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Coolkids

How come the Adlib (OPL3) is so hated?

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I am talking about the synth that was built in to Sound Blaster cards. When you search youtube about old computer synths, The Commodore's SID chip, Atari's POKEY chip, ZX Spectrum's AY chip, and many others come to mind, but why not the OPL3? I have heard WAYS WAYS better music on the OPL3 than on any other 8-bit or 16-bit computer.

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The OPL isn't hated, and has on this forum many vocal defenders.

And when I search for old PC game soundtracks on youtube, I tend to find more results with OPL sounds than with the results I was actually looking for (such as MT-32, SC-55, or CD audio).

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I quite like OPL as it's pretty similar to Megadrive/Genesis music which I have fond memories of- similar chipset I guess :P

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The reason OPL3 was "hated" is that its features were never fully realized, in the interest of compatibility. OPL2 had been around since 1985 and was fairly cheap and popular in sound cards. When the SB Pro 2 came out in 1991, the OPL2 had around 6 years of de facto dominance, including clones, driver emulation, and the like. To write music for the OPL3 would double your work.

Sound Blaster FM synth midi was not updated to take advantage of OPL3, save for the panning. The standard SBI patch set wasn't good in the first place. As a result, a lot of people assumed that's all the chipset could do.

The OPL3 came out too late to claim any territory, which is a shame, since it is so much better in its percussion, stereo sound, number of voices, voice timbres, and voice combinations.

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You can make cool sounds even with just the OPL2. Stephane Picq's Megarace soundtrack is wonderful; and Dune: Spice Opera is equally great.


On the other hand, OPL is generally pretty bad at rendering General MIDI stuff. If a soundtrack isn't composed specifically for its FM synth, it tends to lose a lot in the translation; even with good instrument programming.

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Csonicgo said:

My personal favorite feature was the addition of square wave with duty cycle:

I totally agree! I use the OPL3 with my music production and it gives it a unique sound to it.

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I'd love to make a project: A portable tracker with a OPL3 chip, so I can edit and play OPL3 music on the go.

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Not really a matter of hate, it's just that it's hard to write memorable music for it. Doom was the exception, but as a generic MIDI player it was clearly underutilised. Especially if we're talking about actual 4-op OPL3 music, and not just "dual OPL2" mode.

About emulating it: it is notoriously difficult to do correctly because of its awkward DDS frequency of 49716 Hz.

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My main issue is that the drums on Adlib MIDIS sound really tinny and bad.

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Yeah, compared to e.g. Amiga modules, it sounded like a joke when it came to bass and percussion. Some games like Under A Killing Moon actually had "Digidrums", and would use the SB to enhance perc sound.

However, as Doom showed us, it could do a decent electric guitar.

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Anything post-Doom sounds really bad on OPL to me. Stuff from before 1992 sounds great on Adlib but Doom's music doesn't really have the same metal midi effect on OPL. It's just underwhelming.

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GoatLord said:

My main issue is that the drums on Adlib MIDIS sound really tinny and bad.


That's because there is no percussion mode. That was an OPL3 thing, sorry to say.

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Csonicgo said:

That's because there is no percussion mode. That was an OPL3 thing, sorry to say.


Actually the OPL2 had a special "6+5" mode (6 melodic + 5 percussion voices), instead of the standard 9 voice 2-op mode. But FM synthesis just doesn't have the oomph needed for bass and percussion: it sounds too delicate. Not giving a square wave mode to the OPL2 was also a mistake, as it allows creating a much more harmonics-laden sound, and helps "hardening" it.

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While the SID has a special place in my heart, the OPL3 is awesome as well. But as CSonicgo said, its features were under utilized. I always thought that companies that used it either didn't understand FM synthesis that well, didn't have much practice with it, or just didn't bother. But that's just conjecture.

Also, AdLib dubstep:

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Hey, that dubstep piece doesn't sound half bad! What really "saves" it must be the OPL3 squarewave waveform. BTW, it's for the YMF262, not the YM3812, aka OPL2 used in AdLib. Remove that feature, and you'd get a hollow, tinny sound. Also in that first video. Add a square wave feature and voila', you immediately get a much more catchy sound!

The OPL3 was way, way more than just "two OPL2s in one package", as it frequently ended up being used. But generalized midi driver support was poor (I don't think ANY of the mainstream driver libraries like Voyetra/Miles used it as anything more than a dual OPL2, TBQH).

Another problem with the OPL chips is that their waveforms have a weird shape and offset, like they only use the positive half-period. This just kills off dynamic range, and it also makes it hard to give "oomph" to the music.

In my experience, the most memorable sounding Adlib compositions used instruments and voices that highlighted the OPL's strengths, not its weaknesses. "Dizzy: Prince of the Yolkfolk" had a good soundtrack, though I couldn't a find a Youtube video that sounded like the real thing (fucked up emulation or something). And of course Doom, once again, so much that its Adlib FM soundtrack practically IS Doom's soundtrack.

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Maes said:

The OPL3 was way, way more than just "two OPL2s in one package", as it frequently ended up being used. But generalized midi driver support was poor (I don't think ANY of the mainstream driver libraries like Voyetra/Miles used it as anything more than a dual OPL2, TBQH).


I briefly possessed a ThinkPad from 1999 or so that had an interesting OPL3 driver. The most obvious difference between that and a standard one was the timpani sounded much more like drums than normal; they sounded rather like the ones from HTSFMS instead (why do Japanese developers always make the best MIDI drivers/softsynths with the worst UIs?).

IMO the world needs a sound card that sounds like it has a bunch of DX-7s stuffed in it.

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Out of all the old sound chips, Adlib/OPL suffered the most from musicians relying on standardised middleware with no interest in fiddling with the technical aspects themselves. This resulted in music that sounded way more homogenized than it could have been. Stephane Picq from Cryo was one of the few game composers back in the day who programmed OPL directly instead of just using General MIDI prefab instruments.





Dude even got some kind of speech synthesis out of it, as heard in KGB.

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Out of PC games, especially those ported from the Amiga (which tended to either keep the module music or have underwhelming Adlib soundtracks), Body Blows actually got it right. It had LOUD Adlib tunes with character, and they also managed to implement the speech synthesis in pure Adlib, if I'm not mistaken.



However, if you tried to "show off" to an Amiga user, it was all in vain, the very moment that "Come on!" sample was heard in the Amiga title screen. And the music, sounded just like real "Acid Rave" from 1993.



And like it or not, nobody would ever create something like Matt Furniss' Fresh House in Adlib or even OPL3. And yes, this is just a 221 KB MOD.

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Apogee got it right with their soundtracks most of the time. This one in particular isn't exactly "strong" but it is catchy as all hell



This one is more on the "strong" side

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SavageCorona said:

Apogee got it right with their soundtracks most of the time. This one in particular isn't exactly "strong" but it is catchy as all hell

This one is more on the "strong" side

Both of those OSTs are by Bobby Prince IIRC.

Edit: I'll also stick into this post that I find the parallels being drawn here with the Sega Genesis (Megadrive) sound hardware interesting. Not just that it used a similar method of producing sound but also that the complaint seems to be similar ("it wasn't bad hardware, it just wasn't used right most of the time" - in the Genesis' case usually attributed to lazy use of GEMS).

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