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Sound Canvas VA, Roland's Virtual MIDI Synthesizer

Discussion in 'General Gaming' started by schru, Oct 30, 2016.

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  1. schru Learned

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    At the risk of being branded an advertising plant, I thought I could start a thread about this piece of software as it should be of interest to quite a few people here. I haven't found any mention of this in other threads, so here I go.

    In December of 2015 Roland released a software MIDI synthesizer that is equivalent to Sound Canvas 8820, which in turn includes compatibility modes for SC-55, 88, and 88 Pro. The compatibility maps do not produce results that match each original hardware exactly, but they are of very high quality and are better-balanced than any amateur soundfonts out there. As such, aside of getting some version of SC-55, this is the best way to play MIDI music in most games released from the early to mid 90s, as Roland's hardware was often what contemporary composers used or aimed at supporting.

    https://www.roland.com/global/products/sound_canvas_va/

    At Doom's Gate recording:


    Vocaroo uses pretty heavy compression, here are higher-quality samples (I added more reverb than the tracks normally use): http://www.mediafire.com/file/h0frsco36ycuyek/SC_VA_Comparison.zip

    There is also a trial version on the web site.

    This virtual synthesizer can be embedded in a host application and used as the main or additional MIDI device in Windows, thus also in DOSBox. The easiest way to set it up seems to be to use loopMIDI ( http://www.tobias-erichsen.de/software/loopmidi.html ) to create a virtual MIDI device in Windows and to link it to SAVIHost ( http://www.hermannseib.com/english/savihost.htm ), in which the SC VA can be embedded. There is no clear way to manipulate the order of MIDI devices from Windows 8 forwards, though, so the matter becomes a little more complicated on those systems.

    A detailed explanation of how to set these up is presented in this video:



    I have tested the SC VA with games like Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, and HeXen and the results are quite excellent, though not exactly the same as actual SC-55 recordings. The inclusion of SC-88 mode may also be of use to people who play Japanese games with MIDI music, as I think it was used by developers over there to some extent even though CD music was taking over by then.

    Enjoy.
     
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2016
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  2. Ed123 Arcane Patron

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  3. schru Learned

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    I have recorded several more tracks, this time directly in the games. For those that have SC-55, I think instruments such as cymbals have a clearer, more resonant quality than the original hardware did; it's particularly noticeable in Facing the Spider and Stalker.

    Doom

    Deep into the Code http://www.mediafire.com/file/vzu1w2oo6dj9zp9/deepcode.mp3

    Facing the Spider http://www.mediafire.com/file/0t5eew1wj7f626b/facespider.mp3


    Heretic

    E1M1 http://www.mediafire.com/file/b188bb0eaa39hal/E1M1.mp3

    E1M2 http://www.mediafire.com/file/9biwg89kwi94gni/E1M2.mp3


    HeXen

    Winnowing Hall http://www.mediafire.com/file/w79ebjse8ecsxiq/winnow.mp3

    Crypt http://www.mediafire.com/file/pphhm3fbw2kobss/cry.mp3


    Azrael's Tear

    Ingame http://www.mediafire.com/file/y0yj4lid9y1ay5s/Ingame.mp3


    Duke Nukem 3D

    Stalker http://www.mediafire.com/file/svj9c5875537kvw/stkr.mp3

    Aliens, Say Your Prayers! http://www.mediafire.com/file/ak99nyfsjdbfjyo/alns_pryrs.mp3

    Going After the Fat Commander http://www.mediafire.com/file/atx6a0vtlngsbnm/fatcomm.mp3

    Subway http://www.mediafire.com/file/oz2s9pec93so4q8/sbw.mp3

    Gotham http://www.mediafire.com/file/d4zh727cfz8uffs/gthm.mp3


    Edit: One more track, Medical from System Shock, but recorded using extracted files: http://www.mediafire.com/file/b6yu3k3ri94x543/Medical.mp3
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2016
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  4. schru Learned

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    For those who like Shadow Warrior, the shareware version had two unique MIDI tracks that were not recorded for the final version. It seems by all accounts that Lee Jackson used SC-88 at the time, so here are those two tracks (254mm and Morse Kodo) recorded in-game using the 88 map: http://www.mediafire.com/file/o7y9t17edvvyxre/SW_Shareware_Tracks.7z
     
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  5. FeelTheRads Arcane Patron

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    Shit works. Just tried Dune II and Dark Sun. I never actually had or played a game with one of these devices. The difference between it and, say, SoundBlaster is huge.
     
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  6. Great Deceiver Arcane

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    As far as I know, the SC-55 VA map actually uses SC-88 cymbals...

    How would you say this compares to high quality SC-55 soundfonts? (i.e. GeneralUser, etc.) In general, soundfonts that try to preserve the original instrument balance (something that isn't trivial and many .SF2s fail at).

    The $125 price is very steep.
     
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  7. schru Learned

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    It most likely does use some SC-88 instruments, yes. The combination doesn't sound bad, though.

    As for other soundfonts, I've only really used Patch93's before as I'm new to this. SC VA is definitely better overall compared to that one. I tried the GeneralUser GS font just now with a MuseScore 2 and VirtualMIDISynth, but I'm not sure if I had set it up right. It sounded close to these recordings, at any rate: https://youtu.be/aiEVEM0xayA https://youtu.be/isCcPdBh--w

    You can find E1M1 from Heretic in a post above and here is At Doom's Gate without any reverb adjustments: https://www.mediafire.com/?1gdtsj52eeg03dq

    I think the guitar samples in GeneralUser GS are nice in their own way, but the less guitar-based tracks, like those in Duke Nukem 3D, sound less gracious. Sound Canvas VA is definitely the closest thing to the original hardware, if you are interested in authenticity, which I do prefer. Otherwise, I suppose MIDI music was composed to be fairly elastic in rendition, so one can prefer one device to another, as hardware from the period could also produce pretty divergent results ( https://youtu.be/Prv-hUNP9fk ).

    SC VA has been very reliable in terms of the balance of instruments and general quality of samples compared to the SC-55 recordings I've heard. The only real problem I've noticed is that in rare cases an instrument will get stuck or play wrong when looping (one case in Duke Nukem 3D, and one in Doom II), but it gets back to normal in every other loop. Problems like this might yet get fixed as there are some knowledgeable people at the VOGONS forum who send bug reports to Roland and a few patches have been released.

    The price probably makes it more worthwhile for people interested in using it in a more professional capacity, but it's definitely more convenient than getting the real hardware and connecting it. On top of that, the developer at CoolSoft is working on a MIDI mapper for Windows 8 and 10 ( http://coolsoft.altervista.org/en/forum/thread/427 ), so that should solve the problem with using SC VA in non-DOSBox games.

    It is important to add that SC VA should be tested with games. MIDI files tend to contain alternative instruments for other devices, so they might not sound right when played outside of games.
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2017
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  8. Great Deceiver Arcane

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    Thanks, I actually have been using CoolSoft's MIDI mapper for a fairly long time (since the first beta). Will give the VA a try when I get home. I'm also mostly concerned with authenticity, since most GM games were composed with the GS specifically in mind.
     
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  9. schru Learned

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    Another problem I noticed is that when I use SC VA with Blood without the CD sound track it sets itself to the GS mode when launching, but that causes it use the default instruments (piano), so I have to switch it to the GM mode manually in order to get the correct instruments. I've been using the Blood Launcher, though, so perhaps it might be caused by it somehow, though I doubt it.

    Edit: It's interesting to note that when Lee Jackson remastered the sound track of Duke Nukem 3D for the 20th Anniversary Edition, he used SC-88Pro instruments for it: https://youtu.be/GN7-kObzE60?list=PLYp9Z64eqqbtWXQJQpgoWc9EQJgQir-dq

    I don't like how many of the instruments sound, but Jackson did show up in a thread at Duke4.net to inquire of people how they liked it, so it doesn't seem like it was a half-hearted attempt.
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2017
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  10. Great Deceiver Arcane

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    I've tested it today and it's pretty neat - definitely better in terms of instrument balance/levels compared to the GeneralUser GS soundfont. The soundfont is very close, however, and it's the only one that I would consider faithful out of all the ones that I've tried (WeedsGM2, Arachno, SGM 2.01, etc.)

    Anyway, thanks for the thread.
     
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  11. SCO Arcane In My Safe Space

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    So this is the reason these asshats threatened dosbox with lawyers when they tried to embeed munt.
     
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  12. schru Learned

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    I don't know much about the pre-General MIDI devices, but I think the Sound Canvases don't render MT-32 music exactly as the original hardware did, so SC VA isn't the best choice for that. At least this comparison would suggest so:



     
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  13. Great Deceiver Arcane

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    Who threatened dosbox, Roland?
     
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  14. Great Deceiver Arcane

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    There's MUNT for Mt-32 emulation. It's almost perfect and it is integrated in some Dosbox builds (like SVN-Daum), but you still need the control ROMs. They're pretty easy to find. You can also use the standalone version (https://sourceforge.net/projects/munt/), but you need a midi mapper if you're using Windows 8/10.

    ScummVM also has a MUNT implementation.
     
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  15. SCO Arcane In My Safe Space

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    Yeah, but they actually 'threatened' Munt itself, halted its dev for a while and scared away dosbox devs from incorporating the emulator (like every other device emulator, crippling usability to a external app and port nonsense). Pretty pathetic considering even Gog, which sells dosbox along with games doesn't license the ROM from them, therefore even if dosbox had support, they'd get nothing.

    Fortunately there is a patch to embed munt into dosbox anyway these days, even if it's not on upstream. The ubuntu build i use has it.

    Roland is in my shitlist of 'IT' companies, among such asshats as apple and others even though their actual market is selling physical stuff to musicians.
     
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  16. Great Deceiver Arcane

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    Yeah, the software is horribly overpriced IMO, especially since it isn't a standalone product, it needs a host application (even though there are free ones out there, it's an unnecessary hassle).
    Show Spoiler
    Shoot me a PM if you'd like and I can hook you up.
     
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  17. schru Learned

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    I'm a little late, but here's the starting credits theme, recorded in-game in the General MIDI mode: https://www.mediafire.com/?m21z4aczo222d2o
     
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  18. Great Deceiver Arcane

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    I'm not sure what MIDI device they recorded it from, but the CD version has redbook audio that doesn't loop, so that automatically makes it inferior.

    MT32/GS is a matter of taste, Sierra games from this era were almost all composed on a SC-55, in Krondor's case specifically the MT-32 instrumentation sounds pretty close but since it's mostly an orchestral soundtrack based on real instruments I think the SC-55 edges it out. The real standout Sierra games for MT-32 were from one generation before (SCI0/1) that have a lot of custom instruments and synth-based tracks, like Police Quest 2 or Space Quest 3.

    As I said before in this thread, I don't think this is worth $125, but it does sound marginally superior in terms of instrument balance compared to the best GS soundfonts out there that I've tried (best in my conception=as close as possible to the original module), the best of which is GeneralUser.

    Also, if you have musical inclinations it's a lot more useful, but that's another thing.
     
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  19. Great Deceiver Arcane

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    I notice that your intro doesn't have the proper lightning sound. If you're at all interested in playing Betrayal at Krondor with the best possible music + sfx (SC-55 + soundblaster sfx), read this guide:

    https://www.gog.com/forum/krondor_s...1?pp=cb4e5208b4cd87268b208e49452ed6e89a68e0b8
     
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  20. Great Deceiver Arcane

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    I'm an idiot, nevermind.
     
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  21. Gragt Arcane Patron

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    For those using Sound Canvas VA, an alternative to SAVIhost is the excellent and aptly named Midi Player which can also act as VST host while offering a fair amount of features for MIDI playback.
     
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  22. schru Learned

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    My guess would be that composers used more varied samples for CD versions whenever they had the chance. There are those few CD tracks from System Shock that apparently were included just for listening, and they're also more elaborate than what an SC-55 can render.

    Also, certain games offer more specific MIDI device choices, while Krondor has just one choice for General MIDI, so perhaps they used more commonly available instruments?

    I recorded only what SC VA rendered, which seemed to include other sound effects on top of music, so I suppose I did something wrong in the INSTALL program. Betrayal at Krondor was well before my time, so I've yet to get into RPGs from that period, but finding out about MIDI playback recently has made me pay attention to proper set-up or emulation of older games. Thanks for the guide, at any rate.

    I tried it before and I'm not sure if there's a function I'm not aware of or some such, but certain game tracks just won't play with the right instruments outside of games, whether I use a simple player or a dedicated MIDI one like this. d_evil (Opening to Hell) from Doom II for example uses piano samples in the second half instead the proper instrument.
     
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  23. Gragt Arcane Patron

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    Weird, so far it sounds as it should for me. I’m not sure which track you meant (d_evil/Evil Unleashed, level 31: Wolfenstein; d_openin/Opening to Hell, level 30: Icon of Sin) so I played both inside and outside the game, and compared with the music from this site and couldn’t hear any differences (aside that tracks recorded with a real SC-55 aren’t exactly the same as those played with the SC-VA).
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2017
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  24. schru Learned

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    Sorry, I meant d_openin. I was using a MIDI file from the Mirsoft web site, but it seems like whoever converted it from the MUS format did it wrongly. I tried the version hosted at Doomworld and it used the correct instruments.
     
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  25. Sceptic Prestigious Gentleman Arcane Patron

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    Why did no one tell me about this thread

    It's not, as you elaborated yourself each game will sound better on the specific device for which it was composed. Almost every Sierra game with support for both MT32/CM32L and SC-55 was actually composed for one and the instruments were then mapped (usually poorly) to the other synth. The only exception I can think of is Eco Quest 2, whose CM-32L and SC-55 soundtracks seem to have been composed independently.

    Anyway I have SC-55 mkII recordings of:
    Doom E2M2
    Pagain Intro & Docks, and Tenebrae
    QFG3 Jungle, Waterfall, World Gate, and the entire final sequence from when the whole gang joins you
    Witchaven main menu
    Darkside of Xeen main menu, introduction, all 3 dungeon tunes, and one of the wilderness tunes

    All these were recorded in-game directly off the SC. If someone wants to make these recordings with the VA we can make some comparisons.
     
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