This FM synth is the most hidden, underrated VST gem I have found...
It is probably one of the best FM synth on the market for that retro FM sound and I am not surprised it has been used by major Japanese FM gurus like Koshiro.
The sounds you can obtain are remarkable, so as the level of details (there is a manual on the website, 50 pages!). Even the crunchy overdrive of the sound chip is emulated which gives the release part of a sound this unique change in tone. Really different and complementary to blockbuster FM synths.
The Genesis FM sound chip (YM2612) that is fully emulated here is different than the one VOPM is based on (YM2151) and this is a common mistake I have made over the years as someone using VOPM for Genesis emulated FM sound source. Of course it is the same technology under the hood but the YM2612 has many different features, most of them are really useful.
There is a special running mode for sound effects or drums, looping envelopes that can be inverted and even some strange speech mode (aka CSM) which seems to triggers the envelopes in a high speed loop in order to produce basic formants. The sound chip can also handle PCM samples which FMDrive does as well (import .wav files). The sample you play through FMDrive sounds crunchier and dirtier, mostly useful for drums.
It is so accurate that you can transfer the FMDrive output to some other languages for real Yamaha sound chips (see Youtube, there is a lots of videos.) One thing that is so cool is the ability to import some sound presets that you can dump from a PC console emulator program, a tracker like VGMM and also VOPM (the .opm format can converted into the .tfi format easily.) You can also extract the juice of a .VGM file which is a game music standard format for Game Music. This will give you a solid basis of already made sounds to start with. I must say that while there is a large amount of presets available from games, the most outstanding sounds I have made with FMDrive comes from personal experimentation or live changing the parameters, probably because that sound chip was not really known in the past excepted by some great FM composers.
FMDrive responds to after touch, pitch bend, modulation wheels and allows the right click (CC or Sysx) control assignment. It has so much parameters that it comes in handy to assign some to a hardware MIDI controller, it is rewarding because it opens up a lot in terms of sound creation/experimentation with real knobs and sliders.
The user Interface is pretty big, looks nice and provides many tabs to access the main functions, you feel like having a Genesis console in front of you, alive and kicking.
It's not the easiest synth to program from scratch if you know nothing about FM synthesis but overall it is really easy to learn in a day (the manual is really clear.)
I had an entire day messing with it without being bored at all.
Really, the cost could have been higher, the synth is running flawlessly in my DAWS (Cubase/Reaper/FL Studio). This is my go to FM synth for chiptune now because it sounds raw with some extra harmonics that gives it an analog kind of feel, especially when you lower the operators volume a bit which make the distortion effect more pronounced.
note: It can also run in a "High Quality" mode without the subtle distortion.
Don't be put off by the "Made with SynthEdit" badge, as Aly James has gone above and beyond SynthEdit's base offerings to faithfully recreate the FM sound of the Yamaha YM2612 that can be found in the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive in some regions) of old.
Using the official documentation collected and translated by the folks at SpritesMind Forums and verified with hardware tests, the FMDRIVE is not only the most accurate sounding YM2612/YM3438 virtual instrument on the market today, it also has a very nifty looking interface that should properly evoke the nostalgia one would expect from seeing a Model 1 Sega Genesis. There are also some (literally) under-the-hood features for controlling the sound of the FMDRIVE, including choosing a "high-quality mode" that should work with any given sample rate in a DAW and some "circuit-bending" that applies some "interesting" effects that may or may not be possible on a real YM2612.
Aly James has also added the ability to import YM2612 presets dumped directly from game music to quickly recreate the classic sounds made legendary by the Sega Genesis such as Sonic's ring sound effect and the slappingest synth bass this side of a DX7, and has graciously provided for free download a collection of over 30,000 of them from various games! Even Yuzo Koshiro himself loves the FMDRIVE.
I'm a YM2612 fanatic and have been studying the chip since 2005. I also have a small bit of programming experience and have tried and so far failed at making a YM2612 virtual instrument that even comes close to the sound quality and user-friendliness that the FMDRIVE offers. Compare the sound of the FMDRIVE and an actual Genesis side by side (Aly also provides YouTube videos doing just that) and tell me if a virtual instrument comes closer to the sound of the original console than FMDRIVE. 10 Euros (I forget the actual conversion to USD, Paypal handled that) is a small price to pay for professional quality Sega Genesis sound excellence and I'm glad I paid.
Plogue chipsounds, while its sound is varied and among the best of its class, does not perform the Yamaha-style digital FM synthesis (which is actually closer to PM synthesis than pure FM synthesis) found in the Genesis, Neo-Geo, and arcade machines of the time. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if somewhere down the line Plogue released something that does indeed perform Yamaha-like digital FM synthesis, and in the meantime we have FMDRIVE :).