When it comes to gaming, we don’t only look at the hardware in terms of what the system is capable of in the graphics department. While most of the newer systems today have similar sounds depending on where you output them, classic and retro consoles such as the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) also competed in terms of their sound quality. As such, which between the Genesis and the SNES has the better sound?
Technically and objectively speaking, the SNES has the better sound chip compared to the Genesis it being the newer console, of course. However, the Genesis also has a good sound chip during its time and was able to also produce memorable music that can stand up to what the SNES offered.
If you look at the retro consoles and how they performed, we usually rate them based on their graphics and their games. But the sound was also one of the factors that swayed the decisions of people back in the day. Both the Genesis and the SNES had exceptional sounds during their time but enjoyability is actually quite subjective regardless of which between the two may be technically better. Now, let’s look at a quick overview of which (between the Genesis and the SNES) has the better sound quality.
Sega Genesis sound overview
Back when the Nintendo Entertainment System or the NES was the downright undisputed leader of the entire gaming industry during the earlier portion of the 80s, Sega entered the market to challenge the dominant name. It was in 1988 when Sega released their Genesis console system, which quickly became a competitor to the point that it became Sega’s most successful console, which sold over 30 million units worldwide. This came after the failure of the Master System, which was released two years prior.
The reason why Genesis was so popular is due to how it had 16-bit graphics that were far better than what the NES had to offer. Take note, the Genesis was released prior to the SNES, which was Nintendo’s first 16-bit video game console.
However, even though Genesis was as popular as it is thanks to its improved graphics, one of the aspects that made it popular was its sound chip. It also had an impressive sound quality that trumped all of the other competitors during that era.
The Sega Genesis produced sound using a Texas Instruments SN76489 programmable sound generator (PSG) while integrating the PSG with a Yamaha YM2612 FM synthesizer chip. This system allowed the Genesis to produce the sounds and music that did well with games such as Sonic and Phantasy Star, and Thunderforce, among others. The fact that Genesis also has FM synthesis makes it ideal for sounds that are electronically produced.
When you look at the synthesizer or the sound chip that the Genesis comes with, it is a simple six-channel synthesizer that may not seem much. But its simplicity is what makes it versatile to the point that a master composer would be able to bring the best out of it. So, in that regard, the Genesis could give you great tunes or could end up giving you bad sounds depending on the composer and on the game you are playing.
Super Nintendo sound overview
Following the success of the NES and looking to battle it out with the Genesis shortly after Sega introduced its highest-selling console, Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System or the SNES, which was introduced to the market in 1990 and was able to bring 16-bit graphics on a Nintendo system.
And while the world had already seen what 16-bit graphics can do due to the Genesis, the SNES brought something new to the table with an audio system that is also the most advanced up to that point in time.
The SNES made use of an audio system called the S-SMP, which actually integrates an 8-bit CPU, a 16-bit DSP, and 64 KB of SRAM all in one system that works independently from the entire SNES hardware. This audio system is actually quite impressive in the sense that it can clock at 24.576 MHz in both NTSC and PAL systems, which were unprecedented at that time.
So, in that regard, the audio system that the SNES sported could produce a stereo sound that comes from eight different voices and different types of sound effects. A good example of such sound effects is an echo, which other systems that time could not produce.
Hardware-wise, the SNES had the most impressive audio system at the time of its release to the point that it was able to produce superior sounds on its games. At the average rate, the sounds that a composer could make with the SNES are average, at the very least, but could end up trumping all other game sounds in the hands of a master composer.
Genesis vs SNES: which one has better sound?
At the end of the day, when you simply look at the hardware capabilities, the SNES is undoubtedly the superior console of the two as it has the better and more advanced audio system on paper. But, then again, the specs don’t always tell the whole story because it still depends on how the audio system or the sound chip is being used by the composer.
Plainly speaking, the Genesis may have had a simpler and more primitive audio system, but it was simple and easy enough for composers to take advantage of to make the best kind of sounds possible on an 80s system.
On the other hand, the SNES should generally have better sound quality because it does have superior hardware. However, an uninspired composer might end up producing sounds that are below subpar.
However, sound quality does seem to have a subjective element to it, as some gamers do love the Genesis more than the SNES in terms of sounds. The SNES may come with the more superior tech, but the Genesis was able to deliver some of the best sounds due to how versatile its synthesizer chip can be. In that regard, the SNES is the winner on paper, but the Genesis could very well stand up to the SNES depending on how its synthesizer was used.