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  • Roland MT-32.

  • The name alone has a seductive mysterious quality to it

  • that still reels me into this day.

  • As a kid, configuring all sorts of DOS games,

  • every time I saw that name come up in a setup menu, I would fantasize about it.

  • My Packard Bell PC only had a PC speaker for sound,

  • so, really, anything more would have been cool by me.

  • But all I knew was that Roland made expensive digital pianos and

  • my mom was always impressed by them.

  • She was, and is, an accomplished pianist.

  • So, we were always going to various music stores for various music things.

  • Inevitably, we would try out a Roland synthesizer in each trip,

  • and just as inevitably, we would leave the store impressed, but empty-handed.

  • My mind would race with excitement, thinking that if their piano sounded

  • that awesome, just imagine what a sound card from them would do for my games.

  • Fast forward about 24 years, and it's finally happened.

  • I have in my possession a Roland MT-32.

  • Specifically, this is the old model MT-32 without the

  • separate stereo headphone jack on the back,

  • so, it's not quite as valuable as the newer model, but I am absolutely

  • thrilled to have it, nonetheless.

  • This is all thanks to a donation by Anders Enger Jensen.

  • Who's like a patron saint of Roland computer hardware or something.

  • Just super generous with helping YouTubers with this stuff lately

  • and is a fountain of knowledge forever and ever, amen.

  • But yeah, the MT-32, huh? Just look at this thing.

  • Contrary to what I thought as a kid, it is not a sound card.

  • But a multi timbre sound module.

  • An external synthesizer box that plugs into all sorts of MIDI capable devices.

  • It was released in 1987 as something geared towards amateur musicians.

  • Retailing at $695 or approximately $1500 today.

  • So, yeah, not exactly a cheap device.

  • But it was a heck of a lot cheaper than a Roland D series synthesizer.

  • The D series being what the MT-32's capabilities were based on.

  • With it, you could use the MIDI-capable device of your choice,

  • and get that Roland linear arithmetic synthesis sound

  • without dropping two grand on a D-50 or something.

  • But there was more to the MT-32.

  • A certain something that led to its inclusion in hundreds of DOS PC games over the years.

  • And that something was Sierra On-Line,

  • who reached an agreement with Roland to distribute the MT-32 in the USA

  • with "King's Quest IV" being the first game of theirs to have its music

  • specifically composed for the device.

  • And it sounded incredible.

  • Compared to what most people had at the time, the PC speaker.

  • [square-wave PC speaker symphony]

  • [Roland MT-32's MIDI orchestra]

  • The MT-32 stood apart in a big way,

  • even compared to the AdLib music synthesizer card,

  • which used Yamahas YM3812 FM synthesis chip.

  • [AdLib FM synthesis melody]

  • However awesome the Roland sounded, though,

  • the AdLib was way, way cheaper, at just $195,

  • and was ready to go out of the box.

  • While the MT-32 cost much more on its own, and also needed

  • an additional interface to work with PC games.

  • Say hello to the MIF-IPC.

  • One of several Roland interface cards

  • that allowed DOS games to utilize the MT-32.

  • It didn't stop here, either, you also need the MPU-401.

  • Another external module that acted as the interface between the IPC

  • and the MT-32 itself.

  • This is a MIDI device after all, and most home computers in the US

  • did not have MIDI capability built-in.

  • Now, you might be wondering about the integrated

  • MIDI capability of Sound Blaster cards and

  • yes, that is an option.

  • Their Sound Blaster MIDI kit provided a breakout cable for the joystick port

  • to allow access to the card's MIDI I/O.

  • But, keep in mind, this does not provide MPU-401 support.

  • So, if your sound card doesn't have that built-in, your mileage may vary.

  • Another option is emulation through soft MPU.

  • It's not 100% compatible with all games, but it does provide intelligent mode

  • MPU-401 capability on sound cards without it.

  • At least installing the Roland stuff is pretty easy, if a bit cumbersome.

  • You just plop the IPC card into a free ISA slot,

  • connect the card to the 401 box with a DB25 cable,

  • connect the box to the MT-32 with a standard MIDI cable

  • and then use a standard audio cable between

  • the MT-32 and your sound card's line in port.

  • Or just hook it up to a pair of speakers or headphones.

  • The end result isn't pretty, but hey, it works.

  • And there's no need to set up any drivers or software on top of it.

  • Games with MT-32 support just need to be told to look

  • for the MT-32 or MPU-401

  • through their setup program and there you go.

  • This seems like a good time to talk about

  • the difference between General MIDI, plain old MIDI,

  • MT-32 and MPU-401 capabilities.

  • Because there's a chance you'll see one or all of these

  • in the setup menus of various DOS games.

  • Typically, though, if you see MT-32 listed, that is what you want.

  • Since that means it's tailored specifically to the device's capabilities.

  • You might also see things like LAPC-1, or CM-32L and such,

  • but these work fine too, since they're iterations of the same basic hardware.

  • Selecting MPU-401 works as well, but that just tells the game to look for the interface itself.

  • And since any MIDI device can be plugged into it,

  • the sound isn't always distinctly taking advantage of the MT-32.

  • Same goes for MIDI mode, which is just telling the game to send music

  • to the MIDI interface again, this time to a specific address, like 330h.

  • And it could be referencing an internal sound card, for instance.

  • And lastly, there's General MIDI.

  • And while this does technically, sort of, kind of work,

  • the MT-32 was made before the General MIDI standard existed.

  • And in case you're not aware, MIDI is a sound standard,

  • a method of playing music, not the sound of the music itself.

  • General MIDI, in particular, standardized the way

  • instruments are laid out in a MIDI track.

  • So, they be consistent across multiple devices.

  • But the MT-32 uses its own MIDI track layout.

  • That means that not all of the instruments the game tells the MT-32 to play

  • will be correct in General MIDI mode.

  • And while there are ways to improve on this drawback,

  • you still just won't have 100% General MIDI compatibility

  • with the MT-32.

  • That being said, the MT-32 is just a blast to play with.

  • I love the front panel display on this thing,

  • with its green LED that blinks in time with the music,

  • and the LCD that updates you on the instruments, the volume,

  • and even shows cute little messages when you play certain games.

  • The front panel also lets you control each individual instrument,

  • from a library of 128 synth and 30 drum samples,

  • across eight melodic channels and one rhythm channel.

  • You can also control individual volume levels and adjust the amount of reverb.

  • It's all just awesome to mess with.

  • Forcing a soundtrack to be nothing but timpani drums,

  • is truly a magnificent thing.

  • [drum-heavy DOOM soundtrack]

  • Frankly, when MT-32 implementation is on point,

  • it's all pretty magnificent in a childhood fantasy kind of way.

  • Just listen to some of these!

  • [melodious MT-32 tune]

  • [flute-filled arrangement]

  • [bouncy intro melody]

  • [boing!]

  • [serious bass-focused theme]

  • Even with its lack of General MIDI,

  • its cumbersome mess of wires,

  • and the occasional problems with compatibility and digital overflow,

  • the MT-32 has still become one of my favorite pieces of retro computing technology.

  • It's a boyhood dream come true, to be able to do things like play SimCity 2000 with it,

  • right alongside sound effects from a Sound Blaster 16 or Gravis Ultrasound.

  • At the same time, I still prefer FM synthesis for certain games, soundtracks in DOS,

  • not just because it's nostalgic, but because sometimes the soundtrack

  • was clearly made for it in mind.

  • Like Tyrian, for example.

  • [flat, fast-paced MT-32 music]

  • [energy-filled FM synthesis tune]

  • But it makes sense, seeing as these Roland devices were never really mainstream.

  • They were just too costly for most folks,

  • and those that did buy one, sometimes found that their games ignored it.

  • Once General MIDI happened in 1991,

  • support for the MT-32 was frequently an afterthought.

  • But it was also supported on computers like the Atari ST,

  • MSX, PC-9801 and X68000, not to mention support for MIDI keyboards,

  • so it's no one-trick pony.

  • And I can't help but freakin' love the MT-32 and what it does for the games,

  • they put it to good use.

  • While its status as the best option for DOS game music is arguably a bit overblown,

  • it remains popular to this day for a reason, and it has a price to match.

  • Even more so with the interface card and 401 box.

  • Thankfully, there are other options, like using a USB MIDI adapter on a

  • modern computer and booting up something like DOSBox or ScummVM.

  • Both of which can be configured to use with a real MT-32 just fine.

  • No extra interfaces needed.

  • There's also some nifty emulation options these days, such as Munt,

  • which has improved quite a bit in recent years.

  • It requires some copyrighted ROM files, but after that

  • it's a solid little emulation of the device.

  • Regardless of how you can, though, I would

  • totally recommend giving the MT-32 a shot sometime.

  • The experience is nostalgic, while simultaneously still feeling fresh to me.

  • And it's a captivating method of breathing melodic life

  • into certain MS-DOS gaming classics

  • that you just don't quite get anywhere else.

  • And if you enjoyed this video, why not check out some of my others?

  • And also, there's a video here I'm liking to by 8-Bit Keys.

  • David's a friend of mine and he did a great video here on the MT-32 as well, which is

  • from the same guy who donated mine's, check it out, it's a little more technical,

  • so it's pretty interesting.

  • And as always, thank you very much for watching!

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LGR - Roland MT-32。レトロPC MIDI音楽再訪 (LGR - Roland MT-32: Retro PC MIDI Music Revisited)

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    林宜悉 に公開 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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