A Deep Dive Into The Sound Of An Apple II

A major part of the retrocomputing scene for many of us lies in the world of chiptunes, music created either using original retrocomputing hardware or in the style of those early synthesiser chips. There’s one machine we don’t hear much about among all this though, and that’s the Apple II. Though probably one of the most expandable of all the 8-bit home computers, it lacked a sound channel beyond a speaker hooked up to a memory location port so any complex sound work had to be done via an add-on card. It’s something [Nicole Branagan] has investigated in depth, as she demonstrates first the buzz from the speaker and then what must have been an object of extreme desire back in the day, a Mockingboard sound card.

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Her card is not an original but a modern recreation using the same hardware, which is to say a pair of 6522 VIA port chips, each driving an AY-3-8910 audio chip. This is already a familiar device to those who have heard an Amstrad CPC, a later Sinclair Spectrum or, an MSX, and in the Apple it delivers an impressive stereo sound thanks to both channels being present. Interestingly though, it delivers a far smoother output than an MSX playing the same music, probably because of a superior filtering circuit.

She wraps up with a discussion of coding on the Apple for the AY, and how to best accommodate the card on the later Apple IIgs. If the AY chip catches your interest, it’s also easy to drive from a microcontroller.

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