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5 Reasons Why Audio on the Nintendo 3DS Should Be Amazing

March 17, 2011 | | 12 Comments Share thison Facebook 5 Reasons Why Audio on the Nintendo 3DS Should Be Amazingon Twitter

With the North American launch of Nintendo’s 3DS handheld platform just a week away, we still know little to nothing about how the system will actually sound. In terms of technical specs, Nintendo only mentions that the system will have two speakers. I know this doesn’t sound adequate to readers here, but they’re probably making the correct assumption that most people gamers don’t care about the improvements made to the game’s audio capabilities. But they should!

We’ve been speaking with a number of developers over the past months regarding what they’ve been able to accomplish on the system, and from what we can tell, the possibilities on the 3DS are truly endless. Now we just have to hope that developers take notice and make use of the drastic improvements made over the Nintendo DSi that effectively put the 3DS on the same level as the Gamecube in terms of audio.

Just what improvements have been made, and how will they affect how you experience audio on the system? Hit the jump for our list.

1) Increased Cartridge Memory

Okay, I know this is obvious, but the higher data capacity on the 3DS cartridges will allow developers to allocate more space to music and sound effects. Just how much bigger, you ask? According to Kotaku, the 3DS cartridge is 2GB versus 512Mb on the Nintendo DS. Now, it really boils down to what developers will do with the additional space, but we’ll hopefully see an increased volume of music for handheld titles or, more excitingly, a shift to streaming soundtracks directly from the cartridge given that there’s more room to store larger, high-quality music files.

2) Playing with Processing Power

While processing power is often thought to be a determinant of graphical capabilities among gamers, it’s also incredibly important in determining what developers are able to do with the game’s audio. More processing power means an enhanced ability to have more things going on at once. The Nintendo 3DS supposedly sports two 266MHz ARM11 processors compared to the Nintendo DSi’s two 133MHz ARM9 processors according to Destructoid. This will help the system trigger sound effects and stream music. This means less of an excuse to use MIDI, which has been the bane of several game soundtracks on Nintendo’s handheld platforms over the years.

This concept of streaming music is an important one that I don’t think a lot of us consider. To put it plainly, this increased processing power will make it easier to allocate the resources required to “stream” high-quality music files (like MP3, OGG, etc.) in real time, removing all limitations of what composers and sound designers can use to create their audio files, and will hopefully reduce the reliance on internal sound banks that have been used to reduce both processing resources and memory space.

3) RAM Upgrade

The correlation between this improvement and audio may not be the most obvious one to gamers, but let’s say that for some reason a developer decides to ignore the fact that they have increased data capacity and processing resources to stream high-quality audio and decide to go with MIDI anyway (we all know that companies will still do this). The increase in RAM (64MB versus the NDS’s 16MB according to Destructoid) will allow larger sound banks to be loaded at once, meaning an ability to create more complex compositions with more instruments. Think of something along the lines of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which, while relying mainly on MIDI sound banks, was pretty vast in terms of sounds used in the score.

4) Better Speakers

This is another obvious improvement, and is the only one that Nintendo mentions on their factsheet involving audio. Unfortunately, they’re still encased in a thick plastic with only tiny pinholes to allow the escape of sound! But worry not, for the next item makes the final output all the better.

5) Brand New Digital to Analog Converter (DAC)

Not only are the speakers worlds better than the ones featured on the DS and DSi, but more important, and less obvious, is an improved digital to analog converter (DAC). What’s a DAC? It essentially takes the digital data from the sound files on the cartridge and converts them into analog waves before they reach your ears. The Nintendo DS actually used the same converter all the way from the Game Boy Advance to the DS Lite, and there were serious problems with this component. It didn’t do a very good job, which is why so much of the sound coming out of the GBA and DS systems had that “crunchy” and “grainy” quality to it despite the best efforts of sound teams everywhere to provide high-definition tracks. This was improved with the DSi, and the 3DS features an even further upgrade. The fact that this component has been replaced with something better that functions like it’s supposed to will probably provide players with the biggest improvement in sound than any other improvement made to the 3DS. And you probably didn’t even know it existed!


Special thanks go out to our developer friends who have given us a heads-up as to what the 3DS will sound like. The system will be out next week, and we’re looking forward to seeing and hearing this entirely new experience.

What do you think of the above improvements? Is there anything else that the Nintendo 3DS has going for it in terms of audio that we didn’t mention?

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