From top: ComputeHer, 8 bit Weapon.

You’ve heard the chip hype. But there’s something behind it: vintage digital chips can make wonderful sounds. And I’m thrilled that someone has painstakingly reproduced those sounds in an upcoming package.

Emulating analog circuitry, from amps to classic synths, has been long understood. But we’ve finally reached an age when people begin to appreciate the odd idiosyncrasies of digital technology, too. There hasn’t ever been a comprehensive attempt to emulate each detail of a range of 80s sound chips before – until now. Plogue (makers of the highly underrated Plogue Bidule patching environment) and David Viens have tackled just that as a labor of love, and you’ll be able to use the resulting “chipsounds” library later this spring.

Plogue’s chipsounds recreates the blippy personality of the Commodore 64, the Nintendo NES, the Game Boy, the Atari, the Vic20 – and circuit-bent and abused variations, too. It’s got a powerful artist endorsement from 8 Bit Weapon and Computer Her (pictured here). There are arpeggiators, noise patterns, distortion emulation, custom software, all built on the ARIA synth/sampling engine.

The basic specs:

  • 7 chips: TIA, 2A03 PAPU, VIC-I, SN76589AN, AY-3-8910, POKEY, and SID. Haven’t heard of all of those? No worries. But you’ve probably heard the chips. The horribly-named SN76589AN was used in my very first computer, the IBM PCjr, my first game console, the Colecovision (boy did I pick them), and in the TI. The 2A03 is from the original NES. The TIA was in the Atari.
  • Tricks, built in: One-shot arpeggiators, rapid waveform changes, envelope resync tricks are all built in – stuff that’s hard to pull off, as the creators note.
  • Emulations of psuedo noise patterns, distortion
  • Switch on each chip’s limited resolution and pitch values – or switch them off, and create sounds the PCjr couldn’t
  • Presets from 8 bit Weapon and ComputeHer

8 bit Weapon’s wespons: a VIC-20 (well, the box), a C128 (foreground), a C64 (top left), the Woz-designed Apple IIe (aka your entire childhood computer class for many of us), and … a GameCube.

When analog synth emulation came out, we all got something more convenient, but it didn’t necessarily do wonders for the music. Here, I think the situation is very different. Many of the original chip instruments have woefully primitive possibilities for actual composition. (The Game Boy’s wonderful LSDJ and Nanoloop are a notable exception.) Compare that to the software emulations of, say, a Moog modular, which lost a lot of what was great about the original – the interface. You can’t necessarily say that about the AY-3-8910, unless you’re the Ludwig van Beethoven of Assembler. (If you are – we love you.)

And the chip scene has also matured to the point that it’s ready to break out a bit. Getting these emulations on computers can help warp them into music and sound ideas they haven’t discovered before. I believe these sounds are really something special, not just a novelty.

I personally can’t wait to use this.

We have extensive details from a Plogue flyer – you can get it here on CDM, or if you’re on the floor of NAMM, you might get it from the Plogue guys themselves.

Flyer – Front

Flyer – Back

And if you want to hear these sounds making fantastic music, go give the artists a listen:

8 Bit Weapon


ARIA is an important announcement; I’ll be catching up on news from Gary Garritan soon.

We’ll have sound samples of this too, as well.

  • Chris

    Oh my…this is awesome!

  • Michael Una

    I just ordered a couple of SN76589AN's. That's a good chip right there.

  • This sounds very sample based?

  • uh yes it is, aria seems like a smashup of synthedit and kontakt πŸ˜€

  • Hey Peter, that's a C128 on the picture, despite the pic below πŸ˜›

    "Many of the original chip instruments have woefully primitive possibilities for actual composition."

    That's extremely questionable. SDI on the C64 and Soundracker on the Spectrum are amazing softwares that have as much, probably more, possibilities than LSDJ on the Game Boy. SDI takes the SID to an extreme impossible to be emulated by software like this (specially since this is sort of sample based – a big fail in my book, since I love original sound), and you don't need to be an AY-3-8910 assembler genius to make music for that chip: it's what's inside any AY-capable Spectrum ZX and you can control it with Protracker or others. Now, if you know assembler, be aware of the can of worms you open, your possibilities wil be endless (and impossible with anything running under the interface of a DAW)

    Comparing the way of composition with a tracker, where usually techniques that modify the sound at every tick of the CPU( or rasterbar, or other "weird" measures), with this is kind of software, seems futile, since the results will not be the same.
    Also, part of teh charm of -real- chipmusic, is the limitations of the machines, in both processor speeds, sound specs, and interface constrains.

    This might be ok with those who want to jump on the chipmusic (not chiptune, please) bandwagon, and get the simplest spectrum of possibilities possible with these old chips, but I rather not hear any of that.

    But then again, maybe it stops Timberland and others drom stealing chipmusic artists' songs…. πŸ˜›

  • I meant "despite the box below", not pic. Sorry!

  • Heheheh, I was about to say, Akira, that is indeed an authentic photo of the VIC-20 box. (Now, if you want maximal limitations, making music with a VIC-20 *box* would be a great way to start.)

    No, I agree with what you're saying, basically. But again, I'd compare the analog synth emulations. You have an onscreen Moog cord, and you've just gotten a massive downgrade from making music on an actual Moog. But you can take these sounds and treat them *as sounds* — assuming they really have nailed the emulation — and put them in a new context. You can use them with new sequencers like Renoise that are deeply influenced by the brilliance of those trackers, but have also evolved some of the concepts. You can put them in an entirely different music making program, like all of these strange new sequencers and generative tools we're seeing.

    I'm sure not at all interested in people jumping on bandwagons. I think, as with any sample library, there will be someone out there who takes this and abuses it on their current laptop, and makes it sound different than the Protracker-programmed stuff that's come before. And if they haven't been on an eBay / garage sale spree that's given them access to some of these old machines, maybe some other folks will get closer to the sounds. I don't see anything wrong with that.

    Yes — the "results will not be the same." I expect it won't be real chipmusic. I hope the emulation phase here yields new results that sound completely different. If it is, you get a chance to appreciate chipmusic in a new way, and discover something else.

  • I do like chipmusic better than chiptune.

    And PS, I've seen "period" performance get out of hand with, you know, Medieval music. If we're getting completely canonical with digital music, that just seems a little silly to me. But by the same token, if you're going to emulate these sounds, do it right — and it sounds like David has. We'll know more once it's out.

  • chupathingy

    Did that flier say "faithful DC leakage emulation"?

    To go as hard core as to reproduce a system's flaws.

    Now that's dedication.

  • Do want.

  • chupathingy

    i really want this… Now.
    Anyone know the release date?

  • Motion

    Live 8, Akai 40, Max Live, Waldorf Largo and all the many other goodies announced and yet to be announced…this is the NAMM scene stealer for me (Volta next in line)…and it will be going right into Renoise just out of respect when I can get my hands on it.

  • glomag

    I hate this idea and I'll tell you why (since you begged me.)

    If it was just the 'sounds' of game consoles that we wanted, this would be fine and we'd all throw away our vintage hardware. But to me, using game hardware to make music forces me to confront some serious limitations that just make my music very different than it would be if I made it on a laptop. I think this effect is what gives chip music most of it's character. For a lot of people it will be enough to simply throw some groovy old school sounds into their track. For me, it misses the point entirely.

  • glomag

    oh shit, ok, so Akira alreay addressed this and even made the Timbaland reference I was going to make, but thought better of it. Are we good-cop/bad-cop? I'm a COP YOU IDIOT!

  • glomag

    sorry to triple post but I want to add:
    to some this might seem like elitist BS to diss the work of Plogue et al, but there really is a big difference in composing on a vintage game console with the inherent limitations and composing on a full featured DAW with VSTs etc. It really just forces you to stretch your creativity. Not saying you CAN'T make good music the other way, but that there is a reason why alot of us prefer to use consoles. I know 8BitWeapon and ComputeHer are capable at both.

  • I am in serious doubt this could be any like the original since it's ridden with lots of sample-based synthesis! But I'll wait and see. I checked out the specs for SID emulation, definitely the most complex of the bunch, and it says it uses waveform samples. That's unwanted at best.

    "But you can take these sounds and treat them *as sounds* — assuming they really have nailed the emulation — and put them in a new context."

    To each one its own, but these chips are, of course, best taken advantage of in a tracker/programming context. Making one of these soundchips depend on a modern DAW gets rid of many of their delicacies, that are only accesible by a full blown tracker or assembler code. This is the kind of thing I like to take out of an old computer chip, and not the usual plinky plonky nostalgic videogame crap we usually hear. Alas, on a device like the Midibox SID or the HardSID, while bearing the original chip, cannot achieve many sounds you get on a real computer. This is just a matter of interface, and that's where the modern day tool like Renoise *even when this is a tracker!) just won' cut it.

    I'm happy you changed the title to chipmusic πŸ™‚

  • i agree with glomag. all this will do is assist those people with less talent and passion for the true process of making chip music. i prefer the real thing and i see this as taking the easy way out. as for the endorsement, it looks like a marketing "opportunity".

  • Well, there's nothing special about chips here – this is an argument about sampling, plain and simple. Sampling *anything* can be a mindless, lifeless, poor copy of the original. Or, in the hands of someone with some creativity, it can be something new.

    For starters, if we had to ignore every technology that could be abused by talentless, passionless people, we'd shut the site down. I leave it to you guys to discover your talent and passion.

    Y'all know I've never been an advocate of "new is better," and that I feel pretty strongly that if you ignore earlier sequencing and compositional and programming tools, you lose a whole spectrum of potential creativity.

    So, that said — yes, I think it's possible to lighten up and keep an open mind about this. How many times in the chip scene do you see people doing basic DJ sets or just playing back pre-written songs on their trackers and bopping around? There's a place for that, of course. But if these sample designs really are well-designed, what's so wrong with having that portability? There's all kinds of interesting stuff happening *in the tracker scene* on modern computers. Why not say, hey, I can't get a SID on my laptop, so I'll use this sampled sound? What would a SID sound like fed through a granular delay that won't run on the original hardware? What if it's exactly authentic, but in the wrong octave?

    So, you're absolutely right — you lose something. If you sample a marimba sound, you lose the playability of that instrument, the ability to bow the bars – same thing. Does that mean all marimba samples are a waste of time? Of course not: you have to take this as a raw material and do something with it you couldn't do with a real marimba, and then that's the payoff. Maybe 95% of the people who buy the marimba sample library are unaware of that, but that's their loss, eh?

    If you prefer to use the Game Boy tracker, by all means, have at it. But I'm stunned, given the amount of brainless chip ripoff going on that an intelligent tool would be getting the brunt of this.

    And a lot of people are unaware of these nuances, so talking about just how much work an emulation was may make them curious about the real thing.

    I hear and actually agree with every one of these criticisms. But come on, this is exactly the same issue as with sampling acoustic instruments or analog synths or anything else. Of course there's potential for abuse. Of course this isn't the same as the "real thing" — and once you accept that, it could turn out to be something else that's interesting or musically functional, too.

  • Motion

    Each to their own as they say…I'll take any shortcuts I can get…and if it's close enough and can probably allow manipulation that goes beyond as well as offer the possibility of new territory to explore faster and easier I don't much care how the end result is achieved.I won't be looking for a DX7 anytime soon either when I can get FM7 for 30 quid or be getting back in a horse and cart.At this point the authenticity, workflow and control of Chipsounds is unknown but their flyer is sure stating a lot(and I believe them)…god forbid it may turnout even better than using the real thing.

  • Right… I started as a violin player, but I have no problem using violin/orchestral samples or synthesis to fake it. I know I'm not getting anything close the full range of expressive control and life that the acoustic instruments have.

    The same goes for, say, the sampled Etherwave Theremin in SampleMoog. It seems rather pointless in many ways, but it's still arguably a musically useful resource.

  • I read those Akira and glomag posts earlier today and wanted to reply, but didn't have time. Now I come back and find that Peter has responded with most of what I wanted to say. Excellent post, thanks for it.

    This is a touchy subject that many people have a lot of emotional investment in (see: timbaland. grudges are strongly held in chipmusic, it seems). But something like this that actually aims to be as authentic as possible (compared to, say, Magical 8-Bit or tweakbench) by emulating the stuff no one has bothered to yet is a noble goal. Not everyone makes music the same way, so as many ways to do as much as possible seems like the ideal to strive toward.

  • chupathingy

    Glomag – I have to agree with you on the fact that it's not as good as the real deal, but think of it this way – a good deal of the hardware us chiptuners make music with is vintage, out of production, unreliable, etc. With new musicians coming into the scene, it's becoming impossible to get the original hardware.

    Sometimes it just comes down to either which solution is best or which solution is reasonable.

    While a VST takes the fun out of the many hours of finger-breaking coding and the anticipation of hearing your completed track for the first time, at least the guys making it have tried to make a faithful recreation of hardware that just isn't available any more. So, God bless 'em.

    In closing, "don't knock it until you've tried it."

  • chupathingy

    Sorry to double post.

    This synth takes out the element of composing music on hardware for hardware, and that sucks. Most musicians that use this will probably call themselves 8-bit musicians even though their tracks are weighted down with effects, filters, non-arpeggiated chords and insane numbers of instrument tracks. I myself have a respect and appreciation for the old-school style (even though I am guilty of using the above-mentioned techniques every so often… :P) and try to keep my music sounding "believable." That is to say, making music with self-imposed limitations to keep in the spirit of what this style is.

    I may be guilty of making chip music that goes outside the bounds of what it is meant to be, but at least I try to compensate for it.

    In the end, though, the result is greater than the sum of its parts, right?

  • yourk

    90% of chiptune artists sound like they are sampling some video game system instead of attempting new synthesis.

    i have seen a LOT of people who don't even realize the LSDJ can do synthesis and they use a lot of sounds that have been used in Nintendo games.

    As for the interface of chiptune hardware……why bother unless you commute by train an hour each way? Do you really want to be a 35-45 year old chiptune composer that needs to get 4 sets of glasses per year just to see the screen on their gameboy?

    Face it. The interface on most of these classic chip machines sucks but many people will defend anything old. Even Delia Derbenshire complained about how synthesizers robbed workflow in the studio twenty years before most of these machines were made. As someone who ONLY had a C64 back in 1986, i don't miss it.

    Sample-based or not the relative advantage of this FAR out weighs any downside.

  • I think a lot of people in here are reading sample and underestimating what else will be behind this software. This isn't just a sample library, its a package built by one of the most dedicated small software development teams out there. There work with Aria speaks for itself. Don't think they are doing this just to cash in, but because one of them if not all of them are hardcore fans of chipsounds and wanted to see where they could take it. Does it replace the hardware stuff, absolutely not, but I'd put money on the fact that what it will do will be far more than just play samples.

    Disclaimer: I am one of plogues biggest fans, (if not the biggest).

  • Most musicians that use this will probably call themselves 8-bit musicians even though their tracks are weighted down with effects, filters, non-arpeggiated chords and insane numbers of instrument tracks.

    I don't know about "most". I think most would recognize that that's as dumb as calling themselves cellists for using a sample library.

  • Hi

    Thanks everyone for all the comments. I just want to clear the confusion (that probably was my fault from the writing on our flyer) about the actual sampling content in this package.
    Chip Sounds only contains a few multisamples for _some_ SID waveforms (precisely the 6581/8580 combined tri/saw/square sounds)

    Everything else (95+%) is running live from custom synthesizer modules that were fine tuned after analysis and comparisons of gigabytes of recordings of actual chip samples of hand modified consoles/computers that I've hacked myself. (or direct chips on protoboards/breadboards)…

    Cheers, and if you are nearby I will be doing a few private demos at of the current build at NAMM.


  • mr Jones

    nice girl! is it her boyfriend on the right?

  • Motion

    Hi David

    Thanks for clarifying regards the amount of samples used.

    Can we see GUI or any other info on what is accessible/controllable (automation/midi cc?) within the software from host when you get a chance.

    I can see a pic on the arcade machine.


  • chupathingy

    Quick question, Dave; How's the emulation on the Atari chips? I'm sure there's an option to select if it's perfect tuning or the classic, wildly-inaccurate pitch that gives the system its charm, right?

  • chupathingy

    here, guys, I cracked open Photoshop and tried to make the shot of the gui a little bit clearer.

    I tried my best.

  • Bobert

    Wow…this really has sparked off a debate. I love this old vs. new stuff…

    "This is different from the original!"
    "But that's why it's great…it's an improvement."
    "But the improvements remove character!"

    etcetera, ad nauseum.

    I am excited by this instrument.
    I think this opens these chips sounds to a less technical crowd, which is not a bad thing. And maybe it doesn't produce the results of the original systems, but this is a new instrument (albeit one based on old technology).

    I made a chip 'emulation' in Reaktor, but I made it what I wanted it to be. One comment I received praised it for sounding wonderfully digital, but without the horrible stereotype sounds of chip-tune. I think this had more to do with the interface than the sounds. Chip-tune is like any niche genre…it can easily get stuck in a rut.

    Did you know Tron was disqualified from winning any special effects awards because they considered the use of computers as cheating?

  • Sounds like a ready to use all in one pack for weak minds πŸ˜‰

    Lets make our sound sick and far from the mainstream, mutate and go for new directions.

    All will be sold in the end I guess…

    It there anybody wanting to be another Britney or Timbaland?

    I guess we are different. Let mainstream for weak minds πŸ˜€ ready to use! all in one! lets buy a life πŸ˜‰

  • uh, I guess musicians like us (chip music scene, chiptune, gameboy etc ) are usually looking for some distinctive taste in our sound. It's not surprising that seeing our tools in a process of standarization bug some of us a little. sorry my broke english.

    long live the new flesh. dead to videodrome.

  • "You’ve heard the chip hype. But there’s something behind it!"

    is it ?

    mainstream will shallow your soul !

  • Bobert

    To Ignat,

    I understand where you are coming from, but I cannot think of any other instrument that would suffer a similar complaint. I don't know anyone who would complain about the use of guitars in pop music, or drums, or synths, or pianos… You cannot define yourself by a sound. Chiptune (and all related genres) are about composing music on games systems. Timbaland is about making Hip Hop and stealing samples – no one would ever confuse the two. It's like Satriani and Avril Lavigne, or Autechre and Kylie Minogue. They have sounds in common, but the genres are worlds apart.

    It's about music, not some exclusive club. "You can only join if you know what SID stands for, noob!"

  • Heya!
    I have a working VIC20 with orginal box and a working Game cube with controllers if anyone is interested in buying please email me.
    or reply here.

  • chupathingy

    I think this will be useful for people who can't obtain the originals.

  • I might have been misunderstood! So time to clarify.
    Even though I mentioned it briefly, I couldn't care less of what people do with these tools. Use them or not, to each one its own!

    But I emphasized in what makes, to me, important to use a real machine rather than this. Hell, I preffer a full-on emulator than a sample based simulation. With the emulator, even thought the sound will not be exactly the same, I can still access, say, the SID chip, every computer rasterline, instead of musical measures.

    It's a question of interface and, I strongly think, this sort of software does not get he best out of the soundchip. Useless? not, just uninteresting for me.

  • Polite

    I love my C64 sounds, I have two actual C64s, breadbox, and the later model, i had a sidstation, i have a hardsid, i have refx's quadrasid. I have used all of these, or a combination on various tracks over the years. I'm still pretty excited to see what this brings to the table. I don't always have the time or inclination to program my basslines and drum noises algorythmically (making up words now) on my breadbox… but sometimes i like the zen state i can achieve by doing so. It's all a matter of what gets you inspired. Sometimes limitation can create inspiration, but sometimes it can stifle it in the 'too hard basket'.

    … I feel like I've lost the point of what I was saying. … uhh.. use it if you want, don't use it if you don't. Me? I'm going to certainly give it a red hot try – assuming there is a fair and useful way of trying it out. πŸ™‚

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  • Nice thread going here. I can chime in a bit as to why I made the things I have, and what they mean to me.

    I made most of the Tweakbench plugins specifically to bring fun & unique sounds to people for free, enabling people who can't get vintage hardware in their hands, or just want to add some new kind of sound to their existing work, without going down some extremely geeky circuit bending route, only to find out they don't really like the sound.

    I've never once claimed that I've create perfect reproductions, or even that they are close within a percentage, BUT.. they are free, make nice sounds, and people genuinely enjoy using them. I've literally gotten well over 500 tracks back from people who are just thrilled that they've been able to put themselves into the shoes of a chiptune composer, even if only for a few minutes (and not doing even close to the amount of work).

    Chiptune has never been about the purity of the sound (for me).. It's always about bringing lots of expression out of a minimal sound pallete.

    Just my $0.02.

  • Tweakbench, two things –

    One, your plugins rock.
    Two, AMEN.

  • kid versus chemical

    Thanks for your comments Peter, you summed up my thoughts completely. I'm a very long time chiptune composer (though I've kept a very low profile over the years, composing mainly to amuse myself). Ive composed "real" chiptunes on virtually every worthwhile soundchip known to man, and I gotta say I'm extremely pysched about this. I couldnt disagree with Akira and Glomag more. The point of view of chiptune elitists is echoed by there music, which I actually often like but can easily fall in line with all the other material composed by there peers. IE nice to listen to, skillfully made, but unoriginal to the point where its hard to tell one artist from the next.

    The only reason I use the real chips is becuase in many cases I simply have no other option. The archaic software I'm forced to use is extremely overrated by its fanboys. Usually the is no live performance methods possible, just extremely complicated composition and rigid structure. For me, my favorite way to write music is to just get some loops going and then start experimenting, often in real-time. Its fun to run a ZX spectrum beeper sound threw a granular delay, then slice the sample up and re-sequence it. Then layer an NES triangle wave bassline on top and then say put a breakbeat on top of that. Or maybe add a nice piano loop sampled from some dusty vinyl? The possibilities are endless. But if your using just old hardware you can hit a wall really quick. I often enjoy limitations (especially in terms of polyphony), but I enjoy raw experimentation more. Nevermind the fact that I can write chiptunes in a modern DAW that can fool anyone into believing they were done on original hardware, regardless of the platform. All the tricks done on classic trackers can be done in a modern enviroment. That myth needs to be put to rest.

    I also love with you said about tracker live performance. Just hit play and then bounce around like a jerk-off so you look really hip. This really pisses me off. My live performances involve nanoloop 1.3 mostly improvised in REAL-TIME. This prevents me from bouncing around and looking cool, as it takes a lots of careful concentration and consideration, but the musical results I feel provide a much more unique listening experience for those at THAT particular show THAT particular night. I'm working hard trying to make my performances more visually pleasing, but its a long and slow process involving trial and error, at least for me its is. But these unoriginal just press play on LSDJ fools who get credit as great live acts absolutely infuriate me. It all goes hand and hand with boring, stagnant, chip music elitist mentality that pushes interesting musicians and creative newbies away from the genre.

    My first and only reason for using mostly chipsounds in my music is that I love the sounds themselves (ever since I was little kid playing Metroid and getting chills from the creppy minimal soundtrack). All the other reasons are pointless to me (aside from having fun that is). I commend Plogue and people like them. If the sounds are 100% accurate than thats awesome. If they are not then thats just more new sounds for me to work with in a much more open enviroment.


    PS sorry about my terrible spelling and grammar.

  • Really good ! Me, I like very much these composers : Sidabitball and Tom Woxom ! πŸ˜‰

    If you want to compose chip-music :

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  • A good news about Plogue chipsounds. Finally, a demo is available ! Thank you to david.