The Sidstation is a three oscillator desktop synthesizer based around the infamous 8-bit SID chip. Back in the day, the SID (Sound Interface Device) produced all of the lovely music and sounds of the Commodore 64, one of the earliest mass-produced home computer and gaming systems of the 1980s. In addition to its uncanny ability to emulate the sounds of frogs evading traffic, the Commodore had a desirable, raw and aggressive sound and featured extensive modulation capabilities for its time.
Twenty years later, the Sidstation attempted to pick up where the C64 left off. With an original (and quite rare) 6581 R4AR chip at its core, the Sidstation has all the bells and whistles of a modern synth, including 3 multi-waveform oscillators, an analog resonant filter, and four LFOs. But despite these additions, its heart and soul remain in the dusty and nostalgic past of the 1980s.
Like the Commodore, the SID is known as being noisy - in fact, its oscillators never stop outputting, even when the synth isn't being used! This inherent instability and unpredictable nature is where all of the SID's character and sound is derived. From its pitch tracking to its envelope settings, every sampled note has a slightly different characteristic than its neighbor, making each key press dynamic and unique.
The resultant sound is no ordinary 8-bit machine, but a full-on synthesizer capable of producing all the waveforms of the C64 and further sculpting them with a 4 part LFO, and multi-mode analog filters. This gives us something much more musical than what you'd imagine is possible with only 8 bits - savage FX, Herbie inspired funk basses, drunken pads and more:
To preserve the synth's gritty, 8-bit integrity, we kept the signal path pretty clean. Alternating between an API 512C and NonLinearAudio Flexiguy mic pre, we incorporated some slight EQ and compression (courtesy of SSL and Tube-Tech) ending with a hint of saturation to achieve additional harmonics where needed.
To add some stereo width and the occasional (but subtle) pitch delay or shimmer, we employed the classic H3000. Both the Sidstation and 3000's digital converters are known for their grainy, almost 'analog' sound and as a result they complement each other perfectly:
It’s doubtful that the Sidstation comes close to approaching the amazing sound of the SID in its native setting in a real Commodore 64, but that doesn't mean it can't produce some amazingly quirky, eccentric and musical tones, wrapped in convenient, modern synthesis.
And although digital at its core, the Sidstation's brute strength and sonic flexibility are virtually impossible to emulate in the software format. By capturing the audio, note by note (with up to 11 seconds of sustain), we can get a lot closer to those wild but extremely musical 8-bit sounds in your own DAW.