Turtle Beach Systems, Inc.

Turtle Beach was a professional audio company based in New York and was started back in 1985 by Roy Smith and Robert Hoke. Turtle Beach Systems achieved prominence in the PC multimedia industry with its award-winning sound cards that pioneered PC-based hard-disk recording, multi-channel PC audio playback, and DSP technology.

In 1993 they were acquired by ICS (incidentally, the same year Creative bought E-mu).

The vast majority of cards from Turtle Beach DO NOT support compatibility with other sound card standards such as Ad Lib or Sound Blaster, so if you are looking for a DOS gaming sound card look elsewhere. Having said that, for General MIDI, these are some of the very best with excellent low noise.

In 1996 they were sold by ICS Voyetra Technologies.

Today they still exist, though they've moved into high-end gaming headsets and other gaming accessories for PC and consoles. Their website is here.

For brevity, here's a list of the various generations of Turtle Beach card (the ones in bold indicate the premium MultiSound series, those not in bold indicate their more budget cards):

 

MultiSound [Classic]

Introduced: 1992
FM Synthesizer: E-mu Proteus 1/XR
Chipset/DSP: Motorola 56001
Memory: 4 MB ROM
Bus: 16-bit ISA
CD-ROM Interfaces: None
Jacks: Line Out, Mic, Speaker
Wavetable Header: None
Plug & Play: No
DAC: 18-bit
FCC ID: JMN-TBS-MSND-PC00
Known Board Revisions: 02
Original Purchase Price: $430 USD


The MultiSound 16-bit sound card won nearly every major editorial award in its category – PC Magazine Editor’s Choice, Windows® 100, InfoWorld Recommended Product, PC Computing Top 200, Windows User Best of Breed and Best Buy, Electronic Musician’s Editor’s Choice, and others. Rich Heimlich said "Every magazine called this the best business audio card on the market year-in and year-out. The only problem is, there's no such thing as a "business audio" market and never was. Now if only PC Magazine would figure that out and stop reviewing things from that perspective.". He scored the card 10 out of 10 for digital quality and 9.5 out of 10 for music quality.

When first released the card was simply called MultiSound. When the second generation (Tahiti, Rio, and Monterey) arrived a few years later this was rebranded MultiSound Classic.

The first generation MultiSound series used a Motorola 56001 DSP (Digital Signal Processor) chip clocked at 40 MHz. The Proteus 1/XR synthesizer from E-mu was a close relative of the original WaveBlaster from Creative Labs, both of which appear to be similar to E-mu's "SoundEngine". The onboard sample ROM had 384 sound presets using 126 instruments.

Verdict: The Multisound series, whilst having some DOS compatibility are really only useful as MIDI cards (they were never designed to be used with games, DOS or to replace an Ad Lib or Sound Blaster) - The DAC cannot be set to work on an I/O range that works with Sound Blaster. The card comes with an onboard ROM bank for wavetable synth output, but you cannot change the card to use a wavetable daughterboard from DOS, so you are stuck with the onboard synth for DOS use. For Windows, it is a more usable card with excellent audio quality for MIDI output. The card comes with two memory slots to allow you to load your own samples.

General MIDI audio quality is very good.

 

MultiSound Tahiti

Introduced: 1994
FM Synthesizer: None
Chipset/DSP: Motorola 56001
Memory: ?
Bus: 16-bit ISA
CD-ROM Interfaces: None
Jacks: Line Out, Mic, Speaker
Wavetable Header: None
Plug & Play: No
Price when New: $259 USD
Known Board Revisions: 5.2


The Tahiti is part of the second generation of MultiSound sound cards from Turtle Beach. It uses a Motorola 56001 DSP chip, and unlike some other MultiSounds, Tahiti does not come with an onboard wavetable, instead simply providing a header for connection to a General MIDI (GM) wavetable daughterboard.

A lot had happened from the launch of the first MultiSound in 1991/1992 in the world of synthesizers. The E-mu Proteus 1/XR used on the first gen cards had been removed from sale to OEMs when Creative bought-out E-mu in 1993, leaving Turtle Beach without a synthesizer chipset. So TB merged with Integrated Circuit Systems (ICS) where together they developed a new synth called ICS WaveFront.

There is a small list of games that directly support Turtle Beach MultiSound.

 

Rio

Introduced: 1994
Chipset: ICS WaveFront 2115/2116
Memory: 4 MB Sample ROM, SIPP slot for RAM
Bus: N/A
CD-ROM Interfaces: None
Jacks: N/A
Wavetable Header: N/A
Plug & Play: No
DAC: N/A
Price when New: $139 USD
Known Board Revisions: 2.0, 3.0

The Rio was a wavetable MIDI daughterboard that came with 4 MB ROM onboard for samples. It used the soundfonts from VoiceCrystal (same as those used by the TB Tropez+, TB Maui and Aztech WaveRider 32).

It was often sold with the Turtle Beach Tahiti sound card as a bundle, which they called Monterey.

The Rio DB is physically very similar to the Creative Labs WaveBlaster CT1900, and is electrically compatible.

Rich Heimlich reviewed the Rio, stating that Rio had a: "Much better sound than the Wave Blaster at a better price. RAM Sampling and limited effects are a bonus but the RAM sampling is
painfully slow due to the WB interface which is why no other DB's offer this feature. The Rio is used on the Monterey so it can be hard to find.
". Music quality was scored at 6.5 out of 10.

The ICS WaveFront™  synthesizer chip, ICS2115, was jointly developed by Turtle Beach Systems and Integrated Circuit Systems (hence the ICS prefix in the name) in 1993. The key benefit of ICS WaveFront is that you can load samples and soundfonts into RAM to replace the onboard ROM samples. This can be done using the SETWF utility. Soundfonts for the ICS WaveFront use a proprietary format with a .WFB file extension. This is synonymous (though not compatible) with Creative's .SF2 soundfont format and Dream's .94B format.

ICS WaveFront datasheet

 

MultiSound Monterey

Introduced: 1994
Synthesizer: (see Rio)
Chipset:
DAC:
Memory: 4 MB ROM
Bus: 16-bit ISA
CD-ROM Interfaces: None
Jacks: Line Out, Mic, Speaker
Wavetable Header: Yes
Plug & Play: No
Price when New: $349 USD


Part of the MultiSound second generation, Monterey is the Tahiti card with the Rio daughterboard attached, bundled as an all-in-one purchase.

Since it uses the same Rio daugherboard as you could buy separately, the soundfonts on the Monterey are from VoiceCrystal (the same as those used by the TB Tropez+, TB Maui and Aztech WaveRider 32).

Rich Heimlich said this of the Monterey: "The newer version of the older Multisound. Winning same awards too. It's less expensive than the original and if it's not used for gaming the rating goes up to 9. Note that it uses a Rio as the music engine.". Digital quality scored 10 out of 10, while music quality scored 6.5 out of 10. What let it down was support and price (3 and 3.5 out of 10) with an overall score of 5.9 out of 10.

The Hurricane architecture that is touted on the box is an electrical design that supposedly circumvents the reliance on the motherboard's DMA, instead handling more on the card itself to relieve the burden on the main CPU (and in so doing vastly improving performance). This lends itself to audio processing of longer pieces rather than short sample playback that games would use.

Maui

Introduced: 1994
Synthesizer: ICS WaveFront
Chipset: Motorola 68SEC000
Bus: 16-bit ISA
DAC:
Memory: Up to 8.25 MB sample RAM
CD-ROM Interfaces: None
Jacks:
Wavetable Header: None
Plug & Play: No
Price when New: $140
Known Board Revisions: 1.0

As per most of the Turtle Beach cards, the Maui is "only" a MIDI card (no Sound Blaster support for example).

Rich Heimlich said, "A solid choice for those wanting a Wave Blaster but not having a WB connector on their existing sound card. Easy to use, inexpensive, fast RAM sampling, but it's all tied to a below-average patch set". It uses the soundfonts from VoiceCrystal (same as those used by the TB Rio, TB Tropez+ and Aztech WaveRider 32).

Alternatively, the user manual states that you can use the Maui as a wavetable daughterboard by connecting its 26-pin header via a ribbon cable to the wavetable header on another sound card, and the Maui will be used for sampled sound instead of your other sound card's onboard samples.

The board uses a Motorola 68000 CPU coupled with an ICS2122 ROM chip, which is 2 MB in capacity.

To use it under DOS you need to run a TSR called SETUPSND.EXE.


Tropez / Tropez 32 / Tropez Plus

Introduced: 1994 (Tropez), 1996 (Tropez 32)
Synthesizer: ICS WaveFront
FM Synth: Yamaha YMF262 OPL3
Chipset: Crystal CS4231/CS4232
ROM sizes: 1 MB (OEM cards only?), 2 MB or 4MB (Retail cards only)
Bus: 16-bit ISA
Memory: Up to 8.25 MB sample RAM (Tropez), or up to 12.25 MB (Tropez Plus)
Part Nos: TBS-2000 (Tropez 32), TBS-2001 (Tropez Plus)
FCC IDs: JMN-TBS-2000 (Tropez 32)
Price when New: $199
Known Board Revisions: 1.3 (Tropez)

An uncommon detour for TB away from professional audio quality, the Tropez series of cards provided Sound Blaster, SB Pro and WSS compatibility coupled with wavetable GM sampled sound.

The heart of the original Tropez was the Crystal Semiconductor CS4231, which at the time was considered to be the most expensive mainstream sound chip available that provided SB and SB Pro - it had a great SNR ratio. It was non PnP.

The Tropez32 was the name given to the 1 MB ROM variant.

The Tropez sound card takes advantage of its ICS WaveFront ability to replace the soundfont held in its onboard ROM with another of your choosing. To achieve this, Tropez has two RAM slots that accept SIPP memory. When you load a new soundfont into its RAM, the card detects this and uses that instead of the onboard ROM samples.

It used the soundfonts from VoiceCrystal (same as those used by the TB Rio, TB Maui and Aztech WaveRider 32).

The Tropez Plus differs from the Tropez in two key areas. One: It supports a larger soundfont RAM area (up to 12.25 MB), and two: it comes with a built-in effects processor. Oh, and the Crystal chip used the newer CS4232 which was their first PnP chip.

Rich Heimlich (user Agrajag27 on Vogons.org, and a widely respected and professional sound card tester) had this to say about the base Tropez: "Currently the best single card solution available. Decent patch set, RAM-able, SB-Pro compatible, fully Windows Sound System compatible. Software needs work so beginners may have difficulty installing it.
It could also be a bit easier to work with on a daily basis."

You do need to install drivers for this to work. Digital audio quality is outstanding, 9 out of 10. Music quality is quite a bit worse.

 

MultiSound Pinnacle

Introduced: 1996
Synthesizer: Kurzweil MA-1
Chipset/DSP: Motorola DSP56002
Memory: 2 MB ROM (compressed from 4 MB), with slots to support up to 48 MB RAM max.
DAC: 20-bit
Bus: 16-bit ISA
Price when New: ?
Known Board Revisions: D, F (see pic above)


The Pinnacle is the top of the range of the third-generation of MultiSound cards from Turtle Beach. In December 1996 ICS sold Turtle Beach to Voyetra, and by this stage ICS were no longer marketing the WaveFront, which again left TB without a synth. They turned to Kurzweil and struck a deal to use their MA-1 on the 3rd-gen MultiSound Pinnacle.

At its heart is a Motorola 56002 DSP chip (also used by the TB Multisound Fiji), which runs at 40 MHz. The Kurzweil MA-1 is General MIDI-compatible, and contains 128 instruments, 16 channels and 32 voices, plus reverb and chorus effects for each MIDI channel built-in.

The Pinnacle also gets a WaveBlaster-compatible wavetable header which is designed to work with the Kurzweil HOMAC daughterboard which would then act as a second synth engine. These were also bundled together and sold as the Pinnacle Project Studio.

The two 32-bit RAM slots support FPM (Fast Page Mode) SIMM modules only, and the game/MIDI port is MPU-401 (UART) compatible.

The card also comes with an EIDE header for CD-ROM connectivity.

As you would expect from Turtle Beach, the signal-to-noise ratio on these Multisound cards is excellent, -97 dB.

 

 

Malibu / Malibu Surround 64

Launched: 1996 / 1997
Synthesizer/DSP: Kurzweil MA-1 plus software synth
Chipset: Crystal CS4237B
DAC: -
Memory: 2 MB ROM (4 MB patch set compressed to 2 MB)
Bus: 16-bit ISA
Part No.: TB400-0550-01
FCC ID: JMN-TBS-0550
Known Board Revisions: C

The Malibu, with its Crystal CS4237B sound chip, was a Plug & Play card compatible with Ad Lib (OPL2 and OPL3), Sound Blaster Pro, Sound Blaster 16 and Windows Sound System standards.

For MIDI, it got the same hardware wavetable chips as the Kurzweil HOMAC daughterboard, but also got a software synthesizer for use in Windows called "WaveStream".

Ports on the side are Line In, Line Out, Mic, and S/PDIF out.

Using the Crystal utility, CS4232C.EXE, this card's General MIDI capability can be used in a DOS environment - you just need to be sure to use v2.01 T3 (in the link above) of the drivers.

The Malibu Surround 64, launched in 1997, added SRS Surround Sound to the base Malibu model. It was their last ISA sound card.


Fiji

Launched: 1996
Synthesizer/DSP: Motorola DSP56002
Chipset: Xilinx XC5210
DAC: -
Bus: 16-bit ISA
Part No.: -
FCC ID: -
Known Board Revisions: B1

Fiji was the budget version of the 3rd generation Pinnacle from Turtle Beach. Fiji was identical to the Pinnacle except it did not come with an onboard wavetable nor the EIDE header for a CD-ROM.


Daytona

Launched: 1997
FM synthesizer:
Chipset: S3 Sonic Vibes
Bus: PCI
Part No.: TB400-0660-01
FCC ID: M4CS0040

Widely regarded as the very first PCI sound card on the market.


Montego I

Launched: 1997
FM synthesizer: ?
Chipset: Aureal Vortex
Bus: PCI
Price when New: ?

The budget Montego card was sold to numerous OEMs including Dell and IBM.

Montego II

Launched: 1998
FM synthesizer: ?
Chipset: Aureal Vortex 2
Bus: PCI
Price when New: ?