Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 142 / JULY 1992 / PAGE S1

Why add sound to your PC? (Compute's Getting Started with PC Sound)
by David English

In just eleven years, PC sound has gone from beeps and boops to CD-quality audio.

Introduced in 1981, the original IBM PC was designed to be a business machine. In keeping with its button-down demeanor, the PC's built-in speaker could either beep or not beep. Programmers soon learned to coax different notes from the PC's tiny speaker and generate simple songs--but it still sounded like a $9.95 Pong game.

Better-quality PC sound began to take hold in the late 1980s with the growing popularity of the Ad Lib, Covox, and Creative Labs sound cards, as well as Roland's MT-32 sound module. The sound cards were used primarily by game players to add music to their arcade and simulation games, while the MT-32 was used mostly by hobbyists who wanted to experiment with the module's higher-quality sound.

With these products, the PC could create decent-sounding tunes but very little in the way of sound effects and virtually nothing in the way of real speech. That changed almost overnight with the introduction of Creative Lab's Sound Blaster card in early 1990. It lets you record and playback both sound effects and digitized speech. The Sound Blaster's success was effectively guaranteed by its backwards compatibility with the Ad Lib card.

The popularity of the Sound Blaster prompted Microsoft to announce full-audio support for its new Multimedia PC (MPC) platform in November 1990. Not only did the MPC standard include the synthesized music of the Ad Lib and the digitized speech of the Sound Blaster, but it added software and hardware support for both MIDI (a way for computer-based musical instruments to talk to each other) and CD-audio (this is the audio CD technology that quickly replaced traditional records). As I write this, Microsoft has just released Windows 3.1, which brings the sound features of the MPC platform into the mainstream Windows environment.

What does all this mean for you? Now that the various audio standards are in place, you'll see a lot more applications that talk to you, playback high-quality music, and let you create your own multimedia presentations. With Windows 3.1, software developers can easily support a wide variety of audio cards and MIDI devices because Microsoft and the hardware companies will take care of providing the device drivers. With the growing popularity of CD-ROM, which is capable of storing as much as 650MB of information on a single disc--including more than an hour of CD-quality audio--you'll see programs that let you manipulate these high-quality sounds. Programs such as Wave for Windows (Turtle Beach Systems, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, York, Pennsylvania 17404; 717-843-6916; $149) bring the power of the recording studio to your desktop PC.

The PC is rapidly becoming the focal point of a multimedia revolution. PC sound has finally arrived, and it isn't just for game players anymore.