before installing the card and i got a nice strong and clean signal out of it. It has very low background noise, a wide frequency spectrum with clear highs and fat lows. It sounds maybe slightly compressed as it seems to have an inherent loudness to it, but its really not much, its subtle.  Honestly its in my top FM cards so far.

When I compared it with my best sounding FM card ( so far the Rock16), It was a tough pick.  The AV303 has a lower floor noise but I found that it seemed to distort a little more on some frequencies/type of sounds. Sounds that are naturally noisy seem to come off a little worse, this is somewhat noticeable in Cybersphere with the sort of rhythm distorted guitar in the background, or with some of the Swooping sounds in Dune.  Yet, on some other frequencies it was the opposite, the AV303 comes out cleaner, just listen to Monkey island, the very first sound, its night and day. Overall, for FM sound I decided I still preferred the Rock16, it feels slightly better balanced and somehow its softer on the ears. 

The AV303 also has a good GM support. It just worked without a Hitch using my SC55 in a couple games and more importantly NO HANGING NOTE BUG. I did the Hexen test and all was flawless, this is certainly a plus.

Where this card falls short is with Digital audio... You may not notice much during normal operation but when you compare you find out its clearly below average. The audio is just dirty, noisy, staticky, distorting, thin... Just listen to TheDig, its pretty horrid. There does not seem to be much settings in the drivers or card itself to play with, and playing with settings in the games setup did not yield positive results either. Maybe my card needs a recap?? I don't have time to recap all my cards unfortunately but Ill keep it in a separate drawer because if you could fix the audio part this would be a great card, it passed pretty much all the other tests with flying colors.

AV303 sound samples
Cybersphere Demo Info
Descent-Intro
DooM e1m2
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
Monkey Island - Intro
OMF2097 Intro
The Dig - Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1

AV310
AUDIO EXCEL
Download AV310 Driver
This card is easy to install, has lots of features such as MPU401 compatibility with no reports of hanging notes, good software and has good compatibility. On the downside the output is quite noisy and the signal quality is quite bad, lacks clarity, muddy and there is a rather obvious high cut when compared to my other cards. This card however has a SPDIF header, which i did not test. Maybe bypassing the onboard DAC is the solution to making this card shine, I would have to retest it eventually. An excellent review of this card by Gerwin can be found on Vogons Forum : http://vogons.zetafleet.com/viewtopic.php?t=22046
AV310 sound samples
Descent-Intro
DooM e1m1 normal
DooM e1m2 normal
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
Monkey Island - Intro
OMF2097 Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1
Cybersphere Demo Info

AW35/AW37  (Crystal CXA235 XQ3)


Download Aw35 / 37 Driver
I cannot say if this card is officially the AW35, the AW37 or the AV35/AW37, which is what is written on the card. The driver i used however was specified for AW35. This crystal chip, CXA235 XQ3, does not sound exactly like a real OPL3.
In fact, it sounds pretty bad. The worst thing with it in my opinion is the sort of "clipping" sound it often produces when playing FM. This being said, this card is quite compatible and the audio part is good.

AW35/AW37 sound samples
Descent-Intro
DooM e1m2 normal
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
OMF2097 Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1
Cybersphere Demo Info


CT1320C Sound blaster 1.5

CT1320B sound samples (provided by Mau1wurf1977)
Descent-Intro
DooM e1m1
DooM e1m2
Duke2 intro
Monkey Island - Intro
OMF2097 Intro
The Dig - Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1

CT1350b - Sound Blaster 2.0
Download Driver
CT1350b sound samples:
Descent-Intro
DooM e1m2 normal
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
OMF2097 Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1

CT2230 - Sound Blaster 16
CT2230 sound samples (provided by Ace )
DooM e1m1 normal
DooM e1m1 opl3
Xwing combat music1
Xwing combat music2


CT1600 Sound blaster pro 2


Overview:
The sound blaster Pro 2 is a well loved sound card, and for good reasons. It is a landmark card often used to compare other cards. ...  ( add blah blah... )
I found the output quality to be quite good. Noise level is low, no audible distortion and it packs alot of power in the bass section. When connected to my main sound system this card could generate some quality wall rumbling, I remember thinking how this was a badass card. However when compared to some of my favourite sounding sound cards, I actually find it a bit too boomy. The higher frequencies are cut low and it lacks a bit in brightness for my taste. It is in no way a deal breaker as this card is renowned for its compatibility good quality. You can always EQ it to taste.  The mixer settings has a Low pass filter that is on by default. You can deactivate it with the SBP-SET utils included in the drivers. It is supposed to only be applied to Digital audio and not FM, however i did not try it myself and the recordings were done with the default settings.
Sound Blaster pro 2 sound samples
CyberSphere - Info
Descent-Intro
DooM e1m2 normal
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
Monkey Island - Intro
The Dig - Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1

CT2260 Sound Blaster Vibra 16
Download CT2260 Vibra 16 Driver
Overview:
This version of the Vibra 16 uses the CT2501-TCQ Controller chip and a real OPL3. It appeared pretty good compatibility wise, It worked well for every game i tried. It has a wavetable port which i tried and it worked well with my NEC xr385 daughter board,
however i can confirm the presence of the Hanging note bug with this card.
This card has a pretty good output signal however i experienced terrible noise issues with my card. It should be verified with another card in case my card has a problem, it did not seem normal. The card had a rather loud background noise but moreover there seems to be some glitch that appears in some games at totally random times and it produces a severe high pitched hiss/ring . It is VERY disagreeable, DooM, Wolf3d and Descent all produce this terrible background noise at different degrees. I have not yet found a pattern to it be it is VERY audible in the recordings. The issue is possibly due to my card being faulty or an compatibility with my system, feedback from other users of this card would be appreciated.
I made the FM recordings without the Wavetable daughterboard attached, in case it might interfere. 

CT2260 sound samples
Cybersphere Demo Info
Descent-Intro
DooM e1m2 normal
DooM e1m2 nec XR385
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
Monkey Island Intro
OMF2097 Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1

CT2940 - Sound Blaster Vibra 16

CT2940 sound samples (provided by CapnCrunch )
DooM e1m1
DooM e1m2
Duke2 intro
Monkey Island Intro

CT3600 - Sound Blaster 32

This is often considered the "budget" version of the Awe32 card. I uses the same wavetable but does not have onboard ram. To load soundfounds some Simm sticks should be added.

Descent-Intro
DooM e1m1 normal
DooM e1m2 normal
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
OMF2097 Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1
Xwing combat music1
Xwing combat music2
Xwing Intro

CT4180 Sound blaster Vibra 16 ( Vibra16c)
Drivers used are the same as CT2260
Overview:

This card uses the Vibra16c Integrated chipset. No genuine OPL3 on this one. It has a Speaker/LineOut jumper which i set to line out prior to recording.
The FM music is somewhat lacking in fidelity, consistent with the CQM opl3 clone it uses. While the CQM is still reasonably accurate and compatible, there are noticeable differences compared to the original OPL3. At times it seemed to have a little bit of that "crystal-OPL3-clone-like" cutoff clicks on some notes, especially when playing monkey island. But in any case it is very subtle, i may even be wrong here. Anyway it certainly was nowhere near as bad as a Crystal OPL3 clone!

The card has some notable background noise but I did not experience the same terrible noise issue as with CT2260. There seemed to be at least a little of the same phenomenon though. Most noticeable on E1M2.  Compared to my CT3600, which also uses a CQM OPL3 clone, it sounds maybe just a tiny bit more bright but the STN ratio is MUCH better on the CT3600.

I first installed this card on a Celeron 500 using the same driver as for the CT2260. The driver apparently worked well however it would not setup the card on port 220 for some reason, but instead on port 240. This is strange considering i set all my other sound cards so far on port 220 on the same machine. While I worked it on the celeron 500 I experienced some compatibility issues. Original sound blaster compatibility was very bad, it seemed to be very compatible with sound blaster 16 and Adlib but in many games without direct SB16 compatibility, including DooM and comanche Maximum overkill, I had no sound effects. This may be due to driver issues (needs to be verified). I then tried the card on my 486 with a different driver and it installed with port 220 and compatibility seemed fixed, it worked in DooM at least.
This card does not have a wavetable header but it has a mpu-401 compatible midi/joystick port. I tested it for the Hanging notes bug with Hexen -warp 02 and IT DOES have the bug. 

Overall I find this card to be a poor choice for a retro rig:  Potential compatibility issues, average sound quality, high noise level, no wavetable header, midi hanging notes...
it was a budget card back then, it should not be part of your budget now.
CT4180 sound samples
Cybersphere Demo Info
Descent-Intro
DooM e1m2 normal
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
Monkey Island Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1
The Dig Intro

CT4390 - Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold
Sound Blaster AWE64 gold sound samples
Cybersphere Info
Descent-Intro
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
OMF2097 Intro


GUSPNP 1.0
The Gravis Ultrasound does not have a real FM synthesizer on it so it uses it's wavetable to "mimic" FM synthesis. To do so it uses a TSR driver that you need to load prior to playing a game with Sound blaster or Adlib Compatibility.
There are two such drivers, SBOS and MEGAEM. Each of them sounds different. It is also not as compatible as the real thing and some games will be worse than others while some games do not play at all, such as Descent.

MegaEM
Cybersphere Credits
DooM e1m1
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
OMF2097 Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1
Xwing combat music1
Xwing combat music2
Xwing Intro

SBOS
Cybersphere Credits
DooM e1m1
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
OMF2097 Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1
Xwing combat music1
Xwing combat music2

Mad16

Download Mad16 Driver
This card was sold as part of an IBM multimedia upgrade kit. It has a real OPL3 on it. It has inverted Stereo. It is very clean and background noise is minimal, one of the top card in this regard, however i found it a bit dry sounding compared to its cousin the Rock16. Card does not appear to be MPU-401 compatible however there is what looks like a wavetable header on it. I tried connecting a daughter card on it and it resulted in a Non post.  "matter to be investigated"
 It should be noted that i could not achieve Stereo in OMF2097.

Mad16 sound samples

Descent-Intro
DooM e1m1 normal
DooM e1m1 opl3
DooM e1m2 normal
DooM e1m2 opl3
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
Monkey Island Intro
OMF2097 Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1
Xwing combat music1
Xwing combat music2
Xwing Intro

MediaVision ThunderBoard



Overview:
The ThunderBoard was MediaVision's answer to the Sound Blaster. In other words, a sound blaster clone. Since their original Pro Audio Spectrum was not compatible with the sound blaster digital audio standard they made this card to fill the void. The chip it uses was later used in the Pro audioSpectrum plus and The PAS 16.

As a sound blaster substitute its actually quite decent.
You have jumpers on the card to configure the adress settings but otherwise this card is pretty much as plug&play as it gets.  I did not even need to install a driver in DOS. I just plugged that thing in. Without adding anything in the Config and autoexec files, it just worked in all the games i tried. Now this ease of use level is not the most common thing you would have experienced back in the days.  This being said there is a "driver" package I did install but all it did was copy some relevant (optional) utilities on the HDD.

Sound wise its good but I still prefer the original sound blasters 1.5 and 2.0 . The ThunderBoard sounds a little more boomy (no pun intended ) and i think the SB cards are a little more balanced. The compatibility is not perfect either, i did not get music in Comanche Maximum overkill and Monkey island was very messed up ( see the recording its quite funny).
This being said, Monkey island seems to never work properly with OPL2 based sound blaster clones.

The output is also a bit more noisy the the original sound blasters. It seems that it is coming from the digital audio engine. If I deactivate the sound effect in a game an leave only FM music, i notice the noise level is much lower.  Games like Wolf3d are most affected.

As a conclusion, the Thunderboard is a nice card and a very decent SB clone. You would not have felt left out using it back in the day, unless CMS was your thing, then you would have been jealous of your neighbor with his soundblaster 1.0
 Nowaday its still a nice card to have for a collecting point of view. Its also a nice card to use in a retro rig if you do not have access to an original sound blaster but I dont see a reason to use it if you can use a real sound blaster instead. The real thing gets you better compatibility, slightly cleaner output and CMS compatibility as an option. 

MediaVision ThunderBoard sound samples
Descent-Intro
DooM e1m2 normal
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
Monkey Island - Intro
The Dig - Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1

PT-201 (ESS audiodrive ES688FZ)
Download ES688 Driver
PT-201 stands for "Pine Technology"-201. I did not know this company prior to using this card. I did know OAK however, i wonder if there are any more hardware manufacturers named after trees.
Anyway this card is a good example of an early Audiodrive card, its not PnP as you need to set the jumpers manually like older sound blasters. The pure DOS install disk was a pain to locate for this card. Only Windows installs seemed to pop up but i managed to find it. It is OPL3 compatible and is actually a descent card for both fm music and sound. It will sometimes sound a little different than a real OPL3 but nothing really awful happened during the brief time I tried it. It has a Wavetable header and the output is relatively clean and clear but strangely it does not have the joystick/midi port.
A good overall card if you do not need the joystick/midi port but i would still recommend better.

PT-201  sound samples
Cybersphere Demo Info
Descent-Intro
DooM e1m2 normal
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
Monkey Island Intro
OMF2097 Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1


ROCK16
See Mad16 for drivers
The ROCK16 is very similar to the MAD16 but it does not use the same version of the crystal Controller. Card has roughly the same layout and it works with the same drivers. Compared to MAD16 however, I found it had a warmer sound. There seems to be a small glitch on the Wolf3d level1 music, some kind of distorted echo on the snare drum. However, in most circumstances, this card has a very clear and well balanced output and is very compatible.  On the downside it has no Wavetable header and is not MPU-401 compatible
Cybersphere Credits
Descent-Intro *missing
DooM e1m1 normal
DooM e1m1 opl3
DooM e1m2 normal
DooM e1m2 opl3
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
Monkey Island Intro
OMF2097 Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1
Xwing combat music1
Xwing combat music2
Xwing Intro

Sertek S521 (ess audiodrive ES1688F)
S521 Drivers (Win 3.1, win 9x)
Overview:

Could not find a pure dos driver for this card. Had to install it in win 3.1 but then afterward it worked in DOS.
Ok, very soon after I began testing this card I already had a nickname for it, the Tin Can. Because it's what it sounded like to me. This card is very timid with the low frequencies, like there's a significant low cut. If I listen to it on my main sound system, i have to put the Bass Boost on just so it sounds roughly like your average card.
Despite the thin lifeless output, there is no actual hard cut, it plays the complete frequency range.
Its also relatively quiet, no significant background noise. Ive read that most ESS based cards are usually quiet, so far it seems to be true, but i hope to find an exception one day. 
Authenticity wise, Audiodrive OPL3 clones seem to be the best clones ive tested so far, Certainly better than crystal chips or creative's CQM.
Compatibility wise it did not seem too bad either, it even worked both sound and music in Comanche maximum overkill, which is a game that will often not work with many cards

 As you can see on the picture, this card is jumper galore. It is very NOT plug and play. Along with all the standard address settings you also have a jumper to set it between SB2.0 and SB pro compatibility mode, I left it in SB pro mode, which is the default. It also has jumpers to switch between mpu-401 mode and SBmidi mode, which is the default. I switched it to MPU-401 and could not get anything general midi to work, either with a daughter-card or with my external sound canvas. I then switched it back to SBmidi and guess what, general midi worked!!!

Or did it? By the time the Descent demo song was over I had a whole orchestra of hung notes and during the playback i heard some sounds i had never heard before.  I then wanted to do the Hexen test. But for some reason, when set to general midi with this card installed, the Hexen launcher likes to crash very much before you get in the game. I decided to let it be, leaving further testing to the next generation, im done with it.
Unless you like tin can sound and weird, potentially glitched Mpu-401 implementation, I would stay away from this card. 

S521 sound samples
AudioTest
Cybersphere Demo Info
Descent-Intro
DooM e1m2 normal
Duke2 intro
Dune palace
Monkey Island Intro
Wolfenstein 3d level 1
The Dig Intro