SID - Recording Guide

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Normally, on most platforms, you can just load a game or rip on any computer, emulator or player and start recording. Unfortunately, due to a production shortcoming at Commodore, every Commodore 64 computer and SID sound chip has differences which bother composers and gamers to this day.

The guide will show you how to convert Commodore 64 music into the VGMPF standard format OGG so you can upload it. The process should be easy to understand, but it will require patience and a bit of making up mind.

Finding best settings

PAL or NTSC clock

Main article: NTSC/PAL - Recording Guide

If the game was made for the European or Australian market, select PAL in your favorite C64 emulator or SID player. If it was made for America, select NTSC. If it was made for both, record the soundtrack twice: in PAL and in NTSC.

Song lengths

Fortunately, the High Voltage SID Collection estimate all song lengths themselves and release an updated list every end of June and December. Several players can use that file, but you can also open it in your favorite text editor and search for the SID filename. In the next line are 32 unimportant digits and letters, an equal sign, and the length of every track in the SID file.

Remember, when recording an NTSC song in PAL or vice versa, you need to give or take some seconds or minutes.

6581 or 8580 model

The SID sound chip came in two models with major differences, named 6581 and 8580. Fortunately, several SID files already contain this information and many players use it automatically.

For files that don't, it's best to ask the arranger whether they had a C64 (6581) or a C64C (8580). Several have already answered in interviews or to sites, especially the High Voltage SID Collection.

If the arranger can't answer, HVSC guesses. To learn how, see this table.

6581 filter

If you already know the SID file was made for 8580, skip this section.

Otherwise, filters are the biggest problem. To this day, emulation is not completed and SID files don't contain any filter information. This section explains how to find the information. If you don't know the problem yet, see this section.

At the moment, it's best to first open every song to be recorded on DeepSID.

  • Go to deepsid.com.
  • On the top left between WebSid emulator and User is a round button which toggles between light and dark. See what you prefer.
  • Click the Visuals tab on the top right.
  • Click GRAPH.
  • To the right of Buffer size, change from 16384 to 1024.
  • Turn Modulations OFF and Pulse coat ON, it's less distracting.
  • Click High Voltage SID Collection.
  • Select the SID file you want to record. In case of Insects In Space:
    • Click MUSICIANS.
    • Click G.
    • Click Galway_Martin.
    • Scroll down and click Insects_in_Space.sid.
  • Listen to the song and watch the 3 columns. Whenever one changes its background from white to bright yellow (or from black to dark brown) or vice versa, it means the filter has been toggled. Note down the times when it does.
    • In case of Insects In Space, they should be 1:06 (or 1:07) and 1:51 (or 1:52).
    • If the background is never yellow (or brown), the song doesn't use the filter and you won't have to set it up for that song.
  • Click the small ^ button in the middle left. If you can't, you are done with this SID file.

Once you got all times down, open the SID file in a C64 emulator and SID player which supports adjusting the filter; see below for a list to choose from, along with specific instructions. In general, try different filter settings until all tracks sound best with the same setting. To begin with, you can always set the filter to a point where a sound vanishes or becomes unbearable, and then gradually adjust it until it sounds nice and audible -- after all, if arrangers bothered to set up the filter, they probably wanted us to hear it!

Less suitable recording software

There are many C64 emulators and SID players with different qualities, like better visuals, performance and debugging. However, for recording, only accuracy counts, so some software should be used with caution.

Following software plays some songs plain wrong, or not at all. For example, the beginning of Title Music - Spiky Harold (C64) sounds too much more metallic and distorted than on a real C64.

  • CCS64 (emulator)
  • DeliPlayer
  • FastSID (option in VICE and VSID)
  • jsSID (option in DeepSID)
  • RdosPlay

Following players don't support changing clock, model, and filter, but are still accurate enough for SID files where the clock and model are known, the filter is either unused or already nice and audible, and the game was not released for the other clock:

Following players are accurate, but may feel tedious, as the song has to be restarted upon every change:

Using XMPlay

As of this writing, the SID (XMPlay) plugin is easiest to use.

Downloading

Opening a SID file

  • Open xmplay.exe.
  • Press F9.
  • Click Input.
  • Click SID (rev. 37.1) (or higher number).
  • Click Config.
  • Uncheck both Lock.
  • Uncheck Disable seeking.
  • Set Default Duration as follows:
    • See how many seconds the longest track lasts.
    • If it's below 120, double it to meet timing rules.
    • If it's between 120 and 240, make it 240. It's the fastest way to prevent two 1:59 loops from cutting off one 2:00 loop!
    • Add 10 seconds.
    • Now you can skip anywhere (which can take seconds -- don't worry about that) and record enough.
  • Close the SID configuration window so changes take effect.
  • Drag and drop the SID file into XMPlay (not the playlist, you don't need one).
  • Press F3.
  • Read what it says next to Video standard and SID chip.
  • Click Config again.
  • If the Video standard is undefined or you need another, choose a Default SID model and check Lock next to it.
  • If the SID chip is undefined or you need another, choose a Default clock speed and check Lock next to it.
  • Close the SID configuration window, click the XMPlay window and press Enter so changes take effect.
  • Click Config again.

Selecting another track

  • Press SHIFT+LEFT and SHIFT+RIGHT until the track number on the top says what you want.

Adjusting 6581 filter

  • Move 6581 filter strength.

Recording

  • Click Output.
  • Remember what it says next to Device, you will want that back!
  • Choose Encoder - FLAC or WAV Writer.
  • Click Apply.
  • Press ENTER in the XMPlay window.
  • Every time the Write as... window appears, press ENTER and watch XMPlay record a track!
  • After the last track, choose the previous Device.
  • Exit XMPlay.
  • Follow steps 6 and 7 of Determine Song Length.

Using VSID

As of this writing, VICE and VSID 3.4 are more accurate than any other software, though not to a huge degree and rather tedious.

Downloading

  • Go to vice-emu.sourceforge.io/index.html#download and click Download VICE under Windows or macOS.
  • Unzip where you want.
  • Open vsid.exe.
  • Drag and drop the SID file you want into VICE (VSID) (anywhere but the playlist, you don't need one).
  • Click the two skip buttons to select a track within the SID file.

Adjusting filter

  • Move Bias.
    • Alternatively, press ALT+O, click SID and move 6581 filter bias.
  • To skip to a position within the song, you must fast forward, perhaps first rewind by pressing ALT+F9. Clicking the bar has unfortunately no effect.
  • To fast forward, click the fast forward icon button once. To play normal, click again.
    • Alternatively, press ALT+O, click Speed, and Unlimited. To play normal, click 100%.

Recording

  • On each musical track:
    • Press SHIFT+ALT+R. The record icon does not seem to work.
    • Click FLAC.
    • Click Save.
    • Enter a filename you understand. On the right is an icon to create a directory.
    • Click Save.
    • Skip to the track. If you already have, press ALT+F9.
  • Either exit VSID or press SHIFT+ALT+S to stop the recording.
  • Follow steps 6 and 7 of Determine Song Length.