This feature was prompted by the recent arrival of Electro-Harmonix’s New Compact Mainframe Bitcrusher pedal. It encouraged me to consider what else was available in the marketplace - which is how I always appraise new pedal introductions.
I have dabbled in bitrcrushers a little bit over the years, but don’t yet have a pure-play single-task bitcrusher pedal, while the Iron Ether FrantaBit has been on my wishlist for the longest time. In my featured selection of 9 - only 5 of those are single-task bitcrushers as such - the discontinued Catalinbread Heliotrope, Electro-Harmonix Mainframe, Iron Ether FrantaBit and Malekko Scrutator - and of course the WMD Geiger Counter CI too. The AC Noises Ama, Alexander Syntax Error, Dr Scientist BitQuest and discontinued PLBR Pizzacrusher all have bitcrushing as a key flavour onboard. I was initially going to write 5 pure-play bitcrushers, while the Heliotrope actually does not use the typical sample manipulation methodology, but rather a series of analog filters.
The two I have here are the BitQuest and the Pizzacrusher - I’ve obviously had my eye on the FrantaBit, and the larger BB-size Geiger Counter for a while, and I’ve also considered the Syntax Error and Scrutator once or twice. I’ve been meaning to get a proper pure-play bitcrusher at some stage - so it will be interesting to see where my mindset will be at the end of his overview - and which of these will be my favourites!
Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand :
This Italian outfit makes some really cool pedals yet is generally a little under the radar. I have their Esplora Fuzz which seems to have been discontinued now. The Ama is a mix of Bitcrusher, Oscillator and Reverb and is principally described within the Reverb genre. Compared to the V1, the V2 adds a 5th dedicated Oscillation control knob - while the bitcrusher is still engaged via the central toggle-switch. Controls are now - Oscillation, Mix, Reverb, Resolution, Crush - On/Off, and Sample Rate. This is a really cool take on the format and can be viewed as both a Lo-Fi Reverberator and a Bitcrusher with extras! Certainly worth a look-in.
This 4-mode box is kind of associated with the chip tune tones of early 80's video games. One of the core Alexander Pedals NEO Series - which means onboard presets, multiple modes and alternative knob settings. The 4 modes here are Stretch (Buffer size/direction/speed), Cube (Cubic distortion), Ring (Ring Modulation), and Freq (Pitch Shifter). In utilising the 4 control knobs - Sample, Code, Mix and Tweak, and their alternative parameters you can get well into bircrusher territory in the Cube mode. Overall this is somewhat adjacent to bit crushing - but there is some slight degree of overlap in some of the sounds it produces.
Now discontinued but still available at some few and far between dealers - including Hot Rox in the UK (Update - turns out not at Hot Rox!). This is labelled up as a very classic bitcrusher - with control knobs for Resolution, Sample Rate, Volume and Gain, as well as a Hi/Lo Frequency Range toggle-switch (Hi: 1.44kHz - 6.66kHz / Lo: 333Hz - 1.58kHz). This is not strictly speaking a bitcrusher by conventional means as there is no actual digital sampling and conversion going on here, where the 'crushing' is actually achieved by a series of analog filters. Catalinbread in fact describes it as an n effect that isn’t quite a Bit Crusher, or an Octave, or a Harmonizer, or a Ring Modulator, or a Lo-Fi dirt box/fuzz - but rather a sort of blend of each. For me this sounds like it's very much in classic bitcrusher territory, and is certainly set up to act in a seemingly similar way - with possibly a little more variety onboard.
I believe this was my very first Dr Scientist pedal - which as I've related before is both a Multi-FX Unit and a Fuzz Modulator. It's 8 modes are a full featured flanger, high pass and low pass filters, a bit crusher with sample rate reducer, an infinite reverb, a deep notch filter, a ring modulator with reverb, a +/- 1 octave pitch shifter, and a wild glitch delay. You can select whether modes are applied to a clean or Fuzzed-up signal via toggle-switch, and you have 3 variable Controls 1, 2 and 3/Gain, with further knobs for Tone, Volume and Mix. The 3 Control knobs depend on which mode you are in - but for such a compact pedal this is incredibly powerful and versatile. I mostly prefer it in Fuzz mode, while I do mix things up fairly regularly. I've said it many times before - every home should have one of these!
And so to the brand new pedal introduced here - EHX's Mainframe, which is about the most fully featured pure-play bitcrusher I've seen yet in the compact enclosure format. Its controls cover Volume, 3-way Filter - HPF/BPF/LPF, Peak, Frequency, Blend, Bit Depth, Sample Rate, Exp/Preset Button. The last button control mentioned means you can save a separate preset for recall and/or use with a connected Expression pedal. This is a really smart pedal of this type and a most interesting proposition for me. I see a significant 3-way competition brewing between the Mainframe, FrantaBit and Scrutator!
This has been on my wishlist since March of 2017 - probably one of my longest-standing acquisition targets and one of the more difficult ones to get hold of. Iron Ether typically makes FrantaBits in small batches of 10 or so units - just a few times each year - and of course all of those fly out pretty much instantly. There has been the appearance of an occasional older model on Reverb.com - but typically these are very far and few between, and nothing is listing as of this moment - Update - actually one older model appeared today! The FrantaBit has 7 controls - a 2-way toggle switch first for Degrade/Obliterate, and then knobs for Samples (Sample Rate), Mix, Bits (Resolution), Mode (Expression Mode - Samples/Bits/Both S+B/Mix, Volume, and Expression (Expression Parameter Limiter). Lots of Bass players in particular really love this particular pedal, and I was introduced to it actually by UK-born LA-based Fusion bassist Janek Gwizdala. I am still tempted of course, but there may be others here I am more tempted by!
This is another one of my favourite targets that I featured a way back on this site. A pretty unique take on the Bitcrusher format with additional filtering on top of the bitcrushing. The Scrutator sports 6 control knobs - Rate (Sample Rate), Filter (2 pole bandpass filter), Q-control, Bit (Resolution), Mix and Preamp. Malekko always do things a little bit differently - and this really is no exception - a bit of a different take on bitcrushing which gives you a little more.
This was the second one in the collection and my 4th PLBR Effects by ownership. Darko told me that the Fuzz element was actually an afterthought, where the core of the pedal is Bitcrusher with some oscillation and glitchy pitch-shifting - activated via 2nd 'Pizza' footswitch. Controls are Crush (Resolution), Tone, Volume, Sample (Sample Rate), Fuzz Off/On, 3 x Glitch Modes, Oscillator Speed. I really like pedal which is alas now discontinued - it's a nicely quirky effect which I classify equally as Bitcrusher, Fuzz and Glitch-Effect. Not many were made but worth snapping up if you ever see one.
This is actually the first time I feature the compact Civilian Issue Geiger Counter - I've mostly featured the largest Pro version, and the standard BB-size format - which is probably still my preferred edition of this pedal. The compact Civilian Issue features just 4 controls - Gain, Tone, Function and Volume - while 'Function' has no less than 32 Presets/Modes. Each Function Mode recalls set parameters for bit depth, sample rate and wave table modulation. This is actually a hugely versatile bitcrusher - and if you're interested in this genre you should probably have one of the Geiger Counters in your collection.
I got kind of excited when I saw a Catalinbread Heliotrope going for a decent price on Hot Rox - I ordered one - but that was refunded a day later with the apology that it had been long out of stock. This kind of thing has happened to me so many times now that I'm really not that disappointed any more. In fact this was quite a serendipitous moment as while this opportunity door closed, another priority wishlist pedal opportunity presented itself a short while after - so that money if anything got put to better use!
So at one stage I though I had 3 of these pedals - but it turns out I ended up with the same number I started off with - despite my best intentions. I would certainly nab a Heliotrope again if one presented itself at the right price. I also feel that the EHX Mainframe is probably the most interesting of the pure-play compact bitcrushers - so that's definitely next on my list, and I still have an interest in acquiring a BB-size WMD Geiger Counter which ups the quotient to 252 Modes / Presets / Wave tables versus the 32 Modes of the compact Civilian Edition featured here. The core Geiger Counter is currently at around £260 - while I will bide my time until such a point I can get it for closer to £200.
It's obvious that bitcrushing is a somewhat specialist effect which bass-players in particular are big fans of. I tend to just dabble in the format on occasion - so this will always be a rotational extra rather than a permanent fixture for me. In looking back over this selection - each of the ones listed here still has some significant appeal for me, and I've considered acquiring each one on at least one or two previous occasions. Nowadays it's really more of a matter of priorities for me - as few can afford to own all varieties. I will likely get the Mainframe next and then wait opportunistically for the Heliotrope core Geiger Counter to be made available at the right sort of price for me. If a FrantaBit comes up at the the right time and price I might very well consider that too. At the larger size I've also considered the Meris Ottobit Jr and Hexe Bitcrusher which are the next tier along in priority. If I get the Geiger, Heliotrope and Mainframe - that is surely plenty for this category and I think I would be satisfied with that - unless Chase Bliss Audio or similar does something new and interesting with the format...
What say all of you - are you fans of bitcrushers in general or possibly rather a more specific variety?