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How To Convert MP3 to 8 Bit

Posted by Arch on July 9, 2019

If you’ve ever listened to an 8-bit cover of a song, you’ll know how evocative it is of some nebulous childhood memories. 8-bit music, or chiptune as it’s known, is a wonderful way to inject life into songs regardless of genre. It’s not really clear why these sounds are so pleasing to some of us, but there are certainly plenty of good uses for transforming a familiar song with 8-bit sounds.

There’s a big difference between reducing a track’s quality to 8 bits and actually achieving that signature 8-bit sound. It’s important to understand what makes a digital sound recording “8-bit.” In this article, we’re going to first show you how to make an 8-bit version of an MP3 file and then get into how to recreate that vintage sound.

What’s 8-Bit Anyway? 

When someone says 8-bit music, generally speaking, they’re not referring to the quality of the sound. Without getting overly technical, 8-bit digital recordings don’t really sound the way you probably think they do. This has to do with the fact that an 8-bit sound file has a more discrete wavelength than a higher bit version of the same file. That is to say, there’s less information about the sound in 8 bits than in, say, 16 bits, resulting in a lower quality sound but not altering its timbre.

8-Bit

On the other hand, chiptune has a completely different sound. It was originally created with programmable sound generator (PSG) chips in early electronic devices, hence the name chiptune. Recreating this sound is a fair bit more complicated than just reformatting a file in 8 bits. Before we get into the complicated stuff, here’s how to make an MP3 file into an 8 bit one.

Converting a Sound File from MP3 to 8-Bit

There are a few good options for this process, and the best one to start with is the free audio editing software Audacity. Audacity is a very versatile workstation, and if you’re interested in getting into audio production, it’s a good place to learn the ropes. To use it to convert an MP3 into 8-bit, follow these steps:

  1. Download Audacity and launch it, then use the menu to find and open the audio file you want to convert.
  2. From the File menu, select Export > Export as WAV.
  3. In the explorer, use the drop-down formatting menu to select the format “Other uncompressed file.”
  4. An encoding menu will appear directly below where you can choose “Unsigned 8-bit PCM.” Select this option and export your file.
    audacityexport

Converting an MP3 to Chiptune

If the goal was to change the encoding of your file to 8-bit, your journey is complete. However, the more likely scenario is that you wanted to reproduce a specific sound rather than change the quality. To get that result you’re going to download a piece of software called GXSCC. This software works with MIDI files. So, find a MIDI version of the MP3 you want to convert, or use an MP3 to MIDI converter, such as Bear Audio’s online tool.

Download and launch GXSCC. You’ll be presented with a massive array of adjusters and dials. Ignore those for now, and do the following:

  1. Click and drag your MIDI file into the application window.
  2. At the top of the window, you’ll see a line of control buttons. Click the one that says “Config.”
  3. In the resulting menu window, change the instrument set to “Famicon like Set” and click OK.
    gsxccset
  4. From the top row of buttons, select Authoring and click OK. The file will convert to WAV format and automatically save in the same directory where the original was.

This should produce an audio file which is much more in line with what you expected. At this point, you can convert it from WAV back to MP3 using the Bear Audio converter from earlier.

Still Not Quite There…

For the majority of purposes, the file you created should suit your needs. However, you may still not be completely satisfied with the sound. If this is the case, there’s another option. Create your own.

Now, this may sound daunting for most people. After all, music production is not something that anyone can do. Or is it? Nowadays, music production has been simplified considerably with audio workstation software, such as the aforementioned Audacity. You will find no shortage of tutorials online on how to create your own chiptune music. But if you just want to get your toes wet, consider using a simple online app such as BeepBox.

This will be a much more involved and time-consuming road, but you may find yourself really enjoying it and you’re going to pick up many useful skills along the way.

8-bits and Pieces

At this point, you should have an idea of how to extract some old school sound out of an MP3 file. What was covered here isn’t an exhaustive list of options, but it will probably get you to where you want to be. If you’re only looking to change the encoding of a file, use Audacity. It’s simple, fast, and free. If you want to go further and produce that vintage sound, GXSCC is the software to do it. And if you’re feeling really brave, try making some of your own chiptune music.

Do you know of any other methods to make 8-bit music? What is it about those sounds that you find appealing? Let us know in the comments below.

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