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Current state of the audio options?

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I've been sort of assuming the YM2151 is, at this point, pretty much good to go, but I noticed the current version of the FAQ mentions the final audio implementation is still up in air a bit:

https://www.commanderx16.com/forum/index.php?%2Fabout-faq%2F&fbclid=IwAR1H3E-dVgZjKkK-EY8Ooiw4U9afgBrkWTYwaGbb_CArr4WY7ezX0s8xMho

Is it to soon to get some clarity here? Asking because I'm one of the composers for the FF-style RPG being worked on and the approach there has been to use the 2151 for the music, and the other options, whatever they may be, for the SFX. As a musician this isn't as ideal since I'd like to mess with the SAA1099 for sure 🙂 But from a practical standpoint makes sense since we have readymade tools (Deflemask namely) we can use to compose music for the X16. It's not perhaps the most ideal but is the "best" option for now given it exists and there isn't (yet anyway!) a tracker solution on the X16.

All said, if there might be a chance the 2151 might NOT be used, that would have implications for the RPG. Obviously the X16 is still being engineered but the wording of the FAQ spooked a bit in this regard and thought I would ask.

I guess, in short, can we assume at this point that it is likely (though I understand not certain until the hardware is fully complete), that the YM2151 will be one of the sound solutions used in the X16?

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If you are thinking about the 1099, it's not being emulated at this point, but you can use the VERA PSG with the emulator, and it gives you pretty much the same capability. You can't use any off-the-shelf tools like Deflemask to track music or sound effects for it, but you can play around with it, even in BASIC. See the VERA documentation for the interface: https://github.com/commanderx16/x16-docs/blob/master/VERA%20Programmer's%20Reference.md#programmable-sound-generator-psg

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Indeed I'm excited about the 1099 myself, but the bigger concern was the YM2151. The FAQ implies this is all still subject to change but it's hard to tell what that means in practice. I would gather, given the current board revision, that the 2151 is likely to be included but might be good to know the level of confidence from the team as an ideal. It'd be a bummer to spend a lot of time and energy on music that would have to be largely thrown out if it ends up that we don't see the 2151 in the final product as an example.

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The 2151 spent quite a while as an optional compile-time option before being enabled by default, and a lot of software were made for it already, so you can assume it's kinda set in stone, but you never know until the board design goes final.

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I'd be extremely surprised if the YM2151 did not make the final design. Pretty much all the games and demos that have been written already use it, if they have music.

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Right on, those are my thoughts as well, but nice to see others thinking the same, thanks folks!

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VERA + YM2151 + SAA1099 is perhaps what the final design of the X16P is going to have.

I have a feeling this sound hardware in question is way too overkill for an 8-bit system, by essentially having 16+1+8+6=31 channels. This kind of reminds me of the 16-bit C256 Foenix with its cluster of sound chips (FPGA SID + SN76489 + YM2612 + YM2151 + OPL3 + 192KHz 24-bit stereo DAC + 3KHz piezo beeper). Even the ZX Spectrum Next has a more-plausible sound hardware, with three AY-3-8912 chips for a total of 9 channels (or 10 if the ZXS 1-bit beeper is included).

One of my suggestions for the X16 is to remove the SAA chip entirely, as the VERA PSG makes it redundant, which brings the channel count down to 25. Having a native tracker program work with 31 channels seems pretty hard, meanwhile it's far easier for the C64's 3.

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I could talk at length about what I'd like to see in the final sound design and am quite excited about all the possible options! Folks have quite the diverse opinions there!

But the question is not so much about that and more about what can be reasonably assumed as being in the final hardware at this point so I know what is reasonably safe to start using. It sounds like the consensus is the YM2151 is a safe bet, given it is in the emulator and programs have already been written that use it; and given there is a tracker solution, albeit not a native one, to use it.

It would be nice to see it clarified in the FAQ though since, as it reads, it does imply the sound design is a lot more up in the air than that.
 

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I have similar thoughts: YM2151 + VERA PSG. The advantage of the YM2151 is that there are trackers and also music/sounds (like VGM) ready to use (albeit not that many). The VERA PSG alone would leave me personally with no way of providing decent music. I'll probably use it for sound effects, while using the YM2151 for music.

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27 minutes ago, AndyMt said:

I have similar thoughts: YM2151 + VERA PSG. The advantage of the YM2151 is that there are trackers and also music/sounds (like VGM) ready to use (albeit not that many). The VERA PSG alone would leave me personally with no way of providing decent music. I'll probably use it for sound effects, while using the YM2151 for music.

Actually, it's possible to get some decent-sounding chiptune music out of the VERA PSG alone. You get 16 channels each with 67 waveforms (64 selectable pulse-wave duties, sawtooth, triangle and noise), 64 logarithmic-scaled volume levels, and simple stereo panning. This sounds like the C64 SID chip but in an alternate universe where it was designed differently.

Here's a demo of what you could do with just 3 of the 16 channels (which was made shortly after the PSG was implemented in the emulator).

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I agree that the PSG is very capable - so much so that I fear the YM2151 might be dropped. Unfortunately for the PSG there is no music and soundfx available on the internet. For the YM2151 I can use VGM files as sources. I'm not a good music and sound composer/artist, but I know someone who provides me with that. But he won't go into learning a new tracker, unless the PSG is added to Deflemask...

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Posted (edited)

Given the desire to entice the demo scene and make 1990s-style “Intel 80286” games reasonably possible, I can’t see the YM being dropped.  However, it sounds VERY reasonable to me to have the PSG + YM2151 together.

Edited by rje

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First a disclaimer: I am very much a non-expert in audio matters, so explanations and clarifications from the experts are very welcome! 🙂

To be honest, I don't know how I should feel about the audio situation.
First of all, I'm not sure why we would need two separate sound options. Do they complement each other (like, one does midi, and the other does pcm audio)? Or are they more or less redundant and just there so people can use whichever they like more?

Having listened to some sound examples of the YM2151, I must say that it very much reminds me of the MIDI sounds of 90's PC games which were invariably much worse than their Amiga counterparts. PC MIDI just always sounded incredibly cheap to me back then. Also, almost all of them have this special sound that I can't really put into words, but find very straining to listen to for more than a few minutes. (As opposed to Amiga or classic SID Chiptune music, which I can listen to for hours.) It feels like the higher frequency range is very "crowded", which makes my ears go numb quite quickly. Does that make sense to anyone else?

On the other hand, the Vera PSG example that StinkerB06 linked to sounds very good to me. It feels much more Chiptune-y and - in my opinion - more appropriate for what the X16 aims to be.

So I think I have, in a way, the reverse fear of AndyMt: I fear that the presence of the Yamaha chip might deter people from making music that actually sounds good (to me).

Regarding the availability of music, sfx and software: Do we really have to fear that the Vera PSG would be shunned by the demo community and/or authors of tracker software like Deflemask? (This is NOT a rethorical question - I honestly don't know, but I feel like it might not really be an issue, once the design is finished and out there.) And is it conceivable to build converters for the existing sound material?

And finally one technical question: Is any of the two currently considered options (YM2151 or Vera PSG) capable of playing MOD files in reasonable quality, given the software?
 

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Actually, there are 4 sound options, including the PCM (which isn't too useful for music) and the SAA1099, which is pretty redundant with the PSG. 

As for MOD files, the X16 would have a hard time playing them, as they are based on sampled intruments, and assume 4 PCM channels.  The X16 only has 2 and would require software to pitch and playback the samples, which means the CPU is going to prevent you from doing very much. 

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Well, one big difference between VERA PSG and YM2151 is that YM supports only sine waveforms, while VERA PSG supports pulse, sawtooth and triangle waveforms. That's something you immediately notice and what gives these solutions different "feels".

So, if you want FM music, you can use YM, and if you want something more reminiscent of the old 8-bit sound, you can use VERA PSG. Of course, PSG lacks filters and modulation capabilities of the SID chip, but that was the case for pretty much every sound chip of that era.

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Posted (edited)
52 minutes ago, SlithyMatt said:

Actually, there are 4 sound options, including the PCM (which isn't too useful for music) and the SAA1099, which is pretty redundant with the PSG. 

As for MOD files, the X16 would have a hard time playing them, as they are based on sampled intruments, and assume 4 PCM channels.  The X16 only has 2 and would require software to pitch and playback the samples, which means the CPU is going to prevent you from doing very much. 

I see, I got the impression that the SAA1099 will likely be dropped, but I missed the PCM somehow.

Regarding MOD files: Too bad, that would have been awesome. (And then there wouldn't be any concerns regarding available audio material. 🙂 )
I suspect that it was probably considered but dropped because the hardware needed for that would be too complex/expensive to be included in the X16. (Or maybe just not what David and the team envisioned for the X16, since MOD files were mostly a thing of the 16-bit era, I guess.)

Edited by Fnord42

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I have some pretty nice new YM2151 audio tracks here for my next projects. They are as the composer I'm working with put it: 're-arranged to modern standards'. They sound more like what I knew from the Amiga.

I assume we will get the YM plus the PSG. For my projects I'll use the YM for music and the PSG an/or PCM for sound effects.

As for converting music from other formats to the PSG: that will be very hard as the capabilities are so different.

 

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1 hour ago, Guybrush said:

Well, one big difference between VERA PSG and YM2151 is that YM supports only sine waveforms, while VERA PSG supports pulse, sawtooth and triangle waveforms. That's something you immediately notice and what gives these solutions different "feels".

Actually, the YM2151 indeed has the same 4 waveforms as the PSG. And you have a lot more flexibility in using them, at the cost of an extremely high learning curve compared to the PSG.

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10 hours ago, SlithyMatt said:

Actually, the YM2151 indeed has the same 4 waveforms as the PSG. And you have a lot more flexibility in using them, at the cost of an extremely high learning curve compared to the PSG.

I'm pretty sure those 4 waveforms are for the YM's low-frequency oscillator (LFO) that modulates either amplitude or phase.

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Posted (edited)
18 hours ago, SlithyMatt said:

Actually, the YM2151 indeed has the same 4 waveforms as the PSG. And you have a lot more flexibility in using them, at the cost of an extremely high learning curve compared to the PSG.

To add my comment about that: I probably won't use the YM2151.  I lack the motivation to climb the learning curve, and I don't compose music anyhow.  So SID-like things are as far as I can go.

I never did appreciate MIDI music, either, so maybe this is a preference thing.

Edited by rje
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On 8/5/2020 at 10:24 AM, StinkerB06 said:

One of my suggestions for the X16 is to remove the SAA chip entirely, as the VERA PSG makes it redundant, which brings the channel count down to 25. Having a native tracker program work with 31 channels seems pretty hard, meanwhile it's far easier for the C64's 3.

To be fair, it IS Dave's Dream Computer, and he not only has an impressive collection of 8bit computer systems as the 8-Bit Guy, but also a very impressive collection of 8-bit keyboards as the 8-bit Keys guy. Just because a channel is available doesn't imply that each native tracker has to work with all native sources. Indeed, if everyone tried to use every sound chip, that would reduce the the variety of 8-bit chiptunes that we will be hearing on the system.

 

On 8/24/2020 at 2:01 AM, SlithyMatt said:

Actually, there are 4 sound options, including the PCM (which isn't too useful for music) and the SAA1099, which is pretty redundant with the PSG.

If you don't think that the PCM will be useful for percussion samples, I'm wondering how broad a range of music you've heard. There's a reason that synthesizer groups still recruit a drummer. It might not be all that critical for chiptunes, but for actual music it's a great addition to the mix.

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3 hours ago, BruceMcF said:

If you don't think that the PCM will be useful for percussion samples, I'm wondering how broad a range of music you've heard. There's a reason that synthesizer groups still recruit a drummer. It might not be all that critical for chiptunes, but for actual music it's a great addition to the mix.

That's why I didn't say "entirely useless". This is the only viable use case, and something I've talked about before with my music collaborators. But totally recorded tracks are just not practical, which was my point.

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1 hour ago, SlithyMatt said:

That's why I didn't say "entirely useless". This is the only viable use case, and something I've talked about before with my music collaborators. But totally recorded tracks are just not practical, which was my point.

If they were usable for playing entire prerecorded tracks or tracks generated on the fly, it wouldn't be an eight bit system..

I just wouldn't put " useful in filling the glaring hole of the other chip for good percussion instruments as "not entirely useless" .. because while I am not a percussionist, I've known some, and they are not only in the habit of carrying sticks, but are well practiced at hitting things with their sticks, repeatedly and with great force!

"Not used in the way you may be used to in a modern system" might be a safer way to put it.

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TBH I am still a bit disappointed about the X16's sound capabilities, mostly because I had hoped it would be able to play MOD files, which does not seem to be possible with the current hardware. (Despite having four(?) different chips with overlapping capabilities, which also feels a bit weird to me.)

I assume that it is much too late to change the general design of the X16's sound architecture (and, more importantly, that the core team probably had good reasons to go for the chips they chose, that I am not aware of).

But I have been thinking if it might be feasible to build a sound card for the X16 instead. I haven't investigated the topic thoroughly yet, but the fact that there are complete MOD players consisting of not much more than an ATMega32 and a TDA1543, makes it seem quite doable. To clarify, I don't want something that just plays a MOD that you throw at it, but rather the necessary hardware that would enable the X16 to play MOD files (for example as background music in a game) - you should be able to upload samples/instruments and then play them at different frequencies, much like the Amiga's Paula chip did, If I understood it correctly.

What do you guys think? Is this a good idea or a bad one, and why?

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Basically, you have half the PCM capability of an Amiga and a pretty good FM synthesis chip, all working with a 6502. Like David said, you can do something LIKE a MOD file. But a real MOD file has memory requirements that aren't feasible for 8-bit. It's not going to be background, but the whole application. 

If you think the sound capabilities of the X16 are "disappointing", you have absurd expectations for an 8-bit computer.

#GetARaspberryPi

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Judging from your response, I might have sounded more negative than I had intended.

Let me clarify: I don't think that the X16's audio capabilities are disappointing. I was personally a bit disappointed because I had hoped that it could also do MOD files. MOD files have very high retro nostalgia value for me, but that was maybe just a bit much to hope for. Additionally it's probably also a matter of personal preference, because I just don't like the sound of the YM2151 very much.
That being said, the current audio capabilities are of course not bad at all - Amiga-like sound capabilities just would have been the icing on the cake for me, so to speak.

You guys are doing an awesome job, and I didn't mean to step on anyones toes; sorry if I did.

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