Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Buying Guide: Sega Genesis (plus Sega CD and 32X)

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Behold "Frankenconsole"

Behold “Frankenconsole”

We all love our retro consoles, but in many cases the consoles we are buying are because they are cheap enough or we have enough money to purchase what we never were able to in our youth.  Unfortunately the business of making used retro items available to the masses can at times be a money grubbing market where consumers are deceived by people they will never meet in real life.  As an individual who has spent the last decade scouring the local area, conventions, eBay, and the internet as a whole I have learned many valuable lessons.  For that reason I present my buying guide series, which is a handy quick guide to knowing what to purchase and what will cost an arm and a leg to replace.

We have finally come to the console I started this entire buying guide series for: the Sega Genesis (and its many add-ons).  With a short period of its life having a 55 percent market share over the SNES (the year it launched, mind you), there were plenty of households who had a Sega Genesis.  So many, in fact, that there were five different versions of the console and 3 iterations!  Depending on the console version, your specs will vary but the list of what you need should stay the same so I’m going to run over the list.

First of all, figure out which model you want, here’s the gallery of what they look like:

Model 1

Model 1

Model 2

Model 2

Model 3

Model 3

Each model has its own set of pros and cons.  Model 1 has a headphone jack with varying audio but only has mono sound, outputs to RF, and requires extra patch cables to hook up to the Sega CD and 32X (that I’m sure you can imagine are hard to find and expensive).  Model 2 is the most compatible with all add-ons and features an “av-out” port that allows you to put RF, composite, and S-Video output cables in it, but it’s also the least impressive visually and has a power and reset button that break somewhat easily.  Model 3 is the smallest, uses the least amount of power, but is incompatible with the Sega CD and 32X.  Depending on your preference, you may go with one or the other, but for making the 3-in-1 Frankenconsole, I recommend the Genesis 2.  Here’s what you’ll want with each one:

  • Power supply: These are somewhat complicated and get mixed up all the time, burning Genesis and SNES consoles to the ground for their interchangability with AC adaptors.  The Genesis 1 needs a 9v, 1.2 Amp adaptor, Genesis 2 uses a 10v, 0.85 Amp adaptor (yellow tip), and Genesis 3 uses a 10v, 0.3 Amp adaptor (usually says Majesco on the adaptor).  None of these tips or adaptors are all that rare and you should be able to assemble most of them at a RadioShack, just be careful to not overpower the amperage, which can burn out the console.
  • Video out cable: As previously stated, the Genesis 1 uses a standard single RCA RF output to a coaxial RF cable that hooks into the back of any TV.  You will need a special cable to use the RF adaptor on the Genesis 2 & 3, but on the first console any will do (even your NES or other console RF adaptors).  Genesis 2 & 3 use the same output cable that is typically composite video (yellow/white/red) but there are RF and S-Video cables that can be found after market.  None of these video cables are hard to find, so don’t worry if you need to get them separate.  They usually run around $10.
  • Controllers: Geniune 3-button and 6-button controllers that actually work can be a little hard to come by because Sega’s controllers aren’t all that durable.  Many times the buttons crap out on the controllers, rendering them all but useless.  Fortunately most aftermarket $10 controllers these days look and respond just like genuine Sega controllers, but it’s always best to get one or two with your console.

As always, there are a few accessories I’d like to headline:

  • Justifier light gun: It came packaged with Lethal Enforcers and with both a Genesis and Sega CD release along with this console version being the popular one, there are plenty to go around.  This gun is compatible with all Genesis/Sega CD light gun games and is almost necessary with titles like Snatcher and Ground Zero Texas on Sega CD.  Make sure it’s blue, the pink one is only for the second controller and requires the first one to work.  If you prefer odd designs instead, go with the Menacer light gun.
  • Power Base Converter: Since the Genesis uses the Z80 processor that was in the Master System as its sound chip, this attachment makes it possible to play Master System games on your Genesis.  With the gaining price of the Master System, this isn’t a bad investment if you can find it for $20-$30.

Most Genesis consoles on the market remain locked in the $20-$40 range, varying slightly with certain accessories or condition.  If someone tries to sell it to you for more, there are plenty on eBay at the reduced price.  Keep in mind the AC adaptor, controller, and video cables, while easy to find, will run you about $10 apiece, which means its smarter to find a complete set rather than doing it piece meal.  The Genesis can be enhanced by two add-ons: the Sega CD and the 32X, which both require a Genesis to work.

Sega CD

There were two models of this console as well, however unlike the Genesis you will definitely want the Model 2 Sega CD because the first model has a sliding tray that burns out easily and the bands are impossible to find and replace.

Sega CD Model 1 with Genesis model 1

Sega CD Model 1 with Genesis model 1

Sega CD Model 2 with Genesis Model 2, the most common setup

Sega CD Model 2 with Genesis Model 2, the most common setup

You really only need two accessories if you have a Genesis 2, but here’s the list:

  • AC Adaptor: This one is the same for both models and identical to the Genesis model 1, 9v at 1.2 Amps, and has the same tip as the Genesis 1 AC power supply.  In fact many used consoles come with Genesis 1 AC adaptors because the Sega CD one was lost (it’ll say “for use with Genesis” on the adaptor).
  • For Genesis 1 models, you will need the mixing cable that hooks into the headphone jack of the Genesis 1 and the back of either Sega CD, both are identical in hook-ups.  Then you will use the stereo AV outputs on a sound receiver while the TV is on mute to generate stereo sound.  Most users don’t much care about adding stereo sound, in which case just using the RF plug will still output the sound in mono to your television.  Given the high price tag (I can’t even put a price on it because I see them so rarely) this cable will most likely not be used and hooking a model 1 to a Sega CD is suggested if you care about stereo sound.  Genesis 1 owners using a Sega CD 2 console may want the extension piece, a plastic widener that evens out the length of the Genesis 1, for aesthetics but its not necessary.
  • Metal shielding plate: This came with the console and is the same no matter which of the two Genesis models or which of the two Sega CD models you have.  It screws into the bottom of the Genesis and hooks into the notches on the Sega CD for a more firm grip.  I am certain the console works fine without it, but I can’t speak to whether or not any damage can occur because I’ve always had one.
  • Backup RAM Cartridge: It may run you $50-$75, but a working RAM cart gives you an additional 2,000 blocks of storage alongside the 200 blocks that are built into the console.  You can freely transfer save games back and forth, but you can only load from the onboard console memory, so be sure to transfer or copy your save game over before starting.  Since the onboard memory only supports 1-3 save games at a time, JRPG fans and those that play titles like Snatcher and Jurassic Park will get frustrated fast deleting a save game right after completing a title.  I consider it a must buy for anyone getting serious about collecting Sega CD games.

    Sega CDX

    Sega CDX

These days a Sega CD is quite a bit cheaper than it was once before, probably about $30-$60, and in many cases you can get a combo console for only a slightly higher $40-$70 tag because a lone Genesis is hard to unload (there really are a ton on the used market).  If you like super rare alternatives, there is a portable CD player combo console known as the CDX that will run you more than $100 but is a nice compact way to have an official Sega product that combines the Genesis and Sega CD with stereo composite output (same AC adaptor as Genesis 2).  JVC also licensed a combo console called the X’Eye, which is even more expensive and rare (usually $150-$200) and uses completely different hook-ups.  I know the AC adaptor is a 9.5v, 1.5 Amp with a common tip but my memory from the short time I owned one is slipping and it either has a proprietary AV cable or just has composite video ports in the back and you just use any old cable, like with a DVD player.  I’m pretty sure it’s the latter, but I haven’t seen one in over a decade.  Note that both the CDX and the X’Eye are incompatible with the final add-on, the 32x.

Sega 32x

Okay, for everyone who’s tired off all the different model numbers and iterations, the 32x is simple: there’s only one model and works with almost any model (incompatible with Genesis 3, CDX, and X’Eye).  On the other hand, the things you need to make it work are important and the net doesn’t have much info on this console so here’s officially what you will need for a working version (and you will see a TON of “console only” auctions on eBay and in used game stores, avoid anything that isn’t complete because it very likely hasn’t been tested):

  • AC Adaptor: This is easy, it’s the same tip and power specs as the Genesis 2, so get a replacement adaptor for like $10 or steal one from any Genesis 2 that isn’t hooked up to your 32x.  The spec is 10v, 0.85 Amp, but I’ve also heard that 9v-10v work fine and around 1 amp is also acceptible.  I wouldn’t really trust that too much for reliability’s sake, but if that console doesn’t burn hot it’s probably safe.  When the 32x gets too little power you’ll see the colors bleed and a weird underwater look to the games, this is due to the lack of power, and it will of course get very hot if overpowered, which is a fire hazard.
  • Patch cable: On the Genesis 2, it’s a simple dual-sided video cable that allows you to take the video out of the Genesis 2 and route it into the 32x for graphical processing.  It is the most common thing not included in a 32x and replacement cables run about $30, the cost of a whole console complete.  I have an example on the video, but just make sure it comes with your 32x.  If you have a Genesis 1, the patch cable needs an additional add-on cable that adapts the video patch cable to the Genesis 1 interface.  This attachment is super rare, almost never inclued in even complete 32x consoles, and will cost you a bunch if you find it.
  • Spacer: For the Genesis 2, this is an optional piece that holds the 32x firmly to the console so it doesn’t wiggle while on.  Almost always on the console because few know it can be removed.
  • Spacer Clamps: This is again for the Genesis 1 and claimed to remove radio frequency and holds the 32x firmly in place like the spacer does with the Genesis 2.  I never got those things to work properly back in 1993, the clamps damaged the plastic casing of my Genesis, and they prevented the console from making a proper connection.  I wouldn’t recommend using them in the rare event they come with your used purchase.

And that’s it, that’s the 32x.  There aren’t many games for it and the few good ones will run you more than $10 apiece, but I use it mostly because there are Sega CD 32x games that require it to work and drastically improve the visual quality of the game (like in Night Trap, Corpse Killer, and Fahrenheit).  Recently the 32x went from being a $50-$80 item and dropped into the $30-$50 range for complete consoles, which isn’t that bad of a deal.  Since any Genesis cart will work attached to the 32x, you can basically just attach it and forget about it.

Written by Fred Rojas

December 20, 2012 at 3:43 pm

One Response

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  1. The Model 1 does have AV out, but mono audio only. Also, the mixing cable is just a bog standard 3.5mm to stereo RCA cable, nothing proprietary. Finally, running the mixing cable to the Sega CD is unnecessary because the Sega CD and 32X both route their audio through the Genesis itself and the RCA jacks on the CD were for convenience. This is how my Genesis Model 1/CD Model 2/32X are set up and all three function as intended, no RF switches needed.


    July 18, 2017 at 12:40 pm

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