How to fail at retro sound SC-55 (mk II) and MT-32 (old)

Discussion in 'Retro & Arcade' started by okclock123, Jun 11, 2019.

  1. okclock123

    okclock123 Member

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    I set out to create an ultimate early 90s sound setup on my modern machine with both my Roland modules permanently connected to my main machine and on display so I could run Dosbox with any game I want on a whim and have total control over the sound output.

    [​IMG]
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    Problem 1: Space
    I have a spare 83 cm desk (Ikea Ivar 50cmx83cm shelving unit used as a desk) and pretty much the whole desk is now occupied by the main PC rig and the sound modules. I hated the idea of stacking them because of how different the sizes are and how messy they look when stacked.

    [​IMG]

    Problem 2: Power delivery
    Both my modules come from either Japan or US with no original power sources. Plug adapters seem to work well but looks ugly as hell. I decied to dedicate a separate power strip for the modules with individual switch on each power plug, because switching modules on and off is more convenient from one centralised location + I thought I maybe will have to add more powered audio tools later.

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    Problem 3: Connectivity
    Both modules need to receive MIDI signal at any time so I daisy-chained them with a pass-through MIDI cable. They are connected to the PC via Roland UM-ONE MK II USB to MIDI cable and I am very happy with how it performs, no issues so far.

    Problem 4: Output
    SC-55 uses standard RCA stereo, but MT-32 uses a 2X mono 1.4" jacks for output. I set to use 3.5mm jacks for sound delivery so I bought a cheap RCA to 3.5mm which are very common and a 2X mono to 3.5mm which turned out to be rare and expensive.

    Problem 5: Switching between modules
    I found this Little Bear Audio switches and I thought they look very cool so I decided to give them a try to be able to switch between SC-55 and MT-32 and avoid buying a full-size mixer with features I don't need since a lot of them are targeted at working with microphones, and there are very few minimalistic ones and pretty much zero ideal ones. These mixers would look ugly and out of place when set together with the PC and the modules in my opinion.
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    Problem 6: Mixing module output with digital sound effects with precise volume control
    I spent a while looking for a decent solution for this. A lot of games use sound modules for music and digitised effects through soundcard for sfx, but there is no common standard with regards to volume on these so I really wanted to be able to control volume for the modules and the sfx independently and precisely. I found DJOCLATE Pepperdecks which I thought look amazing, minimalistic and exactly how I imagine this: a slider for module music and a slider for sound effects.
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    Problem 7: Output signal power, still unsolved
    With this absolutely awesome setup I found that the output signal is incredibly weak and with all sliders to the max I still have a very quiet output on my Logitech 2.1 speaker system. Unfortunately I will have to replace the Little Bear Switcher with a powered solution and I'm yet to find a small, minimalistic powered audio switcher with 3.5mm inputs and output. Or I could find one with RCA but I will have to rebuy cabling, or I could go with a "messy" route of pro audio mixer. But I think it's too much since I merely need to amplify signal at one point and the rest of the setup looks and works fine.
     
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  2. Grant

    Grant Member

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    I've had this problem with a bunch of small boxes each requiring 9v power. To save one power point, I hacked up a generic but high-power AC adapter with 2 barrel plugs (I think you can also get barrel plug Y splitters if that's not for you), just check the combined current draw (eg. mine was about 1.2A combined, and the adapter I used was 9v 3A one), and make sure you get the polarity right. I only did it for two devices that had exactly the same barrel plug size and polarity, just to be safe.

    I use cheap 1/4" mono to single RCA plugs and then the same cheap dual RCA->stereo 3.5mm cable as your SC-55 :)

    Do you have this problem with the PC audio? Or are you just talking about the signal path from the synthesizers? You could go with a standalone preamp for the synths, eg:
    http://www.smproaudio.com/index.php/en/products/preamps/xp200
     
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  3. mr camouflage

    mr camouflage Member

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    Having a paddle on your desk....

    5df3d942c0e9c5f8a5127c4993cebdcb.jpg
     
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  4. OP
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    okclock123

    okclock123 Member

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    Thanks!

    Problem with the synth output only, this preamp looks like what I need. I know phono is mainly for vinyl output, so will probably research if that's appropriate, but should probably work fine.
     
  5. OP
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    okclock123

    okclock123 Member

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    In Cronulla when it comes to paddling we hit it and we hit it hard.
     
  6. Jumpingmanjim

    Jumpingmanjim Member

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    How do you configure dosbox to do midi output?
     
  7. OP
    OP
    okclock123

    okclock123 Member

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    midiconfig=1

    Add this command to your dobox *.conf and all midi from DosBox will be routed to Roland UM-One USB-to-midi cable. Works great, even sends in-game messages to MT-32's mini display e.g. "Insert Buckazoid" when you launch Space Quest III.
     
  8. Jumpingmanjim

    Jumpingmanjim Member

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    Oh cool, how much do these old midi units cost?
     
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    okclock123

    okclock123 Member

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    I bought an SC-55 for $80.00 USD and MT-32 for $140.00 USD back in 2016. Looks like they still can be found for about the same price on eBay USA and Japan.
     
  10. Vanne

    Vanne Member

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    Just having a deeper look into the Roland boxes, can't decide between the mt-32 and the sc-55...

    You've got both, which one would you recommend?

    :) Mostly looking at the old Sierra games, and scummvm.

    How do you like the UM-ONE MK II USB connector? Is this the preferred way of connecting the module rather than through the sound card, and do you still need to run SoftMPU with that cable?
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2019
  11. DonutKing

    DonutKing Member

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    I've owned both an SC-55 and MT32 in the past.

    They are different types of synth. Games composed for a particular synth will sound best on it. Most early Sierra games were made for the MT32 so will sound best on that. Later SCI games, around 1993ish, were composed for General MIDI, although they might still have retained support for MT32.
    The SC-55 supports General MIDI but it does have an MT32 emulation mode (IIRC hold down right instrument button when powering on). It doesn't sound as good as the real MT32.

    SofMPU is another thing again. Some games require a 'intelligent' mode MIDI interface which provides some extra timing signals as I understand it. The original Roland MIDI interface was intelligent, the Sound Blaster and its compatibles only had a UART interface, which didn't provide these signals. The issue is that games that expect an intelligent MIDI interface will lock up when initializing the MT32 as they get stuck waiting for a signal that never comes. SoftMPU is a memory resident DOS program that provides the missing signals in software.

    The UM-ONE works fine, in fact its pretty much the only way to get an MT32 working with anything modern. I have a generic (non roland) one I got off ebay and it works fine as well. You won't be able to use it under DOS or with SoftMPU, but if you use DosBox you can configure it for intelligent mode.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2019
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  12. OP
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    okclock123

    okclock123 Member

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    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_MT-32-compatible_computer_games

    I would say if most of the games you want to play is on that list - then its mt-32, otherwise it’s sc55.

    I
    second pretty much everything else DonutKing said.
     
  13. Vanne

    Vanne Member

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    Do the messages sent to the mt-32 also get displayed on the sc-55 in mt-32 mode?

    I'll only have space for one box, and the sc-55 is easier obtainable, but I hear that the compatible mt-32 mode isn't that great on the sc-55?
     
  14. OP
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    okclock123

    okclock123 Member

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    I would choose a box which pleases you the most visually as a physical object in all honesty. Another option: if you like pre-1993 games choose MT-23, if you like mid-1993 and later - SC-55. This is a very very rough approximation, the support overlap is really complicated.

    No, the SC-55 doesn't show custom messages at all. Completely different display. It shows mostly the waveform and settings you set up on the unit itself. SC-55 in MT-32 mode emulation is just a pretty dumb mapping of instruments. MT-32 has more stuff under the hood then just instruments (custom uploaded samples on game init + something else maybe, not sure, I heard they implement MIDI messages differently since MIDI standard wan't around when MT-32 came out), so songs written spicifically for MT-32 will sound better on a MT-32. To what extent I can't tell since I didn't do much comparisons myself. But there are some recordings online. E.g. compare Ultima VI music on MT-32 vs SC-55 (MT-32 mode):

    SC-55 in MT-32 mode
    Original MT-32:
     
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  15. Vanne

    Vanne Member

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    Cheers for that comparison, easy choice for me after listening to that... sc-55. I've never heard the midi before, so no worries if it sounds a little different. I actually like the sound of the sc-55 in mt-32 mode better in that match up.

    Cheers for all the help :) really appreciate it. :) Now just gotta buy the cables.
     
  16. Vanne

    Vanne Member

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    Purchased.. :D Awesome, can't wait to get it. will be tied into my old skool box. So cable wise, what is the best way to make this work? Running 98, xp, dosbox and possibly sometimes win7 .

    is the best/easy way to go via the sound blaster, or via that UM-ONE cable?

    cheers and thanks for the lesson in Midi. (turns out one of my old skool fave games has a awesome midi sound track)

    Edit: order completed: added a UM-ONE MK2 cable to the order :D oh and nicely, the battery in the sc-55 has been replaced for a spanking new one.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019
  17. OP
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    okclock123

    okclock123 Member

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    No worries. Glad I could help! I love fiddling with these units. I used MUNT emulator for MT-32 before, but with real units I just feel the games as something more important now that there's some hardware attached to it. Running a game is like ritual: twist some knobs for even greater illusion of control :).

    Roland UM-ONE drivers go down to Windows XP, so you'll have no issues with DosBox on xp, vista, 7, 8, 10 with Roland. For Win 98 you'll have to use your retro sound card's joystick port and a gameport-to-midi cable. In addition to that you can buy a midi switcher box to switch between game port and UM-ONE outputs depending on what OS you are using.

    [​IMG]
     
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  18. BlueRaven

    BlueRaven Member

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    I'm a simple nerd, I see SoundCanvas/MT32 and I click. :)

    My childhood Best Mate's Dad was the very definition of an Early Adopter in terms of computers and digital music production, but my mate himself wasn't all that interested.
    Once his Dad realised that I was, he kind of adopted me too, at least in regards to tech stuff. I have many fond memories of mucking about in his office/studio with early MIDI gear.
    I vivdly remember the awesomeness of Sierra titles, original Prince of Persia, the Ultima games, the Wing Commander/Privateer games, and many others running on his collection of 286/386SX/486DX2 machines over the years.
    (meanwhile, back at home, we were stuck with an 8MHz 286 because it ran Dad's finance spreadsheets just fine so he saw no need to upgrade :()

    This thread brings it all back. Cool setup man. :thumbup:
    EDIT: You've got me wondering if Mr. Schretzmeyer happened to hang on to his Roland gear (he was a huge fan of everything they produced during the 90's), or maybe his Gravis Ultrasound and early ISA SoundBlaster cards... he was always pretty meticulous about keeping packaging and docs for stuff. But they've moved twice since then, so I doubt it.

    I really like how you've found neat little custom solutions to hook all this stuff together.
    "The illusion of control" is working, nothing beats having your hands on actual faders/knobs. :)
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2019 at 6:50 PM

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