Thanks to a wealth of chiptune software, there’s never been a better or easier time to write 8-bit and 16-bit music. Whether you’re writing for an indie game, supplementing tracks with retro sounds, or making chiptunes for fun, you have plenty of options.
We’ve compiled a list of our favorite VSTs and apps to help you make the best chiptune music possible. Grab one or two of these and you’ll have everything you need to write compelling VGM tracks.
Chiptune Software: Our Top Picks
Our Top Pick
Best Free VST
For SNES Music
For SEGA Music
1. Super Audio Cart by Impact Soundworks
Super Audio Cart is by far the largest sample library here. It comes with thousands of samples from 15 classic gaming systems, including:
- Nintendo consoles like the NES, Game Boy, and Super NES
- Other classic consoles like the Atari 2600 and Sega Genesis
- Vintage computers like the Commodore 64, Amiga 500, and Microsoft MSX
Altogether, it’s the most comprehensive collection of vintage game sounds you could find. And in our opinion, it’s worth every penny.
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. DefleMask Tracker (Best Tracker)
Modern trackers like DefleMask closely replicate the software composers would have used in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a standalone application, so no DAW is necessary!
DefleMask is arguably the best tracker available today. It features accurate emulations of sound chips from several 8-bit and 16-bit consoles. These include the NES, Commodore 64, Genesis, Neo Geo, and more.
On top of that, you can export your music into .vgm format. So theoretically, you can play your tracks on actual game hardware.
3. Nintendo VST (Best 8-bit VST)
Nintendo VST is completely free to download. Despite this, it’s one of the most well-designed and inspiring 8-bit instruments I’ve ever used.
It’s a synth that replicates the NES sound chip, and comes with plenty of sound design tools to work with.
And thanks to its straightforward design, you’ll spend more time writing music and less time tweaking and browsing through sounds.
4. ChipSynth SFC (Best 16-bit SNES VST)
Plogue’s ChipSynth SFC is a near-perfect emulation of the SNES sound hardware. Right out of the box, you have an impressive library of 16-bit sounds to work with.
But the biggest selling point is the sample editor. You can easily upload your own samples and instantly create unique SNES-style instruments.
ChipSynth SFC is also a compelling rompler and music player. You can upload SNES ROMs and play the tracks as you’d hear them in-game. On top of that, it lets you extract sounds from your favorite games and use them in your tracks.
An impressive virtual instrument that emulates the SNES sound hardware. Use the sample library it comes with, or upload your own samples and create new 16-bit instruments!
5. RYM2612 Iconic FM Synthesizer (Best 16-bit Genesis VST)
The Sega Genesis had an iconic sound thanks to its Yamaha YM2612 sound chip. And with Inphonik’s RYM2612, you’ll have access to a virtual synth that perfectly replicates that FM sound.
RYM2612 is a fully functional FM synth that captures all the charm and grainy imperfection of the Genesis/Mega Drive.
You can create sounds from scratch, or browse through a wide collection of presets that instantly unlock your creativity.
On top of that, you can import sounds from your favorite Genesis games using the RYMCast companion app.
Honorable Mention: Byte Riot
Most of the sounds come from hacked game consoles like the Commodore 64, Game Boy, or Sega Genesis. Browse through the collection and you’ll find plenty of blips and bloops to play with.
Altogether, Byte Riot includes the following:
- Hundreds of loops, drums, and samples that work in any DAW
- 80+ drum kits for Maschine and Battery
- Synth presets for Massive and Monark
- Other Maschine-exclusive content
Byte Riot is available as a standalone package, or you can get it with Komplete Ultimate.
Why We Chose These Chiptune Makers
As a VGM enthusiast, I’ve tried dozens of different VST plugins and software programs. And through networking with other composers, I discovered some common trends.
While there’s other chiptune software out there, I picked these products for a few reasons:
- We genuinely like these products and keep coming back to them.
- Each product is the best at what they do and/or offers unique benefits.
- Together, they represent the most popular game consoles of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s.
Grabbing just one or two of them will give you an endless supply of chiptune sounds to play around with.
Okay. But What About Free Plugins & Software?
I get it. You want to write chiptune music without buying any premium software. Thankfully, there are plenty of excellent free plugins and standalone programs you can use right now.
Here are some free VST plugins for writing 8-bit and 16-bit in your DAW
- Nintendo VST — Mentioned above. This is by far my favorite plugin for writing 8-bit NES music in a DAW.
- Magical 8bit Plug — Another fantastic free VST for writing 8-bit NES music. It was created by the Japanese chiptune band YMCK.
- VSTSID — This is a great plugin that replicates the Commodore 64’s SID chip (Read our VSTSID review)
- Genny VST — A free VST that replicates the Sega Genesis sound chip
- Super Audio Boy — A free Kontakt instrument that includes the Game Boy samples from Super Audio Cart.
- Commodore 64 Sessions Deluxe — Another free Kontakt instrument featuring samples from a Commodore 64 computer. (Read our C64 Sessions review)
And if you’re looking for standalone chiptune software and web apps, you can look into these programs:
- DefleMask (Legacy Version) — The legacy version of DefleMask Tracker is free to download and offers most of the same benefits as the current version.
- PxTone Collage — This is freeware chiptune software made by the creator of Cave Story.
- Beepbox — A web app for writing chiptune and instrumental music. The GUI combines elements of both trackers and DAWs.
- Bandlab — Not a dedicated app for chiptune music per se. But it is a powerful DAW that runs in your web browser. It comes with plenty of electronic sounds, including chip-inspired synths and leads. Also available as a mobile app.
Other Premium 8-Bit & 16-Bit Chiptune VST Plugins
Free plugins are great. But if you’re a working composer or producer, you might want something with more robust features or unique sounds.
Don’t worry. We’ve picked out some additional chiptune VSTs worth checking out.
- Chipsounds — This premium instrument offers near-perfect emulation of 15 sound chips from the 8-bit era.
- ChipSynth PortaFM — A plugin that emulates FM sound chips like the AdLib and Sound Blaster cards, letting you recreate the sound of ‘90s DOS games.
- inSIDious — A Reaktor synth that recreates the Commodore 64’s SID chip. Create sounds from scratch, or use one of the 300+ presets.
- Ugritone Koji — Named after the master himself! Koji is a unique sample library of SNES-style sounds. (Read our Koji review)
Additional Resources for Writing Chiptune Music
It’s one thing to write music using chiptune sounds. But if you want your music to sound true to the era, you need to stay within the constraints of each console’s audio hardware.
We’ve put together a few guides to help you write authentic-sounding 8-bit and 16-bit chiptune music:
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