Back in the late 80s-early 90s, when sound cards were just coming into their own thing, Roland released external MIDI modules to be used not only by musicians, but high-end gamers who could afford them. The first of these, released in 1987, was the MT-32, which was so awesome it was officially supported by Sierra, and many of their games had native support for the device. After seeing Joe Mastroianni, the host of the amazing Upper Memory Block Podcast, use his MT-32 for Day of the Tentacle, I simply had to have one of my own. After scouring ebay, I was lucky enough to find a seller that had a great unit in stock, but would also sell be a USB MIDI interface that would allow me to work with the thing. You can see the video I used to get all the cables I needed and such here if you’d like.
After getting the unit and getting some help from Joe, I was finally able to get it running, as you can see here:
Neat, huh? I wasn’t done, though, because SOMEONE was silly enough to tell me that, while the MT-32 is pretty great, for games like TIE Fighter, General MIDI sounded better. I then remembered that when I first played TIE Fighter so many years ago, I had a Sound Blaster AWE32, which had its own MIDI support, and sounded pretty great compared to the basic Sound Blaster 16 support present in DOSBox (I had to look up videos to remember just how good). This gnawed at me until I realized, I wasn’t gonna be satisfied until I had a General MIDI module, so after doing a ton of research, I settled upon the SC-55mkII. After, again, scouring ebay, I was able to find not only a mint-condition unit, but one that had its battery replaced. Apparently old batteries can leak and cause all sorts of problems.
Well, it just arrived the other day, and the results were just spectacular.
Hilariously, since they’re chained together, the MT-32 and SC-55mkII run at the same time, and you can listen to them concurrently. In TIE Fighter, this leads to a pretty awesome orchestral effect, I think. You can hear some more of this here, which I recorded today:
So yeah. I’m kinda giddy about all of this, and will definitely be using this hardware in future reviews for games that support them. I didn’t get the SC-55mkII in time to use with Alien Legacy, sadly, but lemme tell ya, that game sounds faaaannnntastic. I hope y’all don’t mind me gushing about my new toys, but I wanted to share the joy. Thanks for reading/watching!
Also, if there’s a game you think I should try or, if it’s relevant, review based on its support for this hardware, please let me know. :)
5 thoughts on “The Hard Stuff: The Roland MT-32 and SC-55mkII MIDI Modules”
Gratz on scooping up an original unit. It must be noted though that many games with MT-32 support have their scores composed in General Midi. I’ve found that using VirtualMidiSynth with a proper sound font (e.g. Timbres of Heavon or Fluid R3) can then get you even better results.
Also some games exploit bugs in the firmware of older models which might break on newer models: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_MT-32-compatible_computer_games
Yeah, I’ve tried VMS and while I do indeed like it, there’s something about having the original units that’s just thrilling. Thanks for the MT-32 tip as well!
Until about 1992 nearly all midi game music was composed for the MT-32. After that GM/GS became the definite standard and music was composed for the SC-55/SC-88 in mind. Soundfonts are a nice option for GM but far away from being authentic. The Munt MT-32 emulator is the best alternative to a real MT-32 or CM-32L and you have the benefits of both modules minus their bugs and issues. Closest thing to a real GM/GS Sound Canvas would be the not so cheap Roland Sound Canvas VA, a VSTi implementation of the SC-8820 with all it’s sound map modes (SC-55/88/88pro/8820) which can be loaded into a VSTi host application (SAVIHost or Falcosoft’s MIdiPlayer) and fed via a virtual midi cable (loopmidi).
Get a game called Thexder. Use both the sound blaster and the Roland.
Oh man, I LOVE Thexder, but I never thought to try it with the Roland. Gotta fix THAT. :) Thanks!