Best Free Chiptune Softsynths
Post date:Mon, 04/29/2019 - 18:40
Vintage synth enthusiasts who grew up during the eighties and nineties should be very familiar with the programmable sound generator chips that was used for computer, arcade and console games during those years. A number of brands, including General Instruments, Texas Instruments and Yamaha made these types of chips, which gave the games of that era a very distinctive sound. Despite the relative simplistic nature of the sound chips used, the musicians of that era were able to coax some wonderfully memorable tunes out of them. While many consider the PSG chips to be outdated, it hasn't stopped a number of artists from using them in creative ways to create what is known as "Chiptune" music. One only has to listen to the work of artists like Disasterpeace and Anamanaguchi to appreciate what is possible. For those who have a hankering to create their own chiptune music, and don't have the time to scour auction sites or garage sales for the original hardware, there are free chiptune softsynths that are available. To get you started, here are some of best ones that can be found online.
If you are a fan of the YM2149 sound chip found in the Atari ST, then ymVST is for you. It's free, it's small and features authentic sounds along with three step arpeggiated chords. All the kicks, snares, hi-hats and other percussive sounds are present along with hard and soft buzzer effects, angel sync-buzzer effects and more.
De La Mancha basic 65
When it was first released, basic 65 used to be a paid VST, but the author has since dropped the price tag and made it free. It is a 3-oscillator synth that will bring some nostalgic joy to everyone who remembers the classic SID chip in the Commodore 64. Although it draws its inspiration from the waveforms and signal path of this chip, it also has additional features and options like a double arpeggiator, pulse width modulation, pitch drift, bit drift and much more. Messing around with this VST is a lot of fun, but you can also choose from its vast range of included presets if you wish.
The NES VST is great for those who grew up with the sounds of the original Nintendo Entertainment System. This VST remains faithful to the specifications of the 2A03 chip and replicates the square wave, triangle wave, noise and delta pulse code modulation of the chip. This VST also features a very simple interface, but unfortunately it doesn’t come with any presets.
For something that loads fast and plays faster while still providing you with that retro gaming sound there is Retro Boy. This is a very lightweight chiptune synth with a single oscillator that is capable of seven wave shapes. It's simple enough that most modern day CPUs can handle it with ease, so you don't have to worry about it taking up too much resources in your DAW. Those who enjoy Retro Boy can also splash out on RBXL, which is its big brother. RBXL is not free, but it comes with a lot more features.
Magical 8bit Plug
Like other chiptune VSTs, Magical 8bit Plug was designed to emulate the sound of old 8bit console games. It features five waveforms, ADSR envelope assignment for volume, frequency sweep function and it supports pitch bending. What makes this VST sound so authentic is the inclusion of the pseudo-triangle waveform that it supports as well as the low-resolution noise. It is these sounds that were very prominent in those 8bit games and Magical 8bit Plug does a good job of replicating them.
The softsynths mentioned above are only the free ones that are available. For those who don't mind spending a little cash, we will also be looking at some of the paid options like Chipsounds (https://www.plogue.com/products/chipsounds.html) and Super Audio Cart (https://impactsoundworks.com/product/super-audio-cart/#details) in another article. Let us know on the forums or in the comments below what your thoughts are on chiptunes and what VST you used to create your own.