HardSID 4U – that’s for me!

For many years I thought that it would be cool to have a HardSID or some other SID sound card, such as Catweasel. But it wasn’t until last June that I actually decided to get one. I spotted a news item on one C64 news portal that was reminding that pre-ordering for the brand new HardSID model lasted for the end of that month. This new model HardSID 4U is external USB-device instead of PCI or ISA card as the previous versions. Additionally, there was 50€ discount to the 299€ price when pre-ordering. I was sold.

If you don’t know, the HardSID is a sound card that basically gives a genuine SID sound for a modern PC. It can also be used as low-cost multichannel analog synthesizer, but I’ll leave that only as a side note here. The genuine sound is achieved by installing actual SID chips on the sound card. And the SID chip is the sound chip of Commodore 64 – a home computer of the 80′s. This whole concept may seem a little weird if you are not familiar with the music made with Commodore 64, especially the modern music. There is still a very active scene producing music for the machine thanks to the C64′s unique sound. And trust me, the emulated sound just doesn’t compare to the real thing if you are an enthusiastic.

HardSID on my desk
HardSID 4U sitting on my desk and hooked up to my laptop and stereo system

It took some time before I got my unit, but it was worth the wait. The first thing surprised me was the size of the thing. For some reason I expected it to be a little bigger, but it is actually quite compact. And when I took a look inside, I was impressed of the very professional built quality – the board is very tidy looking. The only curious thing was that for some reason most of the chips used (the onboard locig etc.) have been filed down on the surface so that you cannot see any texts on them.

Next it was time to install SID chips on the card. By default HardSID comes without SID chips but there is possibility to order it with 8580 for extra 15€. I thought “I have plenty of Commodores”, and didn’t order a chip. When I was looking for C64s that could donate, or lend, their SID chips for HardSID, I realized that all my C64s with new model board were special in a way or another – I did not want to take those apart. So I didn’t have any spare 8580 SID chips. Instead I found several spare 6581R3 chips. The HardSID 4U has four slots for the SID chips and I definitely wanted to install different revisions of the chips instead of just 6581R3s. I went looking for C64s from on-line auction and happened to find an auction where were two C64C models. From the auction picture I could see that one of the machines was the early model C64C (with wide board and 6581 SID) and the other latter model C (short board and 8580). It was likely that I could get 6581R4 and 8580 from these machines, and as I did not have an extra 6581R4 either, I decided to buy these machines. Unfortunately, I was not the only one one wanting these machines and the price got quite high. I was inpatient so I paid the high price. Saving the 15€ while ordering HardSID cost me a lot of money…

Luckily my assumption was right and I got 6581R4 and 8580 chips. And after looking more carefully my “inventory” I found also some older 6581 chips (that are possibly 6581R2s). Now I had plenty of different types of SID chips to choose from and to compare. I’ll probably write later on with more detail about the different chip revisions.

HardSID 4U without cover and four SID chips installed. I have installed the SID chips to sockets (the green things) to minimize the risk of breaking the chip legs when swapping the chips. The cables are from L to R: power, USB, 3,5 mm audio jack.

Although HardSID 4U can be used as a analog synthesizer for music producing purposes, for me it serves as playback device for C64 music. And it serves me well! I use ACID 64 Player to play music from the High Voltage SID Collection with the HardSID 4U. Browsing and playing the huge music collection from a PC but with authentic SID sound is just great and very convenient. The compatibility is excellent and the tunes can be automatically played with the chip version that it has been composed for. And there is even an added bonus compared to actual Commodore 64; The high pitched whining of real C64 is gone as the circuitry in HardSID does not interfere with the sound as it does in C64. Whether this is better or less authentic is up to ones to decide. For me it’s definitely better!

The only other application that I have used HardSID with is the C64 emulator CCS64. It supports HardSID 4U so it can output the sound of the emulated program trough a real SID chip. The functionality is not perfect at least yet, but it does work and it’s a nice feature.

Getting this little gizmo has truly been feast for my ears, and I haven’t regret getting it the slightest bit – despite the cumulatively high price. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves the music made with Commodore 64!

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