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Ensoniq Soundscape

16-Bit PC Soundcard By Paul Nagle
Published January 1995

Following in the footsteps of Roland, Emu and Korg, Ensoniq have now taken the plunge into plug‑in hardware with their latest release, the 16‑bit Soundscape card for the PC. Paul Nagle puts it through its paces.

The Ensoniq Soundscape is the latest 16‑bit PC soundcard to hit the streets. With CD‑ROM and MIDI interfaces, a 32‑note polyphonic General MIDI synth, and some free software, it's obviously designed to tempt the PC owner into making music, perhaps for the first time. As Ensoniq have a long‑established pedigree making 'real' synths, I was curious to see the results of their initial foray into 'plug‑ins'.

The box offered encouragement, with its proud '100% Ensoniq' and 'Wavetable Synthesis' declarations, and I was impressed by the overall construction and quality. Externally, three mini jacks carry stereo output, stereo input or a mono line/microphone input. A standard joystick/MIDI port completes the connections. A MIDI cable is not supplied, but I was able to use the lead from my Creative Labs AWE32 card for testing purposes, and had no problems driving the card via its own MIDI In.

Before we go any further, I should point out that Soundscape is not related to the high‑end PC hard disk recording system of the same name. While I'm in the mood for removing ambiguities, the phrase 'Wavetable Synthesis' also needs to be taken with a pinch of salt — the synth component is simply preset General MIDI. The manual gleefully informs us that the synthesizer architecture has separate, configurable 4‑Pole digital filters and 'hardware' envelopes, yet no software is provided to access these, and neither are there any user‑programmable memories.

Getting Started

The Soundscape's manual provides clear installation instructions. Jumpers are used to reset the card's base address, wave port address and the CD‑ROM interface (if used); IRQs are selected by software after installation, defaulting to two for the MPU interface and seven for Wave play/SoundBlaster emulation. If you wish to use the Soundscape as your CD‑ROM interface, the card can provide support for three popular double/single‑speed formats, namely Sony, Mitsumi and Matsushita/Panasonic/Creative, with internal audio connectors for each.

The software is supplied on three 3.5‑inch 1.4Mb disks, with a Custom Install strongly recommended if you wish to retain control of file placement. The setup program copies all sorts of files into your Windows/System directory, although strangely, the device's Windows drivers were not installed automatically — I had to perform this separately. A new option, Sound Mapper Config, appeared on my Windows Drivers panel, providing support for multiple soundcards if necessary.

The programs include Voyetra's Audiostation, an integrated suite which includes a MIDI file player, the Soundscape mixer, an audio CD player, and a basic Wave editing/recording tool in the form of WinDat. You are advised to run several copies of WinDat if you need to cut and paste between several different sound files which, I suppose, is one way around the limitation of only being able to work on a single sample at once!

The MIDI file player and mixer/orchestrator looked great, and the supplied MIDI songs were well chosen to show off the Soundscape's prowess. The Voyetra General MIDI player insists that you install Microsoft's MIDI mapper before it will communicate with the card, although I can think of no sensible reason for this. In fact, I tried several other MIDI programs which accessed the card via its internal Windows drivers with no problems.

SuperJam! Jr. provides auto‑accompaniment music‑making, with a virtual band accessible via a friendly interface. I had some fun moving the 'musicians' around the X‑Y axis, and altering their volume and pan values as the music played. although being a real‑time kind of guy, I couldn't help wishing I could record these movements as part of a performance. Although Windows help is provided, SuperJam! Jr. is the only program not to be supplied with a hard copy manual. If you want to make music of your own with Soundscape, you'll need to purchase the one item of software omitted — a sequencer.


Considering that the General MIDI synth is crammed into 2Mb of ROM, it manages to sound pretty convincing most of the time, especially when the sounds are used in a mix, rather than individually. The 32‑note polyphony is generous (the GM specification only requires 24), and the output is clean and distortion‑free. My favourites were: 'Polysynth', 'Piccolo', 'Clarinet', 'Calliope', 'Lead', 'Crystal' and most of the brasses. 'Synth Bass 1' is probably the best General MIDI bass I've heard. Most of the drums are OK too, but the strings, organs, and percussive instruments seemed less impressive. Some of the 'Sound FX' are interesting, especially 'Helicopter', and 'Seashore'. Since the Ensoniq does not have any built‑in effects, all the sounds benefit from a splash of reverb.

The card is capable of recording and playing back 16‑bit digital audio files at up to 44.1Khz alongside the synthesizer section. Interestingly, up to three wave files can be played simultaneously if the synth is disabled, which may be how most musicians will use it. The card is capable of emulating the SoundBlaster (which is great if you're into games), or it can co‑exist with an existing soundcard, as long as you ensure there are no DMA conflicts (Direct Memory Access — soundcards use this to access system memory without interrupting the processor).


The Soundscape is a clean‑sounding General MIDI PC card, capable of handling digital audio and driving external MIDI instruments alongside its internal synth. For a beginner, all that's missing is a sequencer and a MIDI connector lead. For the more established setup, needing a simple GM module, an extra MIDI interface and a CD‑ROM controller, the Ensoniq is also worthy of consideration. I hope that future software revisions will include an improved Wave editor and access to the synth parameters, as this would expand Soundscape's usefulness still further.

Soundscape Hardware Requirements

  • IBM‑compatible PC.
  • 386 Processor or higher.
  • 1x16‑bit expansion slot.
  • 4Mb of RAM.
  • 4Mb hard disk space.
  • DOS 3.3 or higher.
  • Windows 3.1 or higher.


  • Generous (32‑note) polyphony.
  • MIDI and CD‑ROM interfaces.
  • Carries the Ensoniq name.
  • SoundBlaster compatibility.


  • No MIDI cable supplied.
  • No access to the synth parameters at present.
  • A little pricey considering the relative cost of the competition.


A good introduction to making music on the PC, provided you have some sequencing software.