The Mysterious Legacy of the SNES Soundchip



It’s a pretty obvious statement that, when it comes to streaming and writing about old video games, some vintage consoles definitely are more popular than others. It’s also true that, when it comes to the chip tuning scene, some hardware platforms are inevitably more popular than others. Speaking as both musician and retrogamer, what really interests me is that when you take them together, the consoles which are the most highly regarded among players don’t inevitably have the liveliest and most active chip scenes.

Take the Super Nintendo, for example. As a gaming titan it shifted upwards of 49 million consoles and acted as the petri dish from which a number of Nintendo’s best loved characters and franchises were spawned. Consequently, you’d expect it to be among the elite of the chip-tuned consoles, right? After all, If you head over to OC Remix It’s not as if there’s a shortage of iconic SNES soundtrack remixes.




SNES mouse! Surround sound! This is the future.



Weirdly, however, the SNES’ audio capabilities don’t seem to be that widely discussed or exploited. True, they might briefly be raised in a playground-style “What console is better?” thread over at Neogaf, but that’s generally it. You’re definitely not going to find the small mountain of compositions that have been produced for hardware in the Game Boy and C64. What gives?

It’s a really interesting one. If we look back to it’s 90’s prime, the SNES’ audio capabilities were most definitely a big deal. From the comparatively perfect (though now hilariously tinny) rendition of famous compositions like the Star Wars theme, down to the fawning coverage of the (faux) surround-sound capabilities utilised by the likes of King Arthur’s World, sound on the SNES was always pretty important.

So why don’t we hear more about it today then? An important reason might very well be the architecture of the chip itself, so we should probably start by having a look there.

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