Chiptune is a broad term that encompasses a few types of sound. I believe it encompasses three sub-categories:
- 8-bit music, like the NES and Gameboy. Very limited waveforms.
- 16-bit music like SNES and Sega Genesis. Soundfonts and FM synthesis.
- Modern chiptune that utilizing high quality modern synths and effects
Some plugins aim to faithfully recreate the original 8-bit sounds and the unique characteristics from the sound chips and the creators have painstakingly reverse engineered every bit. 16-bit music introduced more capabilities like samples and FM synthesis. Depending on your goal, you may want to stay true to authentic 8-bit or 16-bit era music.
There are tons of chiptune plugins out there, but I believe these are some of the top ones. Note, I am only including plugins that work on Mac and Windows.
My top picks
Magical 8-bit plugin 2
This free and open-source (GPLv3) plugin recreates 8-bit sounds. It does not mimic any specific console but does create the low resolution sounds. It is an excellent free option for 8-bit chiptune. Visit ymck.net.
Vital is another free and open-source plugin. It creates high quality oscillators that will give you a smooth modern sound without the aliases of old consoles. It does not faithfully recreate any system but will give you nice pure tones that sound great for modern chiptune. Visit vital.audio.
Super Audio Boy
Super Audio Boy is not a synth but a sample library packaged as a Kontakt instrument. It is created from real recordings of a GameBoy. This is as authentic as you can get to the real sounds generated by the GameBoy sound chip. It includes drum sounds and notes. Visit impactsoundworks.com
It is free, but also contained as part of a larger paid product called Super Audio Cart that I’ll cover below, which includes many other game systems and PCs.
This synth is perfect for 8-bit chiptune and is a massive step up from the free Magical 8-bit plugin 2 if you have the $20. It comes with more waveforms, a nicer interface, and supports presets. It also has a step sequencer, effects, and you can make custom waveforms. This is the cheapest of the paid plugins and probably the best bang for your buck if you have a tight budget. Free trial version available. Visit audiothing.net.
Super Audio Cart Complete
Real samples from the game consoles and PCs with a custom interface. Expensive, but very professional. Sample based Kontakt instrument, not a synth. This pack includes the free Super Audio Boy, but also comes with many other systems. This package is good for true 8-bit and 16-bit sounds faithful to the original consoles. No trial version available of the whole package, but Super Audio Boy, the Gameboy portion is available with full functionality for free. This is the most expensive of the paid plugins on my list. This is a versatile package that covers 8-bit and 16-bit music with the option to bring in modern effects. Costs $149. Visit impactsoundworks.com.
Chipsounds was painstakingly reverse engineered to faithfully replicate many 8-bit systems. These are not samples but a true synth. Free trial version available. This synth is perfect for 8-bit music. Costs $75. Visit plogue.com.
This synths is a faithful replication of SNES (SFC). Free trial version available. This synth is perfect for 16-bit music. Costs $39.95. Visit plogue.com.
This synth is a faithful recreation of Sega Genesis (MD). FM based synth with four operators. Free trial version available. This synth is perfect for 16-bit music. Costs $49.95. Visit plogue.com.
If you want to make chiptune music, these synths are all great options. I hope you can now pick the one that is right for you.