There’s never been a better time to make chiptune music. Nowadays, we’re spoiled with all sorts of plugins that bring back the magic of ‘80s gaming.
But while there’s a wealth of chiptune software out there, not all of them go out of their way to be authentic to the original hardware.
We’ve sorted out the best 8-bit VST plugins. Many of them are completely free. Some of them come at a price, but are worth every penny.
Quick Look: The Best 8-Bit VST Plugins
There are loads of free and commercial 8-bit plugins that run in almost any DAW. These are my personal favorites.
Premium 8-Bit VST Plugins
If you’re looking for the best of the best, look no further than these 8-bit instruments. Yes, they have higher price tags. But they offer more robust features and accurate emulations than typical free plugins.
Free 8-Bit VST Plugins
You don’t have to pay anything to get quality chiptune sounds. These VST instruments do an excellent job mimicking the original 8-bit hardware they’re based on.
1. Super Audio Cart (Best 8-Bit Sample Library)
Super Audio Cart is an all-in-one chiptune solution that covers the early decades of gaming. It comes with thousands of samples from 15 classic game systems, all of which were sampled from original hardware.
As far as 8-bit consoles go, here’s what you’ll find in Super Audio Cart:
- Atari 2600
- Atari POKEY
- Commodore 64
- Sega Master System
On top of these 8-bit sounds, you’ll find samples from other classic game consoles like the SNES, Genesis/Mega Drive, Amiga, and more.
Super Audio Cart comes loaded with plenty of presets and drum kits, making it easy to just find a sound that instantly inspires you.
Plus, it offers loads of other effects and sound design tools to help you create entirely unique instruments.
Super Audio Cart includes sounds from 15 classic game consoles and computers spanning several decades. It's the most comprehensive library of retro game samples ever assembled.
2. Chipsounds (Best 8-Bit Synthesizer)
This plugin has been around for over a decade, making it one of the most established chiptune VSTs around.
Chipsounds is a synthesizer that accurately emulates 16 different sound chips used in various 8-bit consoles, computers, arcade cabinets, and keyboards. It even emulates regional variants and multiple clockspeeds, effectively doubling the number of available sound chips.
The 8-bit sounds present in Chipsounds range from well-known and beloved systems to obscure computers with limited runs. Here are just a few:
- Atari 2600
- Commodore 64
- Commodore VIC-20
- Casio VL-1 Keyboard
- Magnavox Odyssey2
- Sega Master System
It’s arguably the most comprehensive 8-bit VST plugin available.
Beyond that, Chipsounds has plenty of features that make it a compelling modern synth as well. You can layer sounds on top of each other, tweak any parameter, or use the built-in effects and sound design tools.
There are also dozens of presents to help you find unique and interesting sounds right away.
If all you need is just one VST plugin that covers the entire 8-bit generation, Chipsounds is it.
3. inSIDious (Best Commodore 64 Synth)
For many who grew up in the ‘80s, the Commodore 64 IS the 8-bit sound.
And while there are dozens of SID plugins and sample libraries out there, inSIDious is my favorite one. It does one thing, and does it incredibly well.
inSIDious is a Reaktor-based synth that mimics the Commodore 64’s SID chip down to its imperfections.
The GUI is simple enough that you can select your sounds and start creating right away. It even comes with 350 presets to help inspire you.
But if you want to get into the weeds and create complex, dynamic sounds, you can.
If you just want the best Commodore 64 SID plugin, inSIDious does the trick.
A boutique synthesizer that runs in the Reaktor engine. It recreates the iconic gritty sound of the Commodore 64's SID sound chip. Make sounds from scratch, or use one of the 300+ presets.
The Best Free 8-Bit VSTs
Having tried several free 8-bit VST plugins, the following ones stand out as my favorites.
Each one is based on a specific 8-bit console, and they’re incredibly simple to use. Plus, they don’t require an additional software purchase like Kontakt or Reaktor.
Why We Picked These 8-Bit Chiptune VSTs and Plugins
Do a quick search for 8-bit VSTs on Google and you’ll find lots of lists with random chiptune plugins. And while the plugins they mention are great, they lack focus. In some cases, the instruments they list aren’t based on any specific 8-bit consoles — they’re synths that make “chiptune-inspired” sounds.
I wanted to highlight some 8-bit plugins that truly try to replicate the original sound chips and consoles in one way or another. These were my criteria:
- They closely emulate or sample original 8-bit sound chips.
- They work inside your DAW. No trackers or other standalone applications.
- The plugins don’t require any additional software purchases (free engines like Kontakt Player or Reaktor Player are fine).
All of the plugins on this list fill those requirements. If you have a computer with a DAW, then you’re all set to make 8-bit music.
Looking for More Plugins? See Our Expanded List of Chiptune Software
The 8-bit plugins on this list just scratch the surface. We’ve put together an expanded list of the best chiptune software, which includes instruments that emulate 16-bit consoles and other game hardware.
Learn the Basics of Writing 8-Bit Music
We’ve told you what plugins to use. But if you want your music to sound authentic, you’ve got to write within each console’s limitations. Learn how to write 8-bit music using our handy guide.