Arcano MIDI NES Chiptune Synthesizer Now Available Via Kickstarter


The Arcano MIDI NES Chiptune Synthesizer is a minimalistic, microcontroller-based synth, designed to emulate the classic chiptune sound of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s APU (audio processing unit.)

The synthesizer’s MIDI input allows musicains create NES-video-game-style chiptune music using a MIDI keyboard or other MIDI device.

It’s being made available via a Kickstarter project, which is already fully funded. Here is the official intro video:

The Arcano is being made available prebuild and as a DIY project.

Each Arcano MIDI NES Chiptune Synthesizer includes a preprogrammed microcontroller; however, each synth also features a 6-pin AVR programming header, allowing programmers to flash the embedded ATmega328 microcontroller with their own custom software. The programming header enables hackers to create their own custom waveforms, envelopes, software low-frequency oscillators, and PCM samples.

Unlike many other microcontroller-based synthesizers which use internal PWM peripherals to generate weak, scratchy, low-quality audio signals, the Arcano MIDI NES Chiptune Synthesizer uses an auxiliary digital-to-analog converter chip to create a clear, high-quality audio signal.


  • 3-note polyphony
  • 1/8” (3.5mm) jack mono audio output
  • MIDI input through standard MIDI DIN connector
  • 7-segment LED waveform mode indicator
  • simple two-button interface
  • embedded ATmega328 microcontroller

The Arcano is available to Kickstarter backers, prebuilt or as a DIY kit, starting at US $65.

14 thoughts on “Arcano MIDI NES Chiptune Synthesizer Now Available Via Kickstarter

  1. I dunno.. so many of these DIY chippy things are out there and it seems like a race to the bottom in terms of an actual instrument

    i guess these are just supposed to be quirky toys that make sound, or maybe they are for hackers

    imho, the market is close to saturation on this crap

    1. Gotta agree with you – particularly with respect to the pure pulse-wave consoles like the NES.

      The SID stuff sounds pretty amazing though, because that puppy had an actual analog resonant filter.

      1. Oops – I almost forgot, SID also had ring mod and oscillator sync. But I guess all that stuff is harder to emulate than square waves. SwinSID ftw!

  2. I want one with a real 2A03 NES chip in it…An emulation is pointless. Doesn’t quite sound like an NES to me. An NES has a real distinct sound. I have a TherapSID and AY3 by Twisted Electrons, and that is more up my alley since it uses the actual chip.

  3. Real NES 2A03 chips have sample rates up into Mhz and do not alias. They get their unique and awesome sound by the low bitrate and whatever extra noise is inherent in the hardware.

    This AVR synth is only running at 44.1khz and is going to sound terrible in the high frequencies.

    Better to just use Chipsounds VST at 96khz for a more authentic sound although I really wish someone would make a real 2A03 synth.

  4. This line completely annoyed me because it’s techno-gobbledygook: “…internal PWM peripherals to generate weak, scratchy, low-quality audio signals…”

    It’s possible to generate good PWM audio that approximates 14-bits using a couple of PWM channels, and there’s nothing weak, scratchy or low quality about it. Heck, the Mutable instruments synths sound really good running a couple of 8-bit PWM channels. Just follow the PWM output(s) with a low-noise buffer and decent anti-aliasing filter. Just like you would with a cheap industrial DAC. 🙂

    1. Hey you’re right, PWM doesn’t need to sound crappy … But it every when it sounds good, it’s really uninteresting! There are a zillion devices that do this stuff now.

      I might be interested in something like this for 20 bucks, as a cute toy to pump through a monotron filter or something.

      Otherwise, a DIY pitch generator atop a MIDI stack is pretty old news on the micro-controller front.

  5. So building emulators for something that is easy to build and use for real is a thing now?

    I thought the whole point of chiptunes was to use the actual chips….and the diy hacking required so everyone has a unique approach or sound.

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