The best video game console startup sounds, ranked

It’s easy to dismiss the startup sound for a games console as a fleeting irrelevance, but they’re actually hugely important. Those few seconds tell you more about a console, and who it’s for, than any number of glossy trailers or reams of marketing material. The best ones become embedded in your brain – engraved forever alongside memories of your greatest online victories, or of playing into the early hours with the lights off and the sound turned down. We’ve ranked the best ones – and singled out the worst.
9. Xbox 360

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The original Xbox looked like someone had hastily shoved a bunch of electrical equipment into a workman’s plastic toolbox, but its successor was a much more refined affair – all sleek lines and smooth surfaces. Its startup sound was similarly upscale. Gone were the clashing, discordant notes of the early consoles, replaced by rising strings reaching an elegant crescendo. Then, inexplicably, it was changed in 2010 to sound exactly the same as above, but as if you were listening to it by the side of an A-road with cars rushing past. AK
8. PlayStation 4

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For the PS4, Sony continued the move away from sounds designed to get you pumped for some hardcore gaming into a more relaxed vibe, befitting the console’s new place as the entertainment hub of your living room and portal to streaming services as well as games. It was peaceful and ethereal – a soothing accompaniment for the cool blues of the on-screen menu. Unfortunately, the PS4’s more placid notes often just got drowned out by its fan – which for some models has been, in decibels, genuinely measured at around the same volume as someone practicing the piano. AK
7. Game Boy Advance

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All of the Game Boy’s startup sounds were iconic. First, you had that little “ping” as the Nintendo logo fell into place and signalled that you were about to continue your journey as a Pokémon master. Then you had the Game Boy Colour, replete with the Game Boy logo flashing a little rainbow to show you that, yes, oh joy, it was indeed in colour. However, it’s the Game Boy Advance that gets the nod here, simply because it represents the culmination of all the “advances” before it – the smooth animation as the Game Boy letters surfed into place; the cheeky breeze of colour; and the iconic ping that was rich enough now not to sound like the first stages of tinnitus. WB
6. PlayStation 2

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Another winner for Sony here. A mesh of tall rectangles rotates slowly as a futuristic synth jangled in the background. This was also one of the most nerve-racking of all the startups. Why? Because the startup sound would play even on games that wouldn’t load – there was an ominous darkness between the sound and the PlayStation 2 logo. As the top rated comment YouTube comment remembers “If “PlayStation 2” popped up at the end you knew you were in business”. WB
5. Dreamcast

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Sega’s final attempt at making a home video game system was, obviously, a bit of a disaster, though we did get classics like Shenmue and Crazy Taxi, as well as the the first console to include a built-in modem for online play. It’s startup sound was cool too, with a kind of Pixar-ish red ball bouncing the Dreamcast letters into view, then drawing the console’s shell-like swirl of a logo. But if startup sounds affected a console’s success, then the first Xbox would have been the only Xbox, and we’d be discussing the merits of the PS4 versus the Dreamcast One. Alas. WB
4. Nintendo Wii

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The Nintendo Wii is surprised. It’s surprised you bought it, surprised that your uncle is still really into Wii Sports bowling, surprised that you still never wear the wrist straps and surprised that, even today, it has a place under your TV. That constant state of surprise manifests itself whenever you turn it on. The ‘dunununununununnanaaaa’ is a nonsense sound of joy, the Wii’s breath quickening in anticipation of another round of flailing and wrist-waggling. It also straddles the old world of elaborate startup sounds of the 1990s and perfunctory greeting bongs and growls of the 2000s. A masterpiece wrapped in a time capsule. JT
3. Nintendo GameCube

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The GameCube, as is befitting of a Nintendo console, found itself stuck between the past and the future. It used discs! But proprietary ones! It could go online! But only if you really liked troubleshooting technical glitches! It was a cube! Which was fine, until you try putting it under your TV! The GameCube also had the last truly great console startup sound. Gloriously long and elaborate, it was an orchestral celebration each and every time. The drama, the crescendo. The alternative versions if you held down the Z-button (perhaps the only good thing about the GameCube’s Z-button) were also a joy to behold. JT
2. Sega Genesis

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Ok we cheated here – despite what this linked video says, and despite everyone’s collective memory, the most iconic spoken word in console branding history – along “it’s in the game” – was not a console startup sound. “SEEEEGAAAA” was the call you’d hear if you loaded up the original Sonic The Hedgehog. Still, it’s too iconic not to include – everyone who owned a Sega surely owned Sonic. According to console legend, the sound took up a whole quarter of the game cartridge’s memory. WB
1. PlayStation 1

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The console that made consoles trendy – one of the most iconic advertising campaigns ever positioned the PlayStation as the choice for fashion-conscious young adults. Its lineup mixed the cutesy kind of characters Nintendo had been known for, like Crash and Spyro, with adult titles, like Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Wipeout, Resident Evil and Gran Turismo. And no better example of this aesthetic exists than the console’s startup sound, the greatest startup sound of them all – the deep droning, bright sparkling announcement that video games would be cool. WB
And the worst…
Xbox

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To understand beauty you must also know despair. The original Xbox greeted you with an undulating, floating Flubber trapped in a low-rent version of The Matrix. The lurid green has stuck around and somehow become iconic. But the noise has remained where it belongs: silenced in your attic forevermore. The angsty, messy nonsense of a noise wasn’t just ugly, it was also mildly terrifying. Were there whispering aliens lurking in the background? Why did it end on a plinky-plonky jingle of intrigue? Back then, when you were ten and playing too much Halo and Project Gotham Racing it sounded cool. But like many things from the early 2000s, it has not withstood the test of time. JT
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