PC Speaker (Aug '81)
Text to Speech Devices
MIDI Synthesiser Modules
Micro Technology Unlimited DigiSound-16 (Mar '86)
Mindscape Music Board (Aug '86)
IBM Music Feature Card (Mar '87)
Ad Lib Inc. Ad Lib Music Synthesizer Card (Jun '87)
Creative Technology Creative Music System (Nov '87) & Game Blaster (mid-'89)
Covox Speech Thing (Dec '87)
SiliconSoft SoundJr ('88)
Innovation SSI-2001 (Apr '89)
IBM Audio Visual Connection (Sep '89)
Covox Sound Master (Sep '89)
Creative Technology Killer Kard/Card & Sound Blaster (Nov '89)
(I forgot the LAPC-I. I'll add that at some point.)
There were many devices in the early-to-mid '80s that expanded the sound capabilities of the PC. Sound for games, however, is what most people are talking about when they refer to 'sound cards'. In this context, you can't have a sound card without a game that supports it. The first commercially released game on the PC to support something other than the PC speaker was Sierra's King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella, released on 16th August 1988. This game supported Roland's MT-32 synthesiser (via the MPU-401 & MIF-IPC) or LAPC-I, the AdLib, and IBM's Music Feature Card. (Support for Creative's Game Blaster was added via patch in October, so it doesn't make the cut, much as it would like to.) That makes these the first sound cards in the context that most people talk about sound cards. But no one likes a draw, so let us continue.
The subject of sound cards on the PC has been written about many times, for many years and by many people. Most of this information, though excellent, is scattered. Such is the Web. Yvan256 has a museum dedicated to early PC sound cards; DOS Days, Great Hierophant and others have written extensively about many cards, and there are a couple of very nice lists on Vogons and VCF respectively, which map out some chronology and cite some sources. Lots of work has been done on this. This article is an attempt to gather all this information together and get as precise as possible about the history of PC sound cards. In particular, I want to pull together all the sources that are currently availably for dating the release of these devices. This has been the most frustrating thing for me personally, as I have seen many conflicting dates attributed to many devices.
An issue with this is that, due to time and resource constraints, I am only able to refer to online sources and those are limited. As time goes on, however, I hope to improve the accuracy of this article by obtaining further sources, but I definitely will not be writing in depth about any of the hardware discussed here: I merely want to establish a timeline and introduce each device. Others have already written detailed articles on the hardware itself, which I will provide links to where possible.
I would like to credit Great Hierophant, vetz, CarlosTex, Cloudschatze, VileR, Trixter, vwestlife, hightreason, cyclone3d, dionb, swaaye, Fagear, bristlehog, Tronix, hard1k, HunterZ, elianda, keropi, shock__, FGB, JazeFox, Xacalite, Karl's IT Retro, DonutKing, James-F, chrisNova777 and all the other sound card enthusiasts for the work they have already put in and whose posts and articles I've been reading and enjoying over the years. In a way, I would like this article to be a tribute to the investigative work they have already done.
The goal is to pin down as specific a date as possible for each piece of hardware so we can state with a degree of certainty the order in which they were released. The date we're looking for is the point at which the hardware became generally available for sale. There are a number of ways to get this, but usually we have to rely on something less accurate until something better comes along, so I've highlighted this where possible. Each 'main source' (the one for dating the hardware) is indicated with a superscript number next to the date, unless something is common knowledge (such as the IBM PC release date) in which case there is no need. These are the typical sources that I have ended up using, ranked by goodness:
- Press release. This is the best possible source for a release date and a price as it comes from the hardware manufacturer themselves. This is usually pretty easy for high-profile companies like Roland or IBM, but harder even for someone prolific but 2nd-tier like Tecmar. Sometimes you can get similar information from corporate profiles (as they're often based on press release history), but they tend to be less precise or verbose.
- Magazine preview. These are essentially a secondary-source press release and appear in 'new on the market' or 'first looks' columns of magazines. They usually mention the price and the anticipated date of release, but not always.
- Trade show. This is almost as good as the first two. It's well-known, for example, that the AdLib debuted at CES in 1987, so it's very easy to find the exact date for that. We must be aware, however, of vapourware announcements. Though not a sound card, Duke Nukem Forever at E3 2001 is a perfect example - an entire trailer was shown, depicting what appeared to be a nearly complete game. The game was never released and incomplete builds were recently leaked showing just how unfinished it was. Thankfully we have the benefit of hindsight where such cases are concerned.
- Product manual. A date from the manual for a piece of hardware is usually a pretty good indication of when it became available as it will be completed very near the end of development. If this ties up with timestamps on driver or software files then that's even better, as it's at least within a few months of release, if not weeks.
- Magazine review / article / advert. A full review of hardware, particularly in a group test, can take place weeks, months or more than a year after a device appears on the market, so this is a less ideal source. It is often the most common though. Similar in vagueness are adverts in the press, though these can appear any time between a preview and a review.
- Patents / trademarks. These are absolutely great for finding out who invented something and how it vaguely works, but aren't great for an accurate date of availability. There is no typical relationship between a trademark or patent being registered and a product actually becoming commercially available. Some never become available. They are useful, however, when you already have another vague source you're not sure about. Similarly, manufacturing dates printed on hardware such as PCBs or ICs give us a general idea as to when something was in development, but not really a release date.
- Everything else is least ideal e.g. where some person has vaguely waved their hand about and mentioned a month or even just a year. Generally speaking these won't be cited unless there's literally nothing better.
To establish the scope of this article, we must first define what a PC is and what a sound card is. The term PC is used to refer to any computer that is 100% (or near 100%) compatible with the IBM Personal Computer, released on 12th August 1981. That's it really. It came with in-built audio in the 'bleeper' or PC speaker, which most PCs still possess today. I'm not interested in similar computers that had built-in audio such as the PCjr and the Tandy - there is no debate over the release date of these machines.
A sound card is technically any device that attaches to a PC and enables it to produce sound over and above its basic functionality. There we go. That's a broad scope, though. So, to make my goal a little more... realistic, I'm going to focus on the years up to, and including, 1989. Things went a bit nuts after that and producing a definitive article of any kind on '90s sound cards would be a life-long project. Gotta start somewhere, though. Some would say that devices unsupported by games don't count or don't matter. By including as many as possible, it will allow people to make up their own minds.
|The venerable PC speaker. (Source: Hans Haase via Wikimedia Commons.)|
PC Speaker (Aug '81)
For the sake of completeness, I want to write something about the much-maligned PC speaker. It was certainly the first device I heard music and sound effects through when I first got a PC and this was the experience of many others who started gaming in the days before multimedia came along. As a result its bleeps and bloops are very nostalgic to me.
IBM PCs originally used a programmable interrupt timer, Intel's 8253 (PC and XT) or 8254 (AT and later), to generate signals that an attached speaker would convert into audio. The process produced a square wave, with the signal either being on (5V) or off (0V). This hardware could not be upgraded or easily modified, so it was software that was the key to making it 'do stuff'. By switching this voltage quickly enough, it was possible to produce simple sound effects and music through the built-in speaker. Only one sound could be produced at a time (monophony) using this method so, usually, a game would have some kind of rudimental theme tune at the beginning, then switch to sound effects during the game itself. Either way, the PC speaker was never designed to be used in this way, so its abilities were always being stretched.
Through more advanced coding techniques, it became possible later on to playback digital audio by using pulse width modulation. The first time I heard this was when playing Pinball Fantasies - I absolutely could not believe what I was hearing at the time. Another example of this was a product called RealSound, which achieved a similar thing and was used commercially in games. Other developers used their own tricks to make the PC speaker to play digitised sound in their games, such as Mach 3 from 1987. Trixter has an excellent write-up of how this was achieved. Later examples of innovative uses of the PC speaker to achieve what wasn't thought to be possible are the MOD player used in the PC demo 8088MPH (explained by reenigne) and the 1-channel MOD at the end of Area 5150.
As a side note, the first commercial game available on the PC was Microsoft's Adventure, though DONKEY.BAS was included with PC BASIC and therefore shipped with the PC itself. It also boasts PC-speaker sound effects, so this is officially the first game to support PC audio.
|The Votrax Sweet Talker. (Source: BYTE Magazine, June '82, p664.)|
Text to Speech Devices
The earliest devices that provided audio capabilities for the IBM PC and compatibles were speech synthesisers, but few would call them sound cards. Many of these were based around the Votrax SC-01A chip, which used a bank of phonemes (the basic building blocks of words) that allowed a user to write programs to sequence these and create the illusion of spoken words. Applications of this technology varied from industrial safety (audible warnings for equipment controllers) to accessibility features (for the blind, for example). These devices fit into an unusual category as there were technically just programmable by the end user and didn't ship with software as such. This makes many of them platform-agnostic and not particular to the PC platform.
At the most basic level, such a device was a self-contained box with its own CPU, which would receive ASCII (much like a printer), over serial or parallel and then 'speak' these words. Other variations attached to the parallel port and received instructions, typically in BASIC, while others were designed to occupy a slot in the IBM PC. The earliest of these was the Tecmar Speech Master, released during Comdex of November 1981, mere weeks after the IBM PC arrived. The story goes that Tecmar engineers purchased the first two IBM PCs that went on sale at Sears in Chicago and the company spent the next six weeks developing the first add-ons for it. The Speech Master was just one of these.
Here are some further examples of such devices:
Votrax Sweet Talker ($139, Jun '825)
Tecmar PC Talker (prior to Oct '825)
Tecmar PC MATE Speech Master ($395, Oct '825)
GM ParlePC ($199, prior to Nov '835)
Street Electronics Echo PC ($225, prior to Nov '835)
SMC PC Talker (Nov '835)
Votrax Personal Speech System ($350, prior to Jan '865)
Echo PC+ ($179.95, Sep '895)
One card from this era stands out because it could recognise speech and respond audibly. The NEC SAR-10 Voice Plus (Jul '855) cost $895 and was evidently more advanced than the competition. But again, it doesn't really count as a 'sound card' as it's technically just another speech synthesis device. It was later reduced in price to $599.
IBM eventually caught on and developed their own expensive options for subsequent machines to provide speech functionality. The PCjr had its own speed adaptor and so did the PC Convertible (model 5140) as did the PS/2 when it appeared. These supported multiple types of speech reproduction.
There is an enormous list of voice recognition or text-to-speech devices here, though there are no dates whatsoever. If I could be bothered, I would research all of them. Maybe another day.
|The Roland MPU-401 & Xanadu IFM-PC card. (Source: PC Magazine, 14th Oct '86, p266.)|
The Musical Instrument Digital Interface was conceived at NAMM in 1982 and developed during the next year by a consortium of music hardware manufacturers. Aside from allowing electronic musical devices to communicate with each other, the standard also made it possible for these devices to become computer peripherals. A number of companies developed MIDI interfaces for pretty much every personal computer on the market, which worked in different ways.
Some will argue that these are not sound cards at all, given that they don't produce any sound in themselves. Though this is true, they do extend the capabilities of the PC to be able to control audio devices where, before, they could not. Such devices were the gateway to allowing game developers like Sierra to write music for their games, in combination with Roland's MT-32 synth, released later. Roland's MPU-401 (in combination with the MIF-IPC card on the PC, among others) became the de facto standard for MIDI on computers when it was introduced in 1984. A number of clones followed, but there were other manufacturers, such as Hinton, who made boxes that could be controlled via RS-232, for example.
Roland MPU-401 & MIF-IPC ($200+$110, Nov '844)
Hinton MIDIC (£300, Jul '855)
Noteworthy PC to MIDI Card ($250, pre Jan '865)
Xanadu IFM-PC & Roland MPU-401 ($495+$200, Oct '865)
Computer Music Supply CMS-401 ($249, May '885, article)
Voyetra OP-4001 (May '875)
Voyetra V-4000 $159.95 ('895)
Voyetra V-4001 ($199, Oct '885, article)
Music Quest PC MIDI Card ($119), MQX-16 ($199) & MQX-32 ($299) (pre Oct '895)
MIDI Synthesiser Modules
Though not officially (or even unofficially) sound cards for the PC, Sierra made use of existing synthesisers when they began composing musical scores for their games. Obviously a MIDI interface is a prerequisite, but there were really only two MIDI synths supported on the PC in the days before General MIDI came along.
Yamaha FB-01 (Jul '863)
|The FB-01 FM MIDI Expander. (Source: SOS)|
Launched at the British Music Fair in July of 1986 and costing £299, the FB-01 (or FB01) was Yamaha's first multi-timbral FM synth. What brought it to the PC was IBM commissioning Yamaha to make them a music expansion board for their PC line, resulting in the Music Feature Card. This device was one of those supported on Sierra's first game including synthesised music, though its quality was somewhere on a par with the Ad Lib, rather than the MT-32.
Roland MT-32 (Aug '875)
|The MT-32. (Source: via Imgur)|
First mentioned at NAMM in June 1987, the MT-32 cost £450 when released, which was around August 1987 according to a review in Sound on Sound, so that's the best date I can find from the resources available. The MT-32 was the first device that made any kind of wavetable-based audio available in PC games and was light years ahead of the competition in the early sound card days. Obviously General MIDI came along in the early-to-mid '90s and made orchestral scores ubiquitous on the PC, but the MT-32 was the early leader. Sierra also supported its professional LA brethren, the D-10, D-110 & D-120 and the ISA-bus version, the LAPC-I. They sold the MT-32 through their catalogues and even supplied two free games to the value of $120.
Addional PC-focused products were released subsequently, including the CM-32L, which was intended as a low-cost version, with its beige colour scheme and lack of front panel controls. This was complemented by the CM-32P, a similarly cut-down version of the U-110, though it retained the ability to have patches loaded into its memory. A further product, the CM64, was release combining the functionality of the two.
|The original '84 release of MTU's Digisound-16. (Source: DB Magazine, June '84, p48.)|
Micro Technology Unlimited DigiSound-16 (Mar '861)
Price: £2,995 (1984 version)
It might seem like this one is shoehorned in here but, considering use-cases, it probably is the 'first sound card' in a literal sense. On the surface it's just a digitiser, which most personal computer platforms had available for them, both for images and sound. The DigiSound-16 began development in July 1982, after a need was identified for a 16-bit device that could perform direct-to-disk recording facilities. The initial 1984 release was designed to interface with MTU's own MTU-130 (a 6502-based machine) and almost any computer sporting two parallel ports to achieve the 16-bit resolution. A PC-specific version was released in March 1986 using a 'DMA interface' (possibly the PC-DMA card by Canetics Inc). This is the card I'm citing here as 'first'.
In July '87 a proper AT-compatible model was released, which included a 16-bit interface card and a 'high capacity' hard disk (i.e. 100MB or 120MB) for those PCs that lacked one. The card could handle 16-bit audio at 48KHz, which is insane for a PC in 1987. What made this device more than just a DAC was an MS-DOS port of Csound, originally developed for DEC's PDP11, which was a complete composition tool. This meant that, for the cost of a synthesiser, a professional musician could use sample-based instruments to produce music on their PC. There's very little info about this out there, so it would be great to find an owner if any hardware still exists.
|The Mindscape Music Board. (Source: Tales of Weird Stuff's YouTube Channel.)
Mindscape Music Board (Aug '864)
This is an obscure board that existed only to support one piece of software: Bank Street Music Writer. This composition software was available for other platforms as well (Commodore 64 and facilitated by the Mockingboard on the Apple II, for example) and the hardware utilised 3-channel PSG synthesis with the AY-3-8910 chip. I can't find any documentation or a press release to confirm the date this board was initially marketed, but it appears in the August issue of Family Computing at the bottom of this page, described as the PC Mockingboard. Trixter has also provided timestamps from the software that came with the board, ranging from March to July of 1986, so that further confirms the date. It has also been regarded as the first 'sound card' for the PC. Two are known to exist in the whole world!
|IBM's Music Feature Card. (Source: Dos Days)|
IBM Music Feature Card (Apr '871)
The earliest date that I can find for this product is March 1987 (found in the manual), while the first mention I can find in the press is 6th April, in a list of IBM unit prices. That tallies with this list of IBM products - listing the date as April - so we can say 'around April' at the moment.
The thing about the PC was that it was a business machine. It was supposed to be good at numbers and shit and was never intended as a platform for the creation of music. This was already possible on the Apple II and other personal computers, so it was never really needed on a platform the PC. We can only wonder about IBM's motives to releasing the IMFC, but it coincided with the PS/2 model 30 according to an article in PC Magazine on 26th May. It was compatible with the AT, XT and PC that came before it, but support seemed to be incidental. IBM had commissioned Yamaha to produce a MIDI expansion card for their new generation of PCs and they essentially created an ISA version of their FB-01 synthesiser (though the two work slightly differently). This featured the YM2164 chip, which used FM synthesis, and the board included a MIDI interface. The card was expensive, at $495, which puts it out of the reach of most home users, despite the demonstration software saying it was intended for "home, school or stage". If you'd like to read more, there is a fantastically detailed article about it here.
Ad Lib Inc. Ad Lib Music Synthesizer Card (Jun '873)
Probably the least disputed date for any sound card release, the Ad Lib (also stylised as AdLib) was unveiled in June 1987 at CES (though I can only find one source saying so on page 23) and the earliest ad I can find is from September of that year. At its heart was Yamaha's YM3812 FM synthesiser aka OPL2, which has probably the greatest legacy of any sound card in the history of the PC. Even after Creative's Sound Blaster became the standard, other sound cards still had to be Ad Lib compatible as well. Sierra advertised it in their Winter 1988 newsletter with the announcement of King's Quest IV and offered a $20 rebate coupon inside some of their games.
Yamaha's chip was improved over time, bringing us the OPL3 and 4 successors, plus many clones and impersonators used on other cards. I could write an entire article about the Ad Lib itself, but others have already done this. The initial release, aimed at musicians, came equipped with a 'proper' phono jack owing to its professional ambitions. This was then switched to a 3.5mm jack for the 1990 revision, a feature Ad Lib hoped would align itself better with the market. Including a game port would have been more useful, as it turns out. Original cards, like most listed here, are now somewhat scarce and therefore expensive (especially as Creative's US distributor, Brown-Wagh, offered a $100 rebate to people who sent in their Ad Lib!). A number of modern reproductions and clones are available and even an OPL3 expansion for the parallel port!
|The Creative Music System. (Source: Cloudschatze via Vogons)|
Creative Music Lab Creative Music System (Nov '871)
The original date of this card's official release is proving to be contentious. It is generally accepted among enthusiasts that the CM/S was initially released in August of 1987 in Singapore. It has proven tough, however, to find any primary source other than Creative themselves to confirm this, though I did find a news article from December '87 with Creative's founder, Sim Wong Woo, saying the CM/S was "first introduced at the Comdex Show in Las Vegas last month". He makes no mention at all of availability before that and this was in a Singaporean newspaper, so it would have been a great opportunity for Sim to toot his horn. As a result, I'm taking the Comdex date as 'best' until something else turns up; it doesn't affect the card's position in the list either way. Despite this, finding out when it was actually available in the US is another matter entirely. Accordingly to this article, it was released in "Spring" 1989, is described as a separate product to the Game Blaster and is advertised as costing $195.
Creative Technology was established in Singapore in 1981 by Sim, eventually producing the Cubic99, an Apple II compatible computer and, later, the IBM PC compatible Cubic CT when it became clear that this standard would be the dominant force in home computing. The C/MS used a pair of square-wave-toting Philips SAA1099 to provide stereo sound, though it did not sell well initially, hence its scarcity in its original packaging. It did slightly better when rebranded as the...
Creative Game Blaster (mid-'895)
This rebranding is even harder to pinpoint because Creative themselves never actually marketed the card outside Singapore. You will read that they struck a deal with Radio Shack to put the card in their stores, but it was sold via mail-order through Brown-Wagh before that. This article, from Oct '89, says the rebranding took place 'several months ago', so that could mean anything from Spring to Summer of that year. Sim's book Chaotic Thoughts from the Old Millennium may have the answer, but there is no digital version that I can find and physical copies are hard to acquire. A text search of the book via Google gives us the claim that "in the middle of 1987, Tandy wanted to buy 20,000 Game Blaster for their 8,000 Radio Shack stores". Hmm... maybe that book isn't the most reliable source of information, then, because that would be impossible.
The Game Blaster was the same hardware as the C/MS, with a cut down software bundle and new packaging, hence the lower price. When Sierra first used sound cards for their games, in August 1988, the Game Blaster was not invited to the party and had to wait until later before a driver was developed. The earliest example I can find of this is in October 1988, from the date stamps for the driver files. Sierra themselves also sold the Game Blaster, alongside the Ad Lib and MT-32. Silpheed or Hoyle's Book of Games were bundled freely with either card and the former was included with retail packages.
|The Covox Speech Thing. (Source: Clint Basinger via Wikimedia Commons)|
Covox Speech Thing & Voice Master (Dec '876)
Covox previously made voice-recognition hardware called the Voice Master for home computers such as the Apple II, C64 and Atari. This was available around April '84 and made its way to the PC in "late 1987". Reports that the Speech Thing was released in 1986 seem to be erroneous, as the earliest documented evidence of its existence is from a patent, filed on 2nd Oct '87. The Wikipedia page claims 18th Dec '87 as the date of 'release' (linking to a trademark registration date), but I don't think either represents an actual availability date. Until better information comes becomes available, the fairest we can say is Dec '87, especially as the company profile reposted here confirms as such (credit to Vetz from Vogons for that link).
|Siliconsoft SoundJr. (Source: Cloudschatze via Vogons)|
SiliconSoft SoundJr ('887)
Price: $19.95 with discounts
Disappointingly the only source I can find for any kind of date is the original manufacturer's web page, where it suggests that the device has been used "around the world since 1988", so that will have to do for now. This is another parallel port DAC, with some slight differences to the Covox equivalent. There is some more information here provided by Cloudschatze.
|Innovation's SSI-2001, a SID-based card. (Source: Nerdly Pleasures)|
Innovation SSI-2001 (Apr '896)
Price: ($129 initially, $69 with discounts)
Also referred to as the SSI2001 elsewhere, it is said that Innovation bought the intellectual property of The Entertainer from Microprose (see honourable mentions) and actually put it into production. The earliest source I can find for this product is a Fidonet post, dated 26th April 1989. For context, the same user (a George Heymann) posted about the AdLib and Creative's C/MS on the same day, so this is not a press release source and merely tells us that the board existed at this time and could well have existed sooner.
For those unaware, this sound card used the famous SID chip from the Commodore 64, and Innovation actually made claims at the time to try and establish this as a standard for game sound on the PC. Given that only 2 of these boards are known to exist in the wild and many have never heard of it, we know how well that worked out. This board is supported in DOSBox and there are now mutiple modern replicas available, which can be used with the MIDI driver that has been developed. Amusingly, someone also made a version designed for a parallel port.
|IBM's Audio Visual Connection. (Source: PC Magazine, 16 Jan '90)|
IBM Audio Visual Connection (Sep '892)
There is a source claiming that the AVC was released in 1988, but that seems unlikely as it was reportedly unveiled at PC Expo in June '89. The most useful source is a press release telling us that it was available from September, coinciding with the 486-based PS/2 in September '89.
This was very much a business-grade product, designed with professional presentations in mind and had a complementary video adaptor for high resolution graphics (at $2,250), while the software package itself cost $495. Clearly it was never intended for gaming and I don't know if any games directly supported it. Either way it was a pretty groundbreaking product, making rich multimedia content possible for the first time on a PC, features that had been possible for years on the Mac and Amiga platforms. It was a DSP-based card - much like the MWave cards that came later - which handled everything including MIDI synthesis and was available in ISA or MCA versions.
Weirdly, the system was deemed ideal to feature at the centre of a digital missing children project, reported in the April '93 issue of New Media magazine. It earned IBM a 'Technical Excellence" award from PC Magazine in January 1990 in recognition of its impact on PC-based multimedia and they described it in its First Looks column as "like having a digital tape recorder, a sound mixer, and several slide projectors and dissolve unit all wrapped into a single PC". They followed up with a huge feature article in May. Here is also a massively cheesy IBM sales video from 1990 all about it (via YouTube).
|The Covox Sound Master PC (Source: DOS Days)|
Covox Sound Master (Sep '895)
Not to be confused with 1985's Apple II board of the same name, the earliest mention of the Sound Master currently available is in the manual for EA's Sim City. Although the Wikipedia page claims a release date of 2nd Feb '89, and the game manual is dated as such on archive.org (the manual itself lacks a date), EA's own retrospective on the game series states the Amiga and Macintosh versions (published by Broderbund) were released first and that the PC version was released "later that year" (published by Infogrames). The manual describes the Sound Master as the "new low cost sound board for IBM and compatible computers", so that implies a date proximal to the game's release. Date stamps from the game files of version 1.02 of the game show an installer dated 5 Oct, while the game data is 28 Jul. I do not know what the initial release version was. The earliest article I can find mentioning it is the Gamer's Guide to Sound Boards in CGW's Sep '89 issue, though this doesn't guarantee availability. It appears again in the October issue of PC Resource in the new products column. All things considered, I think it's fair to place the release at September of 1989 for now. (Amusingly the manual in the photo is dated Feb '90.)
Another uncommon board, the Sound Master's main selling point was digitised speech and sound. This made it a direct competitor to the imminent Sound Blaster. Though it featured inferior 3-voice synthesis in the form of the AY8930, it could produce digitised sound in stereo. It's also possibly the only sound card to have two joystick ports, albeit Atari-style 8-pin style. This card received good press coverage around its release, seemed to be well supported by software and should have done well. Had it been released a year earlier, it might have stood a chance, but with the Killer Kard already being discussed in the press and the Sound Blaster just around the corner, it was pretty much DOA.
|Creative Labs' Sound Blaster, atop their Cubic CT computer. (Source: The Verge)|
Creative Technology Killer Kard & Sound Blaster (Nov '891)
So here it is, one of the last cards to qualify for this list but perhaps the most significant. It was initially announced at PC Expo in June of 1989 and was known at the time as the Killer Kard (also spelled Killer Card), as discussed in CGW's Gamer's Guide to Sound Boards of Sep '89. This is regarded as a prototype board, as it was never sold and samples remained the property of Creative Technology, but was certainly sent to system integrators.
Clearly some marketing advice was received about the card's prototype name and it was dubbed the Sound Blaster in time for its official release at Comdex Fall in Las Vegas '89. It was a significant improvement over their previous product: after recognising the shortcomings of their Game Blaster (mostly its poor, square-wave synthesis), Creative went all-out and created what turned out to be the perfect card for game audio. Though they initially maintained compatibility with the Game Blaster (the CM/S chips were soldered on), Creative included Yamaha's YM3812 chip to add Ad Lib compatibility, too. In addition to this, they added a game port and, perhaps least significantly, support for digitised audio, a feature primarily intended for text-to-speech functionality. Although it was claimed that the card had 23-voice synthesis, this was simply how many voices were theoretically available if the CM/S and OPL2 voices were all used simultaneously, but nothing did this except one of Creative's own demos. Battle Chess II is one of the few games you can run with support for both cards (SFX and music) but this is done separately not simultaneously.
Tecmar Music Synthesis System (Oct '865)
I thought I was onto something when I came across this $795 attempt at a complete music composition solution for the PC. It was first mentioned in Dec '83, with a projected availability date of '84 and allowed the user to play on their QWERTY keyboard, or use a more traditional MIDI board of keys. The coolest part of this full-length, 8-bit card was that the 16 voice polyphony could be expanded to 64 voices by installing 4 cards into one PC. The synth had a bank of presets but was otherwise fully programmable, with each voice composed of two waveforms and its own pitch, pan and volume envelope. It couldn't use sampling, however. The software included a sequencer and a full review of the system is available here. Unfortunately, I found a Usenet post suggesting this product was never actually sold, so this one goes in the vapourware bin.
The Entertainer (Apr '887)
Until someone shows up with the card itself, this product is also vapourware. The only clue to its existence is in one build of one game: an advert in Gunship by Microprose. The only way I have found to date the card is the timestamps for the game files, which place it at April 1988. In 2014, disassembly of the game code by VCF user NewRisingSun confirmed that the hardware would have used the SID chip, made popular by the Commodore 64. Fascinatingly, Carlos Teixeira has a YouTube video showing how certain versions of Gunship and Pirates! can be patched to work with a later card, the Innovation SSI-2001. I'm assuming that, because these games were ported from other platforms, the sounds already existed. This means that these games were released with sound card support, but with no hardware to support them!
Understanding Computer Sound by Adam Podstawczyński (forgottencomputer.com)
IBM PC Ramblings (formerly the original Oldskool Beat) by Jim Leonard (oldskool.org)
Making Beautiful Music With IBM's Music Feature Card by Jonathan Matzkin (PC Magazine)
The PC Mockingboard by Trixter (oldskool.org)
Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design by Karen Collins (PDF)
History of Sound Cards & Digital Audio on PCs from 1980-89 by Lyndsay Williams (PPT)
The First Soundcard Design for the PC in 1987 by Lyndsay Williams (microsoft.com)
Apple II Audio and the Mockingboard by Nicole Branagan (nicole.express)
Will Harvey's Music Construction Set - PC Sound Device Support by Great Hierophant (Nerdly Pleasures)
The PC's New Frontier: Music by James Langdell (PC Magazine, 29 Apr '86)
Making Music with MIDI by Selby Bateman (Compute! Jan '86, p24)
Expanding on the PC by Mark J. Welch (Byte, Nov '83)
Gamer's Guide to Sound Boards (CGW, Sep '89, p18)
Hit it, Maestro! by Joey Latimer (Compute! Apr '90, p22)
Innovation SSI-2001: the story of one of the rarest sound cards for the IBM PC (and its replica) (Sudonull)
The Sound of One Chip Clapping by Robert Johnstone (MIT)
Technical Documentation - FTL Sound Adapter Schematic (DM Encyclopedia)
Dungeon Master for PC (DM Encyclopedia)
Rare ISA card with SID chip from 1989 ! (C64 Music)
SID and DOS - Unlikely but True Bedfellows by Great Hierophant (Nerdly Pleasures)
The First Sound Card by Great Hierophant (Nerdly Pleasures)
The Price of PC Sound (and some other stuff) by Great Hierophant (Nerdly Pleasures)
The Creative Music System a.k.a. the Game Blaster by Great Hierophant (Nerdly Pleasures)
Starflight: How the PC and DOS Exploded Computer Gaming by Jamie Lendino (Google Books)
The History of PC Game MIDI by Eric Wing (Quest Studios)
“IRQ: 7” – The Complicated World of early MS-DOS Sound Options by FatNicK (FatNicK)
The Ad Lib Legacy by Cloudschatze (Quest Studios)
IBM 27F4943XM Speech talk Adapter (VCF)
Roland MIF-IPC/APL Service Notes - First Edition (symphoniae.com)
Roland MPU-401 (1984) + MIF-IPC-A (1988) 2 out / 32 - ISA - channel (oldschooldaw.com)
Roland MIF-IPC card (not the -A) (VCF)
MIDI Sound on Your Vintage PC (DOS Days)
Replicas of Covox Speech Thing, FTL Sound Adapter and SiliconSoft SoundJr (Vogons)
Innovation SSI 2001 re-engineering and/or conclusions (Vogons)
First dos sound blaster game (Vogons)
Ad Lib Music Synthesizer Card (VGMPF)
Sound Blaster (VGMPF)
A Buyer's Guide to MIDI (Compute! Jan '86)
MTU Update, 2nd Quarter '83, Vol. 1 #4 (archive.org)
Sierra Newsletter, Winter 1988 (Museum of Computer Adventure Game History)
Sound Blaster Timeline (Vogons)
Creative Labs web site capture from Dec '96 (Internet Archive)
Covox PC Speech (The Adaptive Computing Software Project)
Sierra Game Extras (The Sierra Help Pages)
CMSLPT : Creative music system (game blaster) on parallel port (Vogons)
Innovation SSI-2001 MIDI driver (Vogons)
Sound-Board Duet (Compute!, Oct '89, p114)
Who made the AdLib cards? (Usenet Archives via Google Groups)
Killer Konfusion (Compute! Mar '90)
Music Cards (Sierra, 10th Anniversary Catalog, p42)
1987 - The real sound (Crossfire Designs)
General Instrument AY-3-8910 (ProfilPelajar)
MT-32 Resource Center (Quest Studios)
Roland MT-32 (Polynomial)
Konami vs Creative Labs (gov.uk)
3rd March 2023: initial publication