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History of Sound Cards & Digital Audio on PCs from 1980-89

March 26th 2004

Updated 5th April 2004 Update 31/8/08

Lyndsay Williams Microsoft Research Cambridge, UK

Chronological history of some of Lyndsay Williams contributions to
digital audio for Personal Computers from 1980 The first soundcard design for a PC discussed How the lack of patents and Intellectual Property protection enabled widespread acceptance of digital audio on PCs Mention of possibly the most replicated computer bug in a pc?

Wilmslow 1974, home

Lyns first designs of music synthesiser - TTL logic

PE Sequencer 1977

Lyndsay Robinson

3 year interlude no sound designs

BSc, Hons Biomedical Electronics, University of Salford, UK, 1978- 1980

Research 1980-82

British Aerospace Woodford, Cheshire Avionics Engineer, Patented research - noise reduction for Queens Flight (accelerometers measure out of phase propeller balance for 748 Aircraft ) (Lyndsay Robinson co-inventor)

The Queen's dogs leave an aircraft of The Queen's Flight from Aberdeen at Heathrow Airport. Queen Elizabeth is a keen dog lover, particularly of Corgis, and travels with them, whenever she can.
(Associated Press)

Inspiration from Fairlight CMI (1980)


Challenges for digitising audio 1980

Research no prior art published on digital audio capture none found at Xerox Parc (2004 search ) How to record audio into a pc? No private, industrial or university funding support

what use is recording just 2 seconds of sound with no disc storage?

Self financed (day job, Avionics Engineer) Help from UK pioneer Alan Boothman, Clef Products music designs using Apple computers
Engineering challenges Noise in an 8 bit system (analog/digital proximity ) New algorithms to develop, record sound, play back on a keyboard, real time pitch shifting Z80 not powerful, need to signal process every audio sample in 30us (30 instructions) Z80 assembler Must be low cost add on for games market (retail 49) So build a prototype to demo

Fastest 8 bit analog to digital converter 1979

Ferranti ZN 427 8 bit analog to digital converter ADC originally used for earthquake and vibration measurement 10us conversion time Nearest competitor was 100us Successive approximation A method for estimating the value of an unknown quantity by repeated comparison to a sequence of known quantities. Much faster conversion than slope counter

Audio sampling should be > 30us (33khz)

Digital Audio Recording

Digital Audio Digitiser

(1982 Lyndsay Robinson)

Pitch Shifting non real time

Musical interval 1 octave = 1:2 1 semitone 1:1.059 (12th root of 2) Replay sound by incrementing sample pointer by chosen ratio E.g. to be octave higher , every 2nd sample played Octave lower every sample repeated twice Chromatic keyboard playback Z80 Assembler

Pitch Shifting - real time (1982)

Effects real time voice pitch changing = fun! Also useful helium - divers voices , Dictaphone speed up All processing to be done real time in 30us (30 instructions) Z80 had no multiply Compression/decompression Reverse sound, echo real time pitch shift and echo simultaneously ! Similar to Xbox voice changer (different algorithm)

TRS-80/Spectrum SoundCard
Published in Practical Computing 1982
(Lyndsay Robinson)

Z80 based

Datel Action Replay

(Lyndsay Robinson)

Spectrum Computer add on New Ferranti ZN427/ 449 analog to digital converter, 8 bit, low cost Recorded sampled sound with playback, pitch shifting, echo, sound

effects, games Lyn licensed Action Replay Sound Sampler to Datel, Stoke on Trent, UK - 1984 Sold thousands of Samplers Pre dates .WAV file type This was first real product for Datel 1984 Datel now have turnover of $150M/year (2003) mainly in Xbox peripherals

Commodore Sound Sampler

1984, gave up the day job (Software Engineer, Ferranti Oil & Gas
Platform C software) and joined the music business (Commodore Computers (UK) Music Sales/Watts) Lyn sold design to Music Sales/Commodore Computers (UK) (1984) Converted Datel design (Z80) to 6502 + MIDI Added Windows GUI Interface 1984 to Commodore 64 Sampler

(Apple Lisa 1983, Microsoft Windows 1985)

Next stage after sampled sound?

Samples fine for games but need more memory for musical
instrument samples Limited sample memory 32kbytes/ 2 seconds = expensive

Monophonic playback due to limited MIPS of Z80, 1Mhz musicians

wanted polyphonic sounds Yamaha Polyphonic FM chip OPL-1 used in games consoles 9 channels of sound Commodore 64 SID chip , only 3 channels of sound Music Sales (Europes largest music publisher ) were first customer to use Yamaha chip for sound card for Commodore 64

Yamaha OPL
FM Synthesis invented by Chowning 1967(Stanford)

commercialised by Yamaha 1983 DX7 Keyboard Modulated sinewaves YM3526 first used in Arcade games YM3526 used in Commodore FM SFX Sound Expander 1985 9 channels of 2-operator voices

YM3812 OPL2 (used later by Soundblaster) was an incremental

upgrade to the YM3526

Commodore Computers UK, 1986

(Williams, Watts, Music Sales)

Commodore SFX - Music Maker, Sound Studio, Sound Expander

now based on FM Synthesis

Most replicated computer bug??

Yamaha FM registers in apparently random order (like Japanese House numbers) Bug found by Williams/Watts in 1985 in YM3526 Did a workaround so quick time to market for Commodore computers Bug found again by Linux programmers when trying to emulate Soundblaster registers 2004 - OPL2 core now integrated into the South Bridge of the motherboard's chipset Bug now in every PC? (>1 Billion?)

The twenty-two registers (20-35, 40-55, etc.) have an unusual

order due to the use of two operators for each FM voice.
Channel Operator 1 Operator 2 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 00 01 02 08 09 0A 10 11 12 03 04 05 0B 0C 0D 13 14 15

Philips MSX Sound Card 1986

(Williams, Watts/ Music Sales)

NMS-1205 Added 8 bit sampled record and playback , 32Kb 9 channels FM Yamaha Y8950
MIDI, mic in, keyb

Philips MSX FM/Sampler Sound Card

Philips Portable Music Composer PMC 100 1986 Williams, Watts et al

Wearable Computer Music Composer 9 Channels FM Sounds Drum machine, sequencer, multitrack 6803 Processor, 8kbyte RAM MIDI Cassette for data/voice storage

Can be used like Walkman

First Soundcard for PC?

Sound cards designed for Commodore (64 & Amiga) , Philips, Atari,

Spectrum time to settle on a standard PC appeared to be a standard for business computers so decided to design soundcard for PC Design by Williams/Watts/Baker for Olivetti Computers, Italy PC1 XT clone 1987 PC1 - 8088 4.77Mhz, color, mouse, Sound Card similar to Commodore SFX - FM 8 channels DOS 3.2

1987 - Adlib, Sound Blaster & Microsoft

Adlib 1987- just FM Synthesis first high volume Soundcard Soundblaster 1988 YM3812 FM and Sampled Sound Microsoft asked Yamaha to makes their FM chips available on the open market in

1989 (first customer was Music Sales) so a standard could be enabled PCB shows Commodore FM board (1986) next to Adlib (1987/90)

Psion Series 5
Williams responsible for some audio design on Psion Series 5 Originally mono recording, Williams produced design for stereo Philips

stereo DAC (TDA1543?) for Psion in 1996 Psion had no compression software 16Mbyte memory Williams Goal- To allow stereo music playback via headphones or as minimum hardware platform for future audio Psion Management had no interest in Williams music playback Fraunhofer released MP3 compression, Rio Diamond Oct 1998 first MP3 player Apple Iphone invented 2001 with staff from Philips Psion quits handheld computers market 2001 Some Psion staff work for Apple Corrections Aug 2008, Williams

Where are they now?

Commodore SFX , Philips, Datel cards buy on Ebay 2004 Datel $150M/yr sales Xbox peripherals Soundcards all based on Yamaha FM Sound Chip

No patents or IP protection on the original sound sampling algorithms or FM soundcard implementations

The End - Any Questions ?

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Thanks to

Richard Atkinson Alan Boothman Colin Robinson (1926-1998) Trevor Taylor Chuck Thacker Richard Watts Electronic Organ Constructors Society

More info on Or email Lyndsay Williams