No review for this yet? Allow me, then. This is a long review, because of the specialist nature of it's subject, so bear with me!
Ooh, where to begin? Having cut my synthesis and music composition teeth on a Commodore C64, and having been an avid gamer since a small child, playing on my friends' NESes, Ataris, and owning a Breadbin and later an Amiga, the sound of those tiny, cheap and mostly rushed and improvised sound generators that provided the soundtracks to our fantasy lives, has understandably become a part of my roots.
The idea of a software instrument which simulates not one of these chips but a whole slew of them is a seductive idea to a lot of people, myself included. It is, however, a tough tightrope walk, and runs the risk of simply being a 'retro bleep machine' trying to cash in by yoinking on Ye Olde Nostaliga Heartstringes. I'm pleased to report, however, that Chipsounds does pretty much what it says on the tin, and it does it 'virtually' to perfection.
Many of these chips produced nothing but square waves, so it's easy to dismiss this product as, well, a bunch of square waves! But when you consider the ridiculous amount of research which has gone into the development of this software (much of which is made public on the Chipsounds blog) you realize that you're not getting 'a' square wave, but THE square wave, generated by a facsimile of the digital logic used in the original chip.
Factors such as intonation, pitch resolution, volume and sample level limitations, and the very way waveforms are generated are taken into account, rather than merely copying a waveshape and spreading it across the keyboard. The sounds are uncannily accurate to any audiophile who was around in the 80's and early 90's.
All the abilities of each chip are present, and there are a lot of them, so the variety of sound is startling, especially when you consider that you can layer sounds from different chips, using their different abilities and weaknesses together to create some massive sounds... So much for "a bunch of square waves"! Not only are the lovely square waves present and correct, but the famous quantized 'nintendo triangle', the PWM and raspy sawtooth of the C64, downright gnarly lo-fi modulations on the Gameboy wave channel, and maniacal buzzing from several of the other obscure chips I can't remember the name of are ready and waiting to be deployed. The 4-bit-and-below sampling capabilities of the Nintendo and C64 are also supported, allowing you to throw in samples and have them run through an emulation of these systems' sampling abilities (the Ninny had a lofi sample channel, and on the C64, it was done with clever abuse of the sound chip by programmers), something which is not possible with mere bit crushery, contrary to popular myth. There are a lot of sounds here, far too many to cover in this review.
So... Not only can you make arrangements of Lady Gaga covers in authentic NES BGM style with this product (go on, you know you want to!), but I've made a lot of cutting edge shifting tones, albeit with a lofi edge, with it. Several times I've had people ask me what synth 'x part' was in one of my tracks and it's been an experiment which came from Chipsounds - in fact, it's the one synth I have that consistently draws compliments, and I have a lot of awesome synths.
The negatives? There has been a bit of controversy about the use of samples in this software. Samples are used, as far as I can see, to capture oddities such as 'chip failiures' and other lab nightmares which are impossible under standard emulation models. They are fun little extras. They are also used in the SID emulation for some of the more obsure waveforms it can produce, but as I understand it, these will be replaced by emulation in due course. While we're here, sync and ringmod are missing from the SID emulation, and while it's filter is suitably weedy and grimey, with a nice dose of internal clipping, it doesn't sound *quite* right to my ears. If you care only for SID emulation, you might want to shop around a bit first, and try a more specialized product. That said, remember that this part of the product is being worked on as we speak, and is still capable of being very evocative.
Another downside is that the emulated sound, suprisingly, is very 'clean' despite being lo-fi, because though the chips are emulated near-damn-perfectly, we are hearing *only* the chips and not the D/A converters and subsequent crappy signal chain which would inevitably brown up the sound before it reaches our ears. It seems a product is in the pipeline for emulating this section of the signal chain, and the youtube demo of it looks promising! I hope some of that tech makes it into Chipsounds.
It would seem there is a lot to look forwards to. The last update we had, a slew of new chips and features were added, multiplying our possibilities by some ridiculous geometric function. Not only am I looking forwards to more updates, but they even listen to what users have to say on the Plogue Chipsounds forum, and a couple of my ideas for expanding the synth may even make it in to the bargain! It's things like this that make the act of buying a synth that much more satisfying, because the rewards keep coming :)
Is it for you? That, I can't tell you. But what I can say is that for me it was easily worth the money. Collecting and modifying the mass of consoles that this thing emulates is simply beyond me - my area is making sounds and music. I was quite happy to pony up and have the mad chip scientists do that part for me.
Hey, I've had this VST for a while and just trying to use it on a new pc but I can't find the key file on my mac (I know I have it somewhere!) can anyone tell me what I should search my file system for ie what extension the key file is?