Here are some music trackers I know and would recommend. The comments about pros and cons are only my own experience (linux user who prefer open source software) so it can differ from your, of course.

There are at least 4 major ways to create "chiptunes":

  1. Use native software on original machines (for ex SidWizard on C64, Maxymizer on Atari ST) or on emulators.
  2. Use cross platform software on modern computers (for ex. famitracker, DefleMask, vortex tracker), targeting original hardware: you can export to file format compatible which you can replay on real C64, real Sinclair Spectrum, Amstrad, Megadrive / Genesis etc
  3. Use VST emulating the sound of original chips or for creating new sound designs (like LMMS, Sunvox, picoloop on linux). It can sound rather genuine, but some VST for example won't have limits like original chip would had (you can have 10 voices for sounding like a C64, while the original had only 3 voices). But even if you stay in the limits of the original, you won't be able to replay your music on original hardware. It's like creating a game which has a look and feel of a gameboy, but with something like SDL, rpg maker or gamemaker, it will look and behave similar but you won't be able to run the game on an old gameboy.
  4. Use sample based sounds, generally with trackers (originally on Amiga, now everywhere, for example MilkyTracker, Modplug Tracker). The "problem" with samples is when you transpose them (for example from C2 to C6), it can sometimes sound different than it would have been with an original instrument (flute, piano) or with an original sound chip. You can also create instrument with a different samples assigned to a group of notes (most trackers can do that), or even every note (like for soundfonts or on digital piano. Sunvox and LMMS can do that as well)

It's not always possible to start a song in a tracker and continue onto an other (or convert a song from one chip into an other) but some trackers can import/export midi or mod/xm so there is often a way.

1-bit music

It's a well delimited field: for some people because of the restricted possibilities, they can feel somehow limited. But for some others, it will boost their creativity. You don't need to bother with instrument creation (unless you program your own beeper engine.

Tracker + Pros + – Cons – export Website
Beepola very easy to use, compact and efficient (only one binary) Only for windows, but works well with wine. Closed source 1-bit spectrum beeper url
1tracker Multiplateform, Open-source 1-bit spectrum beeper url
houston tracker 2 native to TI calculators. Quite easy to use and intuitive once you get used to it. Open-source several keys to learn Texas instrument calc beeper url
milkytracker + beeper engine Open-source needs a converter + z80 compiler 1-bit spectrum beeper url


8-bit is the "true" sound of chiptunes. On the other hand, it can be somehow repetitive.

Tracker + Pros + – Cons – export Website
DefleMask multiplateform (win/linux/mac os x). Easy to use. multichip closed source YAMAHA YM2612, Texas Instruments SN76489 PSG, Z80 Game Boy, Hudson Soft HuC6280, Ricoh 2A03, MOS Technology SID, YAMAHA YM2151, SEGA PCM url
Famitracker very intuitive and easy. Open-source native to windows only / works well with wine NES url
GoatTracker Works on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X. Rather easy to use interface. Can import / export xm midi. Open-source Difficult to create new instruments SID url
lsdj / little sound dj very intuitive and well design closed source gameboy url
nanoloop not tested closed source gameboy url
maxYMiser good manual. Powerful. Native Atari ST Interface is a bit cramped (it would have been better to have several screens to handle so many informations). Quite difficult to create new instruments. Closed source sndh (atari) url
musicmon Quite easy to create good instruments. Native Atari ST Some parts of the tracker are really awkward and clumbersome (orderlist). Almost no manual. Closed source sndh (atari) url
SidWizard Native to C64: runs everywhere with an emulator. Can import and export to midi, to xm. Easy and well designed interface. Open-source No mouse, no fancy, no high resolution screen SID url
starkos very well designed interface and shortcuts. The player is open source The tracker part is closed source. ym (amstrad cpc) url
vortex tracker 2 can export to sinclair zx spectrum or atari st closed source ay, sndh url

More than 8-bit

You'll get more "possibilities", on the other hand, it can sometimes be labelled "fakebit" (because it's using samples)

Tracker + Pros + – Cons – export Website
amusic fm opl2 synthesis dos amd (fm) url
adlib tracker II fm opl3 synthesis. Very powerful once you'll get used to it. Open-source some shortcuts are rather counter-intuitive a2m url
LMMS easy to use, easy to create new instruments, Open-source No midi export wav url
milkytracker Open-source mod, xm, it, wav url
schismtracker Open-source mod, it url
modplugtracker / openmpt Open-source windows-only (works with wine) mod, xm, it, wav url
klystrack multiplatform. Open-source Doesn't target any historical chip wav + own format url
sunvox multiplatform, well designed, can import/export midi closed source midi, wav url