Computers & Music:

Installing the Soundcard

by Kai Pihl

"Plug and Pray"

(Note: In that ancient time there wasn't such a concept as PNP. Or there was, but not for AWE.)

We had an old 386SX with Windows 3.1 installed and 2 megs of RAM plus 40 megs of hard disk space. Windows took out of that about 10 megs and the rest of our programs about 10 megs more, so we had about 20 megs of free diskspace. CD-drive was not in our interests that time, nor anykind of multimedia or net-surfing because we simply did not heard about those things. After reading few pages of the 'Getting Started' manual, I decided to put the card in. It seemed, that there was no need to reposition the jumpers or stuff like that. Power on, and a few seconds waiting for the smoke. It didn't develop no smoke at all!

The next stage was to install the software. The manual told us to start with the installation disk and to follow the instructions. The procedure had to be done in DOS. If I had not being familiar with computers, my wife couldn't never figure out what to do. I answered 'yes' to all the questions I didn't understand. Unbelivable but true, everything worked all right. We ended to a phase, where the program asked us to check out four different testsamples: 8 bit digitized sound, 16 bit digitized sound, synthesized music and AWE synthesized music. What these were and how we could listen to them?

We realized that we had no speakers, but we had headphones. Could we use them? Of course we could. They should be plugged into the speakers jack. Why speakers jack? Because it is for the desktop speakers and it doesn't output too much power for the headphones. The testsamples were arranged from the poorest to the best and when we heard the 'AWE synthesized music' (the best one) we couldn't believe our ears. It sounded very nice. Everything seemed to be in condition, so far.

What about Windows then, and all the programs that came in the package? Sound'OLE, Voice Assist, Text Assist, Wave Studio, Mixer and AWE Control Panel (Vienna was not released that time). When we started Windows we saw a new group full of icons. I realized that I had to find out what they were and how to use them. A look at the 'Getting Started' manual made it clear that it was not the best source of quick information, nor were the other manuals. I tried to click on some icons. Some of them where "alive", some resulted to an error message. I realized that the 'Mixer' and 'Control Panel' where of main importance. There was something about 'Control Panel' in the manual, but I couldn't understand it in that stage. The operation of the 'Mixer' was described in the 'SB16 User's Guide', separate book named according to an old model! We had an AWE and wanted to hear some real music, a whole song!

First experiences

Cakewalk is a MIDI sequencer program made by Cakewalk Music Software. A lite version of it came with our edition of AWE (I think this has been changed today). The program operates like a tape recorder with play, record, forward and backward buttons. When Cakewalk is started for the first time, the 'Setting/Devices' window pops up automatically. The In- and Out-choices are already updated as 'SB16 MIDI In' and 'Sound Blaster AWE32 MIDI Synth', but they need to be clicked once to get them activated. Next we opened a demo file using the Open command from the File menu and after pushing the play button we heard nice music from the headphones. The volume was quit low but it was audible.

So, what next? We needed good speakers. I knew that the small desktop speakers couldn't be so good. I wanted to get the sound to our home stereo. I had seen a line-out jack on the AWE and checked from the 'Getting Started' manual that it was a stereo output. A suitable plug should be 3.4 mm in diameter, and on the stereo side we needed two so called RCA-plugs. We had to drive downtown and buy such a cable, 3 yards long. Uh, it was expensive (everything in Finland is)!

We played the song once again, now trough the home stereo. We where forced to turn the gain of our stereo almost to the maximum in order to get sufficient volume. What was the reason for this? I opened the 'Mixer' and noticed that the main volume (leftmost slider) was at the half. There is also a slider for the syth-output (marked with a picture of a keyboard). Both slided to a 75 % position we were able to lower the gain of the stereo to a normal position. Note the checkboxes above the sliders. A green dot means that output is enabled. and a red dot that the input is enabled. In the Mixer settings, there's also an adjustable output gain multiplier, but we talk about it later.

So far, we have succeeded listen to a MIDI-song played with Cakewalk trough the AWE soundcard. I'm not going to make this article a course of using Cakewalk. There is a good online course on the net: Cakewalkin' ... the easy way, written by Betty Kainz from Vienna, Austria. I'm refering to a sequencer program only when I need it to illustrate the operation of AWE. Next I'm going to dive deep inside to the AWE-card.

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