Covox Speech Thing

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Covox Speech Thing
Covox Speech Thing.jpg
Covox Speech Thing
Date invented1987; 35 years ago (1987)
Invented byCovox, Inc
Connects toPrinter port
Useaudio device attached to the computer
Common manufacturersCovox, Disney, others

The Covox Speech Thing is an external audio device attached to the computer to output digital sound. It was composed of a primitive 8-bit DAC using a resistor ladder and an analogue signal output, and plugged into the printer port of the PC.

The Speech Thing was introduced on December 18, 1987[1] by Covox, Inc of Eugene, Oregon, for about US$70[2] (US$79.95 as of 1989[3]), but as its parts were much cheaper than the complete plug, and as its design was fairly simple, people soon started to build their own variants. The plug was used long into the 1990s, as sound cards were still very expensive at that time. The plug was also quite popular in the demoscene.

An inherent problem of the design is that it requires very precise resistors. If normal parts are used, the values get shuffled, especially for quiet sounds, resulting in distortion. Nevertheless, the sound quality of the Covox plug is far superior compared to the PC speaker; even today, a self-built Covox plug is still an inexpensive way to give old computers sound capabilities.[4]

Commercial products[edit]

  • Covox Speech Thing - the simplest hardware DAC, bundled with speech synthesis software, marketed originally as part of voice synthesis and recognition system.[5]
  • Disney Sound Source - a hardware system with a similar design to the Covox Speech Thing, marketed by Disney Software in early 1990s. It consisted of 3 parts: a FIFO and a DAC on PCB plugged into printer port and separate amplifier / speaker box.[6] Its price was set to only $14[7] and it was supported by many games (see below). It used external power (9 volt battery) and could be turned on/off by software. Contrary to the Speech Thing the output rate is determined by the hardware (7 kHz) and the design features a 16 byte FIFO allowing for autodetection and flow control of the output. In 2015 the hardware was reverse engineered so compatible circuits can be built from easily available off the shelf components.[8] It is also emulated by the popular DOSBox emulator.


One widely used variant

In its simplest form, Covox received 8-bit, mono signal through the parallel port and produced analog output that could be amplified and played back on loudspeakers. Sampling rate was not fixed by hardware means, and theoretically Covox can support any sampling rate. In practice, however, parallel port speed limits make it rather hard to achieve even standard CD-quality 44100 Hz (the average 80286 system could handle sampling rate for COVOX with 12kHz, the 486SX-33 system with 44kHz). Another limiting factor compared to traditional sound cards was the need to use computationally demanding timer interrupts to play background music, since there was no direct memory access available. However, the sound quality can be increased by software through dithering, thus, aliasing noise is minimized and the dynamics are increased (used in Inertia Player and FastTracker 2 as Interpolating option).

Advanced versions of Covox-like devices featured:

  • Printer port forwarding connectors — allowed to plug printer into the Covox and use both (playing audio and printing) without reconnections, although not at the same time. Whenever something is printed, loud noise is created.
  • Both DAC and ADC converters;
  • ADCs with tiny microphone preamplifiers;
  • DACs with amplification;
  • Sourcing power from serial port;
  • Numerous sound-enhancing (hi-fi) features, like filters or equalizers;
  • Stereo capability, either by using two parallel ports or one port with switching using strobe (pin #1) and line feed (pin #14) signals.


Home-built Covox


The Covox plug couldn't directly substitute any of the popular cards of that age (AdLib, Sound Blaster, Gravis Ultrasound, etc.), but several games / platforms supported it directly. It is also usually used in tandem with a AdLib sound card as said card officially was a music card and while it could be put into a mode to handle sampled audio, it could not play sampled audio and music at the same time. Notable entries include:

  • 688 Attack Sub - Title Music, Soundeffects
  • Zorro - plays Samples on Covox
  • Battle Bugs - plays Speech on Covox / requires EMS otherwise no Speech
  • Star Control 2 - Sounds
  • Lemmings – had special promotional edition named Covox Lemmings, released with Covox sound cards; the game is identical to original game but contains a "Covox" level and seven more additional levels (only works with Covox Soundcards for ISA Bus).
  • Pinball Fantasies.
  • Most older Sierra Entertainment games, such as King's Quest and Space Quest series, could output the sound to Covox when selecting "Disney Sound Source".
  • Some Games work with a software emulator called Virtual Soundblaster, such as Wolfenstein 3D, has also native Support for the Disney Soundsource.
  • Others with the Tandy Emulator (TEMU) or Tandy 3 Voice Sound: Eye of the Beholder, Sid Meier's Civilization
  • Duke Nukem 3D, Redneck Rampage, Shadow Warrior supports Disney Sound Source.

Music trackers[edit]

Popular DOS-based trackers used on demoscene included Covox support, for example:

  • Modplay (also ModEdit, DMP, VP and other Mod players from early 1990s) (Up to 4 channel COVOX output or custom assembler routine for user device)
  • Inertia Player (mono, stereo-on-1 covox, with dithering option).
  • Multiplayer by DGS Italian Software Company
  • Galaxy Music Player (can play MODs even on an Intel 8088)
  • Scream Tracker version 2.3 direct support. Version 3.21 through virtual-soundblaster driver.
  • Fast Tracker (mono, stereo, stereo-on-1 mode, with dithering).
  • Impulse Tracker


Emulators existed that allowed Covox to act as if there was another soundboard installed:

  • Virtual SoundBlaster - could emulate Sound Blaster on Covox
  • Covoxer - could emulate Tandy 1000/2000 music synthesizer
  • TEMU - could emulate Tandy 1000/2000 music synthesizer and DSS

In reverse, the DOSBox and Fake86 emulators allow to emulate presence of Covox (as Disney Sound Source) on a machine without such physical device connected.[9]

As of 2015 the circuit for the Disney Sound Source has been reverse engineered, so Covox plugs can be used with software requiring such hardware without the need of any additional software emulators using an additional plug that goes between the computer's LPT port and the Covox. [8]

Operating systems[edit]

Several operating systems have a driver for Covox available for install:

A userspace program that uses direct access to the hardware can also be used on modern Linux distributions.[12][13]

Modern clones[edit]


within in the 8bit computer scene and other demoscene COVOX has been used by


  1. ^ "Speech Thing trademark registration". Archived from the original on September 23, 2018. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
  2. ^ Göhler, Stefan (March 12, 2003). "Phonomenal! ... a retrospective view the sound card history".
  3. ^ Social Science Microcomputer Review. Duke University Press. 7: 97. 1989. ISSN 0885-0011. {{cite journal}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Brychkov, Eugeny (October 19, 2012). "Adding a multimedia capability: a Covox device" (PDF). AGE Labs. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 1, 2014. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  5. ^ Pilgrim, Aubrey (1996). Build Your Own Multimedia PC. McGraw-Hill. p. 282. ISBN 978-0-07-912226-1.
  6. ^ Phillips, Mark. "Some notes on programming for the Disney Sound Source". Archived from the original on January 1, 2007.
  7. ^ "The Oldskool PC Carnival Sideshow". 1999. Retrieved August 6, 2017.
  8. ^ a b "Reversing the Disney Sound Source". VOGONS. February 1, 2015. Retrieved August 6, 2017.
  9. ^ "Sound - Disney Sound Source". DOSBox Wiki. Retrieved August 6, 2017.
  10. ^ Linux driver for Covox[permanent dead link] by Michael Beck
  11. ^
  12. ^ "A Science Project: Bringing the Covox Speech Thing to 2017". January 2, 2017.
  13. ^ "Covox-music-player". GitHub. August 10, 2021.
  14. ^ "Simple LPTSND – Covox Speech Thing – Retroianer".
  15. ^ "CVX4 Vogons Tuning Edition". Serdashop.
  16. ^ "Reversing the Disney Sound Source \ VOGONS".
  17. ^ "Roybaer - Repositories". GitHub.
  18. ^ "Dual ISA DAC r0 – Covox Speech Thing on ISA Bus – Retroianer".

External links[edit]