Hey there readers!
So now that finals are finally over and I have way more free time on my hands, I decided it would be the perfect time to dive into another segment of What Should I Use!
For those new to the blog, WSIU is a series in which I take a chip-musician’s perspective on chiptune software and give it a review. Its meant to help those just starting out or those looking for something new to start up know what they’re getting into (rather than flailing around like, “ZOMG WTF DO I DO WHAT ARE THESE BUTTONS AAAAAAAA” etc, etc…)
This time we’re going into Oliver Wittchow’s ever-popular GBA tracker; Nanoloop 2.x, and its insane world of FM synthesis emulation. Let’s take a look at what it’s got!
NOTE: Before we dive in, I’m reviewing version 2.x and not 1.x because I have not yet used version 1.x. There are also multiple versions of Nanoloop 2.x. I will be covering the version I currently have at the time of writing (2.7.9), so you may have a completely different experience with say 2.1 or 2.4.
Nanoloop 2.x is typically ran on a Gameboy Advance, but can be used on a system that can read GBA carts. The interesting thing about this program is its manipulation of the system’s hardware. Remember when I said FM emulation? That’s what the GBA can do because of its 16 bit processor, allowing for really interesting sounds that you can’t really get from any other tracker.
In terms of the cart’s hardware, it’s primarily flash based with a custom PCB, and while there are flash carts out there, they’re constructed differently than Nanoloop. This is why you can’t really download a ROM to put onto something like an EZ Flash cart.
In terms of custom modded gear, you don’t really need anything fancy other than investing in a backlight or front light to see what you’re doing in the dark. Sure you could go balls to the wall and go all out on RCA prosound but to be quite honest, the way the headphone jack delivers sound is so similar you won’t really tell a difference.
In terms of getting modded systems, there are lots of people who can do this such as Thursday Customs as well as myself! To continue this shameless plug, feel free to hit me up on Facebook at Nanode Mods!
Unlike LSDj, Nanoloop is purely a step sequencer set up in a 4×4 grid (though the square number can be changed if desired). This format is much more user friendly to newcomers, as values are represented as shapes and only uses hexadecimal values in the save and load screens. On top of this, menus are easily accessible with a tap of the select button, allowing for simple switching between options and tracks (unless you use an original GBA. In that case, godspeed).
Menu 1’s options are envelope, pitch, LFO, synthesis, and pan/delay respectively (as shown below).
Menu 2 (seen below) options are file load, song editor, play mode, note shift, and BPM/sync.
In terms of channels, you get 4 (much like other portable trackers). These being the L, R, S, and N channels. L and R are your basic channels that mostly offer the best sound, in my opinion, for leads, arps, and kick drums. The S and N channels however are different. S is more like your “wave” channel, and while it does sound similar to L and R, it allows for deeper, grittier, and fuller sounding synths. This is why most people use this channel for basses and wobbles. And lastly, there’s the N channel AKA the noise channel, which does exactly what you’d expect. But unlike noise channels in other trackers, this one has the ability to switch between 16 bit and 8 bit noise variations. This gives you the ability to add some variation in your noise beats or sounds.
No GUI changes other than the notation on the top left of the screen regarding which track you’re using.
With all this said, there is one fallback in the program that keeps me from using it as my main method of composing chiptune; the file storage. While you have seemingly infinite space for songs, you are only given 15 spaces to store patterns per track (as seen below), leaving you to really think in terms of what you absolutely need and what you don’t.
HERE IT COMES! The obligatory example of what you should expect from 2.x, and what people are doing with it (with a dash of even more shameless self promotion).
Working with Nanoloop (specifically on my EP from 2015) has been an great experience. It’s quite possibly the easiest interface I have ever used for creating music, not to mention the amazing sounds I’ve been able to get out of the program. And frankly, it blows LSDj out of the water in terms of the wobbles and grunge basses you can pull off.
The only things keeping me from using it as my permanent method of composing chipmusic is the model of GBA that I have and, as previously stated, the small amount of storable patterns.
Overall, Nanoloop 2 is an amazing platform to make music on. But while the sounds it provides are very advanced for most gameboy trackers I’ve seen, the cart is pretty expensive compared to other gameboy based trackers. You need to seriously be dedicated to making chiptune if you want to use it for this reason alone. That’s not even touching the topic of buying a mod to see what you’re doing in the dark or to get a good recording without oodles of static. Because of this, I’m giving Nanoloop the following 2 ratings:
If you are new to chiptune, I’d give it a 6/10, mostly because of its cost being a barrier to entry. Sure it’s a simple application, but sticking with free or low cost alternatives like Famitracker or LSDj will offer a more sound investment of time and will let you get a feel for what chiptune is about before fully restricting yourself with space for patterns and notes.
But if you are a seasoned veteran of the scene, I’d give it an 8/10 as its simplicity in format and sounds offers so many different possibilities while still adding a challenge when it comes to storage management (if you’re into masochism like me).
Remember; chiptune is about having fun! Rock what you make, and love what you do! The method you make it with is all up to you!~
– Nanode OUT!