Propellerhead Reason tutorials made by Hydlide

Published on Reason Experts

Chip Tune Sounds in Reason

Published: 2016-10-12

Welcome back to another Reason Tutorial. In one of my older posts I have set up a segment called 8 bit sounds in the Reason Rack. While this article was more driven towards the PSG and Sid chip I will go target the more abvious routes regarding a chip tune sound.

The idea I will try to mimic is located in the overview segment of this wikipedia page: Chip tune

As noted on this Wikipedia page, the idea here is to trigger a pitch change event using a pulse sound. Also I will limit myself using the Square (mostly Subtractor since these have a setting called pulse width in the square).

I will guide you through the basic concept and idea in this sound design topic in Reason to explain why certain settings are needed and how the sound is being build up.

The Initial Sound

For the initial sound I will go for a Subtractor and set the Waveform to Square.

Chip Tune in Reason

The subtractor will be set to subtractive mode (-). This allows the use of the Phase knob on oscillator 1 to change the Pulse Width behavior. While pulse width in the subtractor will act a bit different then the pulse width in Thor (noted in this article about Pulse Width). For this example using a bi-polar pulse makes sense. For a different take you can use Thor instead.

The timbre

To create the Timbre effect there are 2 possible solutions which I can think of. The first one is using one oscillator only, the second method requires two oscillators. I will go with the first set up first.

To create the Timbre effect using one oscillator, you will need to have a setting to control the pitch which is set to an octave. The setting is as followed:
LFO 1, Destination Pitch, LFO wave form Square (the 4th one), amount 104.

Chiptune sound using LFO

The LFO (low frequency oscillator) will need an exact value of 104 since this allows the pitch to go 52 cents down, and 52 cents up. Which is a total of 3 octaves (1 octave down, and one octave up)! While the oscillator is set to octave 4 by default, it will mean in this case that the Timbre effect in this case will trigger Octave 3 and Octave 5 in rapid way. The speed depends on the Rate of the LFO. I will go with the Rate around 90. Please note that loose rates (non tempo synced) will get the better sounds for this method.

Single Polyphony

Most of the chip tune sounds will be driven by pitch changes using a single polyphony method using a legato method. This is also known as "glide". To trigger the glide effect I will set the following settings on the Subtractor:

- Polyphony count : 1
- Note Trigger mode: Legato
- Portamento amount: may vary. I like a descent amount around 40

Chiptune sound portamento setup

If the glide effect isn't your thing, then I would suggest having the portamento setting to 0 in this case.

The Demo sound

To play the sound you can download the following Subtractor patch and load this up in Reason and give this a go.

Download ChipTune Subtractor Method 1

I might add, the Subtractor patch has been made in Reason 5, so if you are using an older version of Reason, it may give an "unsupported format" error. But I am not sure.

The Chip Tune using 2 different Oscillators

As I mentioned, I can come up with two different methods to set up a Chip Tune sound. The second method will involve a second oscillator, where the second oscillator has a different Octave setting. The idea is to move around from one oscillator to another creating a similar Timbre effect like the previous method, but with more control.

The Initial Sound

The initial sound will be a similar setup as the previous one. Difference in this case would be using Oscillator 2. The Oscillator 2 gets a different octave setting then the first one. And the starting Mix goes Dead center (64).

Creating a Chiptune sound using 2 oscillators

Creating a Chip tune sound using 2 oscillators. The main idea here is to toggle back and forth from Oscillator 1 to Oscillator 2. This can be achieved by using the LFO to mix in this case.

The Timbre

To create the Timbre effect, you can define the LFO to toggle the Mix knob to go to Mix 0 to Mix 127. This is done by the following:
LFO 1, LFO shape, Square (4th pattern), Destination: Mix, Amount: 127

Chiptune sound lfo settings

Setting up the LFO for the Subtractor to trigger the timbre. The rate for this LFO is best when using it as a free running mode. However, in this set up it may result in to "ticking" sounds when certain keys are triggered on certain height are triggered. This is caused by the phase starting point of the square wave.

The Demo Sound

To play this sound you can download the following file. I might add that I have also set the polyphony count on 1. I have been using the Legato mode with a portamento setting around 40. If this is not your thing, you can disable those settings yourself.

Download ChipTune Subtractor Method 2

The Phase Offset

This leads me to the Phase offset. While the Subtractor can use a subtractive mode to change the pulse width of this single sound, you can either choose to alter it manually. In that case, the more you reach 0, the thinner the Pulse width will be. A value around 127 will have the most steady square tone (makes the sound more "fat").

What is nice from time to time (not always) is to reshape the pulse width automatic by using a Modulation setting. The Subtractor has an Modulation envelope to Phase. Which allows you to change the Phase offset by sliding upwards / downwards depending on the Sustain amount on the Modulation envelope.

Chiptune modulation Envelope

While this is a modulation envelope that will "slide" through the different Pulse widths, it is also an option to tweak this manually. Ideal would be using a setting like the Modulation Wheel, while the Mod Wheel has a setting called "Modwheel to Phase". In that case you can zoom in the specific pulse widths while adjusting the modwheel accordingly.

The Demo Sound

you can download the reason patch file of a subtractor patch that "slides" through the phase using the modulation envelope under the following link:

Download ChipTune Subtractor Method 2

In conclusion

This kind of concludes this sound design. While the Subtractor has enough powers to create these type of sounds, a different take would be using a Thor patch (Analog Oscillator on Pulse Width). The nice thing about the Subtractor in this set up however is that it houses a different type of "pulse width". There for it can be an ideal candidate to experiment with this.

While not typically "chip tune" related, there are different wave forms you can try to play with and see how that works out. In my personal best practice when it comes to the 2 oscillator method, using 2 times the same type of oscillator with the similar phase amounts work best to get that authentic kind of sound going on. Since you don't want to make things too chaotic in cases like these.

Have a nice weekend and enjoy the longest / shortest day (depends on where you are located at that is ;)).


Published on Reason Experts
Written by
Published on Reason Experts
Published: 2016-10-12

Post reply

Post reply

Edit comment


You need to login to post a comment on

Who is Online

Online users:

Registered users:   Anonymous users:   Total: