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Bit 99 Synth

Article from One Two Testing, November 1985

poly offspring from the bit one

HANDS UP those who didn't like the Bit One.

You didn't? Well okay so it had a pretty miserable MIDI spec, and you couldn't include noise as part of a program, but as for providing a wide range of interesting sounds (easily edited) and having them playable from a pleasingly touch sensitive keyboard, the Bit One had few rivals in my book. At £799 at any rate.

Enter the Bit 99. I think I'm right in saying that the Bit 99 is what I snuck a look at in Frankfurt this year, though it was called the Bit 02.

Whatever, the men/women behind the Bit have obviously spent considerable time in correcting the somewhat wobbly aspects of the Bit One, while preserving its many strong points. What you have here is essentially a Bit One with balls. A powerful instrument indeed.

I say the men/women behind the Bit, because this instrument's ancestry is rather uncertain. It is marketed and distributed in the UK by Chase, and manufactured in Italy by Crumar. But finding out who actually designed the instrument in the first place, or, finding out who inserted the excellent factory programs, is rather like making enquiries into Masonic initiation ceremonies.

Whoever it is deserves high praise, though, for the Bit 99 is a first class synth. For those who may not be familiar with its predecessor, this analogue instrument is equipped with two DCOs per voice, is six note polyphonic, has a well-endowed filter section with its own velocity controllable envelope generator, a pair, if you don't mind, of equally well-endowed LFOs, and a whole bunch of useful programming aids like edit/compare, park, and a nice roomy schematic diagram all over the control panel so that you can see what you're doing.

Add to this a split-keyboard/layering option whose combinations can be stored in any of 24 locations in addition to the instrument's 75 patch program memories, and the Bit 99 begins to sound remarkably like the keyboardless Bit 01 Rack Expander.

Well it is. Identical in fact, except that you now have a five octave, velocity sensitive keyboard.

The Bit 99's keyboard is also quite an improvement on the Bit One's. That wasn't bad as such, just a trifle skatey, especially when you're attempting your majestic piano bit, but this keyboard is positive, controllable, and surprisingly firm for a still intrinsically unweighted design.

The instrument is loaded with 75 factory presets which are accessed by a ten digit keypad, and whose numbers appear on small display screens above. As soon as you start flipping through the programs you will be amazed. It's funny, but it's so easy to get swept along by rampaging technology, that you tend to think that if it's not FM or sampled then it's nowhere.

Analogue synths may well be yesterday's technology, but in no way is that apparent when you play these sounds. Seldom have I heard a more vibrant, aggressive string sound on a factory program, ditto several forms of brass, even piano facsimiles are well this side of respectable.

Touch sensitivity on lower priced synths can be a nightmare. The Siel DK80 for instance is often unplayable. On the Bit 99 not only do sensitivity problems seldom appear, but there is a sensitivity control knob on the main panel for immediate changes in keyboard response.

And not only can you control tone (filter parameters) and volume (VCA parameters) from the keyboard, but such things as oscillator pulse width, and rate of LFO modulation. Possibly the last two would have been better suited to after-touch keyboard control, but with care and patience you can set up effects that you'd never guess were emanating from a £699 instrument.

The great thing here is that none of it seems like hard work. Whether you're merely editing a sound, or constructing a sound from scratch, the parameters are responsive, obvious, and kind. Well there's plenty of latitude; you don't have to be microscopically precise!

The white version shown may cost you a bit more.

If you're impressed by the sounds, then you're going to be seriously gleeful about how you can muster them into order for use on stage.

For a start any two programs from 01-75 can be combined in a split or layered mode and jettisoned into a dedicated combination memory. So the DX21 can do this too. Big deal? Yes as it happens, because each combination program not only stores patch numbers and split points, but also relative volumes. This last item is not possible on the DX21 and in my opinion can be vital.

Changing from program to program isn't exactly slow here, but on stage you're often dealing in split second timing. The Bit 99's program chaining capabilities are excellent. You have three individual banks, into which a chain of 33 programs can be stored — each! The programs can be either single patch or double patch, and you can control chaining via a footswitch.

Another handy live aid (now where have I heard that...?) is the fact that you can programme mod wheel amounts, and volumes, though not the range of the pitch bend. Ah well. Finally we come to MIDI — the big let down on the Bit One. First of all you are offered full 16 channel MIDI assignment in Omni-Off Poly. Other MIDI parameters include switchable on/off modulation wheel, release pedal, program change, and pitch bend information from incoming MIDI signals, and most impressively, the ability to give each half of an outgoing keyboard split program its own MIDI channel number. This conforms to the normal base channel/channel plus one configuration.

The only possible cause for disappointment on the Bit 99 is polyphony. With a maximum of six-note polyphony a split program becomes two, three note patches, and a layered program is just three note. Not a lot to play with. You may also run into problems because the detune parameter is governed by the lower half of a split. What was then a rich swirling string sound in single mode can become rigid and stark when booted up to the upper half of a split.

The way around this problem is to add some detuning to the lower program and hope that it doesn't destroy that particular sound. If it is a bass patch, the chances are it won't. The detuning will then affect both patches, and back comes your rich swirling string sound.

But for the money there can be few serious complaints. This is a treasure chest of glittering sounds — warm, still, but not boring old analogue by any means. Controlling the sounds is as comprehensive as it is simple, and the MIDI control will not leave you wanting this time.

At present the Chase Bit 99 is available through the Chase stores only, but I am assured that they will be appearing in 'other' stores by the end of the year.

This is a keyboard that you should listen to before parting with the readies elsewhere.

BIT 99 programmable poly: £699

CONTACT: Chase Musicians, 22 Chalton St, London NW1. Tel: 01-387 7626

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Browse category: Synthesizer > Crumar

Browse category: Synthesizer Module > Crumar

Previous Article in this issue

Prophet 2000

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The Dumb Chums

Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Nov 1985

Gear in this article:

Synthesizer > Crumar > Bit 99

Gear Tags:

Analog Synth

Review by Julian Colbeck

Previous article in this issue:

> Prophet 2000

Next article in this issue:

> The Dumb Chums

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