|Given the Apple II's
rather limited audio capabilities, it's perhaps not surprising that a number
of audio peripherals were marketed by enterprising developers during the
Apple II's hey-day.
Ranging from inexpensive speech cards to full-blown digital synthesizers, they have, for the most part, been all but lost in the mists of time. My hope is to gather here what information and resources are still available for these unique items.
Applied Engineering's Phasor board has the ability to generate 12 channels of sound plus one noise channel. The Phasor also features speech synthesis and has the option to route the Apple II's regular speaker output through its built-in amplifier.
Alf Music Synthesizer
The Alf Music Synthesizer is quite limited as far as synthesizers go, having a mere three channels of audio limited to square or pulse waves.
Arguably the zenith of Apple II audio hardware, the alphaSyntauri system is comprised of a 49 or 61 key velocity-sensing keyboard, a set of Mountain Computer Music System synthesizer cards and a variety of waveform editing and sequencing software. In addition to the keyboard, a complete alphaSyntauri system also includes two foot pedals to control sustain and portamento, and a set of game paddles to control other effects.
By contemporary standards, the alphaSyntauri may seem somewhat limited, but its historical significance as one of the earliest home computer-controlled synthesizers is undeniable.
A good deal of information on the alphaSyntauri system can be found at:
The DX-1 is a rudimentary digital sampler which allows recording and playback of 8-bit mono samples via the Apple II's built-in keyboard or with a number of external keyboards such as the SoundChaser. The DX-1's sample banks can contain up to six discrete sounds, depending on sample length and bit-rate. Aside from reverse playback, the DX-1 offers no sample manipulation. The included sequencing software is best avoided due to it's cumbersome interface and limited capabilities, but for live action the DX-1 is surprisingly effective.
The DoubleTalk is one of the more sophisticated Apple II speech synthesizers. It boasted onboard RAM, better quality voices (both male and female) and compatibility with existing Echo II software.
DoubleTalk cards are still available from RC Systems.
Created in the wake of the Emulator sampler-synths, E-mu unleashed the Drumulator sample-based drum-machines. The Drumulator was E-mu's attempt at creating a rhythm machine like the Linn LM-1 that was better and cheaper. What they made wound up becoming a huge hit for E-mu. The Drumulator had eight drum sounds on a ROM microchip which were gritty, lo-fi 12-bit samples of basic drum sounds...but they were some classic sounds!
The Drumulator was primarily a drum machine, however, and offered sequencing that could be accomplished in real-time for a live feel. Or it could be meticulously programmed via step entry and edit modes. Up to 36 sequenced patterns can be stored, chained and mixed to create up to 8 songs. Your sequences and sample data can be stored to floppy diskettes. The Drumulator can be connected to an old computer (like an Apple II) for better visual sequencing and editing too.
(description courtesy of eBay)
The Echo II was a fairly unremarkable series of speech synthesizers aimed primarily at the educational market. It consisted of an internal expansion card and an external speaker enclosure with a volume pot and headphone jack. Speech quality is about what you might expect, though its lack of programming information makes it a less desirable choice than the comparable S.A.M. card.
The Mockingboard was probably the most popular audio card for the 8-bit Apple II. The 1978 original and "A" cards added 6 voice sound synthesis to any slotted Apple II. The Mockingboard "B" was a daughterboard that attached to the "A" card and provided voice synthesis. The later Mockingboard "C" was essentially a combination of the "A" and "B" boards. A "D" version was also released which was basically a "C" adapted to fit the serial port of the portable Apple //c.
The Mockingboard v1 is essentially a modern-day clone of the original Mockingboard designed and sold by GSE-Reactive. Improvements include removal of on-board volume control in favour of external amp/speaker control and a direct connection to the motherboard speaker port which allows "normal" Apple sound to play through the Mockingboard v1.
Like the alphaSyntauri, the Passport Soundchaser was a keyboard and software system designed for use with the Mountain Computer Music System boards. Later versions of the Soundchaser included limited MIDI support.
Essentially a drum machine attached to an Apple II expansion card, the PVI Drum-Key provides 26 non-editable percussion sounds. It allows for 100 programmable rhythm patterns which can, in turn, be combined into up to 26 "songs".
S.A.M. (Software Automated Mouth)
Software Automated Mouth is a speech synthesizer for the Apple II. At a glance it seems quite similar to the more common Echo II card, but the major difference is that S.A.M. was designed to be more easily programmable. S.A.M. is capable of reciting not only English text, but can also make use of a large vocabulary of "phonemes" which can be stressed in different ways. S.A.M. also provides controls for pitch, speed and tone which makes it a very versatile piece of hardware.
Shan's Digicorder is simply a device that allows sound recording via the Apple II's game port. Although the sound quality is about as lo-fi as it gets, the digicorder is quite well suited to capturing simple sounds and music. The Digicorder also has the distinction of being probably the cheapest Apple II audio peripheral ever made.
Mountain Hardware's SuperTalker seems to be a fairly rare speech synthesizer... any further info would be appreciated.