This article will explore the best plugins for producing chiptune in 2022 including awesome free plugins as well.
Chiptune takes its name from the method initially used to produce it. People would program sound chips in home game consoles or computers to produce original sounds. Before we dive into the article and discover the best chiptune plugins, let’s explore in more detail what chiptune music really is.
How do you do a chiptune?
1. Native Instruments Massive
Massive is a hybrid synthesizer by Native Instruments. It’s one of the most iconic synthesizers ever created for electronic music.
Massive needs no introduction to anyone creating electronic music. It’s a hybrid synthesizer famous for utilizing wavetable and virtual analog synthesis. The oscillators in Massive, along with some of the waveshapes and wavetables they include, are ideal for chiptune, since they perfectly capture its 8-bit characteristic sound.
The oscillators inside Massive are true powerhouses of synthesis. The oscillators can morph from one waveform to another, known as wavetable synthesis. It enables a broader range of sound design possibilities since one oscillator can create thousands of sounds with a single wavetable. It’s also one of the reasons why Massive is perfect for chiptune music. You can get accurate chiptune sounds by modulating the wavetable position, especially on wavetables like the Additiv series or the formant series. Each oscillator comes with pitch controls, a wavetable position knob, an amp knob, and an intensity knob which controls the amount of the oscillator effects. The oscillator effects are another creative way to achieve chiptune sounds, either through the FM effect, Spectrum effects, or ring modulation.
There are two filters included in Massive. They can be set in serial or parallel modes or a mixture of both. You get 11 filter modes inside Massive with classic options like two pole highpass and lowpass filters or bandpass filters. Some more creative options include lowpass Daft, a tribute to the famous French filter found in Daft Punk records, comb filter, and scream. The filter has a cutoff knob and a resonance knob which sounds excellent when set on high amounts.
The modulation system is Massive’s crown jewel, without a doubt. There is no modulation matrix on board. Instead, you get a modulation system that allows any parameter to be modulated while keeping everything clean and neat. Every parameter has small boxes underneath representing empty slots for modulators to be inserted. You create a connection between the modulator and the target once you drag an LFO or envelope into the empty box. Each modulator is color-coded, with LFOs green, envelopes blue, and macros yellow. This small detail keeps the complex modulation routings making sense even in the most complex patches. There are four LFOs, four envelope generators, and eight macros. The LFOs can be set in LFO mode, stepper, or performance mode. The latter options are perfect for creating arpeggiated riffs, evolving textures, or complex rhythms.
The effects inside Massive are simple but effective. You can run three effects in a single patch, one of them being an EQ which is always running. The effects include options like Delay S, which comes with separate left and right controls for stereo effects, reverb, C tube, which is particularly useful for chiptune sounds, dim expander for exaggerating a sound’s stereo information, phaser, chorus, classic tube, tele tube, and Brauner tube, which is one of my favorite distortion effects.
Massive is available on Windows 10 or 11 and macOS 10.15, 11, or 12 in VST, VST3, AAX, and AU formats.
Massive is an iconic synth, perfect for most electronic genres, including chiptune. The oscillators and complex modulation system will complement the 8-bit sound of chiptune music perfectly. At the same time, effects like Brauner tube and C tube will ensure your chiptune sounds are crisp and high-frequency dominant.
2. UVI 8-Bit Synth
8-Bit Synth is an 8-bit synthesizer designed by UVI.
This synthesizer is inspired by the lo-fi hardware sounds of yesterday and consists of a dual-layer engine loaded with authentic hardware samples. This is where the beauty in its approach lies: unlike other synths on this list, it doesn’t emulate sound chips from the 80s but instead samples them.
- Extensive sound library
8-Bit Synth comes with an extensive sound library sourced from hardware synthesizers and game consoles of the past. UVI sampled all sorts of hardware, including the Commodore 64, Game Boy, SID Station, and Mod Machine. Overall, 375 high-quality synth patches are organized in a menu split by sound categories. The categories are brass, bass, chip mod, chords, composite, drums, fx, keys & bells, leads, pads, plucks, polysynths, sweeps, and waveforms. If you wish to know how 8-Bit Synth works, it’s divided into two layers. Layer one plays sounds from the SID Station, and layer two sounds from other hardware.
There is an amplitude envelope and a filter envelope inside the main page of 8-Bit Synth. They can affect each layer individually or both of them. The amplitude envelope is an ADSR-style envelope with velocity and attack toggle switches. When you turn them on, the velocity will affect the attack of the envelope, meaning the bigger the velocity, the longer the attack. The filter envelope is also an ADSR envelope, with a depth fader determining the modulation amount. Finally, a balance fader determines the balance between the synth’s lower and higher frequency register. If you move it to the left, the lower register will be more emphasized, and vice versa.
The edit page lets you adjust the vibrato, tremolo, or filter control. By adjusting them, you automatically map them to the mod wheel. All three can be turned on and mapped to the mod wheel simultaneously. Next, you can adjust the layers’ polyphony and set them to mono or poly. Afterward, you can add portamento or glide. Next, you can adjust the pitch of the layers up or down by octaves or semitones to create more complex compositions. Finally, you can add stereo effects by enabling unison or detuning to sweeten and thicken the instrument’s tone.
- Sequencer and LFO
The modulation possibilities inside 8-Bit Synth don’t stop at the envelopes. A sequencer under the mod panel can modulate the volume and filter of each sound layer. You can set it, so it modulates either or both sound layers. In addition, you have control over the number of steps, speed, delay, and smooth parameters of the sequencer. Finally, there is an LFO in the same panel for modulating the volume, filter, and pitch of either or both sound layers. It comes in sinewave, square, triangle, and step & hold shapes.
8-Bit Synth has an effects page loaded with seven effects: EQ, thorus, phasor, sparkverb, drive, ensemble, and delay. Thorus is a chorus module designed by UVI with speed and depth controls. The ensemble is perfect for thickening your sounds and adding a 3D feel, while the EQ effect is interestingly rich and versatile. The sparkverb is probably my favorite of the bunch. It has a rich sound and independent low and high-frequency controls for cleaning up your sound. It could easily be a standalone effect VST.
8-Bit Synth is available on Windows 10-11 and macOS 10.14-12 in VST, VST3, AAX, AU, and Standalone formats.
8-Bit Synth is an exciting and captivating plugin. One thing I haven’t touched on yet is the gorgeous user interface. It’s very inviting and easy to understand, something that makes it perfect for both beginner and experienced producers. The sound layers and the sound library are excellent and will keep you inspired for days, the effects are stellar, and the modulation system steals the show. Overall, this is an excellent synth for producing chiptune.
3. Impact Soundworks inSIDious – (Synth For NI REAKTOR 6 / Reaktor 6 Player)
inSIDious is a virtual synth plugin by Impact Soundworks. The name is a reference to the iconic SID Station, a musical synthesizer sound module.
Impact Soundworks promises that inSIDious is the definitive SID chip plugin. It comes with 350 sounds inspired by the Commodore 64 and designed by iconic composers and musicians.
- Three digital oscillators
Three digital oscillators are located inside inSIDious. They come with sawtooth, pulse, triangle, and noise. The noise waveform can be pitched up or down to give the synthesizer its characteristic 8-bit sound. The rest of the waveforms can be set up in any possible combination that unlocks a large number of combinations and, in extension, new waveforms. The oscillators can be synced to the frequency of another oscillator to achieve Hard Sync effects. You can also achieve ring modulation by setting an oscillator to the triangle waveform, which can use other oscillators as a carriers.
The modulation possibilities in inSIDious are pretty broad. You get an ADSR envelope per oscillator that is mapped to the amplitude of the oscillator. There’s also a pulse width modulation envelope and LFO, as well as a pitch envelope and LFO, all of which come with independent timings and sync values. The LFOs come with triangle, square, random, saw down, and saw up waveshapes. You can assign any of these LFOs or envelopes to the mod wheel for some extra expression and performance control.
- Accurate 8-bit sound
inSIDious delivers an accurate 8-bit sound and an extensive sound library that showcases the full range of the instrument’s possibilities. The sounds included were designed by famous composers and musicians, such as Chris Huelsbeck, Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway, Mark Knight, LMan, Jason Page, and Rapture. The sounds are neatly organized in a menu split into categories like classic & modern styles, basses, leads, drones, perc, loops, and FX.
inSIDious is available on Windows 7, 8, or 10 and macOS 10.12 or higher as a Reaktor 6 or Reaktor 6 Player extension.
inSIDious is a versatile and intricate synthesizer showcasing the full range of SID chip sounds. Inspired by the Commodore 64 chip, the sound bank is extensive and inspiring. In addition, the three oscillators, with their Hard Synch and ring modulation capabilities, offer a broad range of sound design possibilities. I’d recommend this to intermediate or advanced producers since the interface might seem challenging to a beginner.
4. Plogue Chipsounds
Chipsounds is a software synth by Plogue that generates classic video game sounds.
Plogue promises that Chipsounds will transform your VST host into a classic video game console or even an 80s arcade. Chipsounds emulates 15 vintage chips from the 8-bit era in freakishly accurate ways. The sounds are therefore perfect for chiptune and 8-bit music.
- Incredible vintage sound
Chipsounds emulates vintage chips to achieve its signature 8-bit sound. Vintage sound chips were often limited due to their lack of polyphony. However, they did have an incredibly unique and unpredictable sound, with pitching and waveshape constantly changing. Chipsounds captures this trait beautifully with the 15 chips it emulates. The sound is accurate to the 80s video game era, and the overall quality of the sound is excellent. You also get significant control over the shape of the oscillators, allowing you to achieve even more bizarre sounds and patches.
Due to the lack of polyphony in early sound chips, producers and composers had to develop exciting and ground-breaking techniques to create interesting musical phrases. One of these techniques was using arpeggiators to sequence fast melodic phrases played by a single voice. Chipsounds includes an arpeggiator that does justice to the 8-bit video game era. It comes loaded with nine different modes and a few controls that will help you craft interesting and engaging patterns. You get tempo controls, pitch range, duration, velocity, repeat, gate, probability, and swing.
Chipsounds includes features that are found in modern synths. One of these features is the modulation system which allows for quite a lot of sound design potential. The LFOs included are relatively complex and can smoothly modulate the pitch or amplitude of the oscillator. Interestingly, the LFO shape can be customized and drawn by the user. The LFO controls are depth, rate, and delay. There are also envelopes included that can modulate the pitch and amplitude of the oscillator.
The mixer is one of the most fascinating and unique pages inside Chipsounds. Inside the mixer page, you will find eight slots where you can load a chip emulation. You can also set the waveform, pitch, voicing, panning, volume, effect send, and output channel. You get to choose from 15 different chip emulations, and each of the eight slots can be filled with different chips or the same. They are all layered to create an original and complex sound. The sound design potentials are genuinely endless.
Chipsounds is available on Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.11 or higher in VST, AU, and AAX formats.
Chipsounds is one of the most accurate and successful synthesizers at emulating vintage sound chips. The sound quality is fantastic, and the 8-bit sounds it generates are perfect for producing chiptune. The arpeggiator is exceptionally well thought out, and the mixer page is an original idea that provides endless sound design possibilities. I’d recommend Chipsounds if you’re a chiptune music producer.
5. AudioThing miniBit
miniBit is an 8-bit synthesizer designed by AudioThing.
AudioThing describes miniBit as an 8-bit chiptune synthesizer that emulates retro computers and 80s game consoles. Everything from the oscillator waveshapes, the effects, and the user interface design scream vintage.
There is a single main oscillator in miniBit, and it comes with 18 waveforms. There’s also a sub-oscillator in the form of a square wave pitched an octave lower. The waveforms are not bandlimited, and you can observe the shape of the oscillator through the oscilloscope. A fantastic feature is the ability to draw your own custom waveforms. Finally, the oscillator has a glide knob for achieving legato effects.
- Step sequencer
miniBit includes an eight-step sequencer that adds interest and even more sound design options. The step sequencer can modulate the oscillator’s pitch but also the volume, filter cutoff, resonance, waveform, and downsampling. Modulating all these parameters with the sequencer gives an extra flair to miniBit. You can achieve an 80s-accurate sound by modulating the waveform since it’s reminiscent of early trackers and wavetable synthesizers. The interface of the sequencer is straightforward to understand, and each parameter has a random button that will help you create inspiring sounds out of nothing.
The effects inside miniBit are built in a way that complements the oscillator’s style and the era’s sound. The filter is a lowpass filter with cutoff and resonance controls. It sounds warm, and the resonance has a pleasing bite to it. The delay is mono and can be synced to the host BPM or run freely in ms. The bit crusher is handy in chiptune music. It has a bits control and a downsample control. It can add necessary noise and reduce the bit depth of the oscillator to achieve even gnarlier 8-bit sounds.
- Modulation and utilities
miniBit has an LFO and an envelope generator for modulating various parameters. The envelope can modulate the oscillator’s volume, while the LFO can modulate various parameters. Furthermore, the LFO can run freely or be synced to the host tempo. Finally, a feature I enjoyed is the global randomize button which is located next to the presets menu. Once you tap it, all parameters inside miniBit will be randomized to generate a brand new patch; a perfect way to get inspired when feeling stuck.
miniBit is available on Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher in VST2, VST3, AAX, and AU formats, 64-bit only.
miniBit is an easy-to-use and inspiring chiptune plugin. The oscillator is robust, and the ability to draw custom waveforms is inspiring. The effects complement the style and sound of the plugin perfectly, and the sequencer makes miniBit a must-have plugin. It’s fairly cheap, so getting it shouldn’t be a problem. However, there is a demo version which I recommend you check out if you are still in doubt.
6. AudioThing miniVerb (Chiptune Echo)
miniVerb is an 8-bit chiptune and lofi reverb plugin designed by AudioThing. It’s designed similarly to miniBit, the synthesizer we covered above.
miniVerb is inspired by the sound of games consoles and retro computers. It recreates the reverb sound of early game consoles, which achieved a sense of space by playing a delayed version of the dry signal, effectively creating a slapback effect. Of course, this was later developed into traditional reverb effects, which miniVerb covers beautifully.
The main engine of miniVerb is the echo section. Here you can recreate vintage reverb effects by using a single echo engine. Producers and engineers of the past added space to their sounds by either playing back a delayed version of the dry signal or multiplying the number of playback signals to create longer delays resembling the reverb sound. You can recreate the former effect by using zero feedback, short time, and mono width. To recreate the latter, you must play longer times and add feedback. Finally, for a more modern sound, you can increase the width and enable double time, which lies in the blue button on the top left corner of the echo section.
- Color the sound
miniVerb includes two filter units to help you color the sound and achieve the perfect reverb tone. The first filter is labeled as a pre-filter and is first in miniVerb’s processing chain. You get to roll off high frequencies before any processing is applied to the sound. The second filter is a post filter and rolls off high frequencies after the echo or reverb sound has been added to the mix. The filters can be switched from lowpass to highpass and turned on or off.
The vibrato engine offers an additional flavor that pushes the sound further into lo-fi territories. It adds pitch modulation on the wet signal that emulates pitch flutter from old-school tape machines, although it can be exaggerated if you want it to. There are rate and depth knobs to fine-tune the effect and an on/off toggle switch.
The crusher is the most chiptune-appropriate feature of miniVerb. It has three knobs: bits, downsample, and shifter. The bits knob adjusts the bit rate of the sound and has a range of 2-24 bits, the downsample adds a bit crush effect, and the shifter is a pitch shifting effect. The bits knob is handy in a chiptune setting and gets gnarly and noisy the lower the setting you choose. The shifter is probably my favorite control since it allows for the most creative and leftfield results. You can create trippy harmonies or modulate them for some psychedelic results.
miniVerb is available on Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher in VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX formats, 64-bit only.
miniVerb is an exquisite retro reverb and delay unit by AudioThing. The sound is accurate to the retro video game sound era and is excellent for lo-fi and chiptune. The echo is versatile and can achieve a wide range of effects, and the addition of vibrato and crusher modules is an addition to fresh air. I highly recommend this for all chiptune producers and producers interested in lo-fi, psychedelic music, and any genre that tries to achieve a retro sound.
7 Best Free Chiptune Plugins 2022
1. Cosmic Boy IceCream (Only Win)
IceCream is a free 8-bit sound synthesizer created by Cosmic Boy.
IceCream is ideal for chiptune due to the unmistakable 8-bit sound it provides. In addition, it’s designed to resemble a game console, something evident from the preset menu, eye-catching graphics, and arcade-like sound quality.
IceCream has two basic oscillators. By moving the Osc knob, you get to alter the oscillator’s waveform. You can set the octave and volume of each oscillator and also adjust the frequency of oscillator 2. The four-octave range of each oscillator is worthy of mention. The sound is very reminiscent of early PC and Gameboy games, particularly the Super Mario series. Expect raw sawtooth sounds or popping square-wave tones.
IceCream has a very simple but effective sequencer in its interface. You can draw steps or curves on it, which can be used to modulate either the pitch or filter of the oscillators. In addition, you can save and recall templates, which is much appreciated, and adjust the fine timing of the sequence through a smooth knob. Finally, the sequencer can be linked to the host BPM to enter musical timing values.
There is a multimode filter included in IceCream for sound shaping. You can adjust the filter cutoff and resonance values as expected, but you also get a key track knob. The filter can be set to various modes, and I found that it always sounds exceptional. It’s doing a great job complimenting the oscillators and the overall chiptune character of this synth. Finally, the filter comes with its envelope for modulation and can also be modulated by the sequencer.
There is a reverb module in IceCream that comes with four controls: mix, damp, room, and width. The controls offer a lot of sound design potential, and the overall sound of the reverb is lo-fi and dirty. There is also a delay unit with delay time and feedback controls and a parametric EQ with eight frequency bands.
IceCream is available on Windows only as a VST plugin.
IceCream is an exceptional free plugin for chiptune music. I think it’s a perfect synth for a beginner producer who needs an affordable synth to work with, but also a good choice for an experienced producer looking for a fun new piece of software to play with. The overall sound is unmistakably 8-bit and a perfect fit for chiptune production.
2. de la mancha basic 65 retro Chiptune
Basic 65 is a free monophonic synthesizer by de la mancha.
Basic 65 was inspired by Commodore 64, the famous 80s computer, and more specifically by its iconic SID chip. De la mancha built basic 65 by recreating the waveforms and signal paths of the original SID chip and by adding a few modern features, evolved it into something completely new.
- Three oscillators
Basic 65 comes with three oscillators that consist of pulse, saw, triangle, and noise waveforms. The oscillators come with volume, detune, pulse width, and octave controls, while the oscillator has dedicated ADSR amp envelopes too. The exciting part about these oscillators is the oscillator effects. Each oscillator can be synced to each other, ring modulate each other, and achieve pulse width modulation. The result of these effects is countless possible combinations that bring a vast number of sonic options.
There is a modulation envelope inside basic 65. It can control the pulse width and pitch of individual oscillators and the filter cutoff, dirt, and resonance. In addition, there are two LFOs included that can be tempo-synced. They come with a range of waveforms, including random. Both LFOs can control individual oscillators’ pulse width and pitch, while LFO one can also control the filter and dirt. In contrast, LFO two can control the depth and speed of the first LFO, something that is quite rare and sophisticated for a free synth.
There are two arpeggiators inside basic 65, and they are both tempo-synced. They are arranged in series to achieve complex sounds usually thought of when describing retro 8-bit games and scores. You can adjust the arp tempo, range, and note length to fine-tune your sequences.
A menu on the top right corner of basic 65 lets you select the overall bit depth of the instrument. You can choose between 4, 6-, 8-, 12-, or 16-bit audio. One exciting feature is the bit randomizer, which will select for you the bit depth. There is also a pitch drift effect for an even more authentic retro sound. The pitch drift effect comes with different models like drift or buzz, and you can adjust the overall effect amount. It can also be modulated by the LFOs or modulation envelope.
Basic 65 is available on Windows only as a VST plugin.
Basic 65 is not a basic synthesizer. However, the three oscillators can achieve quite a few different oscillator effects between them and can offer exciting sounds. The modulation system is well thought out, and I love the inclusion of depth and rate modulation for LFO one. The pitch drift effect suits the instrument perfectly and ensures that its 8-bit character stays intact. Overall, basic 65 is an excellent chiptune instrument.
3. INSIDIOUS 6581 (Synth For NI Reaktor)
INSIDIOUS 6581 is a free synth library for Reaktor by Native Instruments.
This instrument promises to be the definitive emulation of the iconic Commodore 64 sound chip. Of course, this is something a lot of synths on this list promise; however, INSIDIOUS 6581 has a few extra tricks up its sleeve to justify this claim.
- Three channels
INSIDIOUS 6581 has three independent channels which essentially function as oscillators. They come with square/PWM, triangle, sawtooth, and noise waveforms. The waveforms, however, are slightly saturated with extra harmonic frequencies so that they match the gnarly character of the original SID chip. The oscillators are also able of ring modulation and hard sync, while they can also be either monophonic or polyphonic.
The filter inside INSIDIOUS 6581 is quite a treat. While it includes three basic modes in lowpass, highpass, and bandpass, it emulates the unique SID saturating filter, which is incredibly important for achieving an authentic sound. Therefore, the filter cutoff curves match those from various SID chips. The sound is dirty and exciting, especially when incorporating high resonance values. Finally, a key sync button ensures clarity throughout the keyboard range.
Each of the three channels inside INSIDIOUS 6581 has dedicated LFOs and envelopes that can modulate the pulse width, amplitude, pitch, and filter cutoff. This ensures that you get maximum sound design possibilities and high tweakability. In addition, there is a handy visualization for monitoring the shapes of your LFO or envelope and frequency, fade, and delay controls for fine-tuning your modulation shapes.
There are a few extra parameters and features I’d like to shout out here. First, there is a handy step table in INSIDIOUS 6581 for achieving that unmistakable 8-bit sound. Furthermore, there are presets included that are taken straight out of the original Commodore 64 games and were faithfully recreated in INSIDIOUS 6581. Finally, there is an optional quantization clock to restrict modulation in specific frequency bands, like 50 – 60 Hz or 100 – 150 Hz, just like in most games.
INSIDIOUS 6581 is available on Windows and macOS inside Reaktor 6 or Reaktor 6 player.
INSIDIOUS 6581 is a well-thought-out and well-developed emulation of the iconic Commodore 64 chip. The sound is gnarly and squishy, especially as you push the instrument to its limits. However, it generates unmistakable 8-bit sounds that would fit in any chiptune production. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in chiptune.
4. Daichi Laborarory Synth1
Synth1 is an instrument synthesizer designed by Daichi Laboratory. It is one of the most downloaded and famous free plugins ever.
Synth1 expands beyond genre boundaries and limitations. It’s famous for being one of the most versatile free synthesizers ever and has stretched the limits of what’s achievable by freeware software. It’s modeled on the Clavia Nord Lead 2 Red Synth, a famous digital synthesizer. Due to its versatility, it can be used to generate unique 8-bit sounds that can fit inside any chiptune production.
- Two oscillators
Synth1 has two independent oscillators: sinewave, triangle, sawtooth, and pulse waveshapes. Oscillator two includes fine pitch tuning knobs and can achieve ring modulation and sync effects. A sub-oscillator is also equipped with the same waveshapes that can be pitched much lower than the main oscillators. As a digital synthesizer, Synth1’s oscillators can sound rich across the frequency spectrum, with the top-end being characteristically full and dirty, perfect for chiptune music.
There is a powerful filter on board with five different modes: lowpass 12 or 24 dB, highpass 12 dB, bandpass 12 dB, and LPDL, which is a lowpass filter modeled after the diode ladder filter found on the TB303. The sound is exciting, with the right amount of resonance, and even aggressive. An envelope is attached to the filter for sculpting your ideal sound, and a velocity map switch will ensure your filter cutoff reacts to velocity values. Finally, a saturation knob ensures you can add even more harmonic content and gnarl to your sound through the filter.
One of the reasons Synth1 is included in this chiptune list is the arpeggiator. It can generate exciting patterns reminiscent of arcade games or 80s video games. The arpeggiator comes with four modes up, down, updown, and random modes. In addition, it has a possible four-octave range and comes with beat and gate controls for achieving detailed arp sequences.
There are two LFOs included in Synth1 that can also be synchronized with the host. The LFOs can modulate a wide range of parameters, including osc2 pitch, osc1 & 2 pitch, filter cutoff, amp, pulse width, FM, and pan. They can also run freely in ms for even more random and chaotic sound effects.
There are a few different effects in Synth1. TO begin with, we have a distortion unit that will come in hand if you’re interested in creating crushed 8-bit sounds. Next, there is an EQ effect with a panner included. The EQ is simple with two bands only but works well enough to help you sculpt the frequency field to your liking. The panner works excellently as an auto panner since it can be modulated through the LFOs. There is also a tempo delay with spread, time, feedback, and tone controls. Finally, a chorus/flanger is included to add stereo dimension to your sounds.
Synth1 is available on Windows and macOS in VST and AU formats.
Synth1 is one of the most versatile synthesizers in the market. The fact that it’s free makes having it a no-brainer. The oscillators sound excellent, and the number of oscillator effects, stereo effects, and modulation options make it even more desirable. I’d recommend this no matter what genre you produce, but if you’re into chiptune, Synth1 can surprise you.
5. Matt Montag NES (Nintendo VST)
NES is a free synthesizer designed by Matt Montag.
NES is designed to emulate the Nintendo 8-bit sounds by emulating its 2A03 chip. Montag built the plugin in Outsim SynthMaker to ensure a high-quality user interface while producing alias-free primitive waveforms.
- Nintendo-accurate waveforms
It’s not an easy feat to recreate a sound as iconic as that of Nintendo. The hardest part to get right is the pure waveforms that have such a memorable feel to them. For example, to achieve the distinct sound of the Nintendo triangle, NES’s creator used a single triangle waveform that’s quantized to 16 discrete amplitudes. This ensures a curved falling segment of the waveform and a linear rise, something that produces even more harmonics. Another thing NES gets right is the noise channel, which sends a random sequence of bits to audio out. The bits are then subdivided to create eight unique output samples that are then merged and lowpass filtered to create an 8x oversampled alias-free output.
DPCM stands for Delta Pulse Code Modulation, one of the processes that give Nintendo its unpredictable sound. NES achieves DPCM by increasing or decreasing the signal amplitude at fixed intervals on a per sample basis. NES uses DPCM to play back sampled audio and does so in code. This allows the user to choose custom WAV file samples with DPCM in real-time.
Four panels can be modulated inside NES: volume, pitch, fine pitch, and duty cycle. These parameters can be modulated with independent LFOs, which can be synced to the host or run freely. There are also color-coded visualizer windows for you to monitor the LFO shape and how the modulation affects the sound.
NES is available on Windows only as a VST plugin.
NES is one of the most accurate emulations of the iconic Nintendo sound. The sound of the instrument is characteristically 8-bit and perfect for chiptune. The purity and detail of the oscillator waveshapes are impressive and make owning this instrument a no-brainer.
6. Max Project T.Rex 64 (Chiptune Drums)
T.Rex 64 is a rompler drum machine designed by Max Project.
Its main aim is to bring to you drum sounds inspired by the Commodore 64 sound chip. The sounds were sampled straight from a Commodore 64 chip and had a distinct sound that makes them perfect for chiptune.
- High-quality sound
Fernando Lachari sampled the Commodore chip in his Proyecto Return laboratory through a Yamaha 01V Mixer and into an Echo Mia sound interface. This attention to detail ensured a high sound quality with drum sounds in their purest form. Overall, the sounds accurately depict the original chip’s character, and their tone is ideal for chiptune and 8-bit music.
- Varied drum sounds
T.Rex 64 comes with a variety of different drum sounds to accommodate all your percussive needs. There are eight kick drums, eight snare drums, two toms, one cowbell, one clap, and two hi-hats.
Apart from the collection of drum sounds and the accompanying drum pads to perform them, T.Rex 64 includes a few parameters to control the overall sound. There is a single reverb knob for adding space to your drums. The reverb is lo-fi and on the same page as the low-fidelity drum sounds. There is also a panning knob and a volume knob to control the overall balance of your mix.
T.Rex 64 is available on Windows and macOS in VST and AU formats.
T.Rex 64 is a straightforward plugin that delivers precisely what it promises. The drum sounds capture the spirit of Commodore 64 and are perfect for chiptune production. Although a few more drum sounds and parameters would be appreciated, the overall sound quality and no-cost nature of T.Rex 64 make up for its shortcomings.
7. Futurecraft Kairatune (Versatile Synth With Chiptunning in Mind)
Kairatune is a free synthesizer designed by Futurecraft.
Futurecraft created Kairatune to produce crisp electric sounds suitable for all genres of electronic music. They say that Kairatune is created for the demanding producer willing to push a synth to its limits.
Kairatune has a single multi-oscillator. It comes with sawtooth and square pulse waveforms, and although it’s packaged as a single oscillator, it has the sound of five single oscillators. There is a low knob for blending in a lower octave tone, a spread control for adding stereo depth, a phase knob, and a detune menu. The oscillator sounds excellent and can produce all sorts of sounds, from dreamy plucks and pads to harsh bass sounds and infectious lead synths.
Multiple LFOs and envelopes inside Kairatune help you push your sound design ideas to their maximum limits. Almost every section of the instrument’s interface has an LFO or envelope attached for modulation. For example, there are lowpass and highpass filter sections that can run simultaneously and have independent LFO and envelope controls. The LFOs and envelopes are synced to the host tempo and can achieve some very interesting rhythmic results.
There are three effects inside Kairatune to help you polish your synth sounds. First, the delay is one of the most advanced I’ve ever encountered on a free synth. It is a stereo delay with left and right controls for fine-tuning your stereo field. There are also high pass and band pass filters inside the delay, which add another extra layer of excitement. The phaser has depth, rate, and feedback controls and can help you achieve even more intricate stereo effects. Finally, the EQ has two bands with various shapes to help you clean up the frequencies of your patch.
- Easy to learn
Considering the number of features and sound design possibilities Kairatune is capable of, the interface is very clean and well designed. Everything is located on the same panel, and there are no hidden windows, ensuring producers of all experience levels can feel at home instantly. There’s also a nifty color-coded system for the modulation controls, where LFOs are green and envelopes blue while all volume values are purple. It’s just a little detail that keeps Kairatune easy on the eyes and understandable, especially on complex patches.
Kairatune is available on Windows and macOS in VST and AU formats.
Kairatune is one of the most intricate free synthesizers I’ve seen. The oscillator is excellent, and the amount of modulation options is staggering. The delay effect is one of the most advanced in a free synthesizer, and the interface is excellently designed. I’d recommend this to all advanced producers who wish to have a synthesizer that makes sound design enjoyable and effortless. It’s truly a sound designer’s paradise. Finally, its electric nature and focus on electric sounds make it ideal for chiptune.
Chiptune has been around for more than forty years and has always relied on 8-bit sound generators such as vintage computers and game console chips. Thankfully, there are plenty of other avenues through which you can create chiptune in 2022. This list is a guide to the best tools for creating chiptune. Use it to discover new software and identify the ones that best suit your production style.
Alvinos Zavlis is an artist/producer from Cyprus based in Bristol, UK. With three albums under his belt and plenty of singles, his catalogue covers a wide range of sounds, from hip hop and trip hop to IDM and experimental electronic styles, all fused together to create unique blends of sounds. He works as a freelance mixing and mastering engineer in Bristol for artists of all styles.