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May 2000

View From the End (User)

By: Don Eitner (freiheit@tstonramp.com) The 13th Floor - http://www.tstonramp.com/~freiheit/

The Search for Quality Audio in OS/2

My Search for quality audio in OS/2 has been long and, frankly, unfulfilling. It all began with a cheap ESS 1868PnP based soundcard which worked fine for CD audio and WAV audio output but was quite lacking in terms of MIDI sound quality and signal-to-noise ratio. Even the sound I got from high quality mp3 audio files was full of hiss, but acceptable for most uses. Besides, if I really wanted to listen to CD quality audio I had a full stereo system with CD player and my computer's CD-ROM has a headphone jack.

But when I added BeOS r4.5.2 to my system and the ESS 1868 card was unsupported, I began looking for a new soundcard I could use in both OSes. I thought I had found the perfect solution when IBM released their own drivers for the Ensoniq ES1371 chip (used in the Creative/Ensoniq AudioPCI card of which I had heard many great things). Well friends, I must say I've been unimpressed with a lot of IBM's OS/2 software development in the past few years but I can accept that by the fact that the OS/2 division of IBM probably gets extremely little support or funding compared to the WinDOS development division. That's not anything to be proud of, but it makes sense that with so little funding and even less authority to change IBM's policy towards OS/2 they would be putting out worse and worse products for OS/2 as the years go on.

IBM's ES1371 driver stinks. WAV and mp3 audio playback should never skip and pop the way it did on this AudioPCI card which works flawlessly under BeOS (the same card in the same PC). If I wanted audio that sounded that horrible I'd invest in a $50 turntable and play scratchy old vinyl records. But hey, I got a few good months of excellent sound in BeOS!

So moving into the year 2000 here, I had heard that Aureal made some OS/2 drivers for their Vortex 1 (8820) PCI audio chip and that these were working very well on no-name soundcards for OS/2 users. BeOS r5 now includes support for the Vortex 1 and so I figured I'd go this route and hope for the best -- at the very least, the OS/2 drivers for the card are available directly from Aureal's website rather than being 3rd party drivers released by IBM.

I bought what appears to be an Aureal branded reference card (no bells or whistles, just a standard Vortex 1 card which the salesperson assured me would work with the reference drivers). Installation was painless -- I pulled out my AudioPCI card and slipped the Vortex 1 card into its place, hooked up my CD-ROM's internal audio output cable and external speakers and restarted my machine. I opened an OS/2 window and unpacked Aureal's reference OS/2 drivers to a temporary directory. I read through the readme.txt file and performed the installation step by step. Everything appeared to work fine -- there were no error messages and I made it all the way to the end where it told me to restart my machine. This I did.

Upon rebooting into OS/2 I found an Aureal folder on my desktop with two objects inside. One is the WarpMix mixer software by Aureal and the other is a simple wavetable configuration utility for MIDI audio. I started the WarpMix mixer and was promptly told "The audio amplifier mixer could not be opened". That's it. No reason given. Well this didn't look too good. I went to my trusty Sounds object in the multimedia folder to select a sound scheme and, verifying that all options for audio were set and the volume was as high as it would go, I found that I could play no WAV files. I then tried the MIDI player provided with OS/2 Warp and after selecting one of the general MIDI files I was told "Unable to open BACH.MID (rc=5134)" and my only option was to "continue" which simply closed the player. The only sound I could get to go through my Vortex 1 card under OS/2 was CD audio, which proves that the card is at least capable of sending audio through my speakers.

Did you think this whole article was going to be bad? Think again. With the help of ShyGuy0 in Undernet #OS/2 on IRC(Internet Relay Chat), I was able to edit my c:\mmos2\mmpm2.ini file to get rid of some leftover garbage from my prior soundcard setups. Rebooting and a little adjusting of volumes in the now functional Aureal WarpMix program had my WAV audio, CD audio, and mp3 audio sounding sweet as could be! Still no MIDI though, despite Aureal's drivers claiming wavetable MIDI support. It turns out there was still some leftover garbage in mmpm2.ini which had bumped my Aureal's MIDI support back to MIDI2 and MIDI3 rather than MIDI1. I had to uninstall the Aureal drivers, wipe all traces of audio (except CDAUDIO) from the mmpm2.ini file, then reinstall the Aureal driver. I now have MIDI working beautifully as well and it sounds oh so much more pleasant than the old ESS1868 card.

I have finally found excellent OS/2 audio with a generic Aureal Vortex 1 soundcard and generic Vortex 1 drivers. The only thing that's lacking is Win-OS/2 support, but I don't care much about that anyway. I bought BeOS to be my replacement to WinDOS for most of my multimedia needs, I just couldn't stand having zero sound in the OS I use most.

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