To a particular subset of the population, those whose formative years fell inside the 80s and early 90s, the blips and bloops of the primitive sound chips of classic computer and video games machines are our lullabies. Something primitive endears sounds of our childhoods to us irrevocably, and thus ‘chip tune’, the art and science of utilising those sounds to create music, even today sounds magical – but yet, not just to the people who were around at the time. Plogue are firm advocates of both the art and the science of chip tune, and have done their best to create the ultimate emulation of 15 classic sound chips. How successful were they?
Chip tune really is both an art and a science. Much more involved than simply running a few synths through a bit crusher, classic sound chips like the Commodore 64 SID have idiosyncracies that not only define their sound, but inform composition styles best suited to them.
classic sound chips like the Commodore 64 SID have idiosyncracies that not only define their sound, but inform composition styles best suited to them
Chipsounds combines two approaches in an attempt to create the most authentic emulations of the 15 instruments it offers – oversampled oscillators and mathematical emulations of the chip characteristics are combined with sampling some of the more idiosyncratic chips’ waveforms and characteristics – striking a balance between creating the most organic emulation and capturing the real world eccentricities that it would require chaos theory levels of computing power to accurately synthesise. To all intents and purposes, the results are uncannily similar – the only thing belying the sounds in the end is the character given to the audio by the original enclosures and speakers involved.
The ominous silhouettes that are conjured by selecting the various ambiguously lettered soundchips include Nintendo’s NES and Gameboy, Commodore 64 and 16, Atari’s 2600 and ST, the Spectrum 128, and the BBC Micro
In what is presumably an exercise in lawsuit avoidance, care is taken not to be too explicit about the exact systems Chipsounds emulates. The ominous silhouettes that are conjured by selecting the various ambiguously lettered soundchips include Nintendo’s NES and Gameboy, Commodore 64 and 16, Atari’s 2600 and ST, the Spectrum 128, and the BBC Micro. There are even more obscure console and arcade sound chips on offer, and interestingly not only a Casio VL-1 keyboard chip, but a chip appropriated by Korg in, amongst other things, the Poly 800.
Of course, the original chips that Chipsounds emulates were limited by low bit depth and sample rate, low polyphony, and various other restrictions. Chipsounds allows you to circumvent some of these limitations in the name of usefulness, but the manual does its best to point out practices you should keep to if you want to stay faithful to the originals. One of the most conspicious of these limitations is pitch accuracy, and you can choose to either work with their limitations or use a pitch perfect ‘fantasy’ version when selecting the chip.