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Thread: Genesis and Snes sound chips strengths and weaknesses

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    Nameless One Silence The Fallen's Avatar
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    Default Genesis and Snes sound chips strengths and weaknesses

    I have heard tons of arguments over the years from people saying that Genesis music is better than Super Nes music or vice versa. There have been countless threads compiling "Bad Ass" game music that is "way better than anything the other system has to offer".

    I have also seen plenty of threads comparing songs from the same games on each system, but I rarely find that to be a convincing argument. Usually one of the systems was the primary development system and then the game just gets ported to the other. I don't think any company was a master of both Genesis and Snes and put an equal amount of effort into developing the same games for each systems strengths.

    I really, Really, REALLY love Genesis music and will defend it to my grave, but I also can't deny that the Snes gave me some of the most beautiful, moving, unforgettable soundtracks of all time.

    I saw a thread a while back where a someone mentioned that the Genesis doesen't have anything that can compete with some Snes songs like Final Fantasy 3's Phantom Forest and some of Chrono Triggers stuff. As much as I hated to admit it, he was absolutely correct.

    It got me really thing about the strengths and weaknesses of both the Genesis and Snes sound chips. Here is what I personally feel after years of jamming to Genesis and Snes music.

    I feel the Genesis really excels at Techno, Dance and Metal music. Especially when the composer is using a custom sound driver. This, Iím sure, is due to the nature of the systems Yamaha synthesizer sound chip. But other styles of music fall far behind. Sure there are always exceptions and lots of other music that sounds good on the Genesis, but I feel it does Techno, Dance and Metal far better than anything else it has to offer and better than the Snes can. One thing is for certain however, no matter what kind music is pumping out of the Genesis, it has a cold, mechanical feel to it. It always sounds like computerized chip music, again, because of the YM synth chip.

    The Super Nes seems to perform just about all types of music very well, but it really shines with ambient and orchestral music, something that the Genesis just can't compete with. On the flip side, I know that I am not the only person to feel that a lot of the Snes music sounds a bit muffled. It still sounds great, but its as if there is a thin pillow over the speaker. As a result I have never heard a Snes game sound as clean and clear as a Genesis game (voice samples aside ). Oddly, no matter what kind of music the Snes is playing it always has a soft warm feeling to it. Even if its just a thin layer surrounding the song. One thing is for certain, it doesnít have the cold, mechanical feel that the Genesis has.

    So what I would like to achieve in this thread are links to videogame music that you feel best represent the Genesis and Snes sound chips. Good music is good music, but thatís not why I created this thread. I am looking for stuff that plays the strengths of the systems sound chip and one that you think the other system would have a hard time replicating.

    Also I would like to link to songs that challenge common misconceptions. Are there Snes games that can produce clear, deep, heavy bass as good as the Genesis? Is there any Genesis game that can perform ambient or orchestral music to give the Snes a run for its money?

    I don't want this to become a generic "best of music" thread, because that is ultimately in the ear of the beholder.

    Letís make this as informative as possible and give reasons for your selected songs. I want this to be a knowledge base of sorts for what these sound chips were and were no so capable of.

    Streets of Rage 2 - We'll start with a classic one. Despite plagiarizing the Enigma song Sadeness it is an amazing feat of programming. Deep, clear bass, smooth beats, very crisp snare drum. This is what the Genesis sound chip was meant for and I don't think the Snes can replicate the bass or clarity of the song.

    Streets of Rage 3 - The music is nowhere near as catchy as the first two game but that doesn't mean its any less impressive. The first time I heard this I couldn't believe it was coming out of my Genesis. Like the music on the first level, this sounded like something I would hear at a rave. This stuff is VERY high quality. After all these years It still blows me away. It sounds like something from Saturn or Playstation. I don't think the Snes could touch this song or soundtrack.

    Adventures of Batman and Robin - Here is another track. Both these songs have amazing use of stereo direction, crisp snares, a clean sound and apparently did not use the PSG chip at all. Another example of where the YM chip dominates.

    Plok - Until a few days ago I didn't think the Snes had anything that could stand up to the Genesis as far as techno is concerned. I just discovered this song and found it to be extremely impressive. There is a lot going on here with voice samples, decent thumping bass, some cool stereo direction and just overall a catchy composition. This song could potentially give the old Genesis a run for it's money if not for the entire thing sounding muffled. It just doesn't have the clarity and punch of the Genesis, but regardless its some impressive stuff that the Genesis would probably struggle with. Like the voice samples for instance, but where the music itself is concerned the Genesis could handle it no problem.

    Final Fantasy 3 - The Genesis just can't do orchestral pieces. It could probably do a decent job at some of the simpler pieces like this. Comix Zone showed us the Genny could do some decent acoustic guitar sounds and we know it could handle the bass plucks, but it would certainly not sound as rich or as full bodied. The complaint some people have about the Genesis sounding "tinny"... I think that description would apply here if we ever heard a Genesis version.

    Okay. I have spent the last three hours typing this. It's time for me to sleep, but I will add some more examples later and have cross posted this on Digital Press.

    As I said earlier, let's try and be professional, informative and as non biased as possible here. I look forward to other examples!

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    Zebbe's Avatar
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    Megadrive

    Quote Originally Posted by Silence The Fallen View Post
    Is there any Genesis game that can perform ambient or orchestral music to give the Snes a run for its money?
    Yes.

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    The GamesMaster Master of Shinobi JDB's Avatar
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    The SNES sound chip:
    Cyber-Razor cut sir? - To be this good takes AGES - Raķl be with you.

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    ding-doaw Raging in the Streets tomaitheous's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zebbe View Post
    Yes.

    Like me some of that music too (some of the compositions of that game remind me of some other Genesis games). But, specifically I don't see where it's giving the SNES a run for its money. Those tracks are very synth-y. And not in a high end way, either.

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    Zebbe's Avatar
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    Kiwi

    Yeah, maybe not a run for it's money, but it sounds quite "orchestral" and a lot better than the soundtracks on SNES which sound like they use a broken cardboard trumpet as a speaker. Yuzo Koshiro's stuff on for example Act Raiser sounds better though.
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    Master of Shinobi Thenewguy's Avatar
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    Devilish has pretty distinctive music.


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    Raging in the Streets Sik's Avatar
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    Mega Drive

    Six FM channels, three square wave channels, one noise channel. One of the FM channels can be replaced by a PCM channel. Sound set up is pretty good for sound synthesis, but it's pretty terrible at PCM thanks to Sega doing everything possible to make it near unusable -_-'

    Z80 has only 8KB of RAM available for itself, but it can read data from the cartridge on its own, so that isn't much of an issue, as the Z80 has huge amounts of data to access. Sadly the bank switching system makes PCM playback annoying, at least if you're making a Z80-only sound engine =/

    FM synthesis can sound very good if you get somebody who knows how to make good FM instruments. Sadly it looks like none of the Western developers knew how to use FM because their instruments always suck... So it's mostly Japanese games the ones that sound good as they usually had people who knew how to create reasonable instruments.

    SNES

    Eight ADPCM channels, and able to perform some FXs on them on hardware. Theoretically should have been able to produce better sounds than the Mega Drive, but Nintendo loves screwing up hardware designs so badly that any advantages they have end up being useless. Not to mention output is horribly muffled.

    SPC700 has 64KB of RAM, but it's completely unable to read data from cartridge on its own. It needs assistance from the 65816 to do it. This means that the sound program, all samples and all sound data (notes, etc., not just background music but also sound effects) needs to be stored into its RAM, which severely limits what can be done with it.

    To make things worse, the 65816 can't access SPC700 RAM directly either. Instead, there are four byte-sized communication ports, and in order to send any data you need to have the SPC700 program poll for data in those ports and the 65816 to be sending data at the same time (there's a boot program for the SPC700 that does this when the console boots up). This is horribly slow and also why many games have to stop for a couple of seconds when switching the background music.

    Oh, and the SNES had the extra disadvantage that Nintendo refused to let developers to use their own sound engines. Instead, all licensees were forced to use Nintendo's own sound engine, which was even more crappy than the hardware design and resulted in even shittier use of the hardware. Also Nintendo was extremely annoying with risk of clipping in mixing which is why so many SNES have such a low volume.

    Also many developers didn't provide their own samples, so they used some default samples from Nintendo that didn't sound all that good. And those that did provide their own samples in many cases just used synthetizers that used FM, so they didn't sound any better than what the Mega Drive could do.

  8. #8
    Hero of Algol
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    Sik, please, could you comment about the Sega CD sound chip (I know that's a bit off topic, but I like your descriptions)?

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    Raging in the Streets Sik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by agostinhobaroners View Post
    Sik, please, could you comment about the Sega CD sound chip (I know that's a bit off topic, but I like your descriptions)?
    8 PCM channels in addition to the Mega Drive sound hardware. Stereo, volume, variable sample rate. Not as many FX as the SNES sound hardware but enough to do most stuff you could probably do anyways (since things like echo, reverb, etc. can be easily faked with what you already have). Also don't forget CD audio.

    Z80 can't access Mega CD hardware but still can be somewhat useful if you can do away with just its RAM (as it can't read 68000 RAM either) or the game is actually running off cartridge and not the CD. Since you would be doing PCM on the Mega CD side anyways you probably won't even bother using the DAC on the Mega Drive side, so you could probably just do away with a 68000-only sound engine there.

    Yeah... not much more to say really =P

    EDIT: and when it comes to voice acting Sega seemed to have been very strict in terms of clearness. I swear, I have a much easier time trying to understand speech in Mega CD games than anywhere else.

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    Master of Shinobi GeckoYamori's Avatar
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    SNES is not without its weaknesses when it comes to orchestral music. A lot of it can sound very artificial just like Genesis attempting orchestral scores. For example, string instruments have significantly different timbres depending on if you play high or low notes. If you record a string section playing a low note, then sample it and play it at higher notes, it won't sound anything like a real string section at that pitch. Same goes for sampled strings at high notes being played low, though not as noticable. This is why multi-sampled instruments have separate sounds assigned to different pitch ranges, but you can seldom afford that on a SNES due to the memory limits.

    I find that the better SNES orchestral music relies way more on sounds like harps and pianos because they don't suffer as much from being sampled as strings. Likewise on the Genesis, the best orchestral scores have a lot of flutes and bells which FM tends to handle rather well, often making for a very vibrant fantasy feel.

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    Raging in the Streets Sik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeckoYamori View Post
    For example, string instruments have significantly different timbres depending on if you play high or low notes.
    On this note, the YM2612 on the Mega Drive has a value for instruments exclusively to deal with this. You can use it to affect the volume envelope depending on the pitch, but if you use it on the modulator operators you can also use it to affect the final flavor of the sound.

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    Hero of Algol
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sik View Post
    8 PCM channels in addition to the Mega Drive sound hardware. Stereo, volume, variable sample rate. Not as many FX as the SNES sound hardware but enough to do most stuff you could probably do anyways (since things like echo, reverb, etc. can be easily faked with what you already have). Also don't forget CD audio.

    Z80 can't access Mega CD hardware but still can be somewhat useful if you can do away with just its RAM (as it can't read 68000 RAM either) or the game is actually running off cartridge and not the CD. Since you would be doing PCM on the Mega CD side anyways you probably won't even bother using the DAC on the Mega Drive side, so you could probably just do away with a 68000-only sound engine there.

    Yeah... not much more to say really =P

    EDIT: and when it comes to voice acting Sega seemed to have been very strict in terms of clearness. I swear, I have a much easier time trying to understand speech in Mega CD games than anywhere else.
    Thank you very much.

    One thing that I don't like (in fact, I hate it) about the SNES games is what you've said in your considerations: many, many, MANY games share the very same set of instruments. Holy crap, how can people trash so much on Genesis sound and never talk about this?
    OTOH one of the things that I love about genesis is how many games sound completely different, using different drivers and sets of instruments.
    Also, SNES muffled output is a huge let down when you plug it in a good stereo, while Genesis (good) soundtracks really shine with some bass reinforcement and sound crystal clear always...

  13. #13
    Master of Shinobi
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    I think Genesis's sound hardware required special people who could really understand what they were working with, to really great music out of it. People like Tommy Tallarico, and Michiru Yamane come to mind.

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    Raging in the Streets Sik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bastardcat View Post
    I think Genesis's sound hardware required special people who could really understand what they were working with, to really great music out of it. People like Tommy Tallarico, and Michiru Yamane come to mind.
    I could say the same about the SNES. Its hardware limitations mean that you needed a very good programmer to be able to get something really good out of it without murdering the system in the process.

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    Death Bringer Raging in the Streets Black_Tiger's Avatar
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    SNES = uncanny valley of audio + dated on arrival reverb overkill

    Genesis = real sound that has a soul

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