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MultiSound Turtle Beach MultiSound
(support project)

Rhett M. Hollander
 
Project released: May, 2004
Project status: active

Contents:

1. History. Conclusions.
2. Drivers.

 
History

Turtle Beach Softworks was founded in 1985 as an audio software developing company. The name was changed later to Turtle Beach Systems, but that's not of key importance either. The company became well known right with the first software product called Vision which relied upon third party hardware, Ensoniq Mirage. That was an 8-bit sampler, a very inexpensive yet pretty much functional device of those days to retail at 1700 USD — not too much considering that its direct competitors were priced over 2000 USD. Vision offered a convenient way to manage this toy if connected to computer (yeah, an IBM PC or compatible one, not a Macintosh or anything else). Over the following years, Vision grew up to support other samplers of Ensoniq and other manufacturers, but we digress. Somewhere in 1988, the company started another interesting project, this time with both hardware and software developed on its own. The project was finalised in August of 1990, and that was a complete digital audio recording system called 56K because of being based upon the Motorola 56000 digital signalling processor (DSP). In general, it allowed real time recording, editing and playing back of 44.1kHz 16-bit stereo audio with excellent quality. The whole thing consisted of two hardware units. The first one, 56K-D, was an external module with AES/EBU and S/PDIF digital interfaces to connect to a DAT recorder or something like. The second unit, 56K-PC, was a 16-bit ISA card to serve as a middle-man between 56K-D and computer software such as proprietary SoundStage digital audio editing tool. What to say, it was more than a noticeable break-through.
 
The next development cycle took over a year. Turtle Beach introduced their revolutionary new sound hardware called MultiSound at COMDEX/Spring '91 which took place in Atlanta, GA on the 20th to 23rd of May 1991. The card hit the market in December of 1991 with a list price of 995 USD, though it was reduced to more affordable 600 USD by December of 1992 to compete better with Creative SoundBlaster 16 (350 USD for the ASP version) and alikes. A lot of money? Well, believe or not, a regular 2x SCSI CD-ROM drive cost no less than those 600 USD by the end of 1992. In a matter of fact, MultiSound was a real engineering masterpiece aimed at sound professionals. It combined hardware advantages of the 56K system with much lower manufacturing costs and additional features, though it supported analogue inputs and outputs only. Unlike all other sound cards for the ISA bus, it didn't utilise DMA channels because the Hurricane architecture it was built upon required only a single IRQ, an I/O port and a 32Kb window in upper memory. So, this 4-layer board 34 centimetres long was populated by a whole lot of fine silicon hardware:
  • a 40MHz 24-bit Motorola DSP56001 with three 8x256Kbit 70ns SRAM chips;
  • a 10MHz 16-bit Motorola 68000 processor with two 8x256Kbit 70ns SRAM chips and one 512Kbit EPROM chip;
  • an E-mu Proteus 1/XR (PDF manual, 733Kb) synthesiser with four 8Mbit Asahi Kasei ROM chips;
  • two Altera EP1810 (EP1810LC-20T — PDF data sheet, 167Kb) 48-macrocell programmable gate arrays;
  • two Crystal 4328 (CS4328 — PDF data sheet, 180Kb) 18-bit DACs with 64x oversampling;
  • one Crystal 5336 (CS5336 — PDF data sheet, 162Kb) 16-bit ADC with 64x oversampling;
  • three Philips NE5532 (PDF data sheet, 97Kb) dual 9V/µs 10MHz operational amplifiers;
  • two Dallas 1267 (DS1267 — PDF data sheet, 281Kb) dual 256-position resistor arrays;
  • one Philips NE558 (PDF data sheet, 70Kb) quad timer;
  • some ISA bus buffering logic.

The heart of this design was Motorola DSP56001, a fast 24-bit universal DSP responsible for audio data transfers and effect processing. It was connected directly to one CS4328 DAC and one CS5336 ADC through internal serial interfaces. These excellent audio converters together with low noise NE5532 op-amps and DS1267 volume regulators made quality of MultiSound's analogue paths superior to those of all consumer and many professional sound cards for a long time. The card could process 44.1kHz 16-bit stereo audio for both playing back and recording in full duplex mode, i.e. was capable of playing back while recording. Another strong feature was wavetable MIDI synthesis. E-mu Proteus 1/XR (eXtra RAM) supported true 32-voice polyphony while working with uncompressed 16-bit samples stored in 4Mb of on-board ROMs by Asahi Kasei (IP5001EMU, IP5011EMU, IP5021EMU, IP5031EMU). The synthesiser was accompanied with Motorola 68000 which helped to render MIDI sounds through the second CS4328 DAC. However, E-mu Proteus 1/XR was incompatible with General MIDI and utilised a patch set of its own. There was a real MIDI in/out/through interface, not that one to make digital joysticks happy indeed. Finally, two Altera EP1810 chips were programmed to produce non-standard logic. Oh yes, one more thing. Proteus 1/XR supported up to 8Mb of sound samples, and it took another set of 4 ROMs to add those extra 4Mb. In case of MultiSound, you can see four unpopulated layouts on the board for this purpose, though I've never met a factory confugured card with all 8 ROMs. Finally, MultiSound came bundled with Wave Light, a simple yet usable audio editor for Windows 3.x
 
Turtle Beach MultiSound Classic (small image)
Turtle Beach MultiSound Classic
(click to enlarge, 1.0Mb)

By the way, what was offered by others on those glory days of the ISA bus? There was Creative SoundBlaster Pro with crappy audio converters capable of either 44.1kHz 8-bit mono or 22.05kHz 8-bit stereo, half duplex only, and no effect processing at all. It was enhanced to some extent with a frequency modulated (FM) synthesiser built of two Yamaha OPL2 compatible chips. This one was inferior significantly to a good wave table synthsesiser with quality samples such as ICS GF1 (1st generation of Gravis UltraSounds) or AMD InterWave (2nd generation of these cards). Well, some people at Creative had got some wicked sense of humour to give this SoundBlaster a "Pro" suffix. Although SoundBlaster 16 was introduced in 1992, it wasn't much better. Once again, crappy audio converters and a poor FM synthesiser. Oh yes, it got a so called effect processor aimed at stereo enhancement, but it was rather a good-for-nothing: most people preferred not to enable it at all. Forthcoming SoundBlasters of AWE32 and AWE64 series were capable of wave table MIDI synthesis through use of on-board E-mu 8000 which wasn't as good as Proteus though. These boards were manufactured until the end of the ISA bus. There were competing sound card designs by Advanced Gravis, Ensoniq, Media Vision, Ad Lib and others, though even their higher end representatives such as Gravis UltraSound MAX and Ensoniq SoundScape Elite couldn't outperform MultiSound in audio processing quality.
 
In March of 1993, Creative acquired E-mu Systems for 53.6 million USD. Well, E-mu reported a net loss of 1.7 million USD given a revenue of 22 million USD for the financial year passed, you guess the rest. In May of 1993, Integrated Circuit Systems (ICS), a large OEM manufacturer of various silicon hardware, acquired Turtle Beach for 7.3 million USD in shares aiming to enter the consumer audio market which was growing rapidly those days. It was quite reasonable that further sound card designs should be based upon ICS chips where possible. Considering that Proteus 1/XR wasn't General MIDI compatible, it was decided to abandon it at all while adding an option of installing a separate daughter board for wave table General MIDI synthesis. So, the original design of MultiSound was modified accordingly to exclude Proteus and the accompanying hardware — Motorola 68000 with its EPROM chip and two SRAM chips, also four Asahi Kasei ROMs and one Crystal 4328 DAC. A standard interface for an external MIDI daughter board was implemented instead. The first card to feature this connector was Creative SoundBlaster 16, and it was supposed to be there for Creative WaveBlaster, a crappy wave table MIDI daughter board. Although other hardware manufacturers started to produce sound cards and daughter boards for this interface soon after, hence it became a kind of standard eventually. The new design of MultiSound was about 12 centimetres shorter over the previous one, but the other internals and the architecture remained the same. This sound card entered the market somewhere in 1994 under the name of MultiSound Tahiti while the original design had been renamed to MultiSound Classic. Finally, MultiSound became the family name.
 
Turtle Beach MultiSound Tahiti (small image)
Turtle Beach MultiSound Tahiti
(click to enlarge, 0.8Mb)

There was also MultiSound Monterey, a marketing creature. Well, it appeared because of Rio, a wavetable MIDI daughter board designed by Turtle Beach engineers. Rio was powered by ICS 2115 (ICS2115 — PDF data sheet, 342Kb), a General MIDI compatible synthesiser and programmable effect processor capable of either 24-voice polyphony at 44.1kHz or 32-voice polyphony at 32kHz. The board came with 4Mb of uncompressed 16-bit samples. In addition, it could accommodate up to 16Mb of memory for loadable samples in one 30-pin SIPP (Single In-line Pin Package). So, a Tahiti bundled with a Rio was sold as a Monterey at a special discount price. Therefore, everything related to Tahiti applies to Monterey as well.
 
Turtle Beach Rio with a 1Mb SIPP (small image)
Turtle Beach Rio with a 1Mb SIPP
(click to enlarge, 0.6Mb)

In 1996, the last two members of this family appeared, MultiSound Fiji and MultiSound Pinnacle. Although they were of the Hurricane architecture still, this 2nd generation of MultiSounds was different significantly from the 1st one. In a matter of fact, almost all silicon hardware of the previous designs were replaced:
  • a Motorola DSP56002 instead of a Motorola DSP56001;
  • a Xilinx 5210 (XC5210 — PDF data sheet, 425Kb) field programmable gate array with a boot-up serial ROM instead of two Altera EP1810 chips;
  • a Crystal 4327 (CS4327 — PDF data sheet, 616Kb) 20-bit DAC with 128x oversampling instead of an 18-bit Crystal 4328 with 64x oversampling;
  • a Crystal 5335 (CS5335 — PDF data sheet, 243Kb) 20-bit ADC with 128x oversampling instead of a 16-bit Crystal 5336 with 64x oversampling;
  • three Crystal 3310 (CS3310 — PDF data sheet, 125Kb) stereo volume controllers instead of two Dallas 1267 chips.

Although both generations of MultiSounds were armed with basically the same operational amplifiers. While the 1st generation used NE5532D (16-pin SOT162 package) by Philips, the 2nd generation employed more compact yet no better NJM5532M (8-pin 8-DMP package; NJM5532 — PDF data sheet, 107Kb) by Japan Radio Company (JRC). These are high quality dual opamps featuring 8V/µs (JRC) to 9V/µs (Philips) unity gain slew rate with a 10MHz small signal bandwidth, -110dB crosstalk. Therefore, +4dBu (3.472Vp-p) full power bandwidth for NE5532 is 825kHz and for NJM5532 — 733kHz. Frankly speaking, 5532 was nearly the best opamp of the early to middle 1990's. Only a few very high end sound cards of that era were up to better opamps. For instance, CardD Plus by Digital Audio Labs (DAL) was accommodated with five Analog Devices 712 (AD712 — PDF data sheet, 304Kb): 20V/µs unity gain slew rate with a 4MHz small signal bandwidth, -120dB crosstalk. That's 1.83MHz full power bandwidth at +4dBu. In general, 5532 opamps may be supplied with voltages up to +/-20V, but the allowable maximum for regular computer hardware is +/-12V. It's very unwise from an engineering point of view to feed opamps directly from power supply lines, no matter +/-12V or +/-5V, so Turtle Beach engineers have had decided to install voltage stabilisers on the cards. A pair of industry standard +5V (7805; MC7805 — PDF data sheet, 170Kb) and -5V (7905; MC7905 — PDF data sheet, 111Kb) fixed voltage linear regulators by Motorola was an efficient low cost solution. They sourced current directly from +/-12V power supply lines and delivered clean +/-5V output. Of course, it was possible to install regulators with higher output voltage rating such as +/-6V, +/-8V or even +/-9V, but it seems that +/-5V is well enough for most cases.
 
The 2nd generation of MultiSounds had support for the S/PDIF interface implemented through a little Digital I/O daughter board sold separately for about 90 USD. It was based upon Crystal 8425 (CS8425 — PDF data sheet, 192Kb), a single chip audio network transceiver. While Fiji was given a connector for an optional MIDI daughter board, Pinnacle accommodated Kurzweil MA-1 manufactured by Young Chang, a wave table synthesiser supporting up to 48Mb of memory in two 72-pin SIMMs. There was also an on-board IDE interface for Pinnacle. Although the 2nd generation of the MultiSound family was built using more advanced parts, it wasn't much superior to the 1st when it came to quality of analogue audio paths. That's difficult to make an excellent thing even better. Check out SoundBench: 17 PCI and ISA Sound Cards Tested if you're looking for some figures.
 
Turtle Beach MultiSound Fiji with Digital I/O (small image)
Turtle Beach MultiSound Fiji with Digital I/O
(click to enlarge, 1.1Mb)
 
Turtle Beach MultiSound Pinnacle with two 16Mb SIMMs (small image)
Turtle Beach MultiSound Pinnacle with two 16Mb SIMMs
(click to enlarge, 1.1Mb)

In 1996, Turtle Beach Systems, struggling financially, was sold by ICS to Voyetra Technologies, an audio software developing company, and became a division of the latter. From today's point of view, it hasn't developed anything really outstanding since, just some good but regular multimedia products. Although the brand of Turtle Beach is still visible, it's just a shadow of the past. That's sad to see crap spreading and excellent things falling into oblivion.
 
By the way, Turtle Beach designed and manufactured many sound cards which didn't belong to the MultiSound family. They weren't as good as the MultiSounds, but less expensive considerably. There were several ISA sound cards of the Monte Carlo and Tropez series, also Malibu one. About PCI sound cards, there were Daytona (based upon S3 SonicVibes; the 1st PCI sound card to reach the market), Montego (based upon Aureal Vortex), Montego II (based upon Aureal Vortex 2), Santa Cruz (based upon Crystal 4630), Riviera (based upon C-Media 8738), Montego DDL (Dolby Digital Live; based upon C-Media 8768) and Catalina (based upon VIA Envy24HT). Vortex based Montegos and Santa Cruz sound cards have been sold in large quantity through OEMs such as Dell and IBM.
 
Retail boxes of Turtle Beach MultiSound Fiji and Pinnacle

 
Here are some retail prices for the Turtle Beach MultiSound hardware (Comp-U-Plus and Computability stores) as far as from December of 1994:
 
MultiSound Classic about 430 USD
MultiSound Tahiti about 260 USD
MultiSound Monterey about 300 USD

 
Well, MultiSounds were not cheap cards, but keep in mind that Creative SoundBlaster AWE32 cost about 400 USD those days. It's hard to believe that such a piece of junk could be expensive that much, but it was.

 
Conclusions

Although MultiSounds have never reached sales comparable to those of Creative SoundBlasters, Ensoniq SoundScapes or Gravis UltraSounds, they brought professional quality of sound processing to regular PCs. They were of no use when it came to gaming in those old times of MS-DOS because they carried absolutely no compatibility with other sound cards. Besides, the Hurricane architecture itself was not for gaming needs definitely. It was designed to operate with long continuous audio streams, not short soundforms injected here and there.
 
Even though so much time have passed, MultiSounds are still better than most consumer level sound cards or audio codecs installed onto mainboards. It's a pretty expensive and time consuming thing to develop and manufacture a very good design. Of course, modern high end sound cards with 24-bit audio converters and handsome sets of digital interfaces are tasty things, it would be silly to deny that. Nevertheless, they cost hundreds of bucks and their driver support is Windows limited typically. About modern inexpensive sound cards... Well, fates of those lame board layouts populated with poor electrolytic capacitors are regretful. So, I prefer to stay with my MultiSounds even though the ISA bus is also a history now. Really good things should never die.
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Copyright (c) Rhett M. Hollander, 2004-10. All rights reserved.
 
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