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Old 24 March 2021, 21:26   #1
Foebane
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Why did the Atari ST designers use such a CRAPPY sound chip?

I gather the Atari engineers (formerly of the C64, from what I hear) were under the cosh to put together a kick-ass platform for Atari and Jack Tramiel after they lost the Amiga.

So what happened with the choice of sound chip? Did the engineers not have time to design a 16-bit version of the SID, if that was their plan?

Or did they have the MIDI interface in mind from the start? They ran out of time, said "sod the sound chip, let's just shove in an off-the-shelf cheap piece of tat" and end up with what we got, a 16-bit computer that had an 8-bit sound chip but a MIDI interface to make up for it?

That decision may have made Atari huge inroads into the music market, music which they may have thought was more "legitimate" than a bleepy sound chip, but it cost them dearly everywhere else, including home music production using the resources of the machine.

After all, I can't personally stand the sound of the Yamaha chip, and I'm not the only one by far... or am I?
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Old 24 March 2021, 21:35   #2
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Why so much negativity, mate? The AY kicks ass.
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Old 24 March 2021, 21:37   #3
Foebane
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Why so much negativity, mate? The AY kicks ass.
The AY is worse than SID, worse than even POKEY, and I'd say even the Speccy bleeper could give it a run for its money.

The AY makes my frickin' ears BLEED.
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Old 24 March 2021, 21:38   #4
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Now you're just trolling, man.
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Old 24 March 2021, 21:42   #5
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From what I've read in interviews over the years, they had very little time to get this machine together and it shows.
The SID was property of Commodore and its designer did not leave for Atari (he formed his own company) so I guess their only choice, given the lack of time, was to use an off-the-shelf part.

You're not the only one, I'm allergic to the Yamaha after many years of SID
The graphics chip is also quite crappy. Yeah it has higher resolution modes compared to the C64, but they dropped sprites and scrolling, and still no more than 16 colors at once.

Its not surprising to me that during my childhood in the 80's, I only knew one kid who had an ST, and he spent most of his time playing other kid's Amiga or C64.
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Old 24 March 2021, 22:02   #6
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The ST sound chip was awesome, the Mad Max (Hippel) stuff is superb along with some other great artists on there. Count Zero was a pretty good coder and musician on the ST, he is also the Son of Shirley Valentine. (Pauline Collins).

In answer to the question though I guess it was a money saving exercise.
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Old 24 March 2021, 22:50   #7
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Now you're just trolling, man.
Yep. The fact that X might've been inferior to Y doesn't mean that X=crap. And, paradoxically, ST ended up having big influence on the tracker scene, and was quite popular amongst "serious" musicians too.

It's the same about gfx. There is a fuckton of big, quality games for the ST. If somebody gave me one in 1985 I'd be definitely more happier than having C64, it was just on another level. At the beginning the gap between Amiga re: quality wasn't that big.
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Old 24 March 2021, 23:02   #8
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I read somewhere that Atari wanted to use the Yamaha synth chip (the one in the megadrive) but Yamaha thought it might compete with the system that they were going to build, so therefore they were stuck with the AY. (I can't find the sources tho)

I quite like the hybris coversion on the AY.
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Old 24 March 2021, 23:03   #9
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OK, so my dislike of the AY is down to personal experience, but the point of my thread was: did the Atari engineers just give up on a built-in custom sound chip design in favour of the MIDI ports which technically would offer greater scope than even Paula and other on-board sound chips because of running out of time, or what?

I suppose the question has been answered, a money-saving exercise, which doesn't really surprise me at all.
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Old 25 March 2021, 04:12   #10
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OK, so my dislike of the AY is down to personal experience, but the point of my thread was: did the Atari engineers just give up on a built-in custom sound chip design in favour of the MIDI ports which technically would offer greater scope than even Paula and other on-board sound chips because of running out of time, or what?

I suppose the question has been answered, a money-saving exercise, which doesn't really surprise me at all.

I imagine one idea they might have had is that they could include an internal MIDI device as standard in higher-end or later STs and then sell a simple external MIDI device for older/cheaper machines, but never got around to doing this.
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Old 25 March 2021, 04:20   #11
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I like both C64 and Atari ST sound
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Old 25 March 2021, 09:34   #12
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Definitely a cost and time saving exercise. There is a book out on the ST which I have yet to read. It should have the detail on these decisions. It is called Faster Than Light: The Atari ST and the 16-Bit Revolution by Jamie Lendino
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Old 25 March 2021, 10:21   #13
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The way the story is usually told it was mostly a time saving exercise because they wanted to beat the Amiga to market. The MIDI ports were a last minute addition to compensate for the poor inbuilt sound.
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Old 25 March 2021, 10:30   #14
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There were computers in the 1970s that used a pair of these chips, so it was certainly a backwards step to only include one.
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Old 25 March 2021, 10:35   #15
Foebane
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I like both C64 and Atari ST sound
But the SID is superior in every possible way to the AY, they don't sound the same at all!

Isn't the AY a simple tone generator with one wave pattern? And an extra white noise channel? The SID has all manner of components, including multiple wave patterns and filters and so on to produce much more complex waveforms.

I've never heard anything technically impressive come out of AY, except for samples (even if they are very hissy) compared to SID.
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Old 25 March 2021, 10:49   #16
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I like also Atari 8 Bit sound ..... SAP files rulez
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Old 25 March 2021, 10:50   #17
Minuous
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Isn't the AY a simple tone generator with one wave pattern? And an extra white noise channel?
No. Here is the datasheet: http://amigan.yatho.com/AY-3-8910.pdf
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Old 25 March 2021, 10:52   #18
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You could/should listen to the soundtracks of Orion Prime, Alcon 2020 and Ninja Carnage on the CPC or Castlevania on the Spectrum for example.
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Old 25 March 2021, 10:56   #19
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Yeah, i like also CPC and Spectrum sound (they have same sound chip, isn't it ?)
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Old 25 March 2021, 10:56   #20
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I read somewhere that Atari wanted to use the Yamaha synth chip (the one in the megadrive) but Yamaha thought it might compete with the system that they were going to build, so therefore they were stuck with the AY. (I can't find the sources tho)
This wouldn't surprise me, Yamaha has withheld components from companies before. One example of note is the Adlib Gold story, which relied on a Yamaha DSP that they just couldn't deliver in time because of problems with getting it to work. Curiously, these problems stopped at exactly the same time Creative was done with their own design based on the same chip...

It's quite the tale and told far better and in far more depth than I ever could by LGR: [ Show youtube player ]

On the topic of the AY, I think it's often a bit underrated. When coupled with a powerful processor like the 68000 it can actually do some pretty nifty stuff. Now, I'd agree that other chips (notably the SID chip and Paula) were better but that doesn't change there's been some pretty nice stuff done with the AY nonetheless
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