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Async Sounds
Volume Number:7
Issue Number:3
Column Tag:Pascal Forum

Related Info: Sound Manager

Asynchronous Sounds

By Aaron Walsh, Chestnut Hill, MA

Note: Source code files accompanying article are located on MacTech CD-ROM or source code disks.

[Aaron Walsh works in Information Processing Support (IPS) as a consultant for Boston College. In addition to supporting the college’s computing community, Aaron oversees the Advanced Technology Center (ATC).

The ATC provides faculty and staff with access to technology such as high resolution scanners, large screen color monitors, film recording, and sound digitizing for the vision impared. It also provides for the community help to evaluate some of the industries most advanced personal workstations (ex. IBM RS6000, Apple Macintosh IIFX).]


This article will explain how to add sound to your application using the Sound Manager. The Sound Manager replaces the Sound Driver, which was the original device driver for the Macintosh Plus and the Macintosh SE. The Sound Manager is available in System 6.0.x, providing a more flexible and convenient means of using sound on the Macintosh. Complete Sound Manager documentation is available on AppleLink.

I will concentrate on the use of sound resources (resources of type ‘snd ‘) and the Sound Manager calls used to play these resources. Not only is this method simple, but it is also extremely powerful in the sense that you can take ‘snd ‘ resources from other applications and incorporate them into yours. Simply use ResEdit to copy the ‘snd ‘ resource to your application. Once you have the resource, you should be able to play it to your heart’s content.

My program demonstrates the use of asynchronous sound. Playing sound asynchronously allows your application to continue executing while the sound is being generated. If the sound is not played asynchronously (that is, sychronously) the application will wait until the entire sound has finished playing before executing the next statement. This is fine if the sound is short, or you if you do indeed want the sound played before continuing. However, this is next to worthless if you need the sound generated concurrently with graphics or other tasks (can you imagine Crystal Quest seizing each time a Zap, Bong, or Gloink is made?!).

Please note that my code serves as a functional demonstration, not an iron clad application. The only task performed while the sound plays is a flashing menu bar, demonstrating asynchronous sound. Also, error checking is not terribly sophisticated. I give you the necessary framework to build upon, not extra code to wade through. For a fully functional application, complete with robust error checking and loaded with comments, hop on AppleLink. In the sample code section of Macintosh Technical Support is SoundApp. It was written by Jim Reekes, the same Apple employee who wrote the Sound Manager documentation. Not only is this a thorough example of the Sound Manager, but it also contains a good deal of information on known Sound Manager bugs.

On with the show....

Structurally Sound

Before plunging headfirst into a long-winded Sound Manager discussion and code examples, you may find it helpful (perhaps even necessary) to understand the basic elements used in creating sound on the Macintosh. The process of creating sounds is similar to the operation of an assembly line. The sound data is taken through various stages of processing, massaged and tweaked along the way until it reaches its final destination (usually the speaker, in some cases a MIDI device).

Sound resources (resources of type ‘snd ‘, hereafter referred to as snd’s) contain the data to be put on the assembly line. Snd’s can be created from scratch with tools such as ResEdit, at the expense of your sanity. I recommend using a sound digitizer, such as MacRecorder by Farallon. This allows you to record live and prerecorded music directly into an snd resource. Very clean, very easy. You can also edit the sound, adding special effects such as echo, bender, fade, etc., to produce custom sounds and music.

Snd’s come in two formats. Format 1 was developed by Apple, specifically for use with the Sound Manager. Format 2 was also designed by Apple, but for use with HyperCard. The Sound Manager is capable of playing both formats, as my sample code demonstrates. If you do not know what format your snd is, check the first word (in hex format) of the resource with resource tool such as ResEdit. This word contains the snd format (0001 = Format 1, 0002 = Format 2). MacRecorder is capable of creating either format, although saving your sound directly into an snd resource will create format 1.

An ‘snd ‘ resource contains sound commands, special instructions containing information which alter the final sound. A sound command may be nothing more that the description of a note to be played, or it may be an instruction used change the characteristic of a sound already in progress (i.e. amplitude, timber, frequency, etc).

Each sound command is exactly eight bytes in length:

The first word is the command number, followed by six bytes that comprise the sound command options. The pointer bit indicates that the snd contains both sound commands and associated sound data (i.e. sampled sound or wave table data). A full description of available sound commands is included in the Sound Manager documentation.

Although an snd resource contains the needed sound commands to generate synchronous sound, you can drop additional sound commands on the conveyor belt with the SndDoCommand and SndDoImmediate calls. We will call SndDoCommand to add a callback sound command to the process, which will facilitate the generation of asynchronous sound. I’ll explain this in detail later.

The sound commands are held in memory in a structure called a channel. The default sound channel is a queue capable of holding 128 sound commands, which are passed one at time to a specific synthesizer. This sound channel provides interaction between the application and the audio hardware. When you add a sound command as described above, it is actually sent to the same sound channel in memory that holds the snd’s sound commands.

The sound commands are then sent to a synthesizer. A synthesizer is much like a device driver. It is responsible for interpreting the sound commands sent through the sound channel and playing them on the hardware associated with it (usually the speaker).

In short, you take a bunch of sound commands (from an snd resource) and cram them into a sound channel. One at a time they are sent to a synthesizer where they are interpreted and passed on to the speaker which makes the final sound [Figure 1]. Easy, huh? How do you get all this to happen? I thought you might be wondering....

Figure 1.

Tools of the Trade

Now that you know the basic process that occurs when sound is played on the Macintosh, lets explore the Toolbox calls that make it possible.

To produce synchronous sound you only need to use one call:


Function SndPlay (chan: SndChannelPtr; sndHdl: Handle; async: Boolean) 
: OSErr;

If you pass NIL as the SndChannelPtr parameter, you will only be able to produce synchronous sound (in this case the Boolean parameter is ignored, even if True is passed). If you can at least pass the snd’s handle, you can produce sound:


Error := SndPlay(NIL, mySndHandle, FALSE);

In this case the sound must finish playing before execution resumes. A default sound channel is created in the application’s heap, through which the sound commands are passed to a synthesizer for processing. After the sound commands have been processed and the sound has finished playing on the audio hardware, the memory used for the default sound channel is freed.

To produce asynchronous sound, you must pass a channel pointer to SndPlay (NIL won’t cut it) along with True as the Boolean parameter. Hmmmm....well, the first thing you need to do is create a sound channel in memory:


Function SndNewChannel (VAR chan: SndChannelPtr; synth: Integer; init: 
Longint; userRoutine: ProcPtr): OSErr;

Hold it! We only need a channel pointer, so why all the parameters? I thought you might ask.

Turn the Channel, Please

To better understand the SndNewChannel call, we must have a more intimate knowledge of the parameters it requires. Let’s begin with a more thorough explanation of the synthesizer.

On the Macintosh, a synthesizer is actually a resource of type ‘snth’. It is code that interprets the sound commands sent through the channel. Currently, the Sound Manager offers four standard synthesizers, each with special capabilities that provide different methods for expressing sound:

• The note synthesizer is capable of generating simple melodies and sounds. Only one note at a time can be played.

• The wave-table synthesizer produces more complex sounds, based on the description of a single wave cycle. Multipart music is possible using one polyphonic channel or several monophonic channels.

• The MIDI synthesizer allows music to be played on an external synthesizer, provided a Musical Instrument Data Interface (MIDI) adapter is connected to one of the serial ports. Fully functional MIDI applications cannot be written using the current Sound Manager due to bugs and limitations.

• The sampled-sound synthesizer will play back digitally prerecorded or precomputed sounds. The sounds are passed to the synthesizer in sampled sound buffers. These buffers can be played at different sampling rates to effect sound pitch.

Since each ‘snth’ is a resource, a resource ID is used to distinguish between them:

ID Synthesizer Target Macintosh

$0001 noteSynth general for any Macintosh

$0003 waveTableSynth general for any Macintosh

$0005 sampledSynth general for any Macintosh

$0006-$00FF reserved for Apple general for any Macintosh

$0100-$0799 free for Developer general for any Macintosh

$0801 noteSynth Mac w/Apple Sound Chip

$0803 waveTableSynth Mac w/Apple Sound Chip

$0805 sampledSynth Mac w/Apple Sound Chip

$0806-$08FF reserved for Apple Mac w/Apple Sound Chip

$0900-$0999 free for Developers Mac w/Apple Sound Chip

$1001 noteSynth Mac Plus and SE

$1003 waveTableSynth Mac Plus and SE

$1005 sampledSynth Mac Plus and SE

$1006-$10FF reserved for Apple Mac Plus and SE

$1100-$1199 free for Developers Mac Plus and SE

You can specify which synthesizer to link to your channel by supplying one of the first three ID numbers ($0001 - $0005) as the second parameter to SndNewChannel. However, if the snd resource already contains a synthesizer ID (those created with MacRecorder do), you should pass zero (0) as the synth parameter. Only one synthesizer may be linked to a channel at a time, although multiple channels may be created and linked to the same synthesizer. This is because an active synthesizer “controls” the sound hardware until the sound channel is disposed. Two synthesizers vying for hardware control is sure to bring your Mac to its knees.

The Sound Manager will attempt to play your sound on the best equipment available. To do so, it determines which model of Macintosh the application is running on, and adds a constant to the requested synthesizer ID number. If the Macintosh is equipped with the Apple Sound Chip, then the constant $0800 is added. If not, then the constant $1000 is added. The Sound Manager will then try to use the ‘snth’ resource that corresponds to the new ID (original ID + constant). If the resource is not available, then the original resource ID is used. For example, if SndNewChannel is passed the sampled sound synthesizer ID ($0005) while the application is running on a Macintosh Plus, the Sound Manager will open the synth resource of ID $1005 since this is the sampled sound synthesizer for the Macintosh Plus. When run on a Macintosh II, the Sound Manager will open the synth resource of ID $0805, which is the sampled sound synthesizer for a Macintosh equipped with the Apple Sound Chip.

The ‘snth’ resources mapped to the Apple Sound Chip ($0801 - $0805) are written to take advantage of this added hardware. The Apple Sound Chip generates an audio/stereo signal, which is then filtered and buffered by two Sony sound chips. The Apple Sound Chip also contains a 1024 byte FIFO buffer to accept sound values. This permits the machine to frequently operate asynchronously of sound generation and to provide stereo capabilities. This chip is present on the Macintosh II series and following models.

If you did not create the snd yourself (with MacRecorder, for instance), you may not know what format it is or if a synthesizer has already been defined. In this case, use ResEdit to open the resource in hexadecimal form. The first word of the resource contains the format type (0001=Format 1, 0002=Format 2). If the snd is Format 1, you should then check the third word to determine if a synthesizer has already been chosen. If this word is anything other that 0000, pass zero as your synth ID when calling SndNewChannel. If no synthesizer is defined for this resource (third word = 0000), you should pass one of the three ID numbers specified for a general Macintosh (see chart above). If the snd is Format 2, you should pass zero as the synth parameter (snd’s of this format always use the sampled sound synthesizer, therefore the third word is not used to indicate a synth ID). Figure 2 shows an example of both Format 1 and Format 2 snd’s in hex form.

So, which synthesizer is the best suited for your snd resource? Glad you asked....

Figure 2.

snd Advice

As I mentioned earlier, snd’s come in two formats, format 1 and format 2. Format 1 is the more versatile of the two. It might only contain a sequence of sound commands describing a note to be played, or it may contain sampled sound or wave table data. Format 2 resources are used by the sampled sound synthesizer, and must contain a sampled sound. When SndPlay is called with a format 2 ‘snd ‘, it automatically opens a channel to the sampled sound synthesizer.

In either case, MacRecorder will make the proper synthesizer decision for you. When using snd’s created by MacRecorder, you need not be concerned with the synthesizer parameter in a call to SndNewChannel. Simply pass zero (0), and have the Sound Manager interrogate your resource for the needed information. In the event that you do need to pass a synthesizer to SndNewChannel, try not to lose sleep deciding which is the right one. Since every synthesizer understands the same basic set of sound commands, you can have the sound channel linked to any synthesizer you wish. If a synthesizer receives a command it does not understand, it is simply ignored. If you have no idea what sound data is contained in the resource (wave table, sampled sound, etc.), use the sampled sound synthesizer to process the commands. There are coding techniques you can use to deal with snd resources you did not create yourself, or dissect with ResEdit. This article will not attempt to show you these techniques. If you need this information, get a copy of SoundApp (application code from Jim Reeks described earlier).

Back in the Channel Again

The third SndNewChannel parameter is a long integer. This parameter indicates an INIT option (different than a startup document!) to be sent to the synthesizer when the sound channel is created. I pass zero (0) for this parameter, since any INIT procedures used in my program will come from the snd resource.

The forth and final parameter of SndNewChannel is a ProcPtr to a “userRoutine”. A userRoutine is a procedure or function that you write which the Sound Manager will execute when instructed to do so. For my userRoutine, I pass a procedure pointer to a callBack routine (refer to my LoadMusic procedure):


error := SndNewChannel(MySoundChannel, 0, 0, @myCallBack);

I want my userRoutine (the procedure named “myCallBack”) to be executed after the last sound command has been processed through the sound channel. In order for myCallBack to be executed, I must instruct the Sound Manager to do so by way of a sound command.

Take a look at my PlayMusic procedure. Here I construct the sound command used to tell the Sound Manager that myCallBack procedure should be executed. A sound command in THINK pascal is a record comprised of three fields. The first field (cmd) specifies the sound command number, the following two fields (param1 and param2) are the parameters of that sound command. This record corresponds to the 8-byte sound command format described earlier.

Of the sound commands, callBackCmd tells the Sound Manager to execute the userRoutine specified in SndNewChannel (in this case the procedure named “myCallBack”). Notice that param1 is zero (0), but that param2 is used to store my application’s A5 globals. This is straight from the Sound Manager documentation, folks:

“User Routines will be called at interrupt time and therefore must not attempt to allocate, move or dispose of memory, de-reference an unlocked handle, or call other routines that do so...If these routines are to use an application’s global data storage, it must first reset A5 to the applications A5 and then restore it upon exit. Refer to Macintosh Technical Note #208 regarding setting up A5.”

This means that the userRoutine (myCallBack) must set register A5 appropriately if it intends to use any globals. Since a CallBack procedure is passed both the sound channel it is linked to, as well as the sound command that triggered its execution, we can use the second parameter (param2) to store the application’s A5 information. For a detailed explanation, see both the Sound Manager documentation and the Technical Note mentioned above.

Play that Funky Music

After creating the sound command record, I make a call to SndPlay (refer to the PlayMusic procedure). I want asynchronous sound, so I pass the newly created sound channel (mySoundChannel) and TRUE as the asynch parameter. Remember that the Sound Manager will now take the sound commands from the snd resource, and queue them up in our channel. I want myCallBack to be executed after the last snd sound command has been processed, so I call the SndDoCommand function (as opposed to SndDoImmediate which would bypass the sound channel queue, sending the sound command directly to the synthesizer):


Function SndDoCommand(chan: SndChannelPtr; cmd: SndCommand; noWait: Boolean): 

I pass False as the noWait boolean parameter. If the parameter noWait is set to False and the sound channnel queue is full, the Sound Manager will wait until there is space to add the command. If noWait is True and the sound channel is full, an error message of “queueFull” is returned and the command is never sent.

Once the callback sound command is processed, myCallBack is executed. Here I set a flag (mySoundDone) to indicate that the last command has been processed and the sound has finished playing. Once my “flash menubar loop” receives this flag, it terminates and the next statement is executed (DisposeMusic). Be careful to dispose of your channel once the sound has finished playing. If you do not disposed of the channel properly, be prepared for a system crash. Remember that only one synthesizer may be active at a time, no exceptions. If you forget to clean up after your sound, another routine (such as SysBeep) may try to activate another synthesizer.


Before experimenting with the code, you should be aware of the possible “Gotchas” you may encounter. A Gotcha is a special situation (call it a crash, if you must) brought on by not reading the documentation thoroughly. A Gotcha has such a simple solution that it may take days before you find it. Using the Sound Manager, I ran into quite a few Gotchas. The special situations (ok, the crashes) were usually so severe that only the programmers switch was left in working order, which I used often. Here are a few of the Gotcha’s you may run into while working with sound (some annoying, some fatal):

The Sysbeep Blues: A SysBeep occurs before you have disposed of your sound channel (perhaps by user interaction with a Dialog).

Wave Table Shuffle: A Macintosh Plus or SE was instructed to use the Wave Table Synthesizer. Currently, this synthesizer does not function on those Macs.

Debugging Debauchery: Remember that the Debugging option in THINK Pascal adds about an additional 30% overhead to your application. When memory gets tight (as it will with large snd’s), things get ugly.

Incognito Sound Commands: THINK Pascal v3.0 provides the Sound.p unit needed to run my code. All sound command numbers (the ‘cmd’ field of the SndCommand data record) listed in the Sound Manager documentation are defined in this unit except one: callBackCmd. I had to add this constant myself, which was simple (callBackCmd = 13;).

MIDI Madness: Sound Manager documentation tells us not to bother using this synthesizer (whose ID was not even listed in the synthesizer table) with your own keyboard. Believe it.

program AsynchSoundDemo;
{This program was written to demonstrate}
{asnchronous sound generation on the Macintosh}
{using the Sound Manager.  Written in THINK}
{Pascal v3.0 by Aaron E. Walsh, expressly for}
{publication by MacTutor magazine.   6/1/90}

 mySoundDone: boolean;
 mySoundHandle: handle;
 SndResource: integer;
 mySoundChannel: SndChannelPtr;
 error: OSerr;
 mySoundCommand: Sndcommand;
 procedure DisposeMusic;
 quietnow: boolean;
 quietnow := false;
 error := SndDisposeChannel(mySoundChannel, quietnow);

 if error <> NoErr then

 if gethandlesize(mySoundHandle) > 0 then
 procedure myCallBack (chan: SndChannelPtr;
 cmd: SndCommand);
{userRoutine to be called when the last sound}
{command has been processed. A5 code used    }
{to access globalsfrom S.M. documentation.   }
 theA5: Longint;
 theA5 := SetA5(cmd.param2);
{Get/Set A5 so globals are available}

 mySoundDone := true;
 theA5 := SetA5(theA5);
{Set A5, as in S.M. documentation}
 end; {DisposeMusic}
 function LoadMusic: boolean;
 SndResource := 15944;
{Resource ID of the ‘snd ‘ resource to play}

 mySoundHandle := GetResource(‘snd ‘, SndResource);
{we need a handle to the resource}

{move into high memory}

{lock it down, call me paranoid}

{make it unpurgeable, call me untrusting}

 mySoundChannel := nil;

 error := SndNewChannel(mySoundChannel, 0, 0, @myCallBack);
{create our own sound channel for asnch. ability}

 if error <> NoErr then
 LoadMusic := False
 LoadMusic := True;
 procedure PlayMusic;
 noWait: boolean;

 with mySoundCommand do
 cmd := callBackCmd;
 param1 := 0;
 param2 := SetCurrentA5;
{use param2 to stash A5.  We will use need}
{globals in the callback routine}

 noWait := False;

 if error = NoErr then
 error := SndPlay(mySoundChannel, mySoundHandle, TRUE);
{begin asynchronous sound play}

 if error = NoErr then
 error := SndDoCommand(mySoundChannel, mySoundCommand, noWait);
{add the callBack command to the sound channel queue}
 end; {PlayMusic}
begin  {main}
 mySoundDone := false;
 if LoadMusic then
{flash menubar to demonstrate asyncronous sound generation}
 until button or mySoundDone;
 DisposeMusic; {clean up, or crash}


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