You are here

Yamaha Sound Edge

PC Soundcard
Published September 1995

Yamaha Sound Edge

With Roland and Korg already in the soundcard market, this Yamaha offering has been a long time coming. Was it worth the wait? Panicos Georghiades reports.

A Yamaha soundcard — at last! Since the beginning of PC soundcard history, almost every soundcard manufactured (including the market‑dominating SoundBlaster range) has been using a Yamaha sound chip to provide internal synth capabilities — the OPL2, a 2‑operator FM chip, later updated to the 4‑operator OPL3.

Although these chips are still used on basic models, because they're cheap, and on sophisticated models in order to provide compatibility with existing DOS‑based games, most soundcards nowadays use wavetable synthesis chips for the purpose of providing good quality MIDI sounds. The OPL2 and OPL3 FM chips dominated for about 10 years and created some kind of a standard, but no particular manufacturer has yet dominated the market with wavetable synthesis chips. The only standard that prevails amongst PC soundcards is that they're all General MIDI (and some are GS) compatible.

This brings us to the new Yamaha OPL4 chip, which uses a combination of wavetable and FM synthesis, and is therefore compatible with both the old and the new standards. This chip isn't brand new — it's already available on another card manufactured by Logitec — but it is used on the new Yamaha Sound Edge card, reviewed here.

Hardware Specs

Yamaha Sound Edge

The OPL4 provides 24‑note polyphony using the AWM wavetable synthesis (available on many Yamaha synthesizers) and an additional 20‑note polyphony using FM synthesis. There are 128 instrument sounds on board (16‑part multitimbral) and eight drum sets, all stored in a 2Mb ROM. This is double the capacity of the SoundBlaster AWE32 but half that of the Media Vision 3D card, which uses a chip by Korg. Like most other PC soundcards, the Sound Edge is designed for the multimedia market; however, there is a huge bias towards musical applications.

The card's multimedia facilities include a joystick and MIDI interface (cable and connectors are extra), digital audio recording and playback, an onboard sound mixer, and three types of CD‑ROM drive interface: Sony, Mitsumi, and Panasonic/Creative. The MIDI interface is provided by an Opti chip and is compatible with the Roland MPU‑401 interface. The sound mixer is rather basic but offers stereo line in, mic in and audio out mini‑jacks. There's also an internal audio connector to the CD‑ROM drive.

The Sound Edge card satisfies three multimedia compatibility standards: MPC Level 2, SoundBlaster Pro, and Windows Sound System. This means that software written for any of these standards should play on the card with no problems. A desk microphone is also provided.

A Sound Sensation?

Yamaha Sound Edge

The sounds from the OPL4 chip are no better or worse than those of most other middle of the road wavetable‑based soundcards. They compare favourably with the SoundBlaster AWE32 and with most of the other cards manufactured by computer companies, but they're not as substantial in terms of depth and reality as those based on chips by Korg or Kurzweil. In addition, the 24‑note polyphony may be a limitation with some types of scores — many cards today offer 32‑note polyphony. And although the Sound Edge offers digital effects, these are on a separate chip and are not MIDI controllable — in other words, the OPL4 is GM compatible but not GS. The OPL4's MIDI implementation includes modulation, volume, pan, expression and pitch bend, but there's no aftertouch.

Yamaha is renowned in the music world as one of the pioneering manufacturers of digital audio and digital sound processing effects equipment. They were the first to produce affordable digital mixers such as the DMP7, the predecessor of today's ProMix 01, and digital effects such as the SPX90, going back 10 years. They have developed these technologies to a fine art, and the Yamaha experience does make its presence felt in this card.

Before looking at the results of that experience, it's worth noting that the digital audio facility on the Sound Edge is paradoxically not performed by a Yamaha chip, but by a chip from a company just as good in this field: Analog Devices. The AD1848 chip is used by a number of other soundcards on the market (including the Microsoft Sound System card) and provides 8‑bit and 16‑bit resolutions, with a variable sampling rate between 5 and 48kHz, and a dynamic range of over 85dB.

The rest, however, is all Yamaha, and very good it is too. Indeed, no other card on the market offers anything like it. An additional chip — the YSS205‑F — provides the remaining features, namely real‑time digital effects processing. Any one or a combination of the external or internal signals can be processed, and there are 'normal' effects like echo, surround sound, pitch change, as well as strange (but exceedingly useful) ones like Voice Cancel — a facility that attenuates vocals on ordinary CDs or other recordings and creates Karaoke‑style backings. Incidentally, a professional piece of equipment to do this can cost about £200. In addition, all of these DSP effects are editable.

Finally, the card includes a very small amount of SRAM (Static Read‑Only Memory) which can be used to download Wave files as samples. These can then be played as musical instruments; in other words, they can be pitched on a scale. Although the implementation here is very simple compared to the SoundBlaster AWE32 (which offers up to 28Mb of RAM) or some of the Turtle Beach cards, at least the facility is provided. Shame the RAM can't be expanded, though...

Bundled Software

The package offers a veritable treasure chest of software bundled with it. This includes some from Yamaha and some from Voyetra, the US music software company best known for its top‑of‑the‑range Sequencer Plus program.

AudioStation is a program which controls all the different operations of the card — in the guise of a home hi‑fi rack unit — and includes a sound mixer with effects.

EffectGear provides real‑time effects for the line, mic and synth inputs. You can alter the effect feedback and depth levels using sliders, while a pull‑down menu brings up the list of available effects. The presets number 32 types including everything from the usual reverbs, delays and choruses, to unique offerings like Alien Voice and Devil. There are also some enhancer effects. Two other functions of this utility are Voice Cancel, which reduces the volume of vocals from an audio signal, and Pitch Shift, which can tune the incoming signal up/down by four semitones (400 cents).

All the effects provided by EffectGear can be edited in EffectEdit, and saved as new ones. The EffectEdit utility gives you control over the card's internal Digital Signal Processor (DSP), so you can edit and reconfigure it at will.

The DSP provides three input sources (covering all the sounds handled by the card), and has four types of sound processing configurations, each one presented as a block diagram. The blocks on the diagram represent sound routings as well as sound transformations. The transformations include echo, pitch shift, surround 1 and surround 2. By rearranging these blocks, using the mouse, and changing certain parameters, you can edit effects and create your own. Then you can save them for use with EffectGear. Four sample effect files are provided for you to study; they include reverb, delay, 3‑voice harmony, and karaoke.

As with the Turtle Beach Maui card, but unlike the SoundBlaster AWE32, downloaded sounds in the Sound Edge temporarily replace those of the internal synth.

EffectEdit is a very worthy facility, and I wish that more professional effects units worked this way, giving users as much control as this one. Apart from learning to understand how various sound effects work, the results are very usable indeed.

The next piece of bundled software is VoiceMorph. Unfortunately, despite what the name implies, this doesn't gradually alter one sound to another, but simply applies effects (by selecting them from icons in a window) to any of the incoming signals. The word 'morph' probably applies to the types of effects included, which significantly alter the incoming signal. There are 16 types including Female, Old Man, Kids, Vibratos, Saw, and Pan. You can alter some of the effect parameters in real time — such as the effect gain, and LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) depth and speed.

Next up is SampleEdit, which enables you to import Wave files, edit them, and use them as instrument sounds by downloading them to the SRAM on the card. Although the memory isn't very large (just 128K, with a limit of 64K for a single sound), the program does provide loop and envelope facilities, tune and fine‑tune controls, as well as LFO, vibrato, tremolo, and pan. Editing features include normalise, reverse, inverse, and the normal cut, paste, and zoom facilities. A MIDI keyboard icon, playable with the mouse, is provided for auditioning sounds during editing.

As with the Turtle Beach Maui card, but unlike the SoundBlaster AWE32, downloaded sounds in the Sound Edge temporarily replace those of the internal synth. Samples can be saved to disk individually or in downloadable configurations. Some 32 sample files and six configurations are provided in the package.

As well as all the above, Sound Edge includes a selection of software from respected US music software manufacturer, Voyetra. WinDAT is a simple digital audio recording and editing program. SayIt is an OLE sound recorder for placing annotations and other comments/messages into Windows applications. SoundScript is a multimedia authoring tool which lets you combine animation, bit‑mapped graphics, digital audio, MIDI files, and CD audio tracks into screen presentations. SoundEvents is a handy tool for assigning sounds to computer keyboard and mouse operations, as well as certain Windows events.

On top of all this you also obtain the rather interesting Audio Calendar, a daily appointments accessory with text, voice messages and sound alarms facilities, plus an audio screen‑saver enhancer that enables you to add audio (Standard MIDI Files) to ordinary Windows 3.1 screen‑savers.

Last but not least is MIDI Orchestrator Plus, a capable 16‑track sequencer program with notation facilities [full review in SOS February 1995]. According to Voyetra, the version bundled here has been specifically enhanced to include the following additional facilities:

  • Digital audio recording and playback (mono only).
  • Volume scaling of digital audio tracks (cannot be changed during playback).
  • Drag‑and‑drop digital audio editing.
  • Track looping.
  • Play range looping.
  • Real‑time diatonic transpose.
  • Real‑time velocity offset.
  • File merge.


The Yamaha Sound Edge took a long time to come, although it won't change the world of multimedia PC soundcards. It does, however, provide some unique features which others will surely copy — if they can deliver them, that is.

It has to be said that this card is not a professional tool (you'll not be using it to make CDs) but it wasn't designed as such. It's a standard multimedia card with a large bias towards music, and as such is an excellent card for beginners, since it introduces all the different aspects of sound and music in one compact product. It is very competitively priced, too — note that if you were to buy MIDI Orchestrator Plus (which has fewer features than the version supplied here) on its own, it would cost around £120. In this light, Sound Edge must be viewed as a real bargain.

System Requirements

The Sound Edge card needs a 16‑bit PC slot and fairly high minimum system requirements, compared with what other manufacturers quote for their cards. You need at least a 25MHz 486 machine with 8Mb RAM. Not that we're complaining about these requirements. In fact, we praise Yamaha for being honest. Personally, for use with sound and/or multimedia, I wouldn't recommend anything less than a 486 machine with 8Mb RAM running at 66MHz.


  • Excellent real‑time effects.
  • Low price.


  • Effects can't be switched or controlled by MIDI.
  • No Aftertouch.
  • RAM can't be expanded.


Reasonable sound quality with some unique selling points. Excellent value for money. This card deserves success.