What is MSX-Music?
(thanks to FRS)

MSX-Music is a standard for FM-based sound-generation on MSX. It came later (1987) than the MSX-Audio standard (1985), as a Panasonic proprietary extension, the FM-PAC. It is using a more limited version of the MSX-Audio BIOS, patched to use the much cheaper and incompatible Yamaha YM2413. This means it blocks ADPCM commands explicitly and that only 1 user-instrument can be used at a time. The size is also smaller: only 16kB.

It's obscure why Panasonic did choose the YM2413 to build an incompatible cheaper sound cartridge for the MSX when they could have chosen the YM3526, which was 100% FM compatible with the Y8950 (MSX-Audio), lacking only the ADPCM registers. The ADPCM commands could then just be blocked, as they did on the MSX-Music BIOS.

Being incompatible with the MSX-Audio, the MSX-Music was not designed to be used for direct OPLL access, but many games did it. ASCII got even further on weakening the standard when made the terrible mistake of choosing the MSX-Music as the standard for the MSX turboR spec, after already having it built in in some MSX2+ machines. Again, they could have chosen to build a cheaper MSX-Audio using the YM3526.

Next to the Panasonic FM-PAC (FM Pana Amusement Cartridge), also other versions, based upon the FM-PAC, were produced. For the sound they are practically the same as the FM-PAC. Although some had some extra features, like a seperate audio output, or "stereo" output (one channel the FM drums, the other channel the other FM sound; cartridges like this are the FM Stereo PAK and was made by Checkmark, the Netherlands and the FM Sound Stereo by Tecnobytes, Brazil). In the rest of this section I'll talk mainly about the FM-PAC, the original MSX-Music.

The Yamaha YM2413 is a low-cost OPL2, thus named OPLL, for "OPL Light". This means its core is a striped-down version of the YM3812 (OPL2), while the Y8950 core has a YM3526 core (OPL1) internally. The only advantage is that the YM2413 has two types of sound waves, while the Y8950 has only one. This doesn't seem to be much, but is enough to get a good advantage on the synthesis, resulting in more complex and nice instruments.

The OPLL was especially made for the MSX system. It provides 9 channels of FM sound without drums or 6 channels FM sound with 5 FM drums (same as MSX-Audio). The aforementioned supplied FM-Basic (BIOS) gives the user opportunity to make their own music. There are approx 64 preset voices to choose between and more can be made. As already mentioned: ony one user instrument can be used at the same time.

Panasonic FM-PAC
Panasonic FM-PAC box (front and back)

What is an FM-PAC?

FM-PAC is an FM sound synthesizer cartridge which was originally made by Panasonic. The full name is FM Pana Amusement Cartridge. It's the only official cartridge version of the MSX-Music standard, see the previous question.

What are the specs of the individual MSX-Music cartridges?

See above for the specs of MSX-Music standard. There are several kinds of MSX-Music cartridges:

Which MSX computers have MSX-Music built in?

Most MSX2+ and all the MSX turboR machines have MSX-Music built in, including the 16kB of FM-Basic which allows user to write music and add into their own BASIC programs.

Which music programs are the most used?

In Japan the most known are Synth Saurus V2.0 and V3.0 by BIT². It's a very nice piece of software which allows to arrange your own songs. Everything is mouse controlled. The graphic is in screen 7 (16 colours) (V2.0) and V3.0 is in screen 6 (4 colours) if I remember correctly. The music can be saved on disk as a ready to run BASIC program. So mainly it generates a BASIC listing, which is hard to create without such editor.

MuSICA is another Japanese piece of software for writing music. It supports FM-PAC, SCC(+) and PSG. It's not so easy to write music for it, but it gives the possibility to compile the music and replay leter by using an machine code replayer.

There are several other japanese music composing utilities, but these two are the most common ones.

In Europe the first music-program which make a "break-through" on MSX-scene was SoundTracker 1.0 (later version 2.0 and Pro were released) made by Federation Against Commodore. This piece of software supported FM-PAC (6 channels FM-sound + 5 FM drums) and the Philips Music Module (an MSX soundcard which conforms to the MSX-Audio standard and an ADPCM unit for replaying samples (e.g. drums)). Actually, SoundTracker was originally written for the Philips Music Module. It became very fast a standard tool used by demo-makers, game-programmers and musicans. Music disks were produced as never before.

In 1992 a new program appears which was called Moonblaster and was produced by MoonSoft. Moonblaster gave until now unheard possibilities, so it become very fast a huge success. Everyone threw away their SoundTracker and grabbed the MoonBlaster V1.4. With Moonblaster it is possible to make a kind of stereo-like music: one channel MSX-Audio and the other channel MSX-Music.


Some MoonBlaster features:

Lots of music for music disks/games/demos were made in this editor and it is still used by MSX-freaks world-wide.

Which editor is the newest one?

A new piece of software from Fuzzy Logic has been released in 1997 and is being sold by Sunrise for MSX. It is called Oracle. This program is technically much better than Moonblaster, since it really is able to squeeze everything out of the MSX-Music and MSX-Audio chips! The only problem is that it is so complex that the replayer is not very fast, which makes it difficult to use the music created in Oracle in other software.

Where can I buy this wonderful music source?

It's sold by several MSX clubs (see the links database of The MSX Resource Center). But of course you can always try to get it second-hand: just place an add on the MSX newsgroup or something. Also, the FM Sound Stereo is still being sold by Tecnobytes.

Are there other music composing programs for MSX-Music?

Yes. There were released several other kinds of MSX-Music composers, but they never became so famous. Only the best survived.

Here are some of the music editors which didn't make a career.

Which software uses the MSX-Music?

Are any of the available MSX emulators supporting MSX-Music?

At first, only the newest versions of fMSX-DOS by Marcel De Kogel and MSX4PC by Adriaan van Doorn were supporting MSX-Music. Mitsutaka Okazaki wrote a great YM2413 emulation engine in 2001, after which many other emulators also support this chip. See also the MSX emulator section.

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