When I first started playing with music on the computer (PC) sounds were limited
to gm wavetable synths built into a soundcard. Hardware synths were expensive and
complicated. Computers were used mainly to control external synths and instruments
via gm midi.
Creative and E-Mu developed Soundfonts for Creative's Soundblaster range of cards.
Basically this was a software based replacement for the built in wavetable, using
sound samples loaded into the computer's ram. This turned the soundcard into a very
efficient and versatile sample player.
Thousands of free soundfonts became available along with many good quality professional
If you had a soundfont compatible soundcard (with enough ram) you could use many
sf2 instruments simultaneously with little or no hit on the processor. Compared with
this, VST instruments for example limited you to just a few before crackles and distortion
etc. became an issue. Unfortunately Creative has dropped the support for them from
its latest ranges of cards so this is not the advantage it once was :(
Nowadays soundfonts can still be used by some synths and samplers, basically as a
There were many sites offering large libraries of both free and paid for soundfonts
for download, along with further sites which gave more information and insight on
the subject. Unfortunately by summer 2017 many sites are outdated or completely gone.
The following are still current: HammersoundTHE place to go for free soundfonts -
large library, many contributors. Sf2midi.com Large collection of free soundfonts
and other software. See their article ‘How to build a bank of soundfonts’. Registration
required for downloads. Digital Sound Factory Offers collections for sale, some free
soundfonts available. HITSQUAd Shareware Music Machine. SoundFonts, editors, players,
Creating a good soundfont requires good sampling and attention to detail especially
with the looping.
The editor Vienna v2.3(1998) was the one I used, as Vienna 2.4(2005) never worked
properly. Unfortunately v2.3 is 16 bit and not compatible with current 64 bit operating
There are various utilities available for midi and soundfont. You can even get a
utility enabling use of soundfonts without a compatible card, to work with your sequencer
through VST, or standalone players, although these do have the limitation of using
the CPU like VST instruments.