Richard Semper

SOUNDFONTS

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 offerings.

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 sample format.

For further information see Wikipedia Soundfonts Page.

Resources:

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 Unfortunately by summer 2017 many sites are outdated or completely gone.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:
Hammersound THE 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, and utilities.

SOUNDFONT UTILITIES

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 systems.

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.

Synthfont and Viena

Midi sequencer for soundfont, VST plugin player, and Viena editor Beta version. I’m hoping this last will be a de-facto replacement for the Vienna Soundfont Studio. It certainly has promise.