Sound Blaster 32, AWE32 and AWE64

In March 1994, the AWE32 (Advanced Wave Effects) was launched, model number CT3900. This took the Sound Blaster 16 and added a MIDI synthesizer based on the EMU8000.


Creative Labs Sound Blaster AWE32, model CT3900 (1994)

This card therefore had two distinct sections: (1) the digital audio section consisting of an audio codec + optional CSP/ASP chip socket + a Yamaha OPL3, and (2) the E-Mu MIDI synthesizer section, which consisted of the EMU8000 sampler and effects processor, EMU8011 1-megabyte sample ROM, and 512K of sample RAM, which was expandable to 28MB via two 30-pin standard SIMM slots.

The card was a full-length 14" (356 mm) 16-bit ISA card. The original CT3900 got a true Yamaha OPL3 chip still, as did the CT2760 and CT3780.

A year later, Creative launched the Sound Blaster 32 - a cut-down version of the AWE32, with no onboard RAM, no daughterboard connector, and it used the ViBRA chipset. You could add up to 8MB of SIMMs though, and it was much cheaper than an AWE32.

In late 1996, the AWE64 was launched, CT-4380. This would be one of the last ISA-based sound cards from Creative. Creative did away with the daughterboard header just like they'd done with the SB32, but got greedy and added proprietary memory slots in which only Creative memory would work. The AWE64 is however a very good card - think of it as the end result of a big clean-up operation to tidy up mistakes made on earlier cards. It's functionally the same as the AWE32 but less "noisy" and is PnP (Plug and Play).

Noise Issues

Different DAC chips were used on the Sound Blaster 32 and AWE32 (the AWE64 has excellent low noise so you don't need to worry if you have any variant of the AWE64), including CT1703-T, CT1703-TBS and CT1703-A.

The CT1703-T is rumoured to be the cause of noise on these cards, so if possible, check what variant of the CT1703 is on the card before you buy it.
The CT1703-TBS is apparently decent for noise (low).
The CT1703-A is the most recent and quietest, and is found on numerous later SB16 cards up to AWE64 Gold.

So in order of preference, get a card with the CT1703-A, then the CT1703-TBS, and avoid cards with the CT1703-T.

Muted OPL3 bug

All EMU8000-based cards have the "muted OPL3" bug. OPL3 is muted on some EMU8000 cards until you execute 'aweutil /s' or otherwise flush the card. On some exemplars (including the AWE64 Gold CT4540) it is not muted, but accompanied by quiet clicks which disappear after 'aweutil /s'. Some cards suffer from this bug right after boot, some just after listening to some EMU8000-synthesized music.

S/PDIF Output

Nearly all these cards have an S/PDIF output header, which is 2 pins. On the AWE64 non-Gold cards, you need to solder in a 2-pin socket, as these were omitted.
S/PDIF outputs the EMU-8000 output. This includes the FM synthesis if using a CT-1747 or CT-1978 chip but not a discrete YMF-262 or 289 chip.  MIDI audio output (from Waveblaster) and CD Audio sound would not be output through S/PDIF on any models.  16-bit digitised Sound Blaster audio will also be output on the AWE64 Gold cards, but this functionality may only work in Windows 95 or better.  The non-Gold AWE64 cards almost always have a pair of through holes which you could add a 2-pin SPDIF header.

Note that the AWE32 outputs a 5v TTL digital signal.  This is the same signal that CD-ROM drives with a digital audio output header send out.  They even use the same 2-pin header.  The O is the output pin, the I is the ground pin.  Not all SPDIF inputs will accept this signal.  Fortunately the CD Digital input header on a Sound Blaster Live! or Audigy will.  Moreover, you can connect the pins to an optical/TOSLINK port output, which is accepted by lots of devices.  Coaxial SPDIF is designed for 0.5v to -0.5v peak-to-peak signals.  This is what the Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold provides.

Yamaha opl3 or cqm?

Non PnP models have a CT-1747 bus interface chip which integrates a licensed Yamaha OPL3 core.  They sound true to the Ad Lib and earlier Sound Blasters, but people have individual preferences of which card they like.

All the PnP models of the AWE32 and Sound Blaster 32 have the option to use Creative Quadrature Modulaton (CQM) synthesis or Yamaha FM synthesis.  On boards using CQM, there will be a CT-1978 chip.  CQM is generally not objectionable to the untrained ear, but it often sounds harsher and more metallic but slightly crisper compared to a Yamaha FM chip.  Most boards have a silkscreen for a Yamaha YMF-278 and its DAC (very small chips).  Finding boards with the CQM chips are much more common.  However, if you find a board with the Yamaha chip, note that you will not be able to run the chip through the EMU-8000 effects processor.

AWEUTIL is used on the AWE cards to initialize the FM synthesis output and can be used to apply reverb and chorus effects on the CT-1747 cards through the EMU-8000 chip.  I am uncertain whether cards with a discrete YMF-278 can do that, and the AWE32 Upgrade cards probably cannot as well.

Creative's CSP (aka QSound ASP)

The original AWE32 had, as standard, the CT-1748 QSound Advanced Signal Processor (ASP), later known as the Creative Signal Processor (CSP), which was an optional upgrade in the Sound Blaster 16.  All full-length AWE32s should have one soldered onto the PCB.  The AWE32 Value has a socket for a CT-1748 chip, which could have been purchased from Creative Labs.  The SB32s and AWE64s do not have any support for the chip.

All boards with the chip or socket, even if they are otherwise PNP, will have two jumpers to enable or disable the chip.

GAME SUPPORT

Most games that supported the Sound Blaster AWE32 or AWE64 in DOS merely used the 1MB of samples contained in ROM on the card. However, a handful of titles do what a lot of Roland-supported games do, and upload their own custom samples. Because of this, they potentially require some RAM sticks to be installed on your sound card. The AWE64 Gold gets 4 MB RAM onboard which is a nice starter, the AWE64 Standard gets 1 MB RAM, and the AWE64 Value gets 512 KB RAM.

The following games are known to have done such as thing:

  • Battle Arena Toshinden
  • Dungeon Keeper
  • Eradicator
  • Hi-Octane
  • Magic Carpet 2
  • Nerves of Steel
  • Perfect General II
  • Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri

SO IN SUMMARY.....

Of these three "families" of sound card (SB32, AWE32 and AWE64), here's a basic thing to keep in mind:

Sound Blaster 16 + EMU8000 hardware synth = Sound Blaster AWE32
Sound Blaster 16 + EMU8000 hardware synth + Software synth = Sound Blaster AWE64

So in terms of which is best, in descending order (best to worst), you have:

  1. Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold (4 MB, upgradable. No wavetable header)
  2. Sound Blaster AWE64 Standard (1 MB, upgradable. No wavetable header)
  3. Sound Blaster AWE64 Value (512 KB, upgradable. No wavetable header)
  4. Sound Blaster AWE32 (512 KB, upgradable. Wavetable header)
  5. Sound Blaster AWE32 Value (512 KB, NOT upgradable. No wavetable header)
  6. Sound Blaster 32 (0 KB, upgradable. No wavetable header)

Games that use General MIDI for their soundtracks will benefit from the hardware synthesizer on the AWE cards. The additional 32 voices on the AWE64 are provided by a software synth that won't run under DOS so for DOS games, the AWE32 and AWE64 are pretty much equivalent. The AWE64 Gold does differ in that it had gold-plated RCA stereo output jacks.

 

AWE32

All AWE32 boards support up to 28 MB of RAM, and if the RAM sockets are used the onboard 512 KB of RAM is disabled. For the AWE32 cards, use 30-pin SIMMs that are 80ns or faster, and always use the same size sticks (1 MB, 4MB or 16 MB) - you need to populate both sockets.

Since I find PNP cards to be more trouble than they are worth, I would stick with the non-PNP AWE32s.  This is especially true if you're exclusively running DOS games, since DOS doesn't support PnP. The best of the bunch, feature wise, would be the CT3980, then the CT3900 and finally CT2760.  However, since the CT3980 is a PNP card, I would pick the CT3900 or CT2760 first.  The CT2760 uses the older CT1701 CODEC chip (known for its higher noise) while the CT3900 uses the newer CT1703 CODEC chip. The later CODEC chip has been said to have a cleaner output compared with the older CODEC (see Noise Issues further up). 

Rich Heimlich had this to say about the AWE-32: "The patch set is average, it requires LARGE TSR's or direct support if you want to use it with games and is less compatible with the SB
family than the SB-16 which wasn't ever a great SB compatible. It's also expensive. The only real benefit is the ability to load RAM patches.
". He scored the AWE32's digital quality at a lowly 5 out of 10, and music quality at 6 out of 10.

CT2760(A)

The first AWE32 model released.
Price when New: $180
"Multi-CD".
Yamaha OPL3 chip embedded in CT-1747 bus interface chip.
CT-1748 ASP/CSP chip soldered in.
Wave Blaster header - Revision 3 has issues with the wavetable db.
Panasonic, Sony and Mitsumi CD-ROM interfaces.
Non-PnP.

The CT2760 uses the noisy CT1703-T DAC chip - read the Noise Issues section further up this page. Later AWE32s used the quieter CT1703-A.

More Images:

 

CT3600

Plug & Play.
Supports the Yamaha YMF-278 OPL3 chip, but most of these cards instead come with Creative's CQM (Creative Quadrature Modulation) synthesis
No Wave Blaster header, no SP/DIF

The CT3600, branded as the Sound Blaster 32 PnP was considered the "budget" version of the AWE32. It uses the same wavetable (EMU8000) with 1 MB of sample ROM, but does not have any onboard RAM for samples. If you want to load soundfonts add up to 8 MB of 30-pin SIMMs to the two memory slots - 2 x 4 MB 80ns or faster is recommended (parity or non-parity is ok).

The MIDI interface is *not* MPU-401 compatible, so General MIDI under DOS requires AWEUTIL.

More Images

CT3601/2/3/7

OEM version of the CT3960.
No CD-ROM interface.
Plug & Play.

 

CT3620

 

 

CT3630/1/2/5/6

AWE32 Value.
Value edition (no SIMM sockets for RAM expansion).
No RAM onboard.

 

 

CT3660/1/2/5/6

AWE32 Value.

 

 

CT3670

Plug & Play.
IDE CD-ROM interface. This card came with no RAM as standard (only required if you want to load your own external Soundfonts), but does have the 1 MB onboard ROM with built-in Soundfonts for any software that natively supports this card.

This card is basically a Sound Blaster 32 with SIMM slots. The main chip on the CT3670 comes from an AWE64.

 

 

CT3680

Plug & Play.
IDE CD-ROM interface.

 

 

CT3780

AWE32 Value.
Yamaha OPL3 chip embedded in CT-1747 bus interface chip.
Socket for CT-1748 ASP/CSP chip.
Panasonic, Sony and Mitsumi CD-ROM interfaces.
Value edition (no SIMM sockets for RAM expansion).
Non-PnP.

For this card, read the Noise Issues section further up this page.

CT3900

Yamaha OPL3 chip embedded in CT-1747 bus interface chip.
CT-1748 ASP/CSP chip soldered in.
Non-PnP.
Wave Blaster header.
Some come with Panasonic CD-ROM interface, later ones are IDE.

For this card, read the Noise Issues section further up this page.

CT3910

AWE32 Value.
Yamaha OPL3 chip embedded in CT-1747 bus interface chip.
Socket for CT-1748 ASP/CSP chip.
Some come with Panasonic CD-ROM interface, later ones are IDE.
Value edition (no SIMM sockets for RAM expansion).
Non-PnP.

For this card, read the Noise Issues section further up this page.

CT3919

AWE32 Value.
Yamaha OPL3 chip embedded in CT-1747 chip.
Socket for CT-1748 ASP chip.
Non-PnP.

 

CT3940

AWE32 Value.
Plug & Play.

 

CT3960

Plug & Play.

 

 

CT3980

Yamaha OPL3 chip embedded in CT-1747 chip.
CT-1748 ASP/CSP chip soldered in.
Wave Blaster header (buggy).
Plug & Play.

CT3980 is a lot quieter, actually one of the best ISA cards Creative released. But be sure to disable the 3D feature using AWEUTIL. The 3D feature is ON by default and adds noise to the output, no matter if you use line or speaker out.

For this card, read the Noise Issues section further up this page.

CT3990

Wave Blaster header.
CT-1748 ASP/CSP chip soldered in.
Plug & Play.
Supports the Yamaha YMF-278 OPL3 chip, but most of these cards instead come with Creative's CQM (Creative Quadrature Modulation) synthesis.

For this card, read the Noise Issues section further up this page.

CT3991

AWE32.
Plug & Play.
IDE CD-ROM interface.

 

CT3999

AWE32.
Plug & Play.
IDE CD-ROM interface.

 

CT4180

This card uses the Vibra16c integrated chipset. No genuine OPL3 on this one. It has a Speaker/Line Out jumper which I set to Line Out prior to recording.
The FM music is somewhat lacking in fidelity, consistent with the CQM OPL3 clone it uses. While the CQM is still reasonably accurate and compatible, there are noticeable differences compared to the original OPL3. At times it seemed to have a little bit of that "Crystal-OPL3-clone-like" cutoff clicks on some notes, especially when playing Monkey Island. But in any case it is very subtle - I may even be wrong here. Anyway it certainly was nowhere near as bad as a Crystal OPL3 clone!

The card has some notable background noise but I did not experience the same terrible noise issue as with CT2260. There seemed to be at least a little of the same phenomenon though. Most noticeable on E1M2.  Compared to my CT3600, which also uses a CQM OPL3 clone, it sounds maybe just a tiny bit more bright but the STN (signal-to-noise) ratio is MUCH better on the CT3600.

I first installed this card on a Celeron 500 using the same driver as for the CT2260. The driver apparently worked well however it would not setup the card on port 220 for some reason, but instead on port 240. This is strange considering I set all my other sound cards so far on port 220 on the same machine. While I worked it on the Celeron 500 I experienced some compatibility issues. Original Sound Blaster compatibility was very bad - it seemed to be very compatible with Sound Blaster 16 and Ad Lib but in many games without direct SB16 compatibility, including Doom and Comanche: Maximum Overkill, I had no sound effects. This may be due to driver issues (needs to be verified). I then tried the card on my 486 with a different driver and it installed with port 220 and compatibility seemed fixed, it worked in Doom at least.

This card does not have a wavetable header but it has an MPU-401-compatible MIDI/joystick port. I tested it for the hanging notes bug with Hexen -warp 02 and IT DOES have the bug. 

Overall I find this card to be a poor choice for a retro rig:  Potential compatibility issues, average sound quality, high noise level, no wavetable header, midi hanging notes... it was a budget card back then, it should not be part of your budget now.

CT4330

AWE32 Value.
No onboard RAM.
This card is essentially cut-down AWE64.

 

CT4331

AWE32 Value.
Plug & Play.

 

CT4332

AWE32 Value.
Plug & Play.

 

 

Sound Blaster 32

The Sound Blaster 32 (CT3930) was a cut-down version of the AWE32, released in 1995. It retained the AWE32's EMU8000 and EMU8011 MIDI engine and ROM, but had no onboard RAM. Instead it got two 30-pin SIMM slots for up to 8MB RAM to be added by the owner. Also, no MIDI daughterboard header, and no CSP/ASP chip socket. It made use of the ViBRA chip to reduce component count, so bass/treble/gain control was limited by comparison to the AWE32.

All EMU8000-based cards have the "muted OPL3" bug. OPL3 is muted on some EMU8000 cards until you execute 'aweutil /s' or otherwise flush the card. On some exemplars (including the AWE64 Gold CT4540) it is not muted, but accompanied by quiet clicks which disappear after 'aweutil /s'. Some cards suffer from this bug right after boot, some just after listening to some EMU8000-synthesized music.

The EMU8000 has very little on-board intelligence. It requires extensive initialization on power-up before any use can be made of its facilities. This initialization phase configures it for the SB32/AWE32 environment, brings the chip to a known, silent state, and enables audio output. Once the EMU8000 has been initialized, sounds can be played, or Sound DRAM can be loaded with additional sounds.

CT3600

Introduced in 1995.
MIDI Synthesizer: EMU8000.
Low signal-to-noise ratio.
IDE CD-ROM interface.
PnP.
The EMU8011 chip is a 1MB ROM chip which contains the samples.
The CT2502-SDQ chip is part of the ViBRA16S chipset, and includes the bus controller.

CT3604

OEM version of the CT3620 without CD-ROM interface.

 

 

CT3620

Introduced in 1995.
MIDI Synthesizer: EMU8000.
IDE CD-ROM interface.
PnP.
The CT1745 is the mixer chip.

For this card, read the Noise Issues section further up this page.

 

CT3671

IDE CD-ROM interface.
PnP.

 

CT3930

Introduced in 1995.
MIDI Synthesizer: EMU8000 (CT1971).

The CT2501 is the ViBRA 16 chip (Integrated Bus Controller Interface, DSP, Mixer and Codec).
2 x 30-pin SIMM slots.

More Images

 

AWE64

In November 1996, the AWE64 was launched at a cost of $230. This was a much shorter half-length 16-bit ISA card than the AWE32, and added support for greater polyphony through 32 extra software-emulated channels (64 voices in all). Unfortunately, Creative decided to replace the standard 30-pin SIMM slots from the AWE32/SB32 with a proprietary memory format, making upgrades very expensive. There are two third-party RAM expansion daughterboards that convert the Creative proprietary RAM slot to accept regular SIMMs. One is the AWE-SIMM which accepts 30-pin SIMMs, and the other is the SIMMConn which accepts a single 72-pin SIMM.

The AWE64 however, did get better backward-compatibility with older Sound Blaster models, an improved signal-to-noise ratio than the AWE32/SB32, and a rather gimmicky 3D positional audio feature which provided a fake 3D effect. An AWE64 "Value" card (CT4500, CT4501, and CT4520) got just 512K of RAM, a "Standard" card got 1MB of RAM, and a "Gold" version (CT4390) got 4MB of RAM plus an S/PDIF output.

All AWE64s use DSP version 4.16, so there's no "hanging notes" MIDI bug. Most AWE cards prior to the AWE64 use DSP version 4.13, and this version does suffer from the "hanging notes" bug. The bug only occurs when both digital sounds and MIDI are being played. The standard workaround if you have this problem is to use a separate card for the MIDI output. The bug is not present on any card that uses the CT-1747 bus interface chip.

The AWE64, like the Sound Blaster 32, doesn't come with a MIDI daughterboard header, so no ability to add a Wave Blaster, Roland SCB-7, SCB-55, or Yamaha DB50XG/DB60XG. This puts a lot of buyers off the AWE64, but it shouldn't. The card has a lot going for it! It doesn't suffer from the same "cutoff" noises at the end of digital speech, no popping on reboot, you avoid the cheap Sound Blaster mixer, and if you get an external Sound Canvas or similar this card has line inputs on the rear to connect your AWE64 to it anyway. It also has an S/PDIF (Coax out) so it's possible to get digital speech out of the card with absolutely no noise!

To replace the missing daughterboard header, instead the AWE64 uses a 32-note polyphonic software wavetable synthesizer called WaveSynth/WaveGuide. This software synthesizer has been reported to use between 10-%15% of your CPU power. There are also reports that WS/WG doesn't work on Cyrix CPUs.

Game compatibility is excellent. No it doesn't have a true OPL3 chip for FM synthesis, and it does sound a bit different as it's emulated inside the EMU-8000 chip, but it's still good. AWE64 will also work just fine on any AWE32-enabled game. It's not 100% Sound Blaster Pro-compatible since it doesn't support SBPro in stereo speech mode, but this isn't really a problem as no games require this that don't also support Sound Blaster 16.

The Gold edition has 4 MB onboard for wavetable samples. The Standard edition had 1 MB onboard, and the Value editions have 512 KB onboard.

 

CT4380

Onboard RAM for wavetable samples: 1 MB.
Plug & Play: Yes

This card is the original "Standard" edition with 1MB RAM for additional wavetable samples. This was the very first AWE64 released, so this "Standard" edition moniker only came about to distinguish it from both the "Gold" and "Value" editions that were released later.

 

CT4381

Onboard RAM for wavetable samples: 1 MB.
Plug & Play: Yes

 

CT4390 ("AWE64 Gold")

Onboard RAM for wavetable samples: 4 MB.
Plug & Play: Yes

"Gold" edition with 4MB RAM for additional wavetable samples ("Soundfonts"). Comes with gold-plated RCA connectors, but aside from this and the larger RAM, it's identical to the CT4380.

 

CT4500

Onboard RAM for wavetable samples: 512 KB.
Plug & Play: Yes

"Value" edition with 512K RAM for additional wavetable samples. It also had the IDE header removed and the 2-pin S/PDIF header removed (these can be soldered on and functionally will work just fine).

 

 

CT4520

Onboard RAM for wavetable samples: 512 KB.
Plug & Play: Yes

The final "Value" edition. Two key differences when compared to the CT4500:

1) Added colour-coding to the output sockets
2) The two main chips from the CT4500 (the 8903 and 1745A) have been integrated into a single chip, 8920.

Be warned there are some crippled versions with the same PCB wording "Model CT4520", but with most of the chips missing as well as the wavetable header. These were supposedly sold to OEMs (Dell or Packard-Bell perhaps), and effectively made these cards into a straight Sound Blaster 16. In the Creative Sound Blaster Products list, it's called the CT4525.

 

CT4540

Another "Gold" edition, complete with 4 MB RAM for additional wavetable samples.

 

 

AWE64 Basic DOS and Windows 3.1 Installation disk

AWE64 software & drivers for Win9x, WinNT 4.0, OS/2 Warp

Installation Program Loader for SB16/AWE32/AWE64

 

Creative CR-563 CD-ROM drivers (Rev 3 and 8) Driver Disks

 

Drivers and Install Disks

AWE32 Revision 3 (CT2760a) Floppy Disk Images
AWE32 PnP for Windows 95
AWE Control Panel for Win95

AWE Upgrade drivers for Win31/95
Installation Program Loader for SB16/AWE32/AWE64
Creative CR-563 CD-ROM drivers (Rev 3 and 8) Driver Disks
Sound Blaster 16/AWE32 Drivers Disk for Windows NT 3.5 (revision 1)