SocaLabs Commodore 64 SID: It’s Free, but Super Buggy

Over the years, dozens of plugin developers have tried to emulate and sample the Commodore 64’s SID chip. Many have succeeded with incredible results. Others fall just a little short of greatness.

I’m a big fan of C64 music. So naturally, I was curious when I discovered this free Commodore 64 SID plugin from SocaLabs. I think the instrument is great, but I’ve experienced some glaring issues that make it hard to recommend — even for free.

SocaLabs SID inside a DAW session

What Is the SocaLabs Commodore 64 SID?

SocaLabs SID is a free VST plugin that emulates the Commodore 64’s SID sound chip.  It works in almost any major DAW, and is an easy way to make C64-inspired chiptune music.

SID was developed by Roland Rabian, who created several other chiptune VSTs and effects plugins. You can check them all out on the SocaLabs website.

SocaLabs Commodore 64 SID

A free virtual synth that emulates the Commodore 64's SID chip.

Free Download

How Does SocaLabs SID Work?

This virtual synth comes with three oscillators that produce four types of waveforms: square, saw, triangle, and noise. You can play just a single voice at a time for more traditional chiptune sounds, or layer the three oscillators together to create something unique. It also offers other tools to help with sound design.

You can download SID from the SocaLabs website. Just drop the file in your VST folder and you should be good to go.

SocaLabs SID Features

SID comes with basic features you’d expect to find on any virtual synthesizer. All of them are fully automatable via MIDI. We’ll briefly go over them here.

Four Types of Waveforms

You can choose between four different wave shapes for each of the oscillators:

  • Square, with an adjustable pulse width
  • Saw
  • Triangle
  • Noise

All four of these sounds were present on the original SID chip, so it’s good to see them all recreated here.

ADSR Envelope Controls

Like any synth worth its salt, SID comes with envelope controls. You can adjust each oscillator’s attack, delay, sustain, and release times. This opens up a lot of options for sound design.

Part of the GUI in SocaLabs SID showcasing the ADSR controls.

Low-Pass, High-Pass, and Band-Pass Filters

You can adjust the sound of each oscillator by adding band filters. You can have all three filters going at once, or just one at a time. Plus, you can adjust the cutoff and resonance of the filters.

Ring Modulation

The ring modulation feature adds a more harsh, metallic quality to the triangle wave. It doesn’t seem to affect any other wave shapes. Check out this Sweetwater article for a more in-depth explanation of ring modulation.

Hard Sync Between Oscillators

You can sync the envelope controls between each oscillator. One will be the “master” oscillator, the others will be the “slaves”. Change a setting on the master oscillator, and the slave oscillators will reset to follow. This lets you make quick universal changes if you have 2–3 oscillators going at the same time.

8-Voice Polyphony

Unlike the original Commodore 64, you can change the instrument’s polyphony and have up to eight voices playing simultaneously. This expands SID’s usability outside of traditional chiptune music.

Things I Like About SocaLabs SID

This impressive little synth is a pretty close approximation of the Commodore 64’s SID chip, and would be a great addition to any chiptune enthusiast’s plugin collection.

I like its ability to layer sounds on top of each other and create interesting leads and basses. The other modulation and filter controls also make it compelling for simple sound design.

My Problems with SocaLabs SID

Overall, my feelings about this synth itself are pretty positive. But I’ve experienced some major, major bugs that prevent me from recommending SocaLabs SID.

Here’s what’s happening:

  • Sounds freeze when adding plugins during playback — Every instance of SID will hold the last note played when adding a plugin. The only way to stop this bug is by turning up the polyphony and resetting the error notes. I can recreate this issue with 100% consistency.
  • SID stops working altogether when exporting audio — This happens regardless of which tracks I select, and where I bounce them to. Again, I can recreate this error with 100% consistency. I’d love to provide audio demos for this review, but I legitimately can’t export them from my DAW session.

For reference, I’ve been running SID in Cakewalk by Bandlab on a fairly powerful Windows computer. As of this writing, I haven’t been able to test this in any other DAW.

That said, I haven’t encountered any of these issues when using SocaLabs’ other chiptune plugins.

Should You Get SocaLabs SID?

Like I said, the bugs are a deal-breaker for me. It’s a shame because I think the actual instrument is pretty great. But I literally can’t share any music I make with it. Plus, the audio freezing glitch makes for a pretty rough user experience.

But I don’t doubt that others have had a good time with SID. And it’s entirely possible these issues are unique to Cakewalk and/or my particular setup.

Maybe it’ll work out fine for you. And since SID is completely free, there’s no harm in trying it out for yourself.

SocaLabs Commodore 64 SID

A free virtual synth that emulates the Commodore 64's SID chip.

Free Download

Do Other SocaLabs Plugins Have Similar Issues?

I’ve tried the other chiptune instruments made by SocaLabs. While I’ve experienced some occasional audio freezes with the Nintendo RP2A03, none of the other major problems are present. I’d happily recommend them to any chiptune enthusiast.

SocaLabs Nintendo RP2A03

This free plugin emulates the Nintendo Entertainment System's sound chip. It includes envelope controls and other knobs for recreating the NES sound.

Free Download
SocaLabs GameBoy PAPU

A free virtual synth that emulates the Nintendo GameBoy's sound hardware. Layer its two oscillators together to create unique leads, make sweeping sound effects, and other retro sounds.

Free Download
SocaLabs Master System SN76489

This free synth emulates the Texas Instruments SN76489 sound chip found in the Sega Master System, Neo Geo Pocket, BBC Micro, and other vintage game consoles.

Free Download
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Alternatives to SocaLabs SID

There are plenty of free and paid plugins available for making 8-bit music. For an expanded list, check out my top recommendations for chiptune software. But for now, these are the best alternatives for writing Commodore 64 music in your DAW.

  1. VSTSID - SID Synthesizer Instrument

    VSTSID mimics the Commodore 64's SID chip, delivering gritty-sounding pulse waves in all their lo-fi glory. It lets you easily perform the bubbly chiptune arps, and comes complete with envelope controls and other filter settings.

    Free Download Read Our Review
  2. Super Audio Cart  - Retro Game Samples

    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.

    Buy Now Read Our Review

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

  3. inSIDious - SID Chip Synthesizer

    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.

    Buy Now

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  4. Commodore 64 Sessions Deluxe

    A free Kontakt chiptune instrument with over 30 patches. Everything was sampled from a real Commodore 64 computer. Plus, it comes with other filters and envelope controls to help customize your sound.

    Free Download Read Our Review

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

  5. Chipsounds – 8-bit Soft Synth

    This premium instrument offers near-perfect emulations of 15 sound chips from the 8-bit era. Write authentic chiptunes or spice up modern tracks with vintage sounds.

    Buy Now

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

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Learn How to Write Commodore 64 Music

If you’re looking into this SID plugin, there’s a good chance you’re also interested in Commodore 64 music in general. We’ve put together a guide on how to write Commodore 64 music. Check it out for more tips and tricks for writing in the 8-bit style.