game boy sound comparison


all game boys were played at their highest volume. they were connected directly to the audiointerface (motu 2408). except normalization to -0.1 dB no further processing was made. i did without comparing the levels of the different game boy models. if you record the output of the game boy, you will most likely normalize and do some mastering. in a live situation, you will simply turn up the volume of the mixing desk or the amplifier, if a game boy is not loud enough. if you are interested in a comparison of the different levels, please refer to my old game boy sound comparison.

i used lsdj 3.5.1., which was copied to a transferer cartridge (unless otherwise noted). the mp3s were encoded with lame 3.96.1, 192 kbit.

the examples were done this way: first you hear a bit of background noise from the game boy, then the song starts with some samples. after that there is a break, where i used panning without notes. on the older game boy models this will result in some rhythmic pulses. on the newer models this will have no effect. after the main part of the music i waited for a short time, and then stopped the song. at the end you hear background noise, again. if a game boy model with light was used, the example starts with the light switched off, then the light is switched on.

not only do the different game boy models sound different, if you have a look at the waveforms, you can see that these already look very different (thin sound - thin waveform). i recorded the pulse instrument, envelope: A8, wave: pulse width 50% (square), with a pitch of C3 (which is great C, in musical terms). the picture of the wavefrom, as displayed in the audio editor, was then saved as a graphic file, which you can see here.

 

 

game boy (classic, original, dmg-01, grey, brick, keksdose)  

the original game boy. it was released in 1989. it has a warm, bassy sound, with little (compared to the other game boy models) background noise (hiss and a bit hum). the processor is a bit slow, which can be quite noticeable, depending on your music. in fact, with older lsdj versions, the game boy even crashed, when the music (esp. tables) became too complicated. newer lsdj versions are somewhat optimized for the game boy, so that it won't crash, but in some cases a lag can be noticeable. the display is not very readable, especially in darker surroundings. the waveform looks rather square-ish. this is the standard, against which the other models have to match.

plus: sound, retro feel
minus: display, slow processor

sound example of original game boy

 


waveform of original game boy

 

 

game boy with pro sound modification  
the pro sound modification, which is sometimes applied to the game boy color, was done here on an original game boy. it makes the output approx. 13 dB louder. there is no noise, before the song starts to play. when the music starts, a hum is added (in the unmodified version this is pretty much concealed by the hiss). when the song is stopped, the hum disappears. the waveform looks very slightly different from the unmodified game boy (less square-ish). although the volume of the (normalized) sound example peaks at -0.1 dB, the average loudness seems to be approx. 2 dB more quiet than that of the (normalized) unmodified game boy. while the cases of the other game boy models are quite crammed with components, in the case of the original game boy there is ample room for some extra wires. it might be even possible to use thin shielded wire.

in the example of the unmodified game boy you hear some hiss, and in the example of the pro modded game boy the hum is more noticeable. choose for yourself, which one you like better.

plus: see original game boy
minus: see original game boy

sound example of original game boy with pro sound modification

 


waveform of original game boy with pro sound modification

 

 

play it loud!  

this is an inofficial name. it was used by nintendo as the slogan for an advertising campaign. it refers to the second generation of game boys, coming in different colors. officially it is just called game boy, and (according to nintendo) it has the same technical specifications, as the original game boy. and indeed, it doesn't sound very different from the original (there is a hint of high pitched whistle). everything what was said there, applies here, too. same waveform.

plus: see original game boy
minus: see original game boy

sound example of the play it loud!

 


waveform of the play it loud!

 

 

pocket  

first version in silver came without power led. later versions had the power led, and came in different colors. thin sound. there is hiss, a high whistling sound, and a hum, when the music starts to play. when the music is stopped, the hum disappears. the waveform looks very different from the original, and appears to be a bit fuzzy.

plus: not much to say pro and con here
minus:

sound example of game boy pocket

 


waveform of game boy pocket

 

 

pocket with pro sound modification  

the pro sound modification, which is sometimes applied to the game boy color, was done here on a game boy pocket. the waveform looks a bit different, but i can't hear much improvement to the sound. there is less hiss, but still high pitched noise and a hum.

plus:
minus: maybe not worth the effort

sound example of game boy pocket with pro sound modification

 


waveform of game boy pocket with pro sound modification

 

 

light

 


light off

kind of pocket-looking game boy, but uses two AA batteries (instead of two AAA). it has a backlit display, which makes it great to read in a darker environment (as on stage). the sound is thin, with hum, and high pitched noise, and when the backlight is switched on, some more high, whistling noise is introduced. the noise becomes even more noticeable, when the music starts to play. when the song is stopped, the whistle becomes more silent. the waveform looks approximately like that of the pocket, with a bit more fuzz.

plus: display
minus: sound


light on

sound example of game boy light, light off
sound example of game boy light, light on


waveform of game boy light, light on

 

 

color  

thin sound, and very much background noise. there is high pitched noise, and a hum, which becomes even more noticeable, when the music starts to play. after the song is stopped, the noise becomes a bit muffled. the waveform differs very much from that of the original game boy. it also looks quite fuzzy.

plus: none
minus: sound

sound example of game boy color

 


waveform of game boy color

 

 

color with pro sound modification  

this modification makes the output louder (see old comparison) and cleaner. the sound is more bassy, but still not as good, as that from an original game boy. before the music starts to play, the modded color is very silent. when the music starts, there is a high pitched whistle and some hum, but still better, than from a normal color. when the song is stopped, the noise disappears. the waveform looks a bit more consistent and more clean, than that from the color, but it's still a far cry from the waveform of an original game boy.

plus: sound (although noise is still clearly noticeable)
minus: it doesn't sound as good as one would wish

sound example of game boy color with pro sound modification

 


waveform of game boy color with pro sound modification

 

 

advance  

the sound is bassy, with little background noise. from the advance on all models lack the rhythmic noise, which results from panning without a note on the older game boys. when lsdj samples are used, there is a pitched noise added. this is very noticeable with older lsdj versions. in newer lsdj versions, which are somewhat optimized towards the usage of samples, this is less noticeable. when the song is stopped, you can hear a clearly noticable cracking sound. the advance has an awkward button layout, in that the select and start buttons are on the far left, under the d-pad. the waveform looks close to that of the original game boy. it also looks quite clean. (note, that the pictures of gba , gba sp, and gba sp2 show a gba cartridge inserted into the game boy. this is just for aesthetical reasons. the test was made with a transferer cartridge.)

plus: sound (although lacking some possibilities, and problems with samples)
minus: button layout


sound example of game boy advance

 


waveform of game boy advance

 

 

advance sp  


light off

lit display (from the bottom of the screen), which makes it very easy to read in darker surroundings. rechargeable battery. the sound is bassy, but with very much background noise (high pitched whistle and hiss). turning the light on or off has no effect on the sound. it has the same sample issues, as the advance. stopping the song produces a click, just like with the advance. if you want to plug the sp into your computer, or mixer, or amplifier, or if you want to use headphones, you have to use a headphone adapter. the headphone adapter takes up the ext. 2 port, which is also used for recharging the battery (from the advance sp on, all of the following models have a rechargeable battery). so you can't use headphones and recharge at the same time. (alternatively you can use a third party adapter, which lets you charge the battery and connect headphones at the same time.) the waveform looks the same, as that from the advance, but with lots of noise.

note, that the sp produces quite different noise, when a gba cartridge with the goomba version of lsdj is used. (this is also true for nanoloop: a 1.2 cartridge produces more hiss, while a 2.0 cart produces hum.) note also, that the goomba version runs a bit slower, so your song will play a bit longer, when the same tempo is used.

plus: display
minus: sound


light on

sound example of game boy advance sp, light off
sound example of game boy advance sp, light on
sound example of game boy advance sp, f2a gba cartridge, light on

 

 

original nintendo headphone adapter

third party adapter
 

waveform of game boy advance sp, light on


waveform of game boy advance sp, f2a gba cartridge, light on

 

 

advance sp2 (sp lite, sp mark II)  


minimum light

these are inofficial names. it is advertised by nintendo as "now with a brighter backlit screen!" officially it is just an advance sp. the display is brighter, than that of an older advance sp, and it is backlit. the light has two settings for brightness, but cannot be switched off. the sound is bassy. there is a lot of background noise (hiss and hum). when the brightness setting for the light is switched, there is a noticable "bump". otherwise the light setting makes no difference to the sound. it has the same sample issues, as the advance and the sp. a cracking sound can be heard, when the song is stopped. (thanks to bubblyfish, for letting me use her sp2 for this test.)

plus: display
minus: sound


maximum light

sound example of game boy advance sp2, minimum light
sound example of game boy advance sp2, maximum light

 

 

 

 

the following tests of nintendo ds, ds lite, and game boy micro were included for the sake of completeness. since it is not possible, to use old style cartridges with these machines, lsdj has to be transfered to a gba cartridge, together with goomba, a game boy emulator for game boy advance. this makes a par for par sound comparison impossible. also, the goomba version seems to run a bit slower. a flash2advance gba cartridge with the goomba version of lsdj 3.5.1 was used. on all of the following models the lsdj samples sound very bad. note, that this is likely not the fault of the respective machines, but perhaps more an issue of lsdj being a game boy program, run as an advance program.

 

ds  


light off

strictly speaking, the nintendo ds is no game boy, but since it can use also gba cartridges, it is included in this test. the backlight can be switched on or off. to change the setting, the ds has to be restarted. it has a headphone out, but you can also use the external extension connector (5.2v in) with a headphone adapter (same as for game boy advance sp). you can even use both outs at the same time. there is a hum, which becomes a bit worse, when the song is playing. it makes no difference in sound, if the light is switched on or off, or if the heaphone or external out are used. the touchscreen (and the stylus) has no function in gba programs (other than starting the program). very awkward button layout, in that the select and start buttons are on the far right, above the A and B (and X and Y) buttons. the waveform is rather close to a squarewave. (thanks to stefan braunstein, for letting me use his ds.)

plus: display
minus: button layout


light on

sound example of nintendo ds, headphone out, light off
sound example of nintendo ds, headphone out, light on
sound example of nintendo ds, external extension connector, light on


waveform of nintendo ds, headphone out, light on


waveform of nintendo ds, external extension connector, light on

 

 

ds lite  


minimum light

bassy sound, with very little background noise. very bright screen. the brightness of the screen can be adjusted in several steps. to change the setting, the ds lite has to be restarted. the flash2advance cartridge sticks out. the touchscreen (and the stylus) has no function in gba programs (other than starting the program). awkward button layout, in that the select and start buttons are on the far right. the waveform looks the same, as that of the ds. (thanks to stefan braunstein, for letting me use his ds lite.)

plus: sound, display
minus: button layout


maximum light

sound example of nintendo ds lite, minimum light
sound example of nintendo ds lite, maximum light

waveform of nintendo ds lite, maximum light

 

 

micro  


minimum light

the game boy micro is so far the latest member of the game boy family. it has a very bright backlit screen, which (although somewhat small) can be easily read in darker environments. the brightness of the screen, as well as the volume, can be adjusted in several steps, which results in audible beeps (make sure to adjust everything, before you start to play). otherwise the light setting has no effect on the sound quality. the sound is bassy. there is hum and a bit high pitched noise. when the song is stopped, a click can be heard, and the pitch of the hum goes up. the overall small size of the micro, the position of the select and start buttons, and of the audiocable make the handling a bit uncomfortable. but this is probably something, you might get used to. of all game boy models the waveform of the micro is closest to a squarewave. (thanks to franz reisinger, for letting me use his micro.)

plus: display
minus: sound, uncomfortable feel


maximum light

sound example of game boy micro, minimum light
sound example of game boy micro, maximum light

 


waveform of game boy micro, maximum light

 

 

 

 

bottom line:

things like "retro feel" might or might not be of importance to you, but it is a pretty objective judgment that the original game boy (or the original with the pro sound mod) has the best sound, while the game boy advance sp2 has the best display. if you want to use a gba program like nanoloop 2.0, the ds lite has the best sound and display.

 

some notes on background noise:

while in some of the examples the game boy models produce clearly noticeable background noise, the noise is pretty much covered by the music, as soon as it starts to play. keep in mind though that during more silent parts of your music, or during rests, the noise can become rather prominent and annoying.

while i could only test the models which i personally own, or which i could borrow easily, it seems to me that not all specimen of the same model produce the same amount of background noise. so, if you want to buy a game boy for making music, it might be a good decision, to take a music cartridge, some batteries, and a headphone (and in case of an sp a headphone adapter) with you, to check the sound quality. some other things to look for (and to avoid), when buying an old game boy (besides the obvious, like scratched, broken, or missing screen cover, and missing battery compartment lid): dead lines of pixels, corrosion in the battery compartment, frequent crashes, buttons don't react to presses.

 

 

links:

old game boy sound comparison
another sound comparison
game boy color pro sound mod 1
game boy color pro sound mod 2
game boy color pro sound mod 3
game boy pro sound mod 1
game boy pro sound mod 2
goomba

 


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