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.