The RC2014 Gets a Smart Emulated Sound Module as Spencer Owen Aims for a New Board Every Month

Designed to work around dwindling stocks of General Instruments/Yamaha chips, this Microchip ATmega-powered emulator includes camouflage.

Gareth Halfacree
2 months agoRetro Tech / Music

Spencer Owen, designer of the popular RC2014 modular microcomputer, has set himself a challenge to build a new RC2014 module every month this year — and the latest is a soundcard that avoids the need to find salvaged AY sound chips: the Why Em-Ulator Sound module.

"I'm still on track for a new module every month in 2024, [and] I am pleased to announce that the RC2014 Why Em-Ulator Sound Module is now available at z80kits," Owen says of the new board. "This does away with the reliance on old YM2149/AY-3-8910 or the gamble of buying pulled chips from eBay with AVR-AY firmware running on a [Microchip] ATMega [microcontroller]."

The Sound Module, as the name implies, adds an audio output to the RC2014, a modular retro-themed microcomputer, providing a more convenient way to get synthesized music from the machine than boards which rely on sourcing ever-dwindling stock of original General Instruments and Yamaha synthesis chips. "These chips have been out of production for decades, and NOS [New Old Stock] chips are very rare," Owen explains. "Used chips that have been pulled from old systems are available on eBay or AliExpress, [but] be warned that these can be a bit of a gamble."

The solution: emulation, with an onboard Microchip ATmega48P eight-bit microcontroller pretending to be a General Instruments AY-3-8910 or Yamaha YM2149 FM synthesis chip — with no need for an original part. To the host system, the difference between the emulator and the original hardware should be imperceptible.

For those who would prefer to avoid seeing modern surface-mount chips in their otherwise wholly through-hole RC2014, there's even a non-functional DIP socket into which any 40-pin chip can be inserted to hide the microcontroller. "This is a good use for a non-functional YM2149 or AY-3-8910," Owen writes of the camouflage feature. "Or why not use a 6502 and prank your friends!"

The Why Em-Ulator is now available on the Z80Kits store, priced at £21 in its default YM2149 1.7734MHz mode or £23 to be reflashed for higher clock speeds or in AY-3-8910 mode [around $26.50 and $29 respectively).

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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