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Chiptune is a fairly broad term used to describe music that has been programmed to play on old, often 8bit sound chips from days of yore. The term can also refer to modern examples of video game music, with artists like Anamanaguchi rocketing to fame complete with Game Boys in hand.
Much like MIDI files, chiptune tracks are often just sets of instructions that tell the chip what to do and when to do it. Purists will always tell you to listen to the track on original hardware, though it’s unlikely everyone has a Commodore 64 or Amiga 1200 just lying around (guilty parties, raise your hands).
Here are some of the very best tools, resources and other websites to immerse yourself in the bleep-boop world of chiptune.
Chips ‘n’ Dip
In order to enjoy the unbelievable amount of chiptune music that has made it onto the world wide web over the years you’ll either be needing the original hardware and programs required for playback (for the seriously dedicated) or some emulation software to do the job for you.
Many mainstream media players such as iTunes and Windows Media Player are not suitable for chiptune files as there are many exotic filetypes associated with this kind of music. XMPlay is probably one of the finest examples for Windows users, and even users running Linux should have some success using Wine.
It supports a large number of formats including various chiptune filetypes, and more plugins (for greater compatibility) and skins are available at Un4seen Developments. Users who fancy an alternative can also turn to Chipamp which is a chiptune plugin pack for Winamp, again suitable for Windows users.
Mac OS X and Linux (also Windows) users will have some success with Audio Overload, a tool designed specifically to emulate vintage sound chips from old computers. Whilst it doesn’t play everything it certainly covers a lot of the bases. If you’re interested in playing music from old arcade ROMs then the same author has produced a tool for the job called M1. For that all-important .XM file support on Mac or UNIX based systems then MikMod does the job too.
Some of the songs featured on the websites below are in MP3 or streamable Flash form, so even if you don’t fancy grabbing specialist software you’ll at least be able to enjoy a few bleeps and boops!
Not only is Chiptune.com one of the greatest resources for all manner of retro sounds, but the website has been designed to imitate Workbench, the original AmigaOS. The result is a faithful and nostalgic interface that boots and behaves like a real Amiga.
The music is stored within the Chipbench 1.3 folder, and by far the most efficient way of browsing or downloading whole collections is via the FTP link (unless you’re a fan of closing a lot of windows all of the time).
Even if you don’t download anything this website is worth a poke around for old time’s sake.
Who said chiptune was dead? Not me, for I have seen 8bitcollective – a site dedicated to creating, discussing and sharing electronic noises. The music provided on this site appears to be MP3 only, so you can stream each song before deciding whether you want the free download or not.
It may disappoint some that original filetypes are not available, though don’t despair – there’s a lot of music available and all of it is completely free. I’d hazard a guess that much of the music found on 8bitcollective is fairly recent, though that’s not to say retro equipment or samples haven’t been used.
This collective formed in 1999 through their shared passion for video game music and an urge to bring chiptune to the masses, for free. The discography page is where the treasure can be found and features music from various artists still producing this type of music today.
The website is regularly updated with news and new material, so check it out for 8bit happenings where you are in the world. The group are responsible for gigs and events around the globe and are currently preparing for the Australian Blip Festival in February 2012.
Nearly 2,000 separate entries make up this rather untidy list of chiptune downloads that mostly come in .XM format. There are also thousands of other files that make up The MOD Archive’s swelling archive of downloadable music, so check it out and see what you can find.
One thing that’s particularly nice about this site is that each download page offers up suggested software for listening to your chosen tune.
Another fairly old website that features thousands of files to peruse and download. Alternatively you can simply download the lot in a click (the entire MOD archive comes in at 76.5MB, with an additional 5.5MB of Adlib files and 6.3MB of the YM variety).
The following sites aren’t repositories of files or chiptune-dedicated sites but might aid you in your search for warm fuzzy noises.
Kohina is a simple radio station that serves up retro video game music 24/7. Prepare to play spot-the-tune as you encounter genuine sounds from some very old games!
Digitally Imported, or DI.fm as it is more commonly known, is easily one of the best online radio services on the web. Now you can chiptune whenever you want, simply by tuning in to their “Chiptunes” radio station. If you really love the service you can go premium for higher bitrates.
SoundCloud is a fantastic resource for streaming video game music from a wealth of devices. Why not stumble around the chiptune tag to see if there’s anyone worth following?
There are literally thousands of files here for your perusal – some tagged, some just arbitrary strings of numbers and letters, so I’m not exaggerating when I say if you like chiptune you’ve struck gold with these websites. If you do discover any awesome tunes then don’t hesitate in sharing them with us, below.
Do you like chiptune? Any favourite websites? Any favourite artists or songs? Have an 8bit party in the comments!