Show of hands… how many people actually owned a Sega Master System? Anyone? Someone? Are you out there?
Well. Did you know that your US Sega Master System produced MASSIVELY INFERIOR audio to the Japanese Sega Master System?
Some little known facts about the Japanese system and the Konami VRC7, for some reason, after the bump.
So, I’ve never done an official Meet the System post for Sega Master System. I will probably do that soon. For now, I just wanted to point out something that I found about the SMS’s audio.
First of all, the Sega Master System uses a SN76489 Programmable Sound Generator (PSG). Yey, you can program sound! Lots of sounds! That sounds great.
It is not. The SN76489 features 3 fixed square waves and a noise generator. The square waves cannot be changed via duty cycle. You’re stuck with them. To make matters worse, these square waves are incapable of reaching very low frequencies.
The noise channel, on the other hand, is interesting; it is mildly toned. If you mess around with it, it can make scales and has noticeable pitch changes across octaves.
The console used the SN76489 for ALL of its sound output. Oy.
Have you ever experience the SN76489? Probably. The Sega Game Gear has the same chip inside. If you recall, most games had absolutely irritating high pitched sound effects (see: Sonic, Spin Dash, Game Gear). We only have the SN76489 to blame.
So… side by side with it’s greatest competitor, the Nintendo Famicom/NES, how did our buddy the SMS stack up? Uh….
Not. Good. Wow. This is kind of why the Famicom/NES had 90% of the gaming market in 1988.
BUT WHAT IF THIS COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER? AND WHAT IF IT WAS????
Whelp, we have Sega to blame for this. The Japanese Sega Master System contained the SN76489 AND the YM2413. So what, you say?
The YM2413 contained 9 channels of FM synthesis. It could be adapted to “Percussion Mode”, which gave it 6 channels of FM Synthesis and 5 percussion channels. 11 more channels were possible! The chip had 15 preset FM Synthesis instruments and one user defined instrument. Does this sound familiar, at all?
It’s the Konami VRC7! It’s the same chip, mostly. The VRC7 lacked the 5 percussion channels but was in essentially Percussion Mode (6 Channels of FM Synthesis).
To make matters worse, this chip was STANDARD on all Sega Master System systems in Japan. The Sega Mark III, the console the Sega Master System is based on, actually had a special FM Sound Unit you could purchase and attach to get the better soundtrack! We did not receive ANY of this.
So what does a fully maximized Master System sound like? Side by side comparisons:
Fantasy Zone II
Same game, folks.
This all makes me very sad. What do you guys think?