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Sound Devices

Sound devices, also known as "musical devices" make poetry a special art form. Frost
called his poems "talk-song" as a means of conveying his slant on the musical qualities
of poetry. The 19th C. Romantics, especially Poe, Coleridge and Swinburne carried
musical delight in their poetics to an extreme. Frost deplored this along with the lush
exuberance of nineteenth century poetry. Frost coined the idea of "the sound of sense"
turning back to Wordsworth and Emerson as models even while creating his own special
style. Frost used everyday speech rhythms and plain language to make poetry.
Nevertheless, his poems are full of traditional sound devices that enrich his poetry. As
far as Frost was concerned, music did not mix with poetry. One thing he deplored was
setting his poems to music. Poems are made and meant to be spoken.

General characteristics

Close-up of a sound card PCB, showing electrolytic capacitors (most likely for AC
coupling), SMT capacitors and resistors, and a YAC512 two-channel 16-bit DAC.

A typical sound card includes a sound chip, usually featuring a digital-to-analog

converter, that converts recorded or generated digital data into an analog format. The
output signal is connected to an amplifier, headphones, or external device using
standard interconnects, such as a TRS connector or an RCA connector. If the number
and size of connectors is too large for the space on the backplate the connectors will be
off-board, typically using a breakout box, or an auxiliary backplate. More advanced
cards usually include more than one sound chip to provide for higher data rates and
multiple simultaneous functionality, eg between digital sound production and
synthesized sounds (usually for real-time generation of music and sound effects using
minimal data and CPU time).

Digital sound reproduction is usually done with multi-channel DACs, which are capable
of multiple digital samples simultaneously at different pitches and volumes, or
optionally applying real-time effects like filtering or distortion. Multi-channel digital
sound playback can also be used for music synthesis when used with a digitized
instrument bank, typically a small amount of ROM or Flash memory containing samples
corresponding to MIDI instruments. A contrasting way to synthesize sound on a PC uses
"audio codecs", which rely heavily on software for music synthesis, MIDI compliance,
and even multiple-channel emulation. This approach has become common as
manufacturers seek to simplify the design and the cost of sound cards.

Most sound cards have a line in connector for signal from a cassette tape recorder or
similar sound source. The sound card digitizes this signal and stores it (under control of
appropriate matching computer software) on the computer's hard disk for storage,
editing, or further processing. Another common external connector is the microphone
connector, for use by a microphone or other low level input device. Input through a
microphone jack is often used by speech recognition software or for Voice over IP

Sound channels and polyphony

8-channel digital-to-analog converter Cirrus Logic CS4382 placed on Sound Blaster X-

Fi Fatal1ty

Another important characteristic of sound cards is polyphony, which is more than one
distinct voice or sound playable simultaneously and independently, and the number of
simultaneous channels. These are intended as the number of distinct electrical audio
outputs, which may correspond to a speaker configuration such as 2.0 (stereo), 2.1
(stereo and sub woofer), 5.1 etc.). Sometimes, the terms "voices" and "channels" are
used interchangeably to indicate the degree of polyphony, not the output speaker

For example, many older sound chips could accommodate three voices, but only one
audio channel (ie, a single mono output) for output, requiring all voices to be mixed
together. More recent cards, such as the AdLib sound card, have a 9 voice polyphony
and 1 mono channel as a combined output.

For some years, most PC sound cards have had multiple FM synthesis voices (typically 9
or 16) which were usually used for MIDI music. The full capabilities of advanced cards
aren't often completely used; only one (mono) or two (stereo) voice(s) and channel(s)
are usually dedicated to playback of digital sound samples, and playing back more than
one digital sound sample usually requires a software downmix at a fixed sampling rate.
Modern low-cost integrated soundcards (ie, those built into motherboards) such as
audio codecs like those meeting the AC'97 standard and even some budget expansion
soundcards still work that way. They may provide more than two sound output channels
(typically 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound), but they usually have no actual hardware
polyphony for either sound effects or MIDI reproduction, these tasks are performed
entirely in software. This is similar to the way inexpensive softmodems perform modem
tasks in software rather than in hardware).

Today, a sound card providing actual hardware polyphony, regardless of the number of
output channels, is typically referred to as a "hardware audio accelerator", although
actual voice polyphony is not the sole (or even a necessary) prerequisite, with other
aspects such as hardware acceleration of 3D sound, positional audio and real-time DSP
effects being more important.

Since digital sound playback has become available and provided better performance
than synthesis, modern soundcards with hardware polyphony don't actually use DACs
with as many channels as voices, but rather perform voice mixing and effects processing
in hardware (eventually performing digital filtering and conversions to and from the
frequency domain for applying certain effects) inside a dedicated DSP. The final
playback stage is performed by an external (in reference to the DSP chip(s)) DAC with
significantly fewer channels than voices (e.g., 8 channels for 7.1 audio, which can be
divided among 32, 64 or even 128 voices).

History of sound cards for the IBM PC architecture

The AdLib Music Synthesizer Card, was one of the first sound cards circa 1987

A sound card based on VIA Envy chip

Echo Digital Audio Corporation's Indigo IO — PCMCIA card 24-bit 96 kHz stereo in/out
sound card

Sound cards for computers compatible with the IBM PC were uncommon until 1988,
which left the single internal PC speaker as the only way early PC software could
produce sound and music. The speaker hardware was typically limited to square waves,
which fit the common nickname of "beeper". The resulting sound was generally
described as "beeps and boops". Several companies, most notably Access Software,
developed techniques for digital sound reproduction over the PC speaker; the resulting
audio, while baldly functional, suffered from distorted output and low volume, and
usually required all other processing to be stopped while sounds were played. Other
home computer models of the 1980s included hardware support for digital sound
playback, or music synthesis (or both), leaving the IBM PC at a disadvantage to them
when it came to multimedia applications such as music composition or gaming.

It is important to note that the initial design and marketing focuses of sound cards for
the IBM PC platform were not based on gaming, but rather on specific audio
applications such as music composition (AdLib Personal Music System, Creative Music
System, IBM Music Feature Card) or on speech synthesis (Digispeech DS201, Covox
Speech Thing, Street Electronics Echo). Only until Sierra and other game companies
became involved in 1988 was there a switch toward gaming.

Hardware manufacturers

One of the first manufacturers of sound cards for the IBM PC was AdLib, who produced
a card based on the Yamaha YM3812 sound chip, aka the OPL2. The AdLib had two
modes: A 9-voice mode where each voice could be fully programmed, and a less
frequently used "percussion" mode with 3 regular voices producing 5 independent
percussion-only voices for a total of 11. (The percussion mode was considered inflexible
by most developers; it was used mostly by AdLib's own composition software.)

Creative Labs also marketed a sound card about the same time called the Creative Music
System. Although the C/MS had twelve voices to AdLib's nine, and was a stereo card
while the AdLib was mono, the basic technology behind it was based on the Philips SAA
1099 chip which was essentially a square-wave generator. It sounded much like twelve
simultaneous PC speakers would have, and failed to sell well, even after Creative
renamed it the Game Blaster a year later, and marketed it through Radio Shack in the
US. The Game Blaster retailed for under $100 and included the hit game Silpheed.
A large change in the IBM PC compatible sound card market happened with Creative
Labs' introduced the Sound Blaster card. The Sound Blaster cloned the AdLib, and
added a sound coprocessor for recording and play back of digital audio (likely to have
been an Intel microcontroller relabeled by Creative). It was incorrectly called a "DSP" to
suggest it was a digital signal processor), a game port for adding a joystick, and
capability to interface to MIDI equipment (using the game port and a special cable).
With more features at nearly the same price, and compatibility as well, most buyers
chose the Sound Blaster. It eventually outsold the AdLib and dominated the market.

The Sound Blaster line of cards, together with the first inexpensive CD-ROM drives and
evolving video technology, ushered in a new era of multimedia computer applications
that could play back CD audio, add recorded dialogue to computer games, or even
reproduce motion video (albeit at much lower resolutions and quality in early days). The
widespread decision to support the Sound Blaster design in multimedia and
entertainment titles meant that future sound cards such as Media Vision's Pro Audio
Spectrum and the Gravis Ultrasound had to be Sound Blaster compatible if they were to
sell well. Until the early 2000s (by which the AC'97 audio standard became more
widespread and eventually usurped the SoundBlaster as a standard due to its low cost
and integration into many motherboards), Sound Blaster compatibility is a standard
that many other sound cards still support to maintain compatibility with many games
and applications released.

Industry adoption

When game company Sierra On-Line opted to support add-on music hardware (instead
of built-in hardware such as the PC speaker and built-in sound capabilities of the IBM
PCjr and Tandy 1000), what could be done with sound and music on the IBM PC
changed dramatically. Two of the companies Sierra partnered with were Roland and
Adlib, opting to produce in-game music for King's Quest 4 that supported the Roland
MT-32 and Adlib Music Synthesizer. The MT-32 had superior output quality, due in part
to its method of sound synthesis as well as built-in reverb. Since it was the most
sophisticated synthesizer they supported, Sierra chose to use most of the MT-32's
custom features and unconventional instrument patches, producing background sound
effects (eg, chirping birds, clopping horse hooves, etc.) before the Sound Blaster brought
playing real audio clips to the PC entertainment world. Many game companies also
supported the MT-32, but supported the Adlib card as an alternative because of the
latter's higher market base. The adoption of the MT-32 led the way for the creation of
the MPU-401/Roland Sound Canvas and General MIDI standards as the most common
means of playing in-game music until the mid-1990s.

Feature evolution

Early ISA bus soundcards were half-duplex, meaning they could not record and play
digitized sound simultaneously, mostly due to inferior card hardware (eg, DSPs). Later,
ISA cards like the SoundBlaster AWE series and Plug-and-play Soundblaster clones
eventually became full-duplex and supported simultaneous recording and playback, but
at the expense of using up two IRQ and DMA channels instead of one, making them no
different from having two half-duplex sound cards in terms of configuration. Towards
the end of the ISA bus' life, ISA soundcards started taking advantage of IRQ sharing,
thus reducing the IRQs needed to one, but still needed two DMA channels. Many PCI
bus cards do not have these limitations and are mostly full-duplex.

For years, soundcards had only one or two channels of digital sound (most notably the
Sound Blaster series and their compatibles) with the exception of the Gravis Ultrasound
family, which had hardware support for up to 32 independent channels of digital audio.
Early games and MOD-players needing more channels than a card could support had to
resort to mixing multiple channels in software. Even today, the tendency is still to mix
multiple sound streams in software, except in products specifically intended for gamers
or professional musicians, with a sensible difference in price from "software based"

Professional soundcards (audio interfaces)

Professional soundcards are special soundcards optimized for real time (or at least low
latency) multichannel sound recording and playback, including studio-grade fidelity.
Their drivers usually follow the ASIO protocol for use with professional sound
engineering and music software, although ASIO drivers are also available for a range of
consumer-grade soundcards.

Professional soundcards are usually described as "audio interfaces", and sometimes

have the form of external rack-mountable units using USB 2.0, Firewire, or an optical
interface, to offer sufficient data rates. The emphasis in these products is, in general, on
multiple input and output connectors, direct hardware support for multiple input and
output sound channels, as well as higher sampling rates and fidelity as compared to the
usual consumer soundcard. In that respect, their role and intended purpose is more
similar to a specialized multi-channel data recorder and real-time audio mixer and
processor, roles which are possible only to a limited degree with typical consumer

On the other hand, certain features of consumer soundcards such as support for EAX,
optimization for hardware acceleration in video games, or real-time ambience effects are
secondary in professional soundcards, nonexistent or even undesirable on professional
soundcards, and as such audio interfaces are not recommended for the typical home

The typical "consumer-grade" soundcard is intended for generic home, office, and
entertainment purposes with an emphasis on playback and casual use, rather than
catering to the needs of audio professionals. In response to this, Steinberg (the creators
of audio recording and sequencing software, Cubase and Nuendo) developed a protocol
that specified the handling of multiple audio inputs and outputs.

In general, consumer grade soundcards impose several restrictions and inconvenieces

that would be unacceptable to an audio professional. One of a modern soundcard's
purposes is to provide an AD/DA converter (Analog to Digital/Digital to Analog).
However, in professional applications, there is usually a need for enhanced recording or
Analog to Digital conversion capabilities.

One of the limitations of consumer soundcards is their comparatively large sampling

latency; this is the time it takes for the AD Converter to complete conversion of a sound
sample and transfer it to the computer's main memory.

Consumer soundcards are also limited in the effective sampling rates and bit depths
they can actually manage (compare Analog sound vs. digital sound and have lower
numbers of less flexible input channels: professional studio recording use typically
requires more than two channels which consumer soundcards provide, and more
accessible connectors, unlike the variable mixture of internal -- and sometimes virtual --
and external connectors found in consumer-grade soundcards.

Sound devices other than expansion cards

Integrated sound hardware on PC motherboards

In 1984, the first IBM PCjr had only a rudimentary 3-voice sound synthesis chip (the
SN76489) which was capable of generating three square-wave tones with variable
amplitude, and a pseudo white noise channel that could generate primitive percussion
sounds. The Tandy 1000, initially a clone of the PCjr, duplicated this functionality, with
the Tandy TL/SL/RL models adding digital sound recording/playback capabilities.

In the late 1990s, many computer manufacturers began to replace plug-in soundcards
with a "codec" chip (actually a combined audio AD/DA-converter) integrated into the
motherboard. Many of these used Intel's AC97 specification. Others used inexpensive
ACR slot accessory cards.

As of 2005, these "codecs" usually lack the hardware for direct music synthesis or even
multi-channel sound, with special drivers and software making up for these lacks, at the
expense of CPU speed (for example, MIDI reproduction takes away 10-15% CPU time on
an Athlon XP 1600+ CPU).

Nevertheless, some manufacturers offered (and offer, as of 2006) motherboards with

integrated "real" (non-codec) soundcards, usually in the form of a custom chipset
providing something akin to full ISA or PCI Soundblaster compatibility; this saves an
expansion slot while providing the user with a (relatively) high quality soundcard.

Integrated sound on other platforms

Various non-IBM PC compatible computers, such as early home computers like the
Commodore C64 and Amiga or Apple's Macintosh, and workstations from
manufacturers like Sun have had their own motherboard integrated sound devices. In
some cases, most notably in those of the Commodore Amiga and the C64, they provide
very advanced capabilities (as of the time of manufacture), in others they are only
minimal capabilities. Some of these platforms have also had sound cards designed for
their bus architectures which of course cannot be used in a standard PC.

The custom sound chip on Amiga, named Paula, had four digital sound channels (2 for
the left speaker and 2 for the right) with 8 bit resolution (although with patches,
14/15bit was accomplishable at the cost of high CPU usage) for each channel and a 6 bit
volume control per channel. Sound Play back on Amiga was done by reading directly
from the chip-RAM without using the main CPU.

The quality of the Amiga's sound output still remains special in alot of peoples hearts,
simply because of the capability of her way back in the 80s when IBM and even Apple
were struggling.

Sound cards on other platforms

While many of Apple's machines come with on-board sound capabilities, their
bestselling Apple II suffered from a lack of more than minimal sound devices, using only
a beeper like the PC. To get around the problem, the Sweet Micro Systems company
developed the Mockingboard (a name-play on mockingbird), which was essentially a
sound card for the Apple II. Early Mockingboard models ranged from 3 voices in mono,
while some later designs were 6 voices in stereo. Some software supported use of two
Mockingboard cards which allowed 12 voice music and sound. A 12 voice, single card
clone of the Mockingboard called the Phasor was also made by Applied Engineering. In
late 2005 a company called ReactiveMicro.com produced a 6 voice clone called the
Mockingboard v1 and also has plans to clone the Phasor and produce a hybrid card
which will be user selectable between Mockingboard and Phasor modes plus support
both the SC-01 or SC-02 speech synthesizers.

USB sound "cards"

USB sound "cards" are actually external boxes that plug into the computer via USB.

The USB specification defines a standard interface, the USB audio device class, allowing
a single driver to work with the various USB sound devices on the market. Cards
meeting the USB 2.0 specification have sufficient data transfer capacity to support high
quality sound operation if their circuit design permits.

Other outboard sound devices

USB Sound Cards are far from the first external devices allowing a computer to record
or synthesize sound. For example, devices such as the Covox Speech Thing were
attached to the parallel port of an IBM PC and fed 6- or 8-bit PCM sample data to
produce audio. Also, many types of professional soundcards (audio interfaces) have the
form of an external Firewire or USB unit, usually for convenience and improved fidelity.
Soundcards using the PCMCIA cardbus interface were popular in the early days of
portable computing when laptops and notebooks did not have onboard sound. Even
today, while rare, these cardbus audio solutions are still used in some setups in which
the onboard sound solution of the notebook or laptop is not up to par with the owners'
expectations or requirements, and are particularly targeted at mobile DJs, with units
providing separated outputs usually allow both playback and monitoring from one