By: Geetesh Bajaj
Last Updated: February 23rd 2009
The first obvious question is what is a SoundFont? The easiest answer is that it's like a typestyle - but it defines sounds rather than shapes. I know that's not the answer you want to hear. So let's start our exploration into the magical world of SoundFonts.
You all have heard MIDI files - and they can sound anything from bearable to ethereal depending on your sound card or speaker setup. WAV files are more predictable - they run more or less the same in a given sound setup. There's a reason behind all this - WAV files contain actual digital recordings whereas MIDI files are basically music notations, which your sound card interprets and plays. Not all sound cards are created equal - and that's why MIDI files sound so spectacular on some machines, rather than other less privileged ones.
All the notes are interpreted using a table of recorded sounds sampled in a special area of your sound card. There was a time when you could not change these sampled sounds. SoundFont is a technology which enables you to change these samples, giving more control to software, rather than hardware.
You could create your own SoundFont, you could download or buy from the Internet or purchase SoundFont CD collections. Creative Labs has been a forerunner in the entire SoundFont revolution - in fact they are the reason behind the revolution!
To use SoundFonts, you need a sound card capable of storing and playing SoundFonts. There's a compatibility list available at SoundFont.com
SoundFonts have been available in different formats with different sound card manufacturers coming up with new formats which could be used only with their hardware. Fortunately, almost all have standardized to use the SoundFont 2 standard - sf2. Users of other formats can find converters to convert to and from the sf2 format.
To use SoundFonts in your sound card, you need to change the active soundfont. If you're using one of the Creative cards, there should be an icon for a program called AudioHQ in your Windows traybar. Click it to expand - select the SoundFont option. This opens a dialog box with three tabs. Select the 'Configure Bank' tab, and click the 'Load' button to import a sf2 file into your configuration.
Yes, you can create your own soundfonts - see the following links:
Vienna SoundFont Studio available as a free download from the Creative site allows you to create your own soundfonts.
Smurf is a soundfont editor for Linux users.
Soundfont.com has all the information you need to know including compatibility and free downloads.
SoundFont Technical Information lists technical specifications.
Creative's SoundBlaster site has all the Soundfont information you need.
Synth Zone has an elaborate section on SoundFont links.
At the eMusicmag site, you can find or post soundfonts, MIDI files, tablatures, gear reviews, etc.
Sounds Megastore has selections of professional sounds.
sfArk is a great soundfont compressor.
Jayzen Sound Design provides high-quality and original sound design products for music and multimedia production, including soundfonts.
SoundFont Central has an online soundfont store.
CDxtract sells soundfonts amongst other things.
MelodyMachine has links to free and commercial soundfonts.
SONiVOX has sound libraries, audio software and music for your PC & Synthesizer.
Steinway Grand Piano has piano soundfonts.
RealMIDI has free soundfonts for download.
eGroups maintains a SoundFont mailing list.
Creative has a newsgroup for music with the SoundBlaster live series at news.creative.com