So I am a big Nerdcore junkie. Loving video game music and Nerdcore music. As of such, I have a LOT of 8-bit Chiptune music in my iTunes library. But I also have music that would be considered 16-bit, like SNES Game OTS and what not.

I know that 8-bit music is referred to as 'Chiptune', or sometimes, 'Chipmusic' as the title of the genre. But I'm trying to figure out what I should put as the genre for my 16-bit music songs. Google isn't of much help with the search, and then I stumbled across this site. Figured I'd ask here! What genre is 16-bit music called? Like how 8-bit is 'Chiptune'.

Is it MIDI? Or is a MIDI something different? What do I call it?

  • 8
    SNES music is also often referred to as chiptunes as well. The genre reflects the limitations of how the audio is produced. Despite the fact that the SNES had an 16-bit DSP and DAC, the fact that a game's audio pretty much had to fit entirely into 64k of RAM was a significant limiting factor that distinguishes the kind of audio from more conventional forms of music.
    – user86571
    Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 5:53
  • 4
    MIDI is definitely something different. MIDI is a technical way to store music data, which happens to only store information about notes (e.g., pitch/tone, maybe volume) and not sound data (like what does a particular instrument sound like). May be similar in concept to a lot of chiptune stuff, but MIDI has a specific meaning completely unrelated to the sounds coming out of video game chips. For instance, Canyon.mid is a file that came bundled with old Windows versions. Sound cards may come with a collection of some MIDI files. Some PC games used MIDI internally.
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 7:01
  • @TOOGAM MIDI is a whole set of digital music-related standards, not just the storage format.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 16:32
  • @OrangeDog : Thank you for your comment to help keep information accurate. This is true. Although, for hte purposes of this question, if the discussion gets further away from the MIDI file format and instead gets further towards other aspects of music standards, I suspect we may be getting even further away from SNES chiptune music. While there may be some similarities between SNES music and MIDI music (neither is typically filled with singing voices like manY MP3 files), the MIDI standard(s) differ from SNES "chiptune" output specifications.
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 2:06

5 Answers 5


There's no term for music from the 16-bit console war era. The reason is that the music sounded very different due to the hardware capabilities and limits of each system.

There are many comparison videos between snes and genesis which can be used to compare audio.

From Castlevania, Simon's theme.

From Street Fighter 2, Blanka's theme.

If there is one common technique that separates this music from the 8-bit era, it's "sampling".

  • Ah,thank you very much guys. So what genera should I list it under then?
    – Quantom X
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 3:47
  • 1
    @QuantomX - 'Game Soundtrack' perhaps?
    – Robotnik
    Commented Oct 15, 2015 at 0:03
  • Sampling was possible on the NES also, using the DPCM channel. But it had a very lo-fi sound and since it took up a lot more system resources than the standard sequenced music, many games did not utilize it. Super Mario Bros. 3 is an example of a game that made very good use of that channel, mostly for short percussive samples that added a lot of character to the soundtrack and sound effects.
    – Mentalist
    Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 8:29

It's simple. You have 8-bit chiptune music, and then you have 16-bit chiptune music. They both fall into the chiptune category (genre? although I suppose any genre of music can be made as a chiptune), but the characteristics of the sounds are different, and 16-bit has a more high-fidelity quality to it in comparison. This is not to say that 16-bit is superior, as many people prefer the very distinct 8-bit sound. But both are recognizable as retro game music. 16-bit consoles were able to produce more lush timbres, and the SEGA Genesis/Megadrive in particular was known for its punchy bass frequencies (although it could be argued that the SNES had a technically superior sound chip, it comes down to personal preference).

Later consoles would go on to use standard MIDI and then eventually just audio files, as hardware capabilities grew. Games that relied on MIDI would have a different quality to their sound depending on the sound card of the hardware. Final Fantasy VII (Playstation version vs PC port, etc.) is one example of this. Obviously game music today is more like music in film, as it is no longer "limited" (enhanced? ^_^) by hardware that colors the sound with a recognizable tonal signature. And so the chiptune sound is the product of an era of transition from simple blips and bleeps to full "record quality".


Some people call older game music Chiptunes. It doesn't necessarily fit all game music, but there is quite a lot of overlap if you do some research.

Searching YouTube for "chiptunes" will provide quite a few links that sounds like game music, even if they are not directly from games.


Shorter answer:

Personally, I use "Game" as the primary genre for game music in general and "Game Remix" for (I'll wager you guessed this) Remixes of old Beatles songs... heh. I tend to use multiple tags for genre, though, so I tag with console (e.g. "SNES", "NES", "Genesis", "Saturn", et cetera), as well.

"Chiptune" means 'tunes generated by embedded sound chips' in my circles. I've never seen anyone apply that kind of a bit standard to that, before, but there certainly are categorical differences.

  • "Generated sound" or "waveform synthesis" music: 8-bit music is generally synthesized from a few basic component waveforms and mixed.
  • "Tracked" or "Tracker" music: 16-bit generally runs a program like a Music Demo playing MODs. That is, it's synthesized on the fly from stored waveforms. Other names for this sort of thing are: Demo, MODs, instrumental synth, and so on. However, to have a meaningful sample, the sample must be recorded in some manner. Since there are multiple forms of doing that, (e.g. PCM, FM, etc) there are actually multiple terms that can apply. One gotcha is that sometimes you get waveform synthesis out of this era of music processor, too.
  • "Streaming" music: 32+bit systems generally pipe in audio streams and don't synthesize anything except, sometimes, sound effects. Ironically, that means that in significant ways, modern gaming audio processing is less advanced than earlier systems. I find that odd.

Long and involved nerd answer:

Early sound chips generated their sounds by adjusting the frequency and amplitude of a few basic waveforms. These were generated by simple signal generation circuits and the chips that compiled these functions together are known as programmable sound generators (PSG). What I've seen pretty much always uses some combination of sine, (rarely) cosine, triangle, square, saw, and something noisey. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_chip)

The home consoles were never MIDI. (fun fact: MIDI predates the NES by a year or two) A MIDI song is a set of commands for playing notes that are sent to various instruments. The recipient of those commands is supposed to play them. The results can be anything from terrible synthetic music to indistinguishable from a recording of a natural instrument or even an actual instrument. MIDI is a control language optimized for making music, not an audio format.

Since MS Windows 3.11's Multimedia extensions, it's been normal for MS to package in some sort of MIDI synthesizer. (which improved over time and then fell back to poor in either XP or 7. Not sure what support looks like in 8 and 10) This sets many opinions as to what MIDI can do, sadly.

Cheap MIDI synth. sounds cheap and be quite reminiscent of older styles of synthesis. (Some soundfonts exist specifically to narrow that gap even further.) High quality MIDI synth. can sound like a CD recording of an orchestra. If you think MIDI music has to suck, it's because you haven't heard MIDI used to direct good instrumentation and don't understand its potential.



Amiga had a much more powerful sound chip than most systems of its era. (graphics, too, as it happens) One of the results of that was SoundTracker and the MOD format. Tracker music is a sequence of notes and effects on those notes generated from samples transformed and mixed. The notation part of the format of tracker music is actually quite like MIDI, but it carries along its desired samples and rules for using them. This makes it harder to upgrade but more likely to sound right.


Related, but aside:



  • This could use a structure format, to make your answer more viewable. Headings and embedded links come to mind.
    – user106385
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 1:33
  • 1
    On a side note, the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive used a music processor similar to the ones found in Adlib/Soundblaster cards for the PC.
    – Powerlord
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 1:42
  • Wow, you're right, some mark 1 and 2s and all mark 3s had FM synth. I did not know that. That's some surprisingly stout audio HW for the era.
    – The Nate
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 15:14

The sound hardware of the times mentioned handled MIDI (and similar formats) differently.

Early devices did what I will call "synth midi" - using midi or some similar format to store notes and then a synthesizer chip would produce each tone.

Some years later, better hardware and more memory allowed "wavetable midi" which used real sampled sounds to produce the notes. It sounded more realistic, but still used the midi or similar format to store notes to be played. Similar technology with proprietary formats were used in other music software of the time like Scream Tracker et al, which stored the notes to be played and the samples to use in a single file.

I would call your 8-bit music "synth midi" and stuff that came later and used real sounds "wave-" or "wavetable midi". If there are official names for such genres I'd love to know.

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