APU Envelope

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In a synthesizer, an envelope is the way a sound's parameter changes over time. The NES APU has an envelope generator that controls the volume in one of two ways: it can generate a decreasing saw envelope (like a decay phase of an ADSR) with optional looping, or it can generate a constant volume that a more sophisticated software envelope generator can manipulate.

Each volume envelope unit contains the following: start flag, divider, and decay level counter.

                                   Loop flag
                                        |
               Start flag  +--------.   |   Constant volume
                           |        |   |        flag
                           v        v   v          |
Quarter frame clock --> Divider --> Decay --> |    | 
                           ^        level     |    v
                           |                  | Select --> Envelope output
                           |                  |
        Envelope parameter +----------------> |                   
Address Bitfield Description
$4000 ddLC.VVVV Pulse channel 1 duty and volume/envelope (write)
$4004 ddLC.VVVV Pulse channel 2 duty and volume/envelope (write)
$400C --LC.VVVV Noise channel volume/envelope (write)
bit 5 --L- ---- APU Length Counter halt flag/envelope loop flag
bit 4 ---C ---- Constant volume flag (0: use volume from envelope; 1: use constant volume)
bits 3-0 ---- VVVV Used as the volume in constant volume (C set) mode. Also used as the reload value for the envelope's divider (the period becomes V + 1).
 
$4003 LLLL.Lttt Pulse channel 1 length counter load and timer (write)
$4007 LLLL.Lttt Pulse channel 2 length counter load and timer (write)
$400F LLLL.L--- Noise channel length counter load (write)
Side effects Sets start flag

When clocked by the frame counter, one of two actions occurs: if the start flag is clear, the divider is clocked, otherwise the start flag is cleared, the decay level counter is loaded with 15, and the divider's period is immediately reloaded.

When the divider is clocked while at 0, it is loaded with V and clocks the decay level counter. Then one of two actions occurs: If the counter is non-zero, it is decremented, otherwise if the loop flag is set, the decay level counter is loaded with 15.

The envelope unit's volume output depends on the constant volume flag: if set, the envelope parameter directly sets the volume, otherwise the decay level is the current volume. The constant volume flag has no effect besides selecting the volume source; the decay level will still be updated when constant volume is selected.

Each of the three envelope units' output is fed through additional gates at the sweep unit (pulse only), waveform generator (sequencer or LFSR), and length counter.