TUTORIAL: listen to Commodore 64 (SID) music on your iPhone!

So far, I didn’t want to write a full article on listening to the music clips (SID files) of the legendary Commodore 64 home computer (dedicated Wiki page HERE). Now that the latest, just-released (brand new) version of the dedicated player, Sid Player Pro has greatly (!!!) reduced the power consumption and become pretty much usable on previous-generation iDevices (iPhone 2G/3G and iPod Touch G1/G2) as well, I find it necessary to, at last, dedicate a full article to the question.

There are several ways of listening to C64 music on the iPhone. Your choice should depend on the following factors:

- Do you want to pay for the music or the player? If you don’t, then, go with either the radio streaming approach (with a free client like FStream) and/or manually downloading MP3 files and importing them to iTunes.

- Do you want the music to be played back in background even on a non-jailbroken (read: no Backgrounder to put execution in background) iPhones? Then, you’ll need to use either standalone, pre-recorded MP3 files or a radio streamer app that is able to pass playback to the built-in iPod (currently, only ooTunes and Pocket Tunes Radio support the latter).

- Do you want absolutely the best battery life? Then, stay away from both streaming radio apps. If, in addition, you only have a previous-generation iPhone or iPod touch, you’ll want to stay away from Sid Player Pro too. (The latter isn’t really an issue on the latest-generation Apple models – while SID Player Pro still consumes considerably more power than the iPod application while playing back pre-recorded MP3 files, it no longer chews through the battery.)

Let’s take a closer look at the given choices.

1. Using a radio streamer application

Should you want to stick with a free solution (and you have the necessary bandwidth / battery life isn’t a concern), you might want to look at some radio streamer application.

For example, the great and free (!) FStream has the station “Radio 6581” in (official homepage HERE). It’s one of the best radios. In addition to “real” 6581 tunes, it often has reworked versions of original 6581 tunes; for example, just now (11/7/2009 11:16 PM CET), Joined Forces - Last Ninja 1, Part 1 and Thomas Detert - The Space are being broadcast, both great to listen to.

There are a lot of other SID radio streaming stations; the SHOUTcast listing is HERE. Please do consult my radio app bible for more info on how you can add these links to your favorite radio app, should its built-in station directory lack them.

2. Pre-recorded songs for purely offline playback

Without doubt the most battery-friendly way of playing back original C64 music is getting them as MP3 / AAC files. These are not only strictly offline (no need to download / stream anything in realtime), but also can be played back in the built-in iPod application – unlike the other ways of playing back C64 music. (Except for streamed contents in MP3 / AAC when a player is used that supports passing these streams to the iPod app for playback.)

Two kinds of pre-recorded music are available: original and enhanced version (the latter played on “real” instruments). Let’s start with the former.

2.1 Music played back on original gear and recorded into MP3’s

Probably the biggest archive (currently, with 51491 songs) of pre-recorded (mp3) music is HERE. Just click the any of the R2/R4/R5 links on the left to download an MP3.

Note that there are quite a lot of other archives but, AFAIK, none of them are as wide as the above; for example, THIS.

Should you need demo music instead of game music, take a look at HERE. Currently, this site has about 380 MP3’s.

2.2 Enhanced music played back using more advanced instruments (or computers)

There are quite a few reworked C64 music titles. For example,

- C64 Orchestra (video, for example, HERE); their CD is also available in iTunes (see THIS).

- Chris Hülsbeck’s CD’s


3. Playing back original SID files

Should you want to

- avoid the hassle of having to download pre-recorded MP3 files one-by-one and you don’t need their advantages (lower battery usage and background playback without having to jailbreak),

- avoid using any radio streaming app and

- avoid purchasing e.g. the C64 Orchestra CD from iTunes,

you’ll want to go for SIDPlayer Pro (iTunes link HERE). It only costs $2 (up from the intro price of $1).

While the previous versions were hard to recommend if battery life or device responsiveness when running in the background is a concern, the brand new, just-relased version of SIDPlayer Pro indeed delivers, battery life-wise. On the 3G S, I’ve run a three-hour-long test to find out the power consumption when suspended (and the oscilloscope not enabled). It’s pretty low: about 6.5%/hour. On the 3G, I “only” measured CPU usage (with the AppStore app “Benchmark” and running the player in background, while, in the foreground, running Benchmark). With the previous version, the free CPU time was around 35%; with the new one, about 55% (and, with visualization enabled, about 52%). This is pretty great an improvement!

(the official update page of the just-released version of the app)

It also frees you from having to download MP3 files by hand – and it has access to the world’s biggest and greatest (native) SID collection, the High Voltage SID Collection. Note that the latest version also added support for the All-Time Top C64 Game Tunes (Skytopia Top64.)

A bit of warning: as of the current (2.1.49) of Sid Player Pro, it "only" supports version 49 of the HVSC compilation, while the most current one is v51. As you can see in the v51 release notes, you won't have access to some 900+ songs added in about the last half a year. If your favourite ones are among them, consider getting them from somewhere else (e.g., as MP3 files).

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<p>Werner Ruotsalainen is an iOS and Java programming lecturer who is well-versed in programming, hacking, operating systems, and programming languages. Werner tries to generate unique articles on subjects not widely discussed. Some of his articles are highly technical and are intended for other programmers and coders.</p>
<p>Werner also is interested in photography and videography. He is a frequent contributor to not only mobile and computing publications, but also photo and video forums. He loves swimming, skiing, going to the gym, and using his iPads. English is one of several languages he speaks.</p>