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AY Music

Updated on August 19, 2014
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Martin has been a software developer for many years. This is mixed with a passion for retro machines and game,

8-Bit computer sound generation with the AY Chip

During the 1980s a lot of the 8-Bit micros available used the AY3-8912 sound chip to generate music and sound effects (in fact it was used in a variety of retro computers).

This was especially useful for games programmers (and games players!)

The sound chip was used in machines such as the Oric 1, Oric Atmos, ZX Spectrum 128 (and plus 2, plus 3), the Amstrad CPC range and various MSX computers.

Early gaming consoles also used the AY sound chip (such as the Vectrex) allowing developers who knew the hardware to produce music and sound on a broad range of machines.

AY Music now has a cult following - and this page contains some great examples of what could be achieved with the hardware.

Due to it's flexibilty and 3-channel output it was suitable for music making during the 1980s.

Amazingly, a limited stock of chips are still available allowing vintage machines to be repaired if the sound capability has failed.

An AY-3-8910 sound chip

An AY-3-8910 sound chip, yesterday
An AY-3-8910 sound chip, yesterday

Examples of AY music

There were some games that were well known for utilising the AY sound chip well, such as the classic arcade games Outrun and Cabal, The Addams Family, Hard Drivin', Exolon, Bart Vs The Space Mutants and Robocop.

Of course there were many more, too many to mention in fact, but retro gamers will no doubt remember the music from those titles.

Below are some videos showing good examples of what could be produced by talented developers and musicians with the chip.

Robocop music on the Amstrad CPC 464

The Amstrad CPC range and AY Music

The 8-bit CPC (which stood for Colour Personal Computer) machines from Amstrad (such as the CPC 464) used the AY chip to generate sounds and music.

Plenty of games were blessed with great in game music and sound effects due to this tried and tested piece of hardware.

The music to Robocop and The Sacred Armour of Antiriad (you don't get game titles like that any more!) were very nicely put together pieces.

Have a listen to see how the AY chip could be put to good use on those great Amstrad games in the 1980s.

An Amstrad CPC 464

The Colour Personal Computer from Amstrad used AY technology
The Colour Personal Computer from Amstrad used AY technology

Nice music from Antiriad running on an Amstrad CPC 464

Outrun arcade conversion on a ZX Spectrum 128

The Addams Family on the ZX Spectrum 128

The Later ZX Spectrum Models Featured AY Music

The ZX Spectrum 128, +2 and +3 machines were all fitted out with the trusty AY chip.

This was a vast improvement over the standard single channel beeper that had been present in the original 16K and 48K machines - and many games were given the standard 48K treatment as well as enhanced 128K versions.

Out Run is one of my favourite examples of AY music on the ZX Spectrum. Even if the game itself was pretty average the music really does justice to the new improved sound hardware.

Probe software really did a great job of converting the iconic arcade machine music to the AY chip - and the gameplay was all the better for it.

Here is an example of Out Run and some other great AY music on the Speccy.

The Spectrum 128

The 'Toast Rack' was finally kitted out with decent sound hardware - The AY Chip
The 'Toast Rack' was finally kitted out with decent sound hardware - The AY Chip

Off the wall music on a Spectrum 128 - a little 'trippy'!

Hard Drivin' AY title music on the ZX Spectrum 128

The Light Corridor on the ZX Spectrum 128

The Light Corridor AY Music

This arcade / breakout style game (in 3D no less!) was released in 1991 by Infogrames and features one of the most haunting pieces of title music to grace the Spectrum 128.

Not only that the in-game music was superb too and there was also digitized speech for the player. This game really showcased what the AY chip could do when placed in the hands of a talented technician.

The game itself was also very good to play, so The Light Corridor must go down as a classic game on our favourite 8-bit machine that showed there was still life left in the 8-bit dog in the early 1990s.

Pole Position running on a Vectrex console

Games consoles with AY Music

The AY chip was not solely restricted to home computers. It was also used in home gaming consoles such as the Intellivision and the Vectrex - highlighting the sound chips versatility and it's popularity.

The AY chip was a good way to incorporate 'arcade style' music and sound effects into the home gaming systems.

As we all know, good music and good in game sound could really make a game just that little bit better.

A nice opening theme tune, haunting in game music and good meaty explosions could turn a game from being merely 'good' to being great.

Below are some examples of good sound and music that enhanced the gaming experience on home consoles.

The MB Vectrex console

The Vectrex console featured AY hardware for music and sound effects
The Vectrex console featured AY hardware for music and sound effects

Classic game Scramble on a Vectrex system

Single Beeper Music On The Spectrum - A Brave Attempt At Moonlight Sonata

Robocop 3 AY Music On The ZX Spectrum

Delight for Spectrum gamers with AY Music

When the ZX Spectrum 128 was released it was delight for the dedicated base of gamers on Sinclair's premier machine.

The previous versions of the Spectrum had a relatively poor sound chip (it was basically a single channel 'beeper').

Clever programmers had managed to produce synthesiser style sound and sometimes approximate two and three channel music on the beeper (how they managed it was a minor miracle) - but now true three channel music and arcade style sound effects could be produced on a ZX Spectrum computer.

The AY sound chip added to the quality of Spectrum games and Funny games - and some older games were re-issued with high quality music and enhanced sound effects.

The face of Spectrum gaming changed with the arrival of the trusty AY.

Who can imagine Outrun without the classic 'Splash Wave' or 'Magical Sound Shower'?

How much better would Space Harrier have been on the ZX Spectrum with the seminal arcade music included during play?

Robocop and Robocop 3 are titles that are well remember for the music as well as the gameplay.

The importance of qaulity sound and music in games cannot be underestimated which remains true in modern gaming.

As you can hear in the video - although clever programmers worked miracles with the ZX Spectrum's single beeper (this single channel version of Moonlight Sonata is a good example)- the AY sound chip was a blessing to our ears and enhanced many of these classic games!

Once the AY was in place on the newer ZX models, the face of Spectrum games was just that little bit better.

Exolon AY Music on the ZX Spectrum

The excellent ZX Spectrum conversion of Cabal featured very nice AY Music

Don't have a cow man! The Simpsons AY Music

A superb piece of AY music accompanied Ninja Warriors on the ZX Spectrum

Anyone care to comment on retro music and sound?

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