ESS ES1868F review

Labway LWHA111930

ESS, what a piece of toss I always used to say, even though I never owned one. And this is how judging the book by its cover looks like. ESS cards were cheap, physically unappealing and of course every cheap computer came with one, so I naturally assumed, they are useless. I grew up a bit and now, instead of saying rubbish like that, I’d rather go and find out for myself. And that’s exactly what I’m gonna do today. I’ll have a look at this card equipped with ESS 1868F chip. The card looks pretty cheap, but is it any good?

I never owned ESS sound card before, but I heard lots of positive opinions about them lately, and still, I’m rather sceptical about this. When I compare physical appearance to some high-end cards, it really looks cheap. Of course, there are companies, that used ESS chips and still looked good, like Terratec for instance. But all I’ve got right now is this card. ESS Tech company has been around since 1984 and started making PC audio in mid nineties, that’s when most sound card companies had already been well established on the market.

As always, what I’m mostly interested in, is compatibility, sound clarity and MIDI quality. Sure, ease of installation or features like mixer are also important. I’m going to use generic ESS drivers, mainly because I couldn’t find specific drivers for this card.

Installation is pretty simple. The installation program just installs necessary software, driver and mixer, nothing else. Then it lets you set the base address, IRQ and DMA settings through the software and in the end, it asks you if you want to add the driver to the startup. Another piece of software it installs is a volume mixer.

I have to admit, this card surprised me. I didn’t expect it to work this well. Almost perfect clarity, almost perfect compatibility, FM synthesis sounds almost like genuine OPL3, and installation was as simple as wiping your arse. If you want cheap card with FM synthesis and don’t care about wavetable, with absolutely no hum, buzz, or any unwanted sounds, get some card with ES1868F chip. The only game it didn’t work with, was Space Quest 5

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