The Mockingboard Sings

2008 November 26
by JJ Sonick

A group of South Korean Apple II enthusiasts have been making some homebrew clones of the Mockingboard sound card and selling them on eBay recently.  I was lucky enough to win one of these auctions, and the card arrived last week and was installed this weekend.

Here it is installed in slot 4 (that’s the Disk Controller card in slot 6).

Here’s another shot that shows the stereo jack line running out the back of the IIe:

The auction made it clear that the speech synthesis aspect of this clone was iffy, but that’s fine with me, because it’s the music/sound effect aspect of it that I’m interested in.

I ran the stereo jack to the two desktop speaker/floor bass speaker unit I’d previously used with a PC that died a year and half ago (the speakers had just been gathering dust), and it sounds great!  I went through the Mockingboard demo disk and also loaded up Ultima IV and liked what I heard.

I’ve gone through a Word doc version of the Mockingboard manual, but I haven’t had time yet to make any original music with it.  But here’s a sample of some of the Ultima IV music playing though it, which is charming enough to almost make me want to try to finish that game again.  Both Virtual II and AppleWin do pretty good Mockingboard emulation, but, of course, there’s something special about hearing the real thing (or a clone of the real thing ;) ):  Unfortunately, I only have one mike, which means this is a mono recording and you’re missing the cool way the two lead voices are each panned to a different speaker, but it still gives you a taste of Mockingboard-ness:

>> Listen to the Ultima IV title screen music played through the Mockingboard clone

(Edit: I’ll try a direct-in stereo recording later this week, and replace the mono one above with it if I’m successful)

6 Comments leave one →
2008 November 26

Cool that people are still making Apple II hardware.

Surely you can do better than the mike-to-speaker technique of recording… can’t you take the output from the Mockingboard straight into your recording device? That way we can get the stereo FX!!

I didn’t realize there were mainstream games that supported extra sound hardware on the Apple IIs. Besides Ultima IV, were (are!) there any others?

2008 November 26

Yeah, I’ll experiment with going straight into a audio device later this week, and post an improved stereo recording if I’m successful with it. :)

The Mockingboard seemed to achieve ‘King of the 8-bit Apple soundcards’ in its day, so there were a fair number of games that supported it. Here’s a list from A2Wiki (includes music apps as well):
http://apple2.info/wiki/index.php?title=Mockingboard#Mockingboard_enhanced_titles

Of those, I will be trying the enhanced audio on Skyfox, Adventure Construction Set, Ultima V, and Music Construction Set for sure.

2008 November 26

JJ- thanks for the linky to the Mockingboard list. Good info there.

The list confirms my hunch though, that “King of the 8-bit Apple soundcards” is like “King of Dubuque, Iowa” (No offense to Dubuquers… I just needed a sufficiently small city that everybody has heard of, so in fact, it is flattering…) On the list are the Ultima titles, Skyfox, One on One, Silent Service, and a bunch of stuff I’ve never heard of before. Not an impressive list. (IMHO, of course…)

In other words, yeah, Mockingboard was big, but, overall, not that big. In all of my Apple II travels back in the day, I never knew anybody who had a Mockingboard. Anybody who was even remotely interested in computer audio in the 1980s was in Atari- or Commodore-land.

Anyways… I don’t mean to be a downer here… it’s cool that you’ve got the Mockingclone working… it’s just that, for me, Apple II nostalgia has not much to do with sound…

(…unless you want to talk about Electric Duet…)

2008 November 26

Oh yeah, all I meant is that there are independent software titles that support the Mockingboard (and some big titles of the day), whereas other Apple II sound cards seem to have the software that comes with them and nothing else (see the 8-bit sound and fury site: http://8bitsoundandfury.ld8.org/hardware.html ). I’m only taking about Apple II land here.

I was aware of the Mockingboard back then, and wished I had one when I was playing Ultima IV in my youth (there the setting was on the option screen, taunting me). Electronic Arts’ Music Construction Set was a big deal at the time, too. I think it’ll be fun when I get around to messing with that program. This blog is partially about re-examining fun nostalgic things of the past, but I also want to explore things with the Apple II I never got a chance to back then – like making new music with a Mockingboard.

For me, the fact the 8-bit Apple II’s are not known for their sound makes it that much more intriguing to hear and generate interesting sound and music with them.

2009 March 3

[...] some more soundsets for Michael J Mahon’s Real Time Synthesizer b) make a ‘play the Mockingboard with your Apple II keyboard’ Applesoft program that’s hopefully superior to the [...]

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2009 May 10

[...] to sound.  Inspired by the 8 bit Sound and Fury site (down, hopefully temporarily), I acquired a Mockingboard and started looking around for a more complex set-up that would include a music keyboard I could [...]

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