NES Music Format Spec


By: Kevin Horton



Remember that I am very willing to add stuff and update this spec.  If

you find a new sound chip or other change let me know and I will get back

with you.  E-mail to the above address. 

V1.61 - 06/27/2000 Updated spec a bit

V1.60 - 06/01/2000 Updated Sunsoft, MMC5, and Namco chip information

V1.50 - 05/28/2000 Updated FDS, added Sunsoft and Namco chips

V1.32 - 11/27/1999 Added MMC5 register locations

V1.30 - 11/14/1999 Added MMC5 audio bit, added some register info

V1.20 - 09/12/1999 VRC and FDS prelim sound info added

V1.00 - 05/11/1999 First official NSF specification file

This file encompasses a way to transfer NES music data in a small, easy to

use format.

The basic idea is one rips the music/sound code from an NES game and prepends

a small header to the data.

A program of some form (6502/sound emulator) then takes the data and loads

it into the proper place into the 6502's address space, then inits and plays

the tune.

Here's an overview of the header:

offset  # of bytes   Function


0000    5   STRING  "NESM",01Ah  ; denotes an NES sound format file

0005    1   BYTE    Version number (currently 01h)

0006    1   BYTE    Total songs   (1=1 song, 2=2 songs, etc)

0007    1   BYTE    Starting song (1= 1st song, 2=2nd song, etc)

0008    2   WORD    (lo/hi) load address of data (8000-FFFF)

000a    2   WORD    (lo/hi) init address of data (8000-FFFF)

000c    2   WORD    (lo/hi) play address of data (8000-FFFF)

000e    32  STRING  The name of the song, null terminated

002e    32  STRING  The artist, if known, null terminated

004e    32  STRING  The Copyright holder, null terminated

006e    2   WORD    (lo/hi) speed, in 1/1000000th sec ticks, NTSC (see text)

0070    8   BYTE    Bankswitch Init Values (see text, and FDS section)

0078    2   WORD    (lo/hi) speed, in 1/1000000th sec ticks, PAL (see text)

007a    1   BYTE    PAL/NTSC bits:

                 bit 0: if clear, this is an NTSC tune

                 bit 0: if set, this is a PAL tune

                 bit 1: if set, this is a dual PAL/NTSC tune

                 bits 2-7: not used. they *must* be 0

007b    1   BYTE    Extra Sound Chip Support

                 bit 0: if set, this song uses VRCVI

                 bit 1: if set, this song uses VRCVII

                 bit 2: if set, this song uses FDS Sound

                 bit 3: if set, this song uses MMC5 audio

                 bit 4: if set, this song uses Namco 106

                 bit 5: if set, this song uses Sunsoft FME-07

                 bits 6,7: future expansion: they *must* be 0

007c    4   ----    4 extra bytes for expansion (must be 00h)

0080    nnn ----    The music program/data follows

This may look somewhat familiar;  if so that's because this is somewhat

sorta of based on the PSID file format for C64 music/sound.

Loading a tune into RAM


If offsets 0070h to 0077h have 00h in them, then bankswitching is *not*

used.  If one or more bytes are something other than 00h then bankswitching

is used.  If bankswitching is used then the load address is still used,

but you now use (ADDRESS AND 0FFFh) to determine where on the first bank

to load the data.

Each bank is 4K in size, and that means there are 8 of them for the

entire 08000h-0ffffh range in the 6502's address space.  You determine where

in memory the data goes by setting bytes 070h thru 077h in the file.

These determine the inital bank values that will be used, and hence where

the data will be loaded into the address space.

Here's an example:

METROID.NSF will be used for the following explaination.

The file is set up like so:  (starting at 070h in the file)

0070: 05 05 05 05 05 05 05 05 - 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00

0080: ... music data goes here...

Since 0070h-0077h are something other than 00h, then we know that this

tune uses bankswitching.  The load address for the data is specified as

08000h.  We take this AND 0fffh and get 0000h, so we will load data in

at byte 0 of bank 0, since data is loaded into the banks sequentially

starting from bank 0 up until the music data is fully loaded.

Metroid has 6 4K banks in it, numbered 0 through 5.  The 6502's address

space has 8 4K bankswitchable blocks on it, starting at 08000h-08fffh,

09000h-09fffh, 0a000h-0afffh ... 0f000h-0ffffh.  Each one of these is 4K in

size, and the current bank is controlled by writes to 05ff8h thru 05fffh,

one byte per bank.  So, 05ff8h controls the 08000h-08fffh range, 05ff9h 

controls the 09000h-09fffh range, etc. up to 05fffh which controls the 

0f000h-0ffffh range.  When the song is loaded into RAM, it is loaded into

the banks and not the 6502's address space.  Once this is done, then the

bank control registers are written to set up the inital bank values.

To do this, the value at 0070h in the file is written to 05ff8h, 0071h

is written to 05ff9h, etc. all the way to 0077h is written to 05fffh.

This is should be done before every call to the init routine.

If the tune was not bankswitched, then it is simply loaded in at the 

specified load address, until EOF

Initalizing a tune


This is pretty simple.  Load the desired song # into the accumulator,

minus 1 and set the X register to specify PAL (X=1) or NTSC (X=0).

If this is a single standard tune (i.e. PAL *or* NTSC but not both)

then the X register contents should not matter.  Once the song # and

optional PAL/NTSC standard are loaded, simply call the INIT address.

Once init is done, it should perform an RTS.

Playing a tune


Once the tune has been initalized, it can now be played.  To do this,

simply call the play address several times a second.  How many times

per second is determined by offsets 006eh and 006fh in the file.

These bytes denote the speed of playback in 1/1000000ths of a second.  

For the "usual" 60Hz playback rate, set this to 411ah.  

To generate a differing playback rate, use this formula:


PBRATE= ---------


Where PBRATE is the value you stick into 006e/006fh in the file, and

speed is the desired speed in hertz. 

"Proper" way to load the tune


1) If the tune is bankswitched, go to #3.

2) Load the data into the 6502's address space starting at the specified

   load address. Go to #4.

3) Load the data into a RAM area, starting at (start_address AND 0fffh).

4) Tune load is done.

"Proper" way to init a tune


1) Clear all RAM at 0000h-07ffh.

2) Clear all RAM at 6000h-7fffh.

3) Init the sound registers by writing 00h to 04000-0400Fh, 10h to 4010h,

   and 00h to 4011h-4013h.

4) Set volume register 04015h to 00fh.

5) If this is a banked tune, load the bank values from the header into


6) Set the accumulator and X registers for the desired song.

7) Call the music init routine.

"Proper" way to play a tune


1) Call the play address of the music at periodic intervals determined

   by the speed words.  Which word to use is determined by which mode

   you are in- PAL or NTSC.

Sound Chip Support


Byte 007bh of the file stores the sound chip flags.  If a particular flag

is set, those sound registers should be enabled.  If the flag is clear,

then those registers should be disabled.

* VRCVI Uses registers 9000-9002, A000-A002, and B000-B002, write only.

Caveats: 1) The above registers are *write only* and must not disrupt music

            code that happens to be stored there.

         2) Major caveat:  The A0 and A1 lines are flipped on a few games!!

            If you rip the music and it sounds all funny, flip around 

            the xxx1 and xxx2 register pairs.  (i.e. 9001 and 9002)  9000

            and 9003 can be left untouched.  I decided to do this since it 

            would make things easier all around, and this means you only 

            will have to change the music code in a very few places (6).

            Esper2 and Madara will need this change, while Castlevania 3j

            will not for instance.


         3) See my VRCVI.TXT doc for a complete register description.

* VRCVII Uses registers 9010 and 9030, write only.

Caveats: 1) Same caveat as #1, above.

         2) See my VRCVII.TXT doc for a complete register description.

* FDS Sound uses registers from 4040 through 4092.

Caveats: 1) 6000-DFFF is assumed to be RAM, since 6000-DFFF is RAM on the

            FDS.  E000-FFFF is usually not included in FDS games because

            it is the BIOS ROM.  However, it can be used on FDS rips to help

            the ripper (for modified play/init addresses).

         2) Bankswitching operates slightly different on FDS tunes.  

            5FF6 and 5FF7 control the banks 6000-6FFF and 7000-7FFF 

            respectively.  NSF header offsets 76h and 77h correspond to

            *both* 6000-7FFF *AND* E000-FFFF.  Keep this in mind!

* MMC5 Sound Uses registers 5000-5015, write only as well as 5205 and 5206,

            and 5C00-5FF5

Caveats: 1) Generating a proper doc file.  Be patient.  

         2) 5205 and 5206 are a hardware 8*8 multiplier.  The idea being

            you write your two bytes to be multiplied into 5205 and 5206

            and after doing so, you read the result back out.  Still working

            on what exactly triggers it (I think a write to either 5205

            or 5206 triggers the multiply).

         3) 5C00-5FF5 should be RAM to emulate EXRAM while in MMC5 mode.

Note: Thanks to Mamiya for the EXRAM info.

* Namco 106 Sound Uses registers 4800 and F800.  

            This works similar to VRC7.  4800 is the "data" port which is

            readable and writable, while F800 is the "address" port and is

            writable only.

            The address is 7 bits plus a "mode" bit.  Bit 7 controls

            address auto-incrementing.  If bit 7 is set, the address will

            auto-increment after a byte of data is read or written from/to


            $40 ffffffff f:frequency L

            $42 ffffffff f:frequency M

            $44 ---sssff f:frequency H s:tone length (8-s)*4 in 4bit-samples

            $46 tttttttt t:tone address(4bit-address,$41 means high-4bits of $20)

            $47 -cccvvvv v:linear volume 1+c:number of channels in use($7F only)

            $40-47:ch1 $48-4F:ch2 ... $78-7F:ch8

            ch2-ch8 same to ch1

            $00-3F(8ch)...77(1ch) hhhhllll tone data

            h:odd address data(signed 4bit)

            l:even address data(signed 4bit)

            real frequency = (f * NES_BASECYCLES) / (40000h * (c+1) * (8-s)*4 * 45)

            NES_BASECYCLES 21477270(Hz)

Note:  Very Special thanks to Mamiya for this information!

* Sunsoft FME-07 Sound uses registers C000 and E000

            This is similar to the common AY 3-8910 sound chip that is

            used on tons of arcade machines, and in the Intellivision.

            C000 is the address port

            E000 is the data port

            Both are write-only, and behave like the AY 3-8910.

Note:  Special thanks to Mamiya for this information as well



1) The starting song number and maximum song numbers start counting at

   1, while the init address of the tune starts counting at 0.  To

   "fix", simply pass the desired song number minus 1 to the init


2) The NTSC speed word is used *only* for NTSC tunes, or dual PAL/NTSC tunes.

   The PAL speed word is used *only* for PAL tunes, or dual PAL/NTSC tunes.

3) The length of the text in the name, artist, and copyright fields must 

   be 31 characters or less!  There has to be at least a single NULL byte

   (00h) after the text, between fields.

4) If a field is not known (name, artist, copyright) then the field must

   contain the string "<?>" (without quotes).  

5) There should be 8K of RAM present at 6000-7FFFh. MMC5 tunes need RAM at

   5C00-5FF7 to emulate its EXRAM. 8000-FFFF Should be read-only (not 

   writable) after a tune has loaded.  The only time this area should be 

   writable is if an FDS tune is being played.

6) Do not assume the state of *anything* on entry to the init routine

   except A and X.  Y can be anything, as can the flags.  

7) Do not assume the state of *anything* on entry to the play routine either.

   Flags, X, A, and Y could be at any state.  I've fixed about 10 tunes

   because of this problem and the problem, above.

8) The stack sits at 1FFh and grows down.  Make sure the tune does not

   attempt to use 1F0h-1FFh for variables. (Armed Dragon Villigust did and

   I had to relocate its RAM usage to 2xx)

9) Variables should sit in the 0000h-07FFh area *only*.  If the tune writes

   outside this range, say 1400h this is bad and should be relocated. 

   (Terminator 3 did this and I relocated it to 04xx).

That's it!

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