An interesting piece of hardware popped up at the OS/2 Museum not long ago. It’s an E-mu SoundEngine General MIDI sound module from 1993. This module has very close ties to the original Creative Wave Blaster upgrade module, even though that’s not very apparent from the outside.
The module is Mac-centric with Mac-style serial connectors and a way to daisy-chain Mac serial printers or modems. But it also has standard MIDI IN/OUT/THRU connectors so an antique Mac isn’t required to use it.
Looking inside, a certain similarity with a Wave Blaster emerges:
Yes, that card with chips on it is the size and shape of a Wave Blaster.
Here’s a closer look at the board:
It’s the exact same format as a Wave Blaster, but notably with a mirrored 26-pin connector (CN1, upper left in the photo).
So what does the EMU8805 board do? Quite a bit. It’s easiest to describe its inputs and outputs. Just like a Wave Blaster, it takes MIDI input as a serial stream, and likely also provides MIDI output. And there is stereo analog audio output which represent the “rendered” MIDI data stream. Other than power and reset pins, that’s really it.
The large chip in the center is an E-mu IC376, same as on a Wave Blaster; this is the synthesizer chip, a predecessor of the E-mu 8000. The large chip on the right is a classic Motorola 68000 processor; this chip is responsible for parsing and processing MIDI data and controlling the synth. The large chip in the lower left is an Analog Devices ADSP-2105, a DSP which provides reverb and chorus effects. The four smaller square chips at the bottom of the board are Asahi Kasei ROMs, 1 MB each, for a total of 4 MB of waveform data.
The rest of the unit is a case with connectors, front panel buttons, power converters, a bit of logic, and a giant 4700 μF Nichicon capacitor. There doesn’t appear to be anything particularly interesting about it.
The 26-pin connector is not only mirrored relative to a Wave Blaster but it is also not quite compatible. Notably, the SoundEngine only uses +5v and -5V supply and no +/-12V power like a Wave Blaster. However, the connector is generally very similar to that of a Wave Blaster.
Several sites claim that the SoundEngine is a 1995 device. That seems extremely unlikely given that all identifiable chips in the OS/2 Museum’s unit were made no later than 1993 and that the board displays a 1993 copyright message. The unit was most likely produced in June 1993 (0693) as evidenced by the serial number. The confusion may be caused by the fact that Sound on Sound published a review of the SoundEngine in 1995.
Relationship to EMU8801 and Wave Blaster
The EMU8805 is an improved version of EMU8801, which is almost identical to a Wave Blaster (aka Creative CT1900). That is obvious from this photo, for example. E-mu had been in the synth business for a number of years when it started offering the EMU8801 SoundEngine in 1992. The EMU8801 was essentially an OEM version of the E-mu Proteus synthesizer with General MIDI support.
Creative resold the SoundEngine as the Wave Blaster CT1900 and cooperated with E-mu on the design of AWE32 and Wave Blaster II (both based on the EMU8000 chip). Creative liked E-mu synths so much that it bought the company in 1993.
The EMU8805 is very similar to the older EMU8801. The synth chip is identical. The major difference is the addition of a DSP for reverb and chorus effects. The EMU8805 appears to use the exact same instrument ROMs as its older sibling (the markings on the ROM chips are identical). However, the added DSP significantly changes the results.
And finally two short samples of E-mu SoundEngine output.
Do you have the source MIDI files for any “bake off” comparisons? I kind of went MIDI crazy too, and now have a Yamaha MU-80, and a Roland SC-88, and MT-120.
It’d be interesting to compare them all, along with the Windows General MIDI, and the old MacOS software general midi in version 7 & 8 of MacOS.
So far, and as a personal preference, I think the SC-88 sounds the best of them all.
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How is the 9V AC Power supply rated? More than 1A?
Unfortunately I’m in the middle of a move and the SoundEngine is packed away in a box. I think it’s a 1A power supply but not sure. I’ll check when the SoundEngine resurfaces again.
Thanks Michal. I have finally received a Soundengine in the end from the US.
It works perfectly with my 9V AC 2.2A 20VA power supply.
I think I will get in touch with you via Mail, as I am not able to get the Kurzweil VGM board working correctly. I know Ihave to send a GM reset, I just don’t know where the problem is.
Congratulations on getting the SoundEngine! I know it’s hard to find 🙂 I’ll make sure I don’t lose track of my VGM, although I probably won’t have anywhere to plug it in for at least a few more weeks.
Do you know if the EMU8805 can be installed on a mirrored Wave Blaster connector? I mean, will the +12V/-12V damage it?
Thanks a lot!
As far as I know it is a mirrored WB connector. And the EMU8805 almost certainly needs +12V/-12V.
But if anything goes up in smoke, please don’t blame me 🙂
Oh, I thought that it didn’t use those line as you wrote in the post:
“Notably, the SoundEngine only uses +5v and -5V supply and no +/-12V power like a Wave Blaster”, that’s why I’ve asked 🙂
Well, I should be brave and try one day!
The matter is that I’ve got an Aureal SQ3500 Turbo that has the DSP daughterboard that covers the Waveblaster connector, so I’ve decided to move it to the other side of the board, thus it’s get mirrored. So, I’ll need some daughterboard with a mirrored Waveblaster header, and AFAIK there are only two of them – this one and the AVM Summit DB.
And the EMU8805 suits the whole project much better, as E-mu was also “killed” by Creative (as well as Aureal), so it would be a nice bundle altogether. I hope to test it in a couple of months and give you some feedback!
I don’t have the EMU8085 on hand but maybe the would-be-12V pins aren’t even connected? You may be able to tell by looking, or with a multimeter.
Aureal + E-mu sounds cool 🙂
Is there a description of the exact pin-out of this daughterboard? I’m curious what is meant by “mirrored”. Is everything mirrored (like Alexey described)? Or just inputs and outputs? Because early versions of Turtle Beach Maui used a waveblaster connector with reversed inputs and outputs (the manual suggested connecting it to another card with a waveblaster header). Turtle Beach later removed the connector, saying (Maui FAQ) it was based on version of the waveblaster “standard” that was changed after the Maui was released.
I will take a look when I get back from vacation. My memory is that the mirroring works like this: Imagine that you have a PCB with holes for all the connector pins. Now you can mount the connector on either the component side or on the reverse side. It’s still the same connector with the same signals but everything is swapped around (mirrored) left-to-right. Not just inputs/outputs switched around.
ETA: Re-reading the article, I see I already found a link to a photo that should illustrate the mirrored connector business very clearly: http://www.yjfy.com/images/oldhard/sound/EMU8801_CT1900_019244.jpg
Thanks, I don’t know how I’ve missed the obvious difference despite looking at that photo 😉