Category Archives: SN76849

CoCoWiFi and SirSound project updates

Things have been real busy lately at Sub-Etha Galactic Headquarters… Here are some updates:


The CoCoWiFi has been tested on the bitbanger serial port and things seem to work just fine.

On the RS-232 Pak, a modification was needed to make the pak actually receive data (forcing the carrier detect signal). This has been done by an easy soldering mod to the DB9 connector. The downside is that it does not provide true CD, and there is no support for hardware flow control or DTR to drop calls. For just a bit more, there are RS232-to-TTL adapters that provide hardware flow control, which might help for doing high speed transfers. However, the lack of carrier detect and DTR means they won’t work with a BBS like they should

Thanks to David Chesek, new RS232-to-TTL adapters were located that include all the signals. These would be the best choice for running with an RS-232 Pak. I have two different types of adapters, but have only done some initial testing. I was unsuccessful getting the first adapter to work. I plan to test the second version this week.

I hope to have a hardware announcement to make before the CoCoFEST!


I learned much while working on CoCoWiFi, so I returned to work on the previously “announced” SirSound project. I got everything wired up properly and was able to write a BASIC program to make it play tones. I also worked with John Strong and migrated the prototype over to an Arduino Nano (matching the original Arduino sound player board he sent me last year).

The next phases is to figure out the various modes that sound module will run in. I have proposed:

  1. Direct. This mode just passes bytes to the sound chip, the same way you might do with a POKE command if it was a memory-mapped chip. BASIC is very slow at ANDing and ORing bits to make the messages, which is how my test program works, but this could be heavily optimized. This mode is mostly here to allow someone to port over code that was written for one of the other platforms that use an on-board SN76489 sound chip, though some of the bit-blasting players would probably not work as well over slow serial.
  2. PLAY. This is the BASIC mode, that will simulate the PLAY command. You will be able to send a string of notes to SirSound and play them just as easy as in EXTENDED COLOR BASIC. There are a few things that have to be adapted, like support for the multiple channels of audio, and sub-strings. Last year, it was suggested to look at the MSX computer’s PLAY command for examples of how Microsoft did this very thing. I may follow that syntax. MSX also ads a PLAY() function that can tell is background audio is in progress, and we will be able to achieve the same results using the Printer Read/CD signal on the bitbanger port. I plan to also add some sequencing extensions so repeating music loops don’t have to be sent over and over again.
  3. Optimized. This mode would be for assembly programs, and would pack data into 8-bit values rather than longer ASCII strings.
  4. Interactive. I am planning on having a shell/command-line interface (CLI) available which could be accessed. It would be used for testing the device without needing to write a BASIC program.

More to come…

Sir Sound prototype, version 2.

Now working without the crystal. This is using a Teensy and one of the pins to generate a 4mhz signal. I will post a video in coming days, hopefully, as soon as I have some CoCo BASIC code talking to it.

The green and black wires running off of it wold go to a headphone jack that the cassette cable could plug in to so you could feed Sound back to the CoCo without needing to use an external speaker. AUDIO ON!

Introducing the Sir Sound CoCo Sound Card


The team that brought you* the CoCoPilot DriveWire Server is proud to announce their latest innovation:

“Sir Sound”

Sir Sound is a solid-state multi-voice audio synthesizer that operates over a serial transport mechanism**. It provides arcade-quality*** sound with up to three independent tonal voices plus one white noise channel all in an external module that doesn’t require voiding your warranty to install. In fact, you won’t even need tools!

Pricing is to be announced but hopefully it will be around $50. Or maybe $30. Or cheaper. Or less if you build it yourself. Heck, we’ll probably just make kit versions available since we don’t really like to solder.

Sir Sound Configurations

  • Turnkey – This is a “plug and go” version where you just plug it in and go. No special drivers are needed, as they are already built in to both BASIC and OS-9.****
  • BYOE – The bring-your-own-everything edition is shipped as a set of simple instructions containing a parts list and how to run wires between the parts.
  • Custom – Also planned to be available are various custom configurations, like what color of case it comes in.


We estimate the thing is gonna cost us, like, ten or so bucks to make using off-the-shelf parts ordered in small quantities from China. But, to make it a product, we really should have an integrated circuit board and a case made, which will run the costs up dramatically. Rest assured, we’ll pass those unsavings along to you!


The first prototype is in the process of being tested. Quit rushing us. We’ll let you know when it’s done.


Basically it’s a Texas Instruments SN76489 sound chip hooked to a tiny Arduino micro-controller with a TTL-to-RS232 adapter. Here’s the prototype John Strong of StrongWare sent me:

SN76849 sound chip hooked to an Arduino Nano on a neat 3-D printed platform from StrongWare.

You kinda have to use some micro-controller since the sound chip turns on and starts making sound. Something has to issue the “shut up” instruction to it. If you just had hardware to translate a serial byte in to the command, and made the CoCo do all the work, the CoCo would have to load and run a program to shut the thing up every time you powered up. Fortunately, a custom-built Arduino that handles this can be done for like $5. There are cheaper PIC chips that could do it for less.

Then, you add a MAX232 type chip that goes from the TTL signal levels of the Arduino to RS232 signal levels, or using one of these $3 (or less) boards that’s already wired:

TTL-to-RS232 adapter.

Lastly, add a CoCo serial cable (4-pin DIN to DB9), and you are set.

Prototype “Sir Sound” sound module for the CoCo (or anything with a serial port, actually).

A small program on the Arduino will monitor the serial port for bytes and then relay them to the sound chip.

By doing some POKEs in BASIC to set the baud rate, you could make music by doing things like this:

PRINT #-2,CHR$(&H8E);CHR$(&H1D);CHR$(&H90);

FOR A=1 TO 1000:NEXT A

PRINT #-2,CHR$(&H9F);

The notes always play, so you shut them off by setting volume off. There are different channel values for each of the four channels.

I envision having a “raw” mode where the device just translates the bytes from serial to the sound chip, and a “smart” mode where you could use an API and just send note values (like 1-88 of a piano keyboard, or MIDI note values).

“Smart” mode could simplify the control so it might look like this:

PRINT #-2,CHR$(&H00);CHR$(&HA);CHR$(&HF);

PRINT #-2,CHR$(&H01);CHR$(&HA);

PRINT #-2,CHR$(&H11);CHR$(&HA);

PRINT #-2,CHR$(&H20);CHR$(&H5);

And, I could also add a “super smart” mode where it could parse PLAY command-style strings, then spool them in the background while you do other things:


And, a “super super smart” mode could let it store string sequences, and play them by triggering with a simple byte:


PRINT #-2,CHR$(&H50);

PRINT #-2,CHR$(&H55);

…or whatever. You could sequence them together, like MIDI sequencers do, and have complex patterns that could play in the background while the program does other things.

There are lots of possibilities. We could even see about using the Carrier Detect line as a way to tell if the sound card was still playing something (rather than needing routines to read data back from the device, which would be doable but not from BASIC without assembly language code).

If this “sounds” fun to you, leave a comment…

Until then…


* If you call making a blog post “bringing it” to you.

** It plugs in to the Serial I/O port. “Sir” sounds like “Ser”, get it? Marketing thought SerSound wasn’t friendly enough.

*** This part is true. The same sound hardware is used in the arcade mega-hits Congo Bongo and Mr. Do, among others.

**** PRINT#-2, yo.

Arduino and the Texas Instruments SN76489

You may have never heard of the Texas Instruments SN76489, but if you are reading this article, there’s a good chance you have heard it.

The SN76489 is a sound chip which, according to the Wikipedia entry, was used in systems such as:

…and in arcade games such as:

…and many more. I am just naming the machines and games I have heard of or seen/played.

Side Note: The Wikipedia entry also claims the Sega Genesis used one, but it had far fancier sound. A quick search shows the Genesis did not use this chip, so other systems may also be incorrect. Ah, Wikipedia…)

This chip is able to produce three tones and one white noise at a time, which sounds an awful lot like the audio capabilities of my first computer, the VIC-20.

The chip has none of the fancy synthesizer features found in other chips, such as the famous Commodore 64 SID chip. The only thing you can do is adjust the volume level of each channel of sound. Clever software uses this to produce bell sounds and other effects. (If Congo Bongo is really using this chip, it’s doing some fancy things to make those bongo sounds!)

Thanks to StrongWare‘s John Strong, I now have one of these chips to experiment with. It is wired up to an Arduino Nano clone. (NOTE: I had issues getting this clone recognized on my Mac, due to it using a different serial chip. I found the solution, and wrote about it earlier this week.)

SN76849 sound chip hooked to an Arduino Nano on a neat 3-D printed platform from StrongWare.

John pointed me to this short tutorial on how to use the chip:

Using sample code there, I was able to get the device making tones, and then expanded it to play a sequence of tones to make a tune.

The next day I added more code so it could do a multitrack sequence.

I thought it might be fun to share what I have learned the first two days of playing with the device, and share the code I have come up with.

I will do a full article on the chip and how it works (summarizing some overly complex explanations I have been reading), but until then, here is my sample project:

It contains routines to poke bytes to the SN76489, plus a work-in-progress multitrack music sequence that currently plays the 2-voice intro music to Pac-Man :)

I’ve been fixing up the comments and squashing some bugs, so check back for the latest. I still have to add real/better support for the “noise” channel, but it works right now for playing simple tunes.

More to come…