Tag Archives: NAMCO163

Fidelity Concerns: The Lost Sound Expansion Chips of the NES

So, as I mentioned in my post yesterday  the Nintendo Entertainment System was shipped to the United States without the two pin connector that controlled the sound expansion chips.  Why?

The two pin connector was originally designed to be used with the Famicom Disk System, a peripheral that attached to the Famicom and allowed the use of “disk cards” to play games.  Here’s an example of a Famicom (white console) with a Famicom Disk System (red box):

It basically looks like an old 3.5″ floppy drive from back in the day.  This old fossil actually ran on 6 C-cell batteries.  Yes, batteries.

The point is, since all of the games made for this Disk System were NOT cartridges, there was no way to add any extra sound or graphic booster expansion chips.  A disk, being a disk, doesn’t allow for that.  So, Nintendo provided a RAM adapter.  It was literally just a big cartridge you plug into the top of the Famicom (black box on top of Famicom in picture) that contained a new microprocessor that facilities the use of the Famicom Disk System (a disk controller, 32 kilobytes of RAM, etc).  It also contained a customizable audio expansion known as Nintendo FDS.  You could literally adjust and manipulate the Nintendo FDS to make anything from a sawtooth wave to a square wave.  Very powerful.

So, long story short, when the NES was released in the US, Nintendo decided to put the sound expansion port on the BOTTOM of the console so that, when they released the Disk System in the US, a RAM cartridge would NOT have to be added.  So remember, as a kid, you wondered what this strange box was on the bottom of your NES?

(credit : Techworld )

Well, now you know.  Sorta.  There’s a lot of speculation as to what Nintendo REALLY wanted for this port-  a modem?  Extra controllers?  I was unable to find any reliable information but was able to confirm that indeed, the sound controller pins were moved to this port.

Nintendo eventually found other ways to integrate sound expansion modules without the use of the pins.  That is why in the Castlevania III example from my previous post, the composers were capable of using MMC5, a first party Nintendo sound expansion chip since it was integrated differently (In the case of Castlevania III, the entire chip was used for the game and no extra audio channels were activated).  However, we lost a LOT of the third party sound expansion chips, many of which were very powerful.  Here’s some examples of third party chips we didn’t hear.

Konami VRC6

(credit : ScooterFox1)

Konami VRC7 (arguably the most powerful sound expansion chip ever made for this console)

(credit : Inuyashathe3rd)

Namco NAMCO 106 163 (not many games used this but it was intended to make games match up to arcade game sound chips)

(credit:  RubilacEx)

UPDATE:  The “NAMCO 106” actually does not exist.  It is actually called the NAMCO 163.  The 163 adds an astonishing 8 extra channels of sound.

Sunsoft 5B (an aside – only the game below (Gimmick!) used this sound chip)

(credit : explod2A03)

As you can see, the Nintendo, when using the sound expansion chips, has a vast range of sounds and instrument voices.  A lot of Japanese composers wrote for specific chips (especially the composers from Konami) and therefore, in the US versions, entire voices in songs were lost or changed.  Many VRC6 tracks had to be rewritten to Nintendo 2a03, losing at least a three voices each time.  I hope this was informative.  Any comments are welcome.