Making 8bit Music: Free Chiptune VST Plugins For Budding Composers

Tim Brookes 23-02-2012

8 bit musicToday we’re going to be exploring the final facet of chiptune creation – using VST plugins (Virtual Studio Technology) in the form of instruments and effects to achieve that 8bit sound. We’ve already had two articles exploring chiptune software trackers Making 8bit Music: An Introduction to Free Chiptune Music Trackers Here are all the tools you need to create your own chiptune music. Read More and how to make chiptune with hardware Making 8bit Music: Using Hardware & Native Trackers For Chiptune Creation A little later than advertised, it’s time to take a second look at chiptune creation, this week focusing on using hardware in the form of native music trackers that run on original systems. If it’s... Read More , so check those out first if you’re interested in this kind of thing.


Those of you who just like to listen to wonderful, computer-generated music will appreciate this article Discover Chiptune: The Best Resources & Tools For Video Game Music 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... Read More which is jam-packed with resources for the discerning listener.

Using VST Instuments & Effects

VST plugins come in two flavours – VST effects and VST instruments (VSTi). Effects are often used in chiptune creation to process clean sounds into lo-fi samples, whereas VSTi plugins are often “played” as if they were real instruments. Similar technologies include Audio Units (AU) on Mac, DSSI/LV2 on Linux and RTAS by Digidesign.

8 bit music

These plugins require a host – a piece of software (or in some cases hardware) that can make use of them – and many DAW solutions support VST plugins. If you’d rather use a tracker (and let’s face it, that’s the purest way of composing chiptune) then I’d recommend OpenMPT (which is free) or Renoise (which isn’t, but only costs around €60). Wikipedia has a good list of commercial and free software for hosting VST plugins.

Similarly if you’d like to use VST plugins on their own, either as a live instrument or just to test then there are a few excellent hosts, with VSTHost on Windows being a free and simple solution.


Magical 8bit Plug (YMCK) [Demo]

how to make 8 bit music

From Japanese 8bit heroes YMCK comes this amazingly powerful yet effortlessly simple VST or AU (for Mac users) that generates square, triangle, noise and pulse waves that sound delightful. The plugin also comes with a ton of other parameters, including attack, decay, sweep and sustain. YMCK have also released a paid iPhone app called YMCK Player ($1.99) which is great for chiptune-on-the-go.

Tweakbench Free VST Collection

how to make 8 bit music

It’s Christmas come early for anyone looking for a treasure trove of VSTs, as Tweakbench have a bounty of plugins for generating all manner of sounds. I’d personally recommend Toad (a drum machine), Peach (synth) and Triforce (another synth) for starters, though they’re all worth the download. If you pay a measly $5 you can download every VST in one click and feel good about supporting the author for making such wonderful toys.


Jack Dark’s Darkware Legacy [No Longer Available]

how to make 8 bit music

An intriguing selection of VST instruments and effects, all with a glitchy and sinister twist. Not everything will be of use here, but I’d recommend BITBOY which claims to be a “circuit bent chiptune synth” (it’s pretty crazy) and the bit-crusher plugin BIT BASHER for crushing your pristine samples down to size.

pooBoy 2.0 [No Longer Available]

making 8 bit music

If it’s Game Boy emulation you’re after then you can do a lot worse than pooBoy, a delightfully presented and powerful Game Boy VST. Featuring classic Nintendo sounds, 25 presets and of course the ability to twiddle settings and come up with your own patches, pooBoy 2.0 is more than just a silly name!



making 8 bit music

Emulating the Atari ST YM2419 sound chip, ymVST does a stellar job of generating some beautiful old school sounds all from the comfort of a stylised, pixellated GUI. There’s a slight learning curve due to lack of presets, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what’s possible once you’ve played around with it.

38911 Bytes v4 [No Longer Available]

making 8 bit music

For some reason the creator’s website (Odo Synths) has been offline for years according to the Wayback Machine The New Wayback Machine Lets You Visually Travel Back In Internet Time It seems that since the Wayback Machine launch in 2001, the site owners have decided to toss out the Alexa-based back-end and redesign it with their own open source code. After conducting tests with the... Read More and the only place I could find this hosted was on [Broken URL Removed]. Not to worry, because it’s fully functional and does an excellent job of emulating the classic SID sound chip from the Commodore 64 7 Great Cross-Platform Emulators For 5 Classic Computer Platforms In the same vein as the recent flurry of console emulation articles, today we're focusing on classic computer platforms of decades gone by. Whilst there were quite a few, we've chosen 5 of the most... Read More . Packed with 66 presets and plenty of parameters to fiddle around with, this is easily one of the best C64 VSTs out there.



Making 8bit Music: Free Chiptune VST Plugins For Budding Composers icecream

Not specifically emulating a particular system, ICECREAM is a delightful sounding poly and monophonic synth with a lovely interface and lots of presets to get you started. It’s easy to come up with your own bubbly noises then crush them down to 8bit or just manipulate what you’ve already got with the Kaoss-pad style XY controller.

CMT Bitcrusher [Broken URL Removed]

8 bit music

Not an instrument but an effect, CMT Bitcrusher is ideal for taking clean samples and turning them into dirty retro noise. Simple, free and effective.


All of these plugins have been tested with OpenMPT and all work as expected. This concludes our foray into the world of chiptune creation, if you have any questions, recommendations or links you’d like to share then make a comment below this post.

Do you use any VSTs for chiptune creation? Do you prefer samples and a tracker? Or maybe you’re a hardware guy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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  1. orandze
    April 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Hey, I've always preferred using a tracker program like MilkyTracker or FamiTracker. The quality is really unbeatable and they can export to NSF format so if you're really hardcore or looking to make a game for NES like Battle Kid, that's all you can really use. However, I've known a lot of people who have complained about the initial learning curve, so I wrote up a tut to get people started. It goes step by step and explains how everything works, so once you've gone through it, you know everything you need to keep working and advancing your music. You can check it out here:

  2. nijikokun
    February 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    There is only one thing you need for 8bit music.


    • Flalaski
      August 8, 2012 at 4:01 pm


      I love Milkytracker