My Soundblaster has been performing yeoman-like service in my computers for almost 3 years. Even at day one, it was obvious that its sound, especially for music, left much to be desired. But I didn't want to shell out the big $$ for a Roland. With the advent of cheap wavetable-synthesis cards, one no longer has to. Finding one with the desired combination of compatibility, sound, features, and price, is no trivial task. I've tried the Gravis Ultrasound (GUS), Reveal SoundFX Wave, and now, the Logitech SoundMan Wave (SMW).
Here, I report on the Logitech, which is the first available that utilizes the new Yamaha OPL4 combined wavetable-FM synth. The perspective is that of a gamer who is in no-way an expert on synths or music. I've tried it both stand-alone and coexisting with my SBPro. The card is in a 486dx2/66 and is connected via line-out to an 80W/ch amp and EPI 70 bookshelf speakers.
The card features the Yamaha OPL4 which combines the OPL3 FM (used in the SBPro) and 24-voice wavetable synths. The wavetable samples are held in 2MB of ROM, with no RAM. It also has 16-bit, 44kHz, stereo record/ playback, a SCSI-1 interface, and hardware MPU401/general midi (g-midi) compatibility. An effects daughtercard is planned. The card lists for $299, but is available by mail-order for as low as $185.
Very simple jumperless installation, perfect SB compatibility, hit & miss on SBPro, decent g-midi wavetable sound, high pitch noise on higher quality digital settings, recording problems due to that and the low line levels. If the last problems are due to my machine or a bad card, it represents good value. A possible all-in-one gaming soundcard. Is it worth the $100 over the SBPro? Depends on how much you value music. For most sims, it buys little. But if you prefer games with loud soundtracks, want real music with X-Wing and Privateer, and also might want to listen to midi files and MODs at a higher fidelity level, than you may want to take the jump.
I at first experienced considerable SB compatibility problems, but since re-installing the SMW software (same default settings), it has been near- flawless. Sounds exactly like the SB in FM mode. This in about 10 games. SBPro compatibility however, hasn't been as successful. In Air Warrior and Star Trek:JR, the digitized stereo samples are played on the left channel only. But other SBPro games (F14, F15) have worked just fine with FM and DAC sound.
As to the main games use, combined SB(DAC) + g-midi, it has worked well within, I think, the constraints of the games' programming. What do I mean? Many games instead of using the DAC for all fx, use the music card (g-midi), others just delete that sound (example: no engine sound in F14). For these games, results are far from ideal. For these, I generally choose the SB-only option and lose whatever advantage the SMW has over an SB or SBPro. For what it is worth, it worked perfectly in Strike Commander:TO, nearly so in ST:JR (a few, presumably FM-only, fx where missing), and nearly so in Doom (a background note kept playing).
As to the g-midi sound, I found it far, far superior to FM, but I've heard better. Still, for games, I was satisfied. For stand-alone midi's, the Reveal was significantly better, sounding less "synthy". Piano, organ are fine. Strings and woodwinds a bit too synthy. I find brass to be particularly weak. An ex-trumpeter friend thought both Reveal and Logitech were poor in the latter. But again, bear in mind it leaves FM in the dust.
The only DOS MOD player I've tried is DMP. This auto-detects it as an SBPro, but yields an annoying channel-switching sound. So I can only use it as mono. None of the other card switches worked. Tried the Windows player Mod4win and that works fine at 44kHz, 16-bit, which sounds much better than 22kHz SBPro stereo. But there is as a high pitched noise (more on this).
The line-out is a little low in volume. I find the midi output to be too low compared to the DAC, fixed by lowering the DAC output. But I have to crank the amp fairly high and then hear noise plus that annoying high- pitched noise with DAC.
The bundled Windows utilities include an ACS "Music Rack" for playing WAVs and midis and CD's and mixing. While attractive and intuitive, I found it to be a little slow and clumsier than the (Reveal) Voyetra "Audiostation". Plus it doesn't seem to play VOCs, just WAVs. Box claims notwithstanding, there are no record compression options. No composer like "Super Jam". It does include Midisoft's "Recording Session". DOS utils are just command line WAV and midi players. Why can't anyone supply a passable DOS util?
Logitech doesn't pretend to offer DOS MT-32 compatibility, which is more honest than most. Try it and the games usually lock up. Other cards may give you good music, but no/poor fx and occasional lockups.
The only jumper is for joystick disabling. Everything else is in software, a very nice touch.
An effects daughterboard is planned. No clue as to whether a RAM option is planned. I haven't tried the SCSI-1 interface as my CD-ROM is a proprietary Panasonic.
SBPro/SMW coexistence seems to work well with the SBPro on the usual 220/d1/i7 settings and the SMW on 240/d3/i5 (for DAC). I can now use the SBPro for DMP, games, and the CD-ROM drive, and have the SMW for midi and DAC in Windows. The only problem is that the Logitech software then doesn't find its own DAC in DOS. And randomly it bombs on loading games, but a preemptive SBPro initialization (test-sbp) seems to solve the problem.
Recording hasn't been very successful in part due to the low levels of the midi and CD inputs (with SBPro output cranked and connected to the SMW input). In this case, I get low S/N.
The biggest annoyance has been the high pitched noise I experience. Seems I get it two different types when I choose 44kHz and stereo digitized samples. The noise then remains in the background if I then play midis. It disappears if I reset or play a lower fidelity WAV/MOD files. The card is already sitting as far away as it can from other cards. Note that for game-playing this hasn't really been a problem.
In summary, this board represents good value. At about $185 discount, you get perfect SB emulation, acceptable wavetable g-midi sound, SB+g-midi option in games (with the above caveats), good bundled software, software selects, and a SCSI interface. On the negative side, SBPro support isn't perfect (maybe similar to SB16's??), g-midi wavetable isn't the best, and the DAC noise problem. It is the first card I've seen that can suffice as an all-in-one gamer's soundcard, but since I already have the SBPro, I am loathe to lose its stereo support in the games that the Logitech has trouble with. Together, the combo is a bit pricey, and the SBPro + Maui may represent better value (but you lose 16-bit record/playback). I might try that next! As with any soundcard purchase, I suggest you trial from a retailer allowing returns.This review is Copyright (C) 199 by Dave Masten for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.