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Bit One


Article from International Musician & Recording World, January 1985

Paul Fishman goes to town on Crumar's new baby

A Bit on the side

Various friends of mine have been asking me to check out the Bit-One Synth since it was first announced, with their interests being whether it would be the answer to all their problems. Well, as far as their problems go, I think they are way beyond my help, but as for the keyboard it certainly deserves attention. Any synth that offers six-voice polyphonic, two oscillators per voice, 64 programme memories, keyboard splits and double modes and a touch sensitive keyboard, all for around the £800 mark, should not be sneezed at — not that I would do that to any keyboard, I personally prefer to use a hanky!

This arousal of my awareness of the Bit-One was heightened by the pre-publicity that seems to surround every new instrument way before it arrives on our doorsteps. Some even manage to become legends even before anyone has bought one. But at the time of writing, one actual unit had been received by their UK distributors with a serious consignment promised soon — the distributor being 'Chase' (the London Synthesiser Centre). So, as soon as it arrived I legged it over to their local shrine in Kings Cross to throw some light on the rumours and, failing that, write a review and allow Tony Horkins the pleasure of nagging me for another month.

Construction and Editing

Each of the six voices contain the following: DCO One, DCO Two, VCF, VCA, LFO, One and LFO Two. Both oscillators have three available waveforms to choose from — triangle, ramp and square wave, with the latter having a variable pulse width. Tuning is set in footages of four, eight, 16 and 32, and maybe modulated by the ADSR, the LFO's or the dynamic keyboard.

Editing patches is achieved by entering numbers which correspond to the various functions and then entering either an 'on or off' or a value number. This method can already be found on many other contemporary keyboards, as opposed to the rows of knobs and switches that were all the rage a few years ago. The only problem with this method is that you have to keep referring to the map on the front panel to see what you are editing, so this can take a little getting used to. All information is entered via the '10 digit' keypad buttons, which were a bit on the wobbly side — the relative numbers are then clearly shown in the separate LED windows.

The filter has its own ADSR controls, tracking amount (which may be set at values from 0-63, but always operates in a positive mode, ie the higher you play up the keyboard, the brighter the sound. Envelope amount, filter cutoff, resonance and envelope invert are all standard.

If you carefully look at the plan on the front panel, you will notice that certain functions have little boxes surrounding specific functions. These refer to functions which can be dynamically controlled by the keyboard. Obviously the dynamic aspect of this instrument is probably the big selling point, as dynamic control can add an enormous amount to the expression of what you play. The filter's attack time and envelope amount are both assignable via the dynamic control.

Moving right along now, the Bit has two separate LFO's per voice so that multiple modulation effects may be created. Both have sine, square and sawtooth waveforms and can be assigned to DCO One, DCO Two, VCF, or VCA. Once the required destination has been chosen, only a single output amount (depth) may be set for each LFO, as well as rate and delay — so the modulation fades in. The rate of the LFO is another one of the dynamically controllable features, the harder you hit the keyboard the faster the modulation.

The VCA — well what can I tell you about the VCA that you haven't already heard before? Let's face it, once you've seen one VCA you've seen them all. Apart from its own ADSR, the attack and the amount will respond dynamically.

So as a general view of the synthesizer components, that just about covers it all, which for a basic synth is not bad. The only thing to look out for is that not all functions may be turned on at the same time, eg selecting and combining waveforms.

Modes of Play

The Bit-One has the facility to be used in four separate ways. Starting off with the usual conventional six-voice polyphonic: Split — where any two sounds may be assigned to the keyboard at a user defined split point; Double — where any two sounds are together with their own relative balance. As the Bit is only a six-voice instrument, this means that when using Split there is only three voices available for either half of the split. When Double is selected, this automatically halves the voice so only three notes at any one time can played. This is rather restricting as the remaining seven fingers on your hand dangle aimlessly in the air. What we are dealing with here is — wait for it — a Triophonic Keyboard, — you read it first in I.M.! Finally, there is the Unison Mode — say no more.

Stupidity Unlimited — Complaints Corner

There are times when I see a new instrument and I cannot help but stare in disbelief at the blind stupidity of the manufacturer. Now I could have quite happily ignored the facts but I can't fool you and brush my feelings under 'the old reviewing carpet', particularly when you see an instrument attempting to score not on technically breaking new ground (which the Bit-One doesn't) but in offering the sort of things that normally you would expect to pay a lot more for. I can understand a manufacturer wanting to cut corners to save cost, but there is a most definite difference between cutting corners and screwing up! I'm sorry to rave on about this but it really does annoy me.

On the front panel you will notice one or two sliders, which are not programmable functions. The prime offenders are the means by which you set the amount of detune between the two DCO's and the noise level. How can they just skip over leaving the detune and noise as non-programmable functions? The relationship between the slight amounts of detune from one sound to another is crucial. As an experienced synthesist (Ha! — you're dealing with class here, baby), this has got to be one of the most important characteristics of any sound and not just something you want to think about when you call up a particular patch. Detuning a sound can totally change its timbre. And as for the noise — I despair!

Next on my list is something that's aimed at the split and double functions. Yes, very nice too but why can't these be stored? It's all very well experimenting with combining sounds but being able to store a few of your experiments so they can instantly be called up would have made far more sense. If the economics of the design of the Bit-One dictated a limited amount of memory space, surely the available memory could have been more sensibly organized? Ooh, it makes me mad, so mad I could throw the synth down!

A rather unusual design feature is that the modulation and pitchbend wheel are located on the front panel, one above the other. The positioning of these might be a bit awkward particularly if you are playing a bass part with one hand and having to reach over the keyboard to get at the controls. I don't suppose the designers ever tried that one.

Rear Panel Controls

The audio outputs are split left and right for stereo monitoring. If only one of these is used a normal mono output is achieved.

The MIDI connections are 'In', 'Out' and 'Thru'. At present the MIDI only operates on Channel One and can only receive, as opposed to transmitting, information. But rumour has it that in the New Year we shall see a software update that will correct the MIDI features and extend them, having assignable information to any one of the 16 available channels.

There is a 'tape in and out' for dumping programme information to cassette. Other connections include trigger output, release pedal and a headphone socket. There are also two small rotary controls, one for total pitch and the other varies the dynamic sensitivity. This again is a bit dumb as the dynamic sensitivity amount should be programmable for each programme, not just selectable as 'on' or 'off'. Failing that, why wasn't this control put on the front panel? Now that would have made far more sense.

Conclusion and Other Such Matters

Having quickly flicked through most of the factory programmes, I can only say that they must have taken the manufacturers all of an afternoon (if that) to have created this concoction of sonic varieties. I'm sorry, but a simple soul like myself cannot come to terms with why anybody should spend a lot of time creating an instrument which in principle is potentially extremely worthwhile, and then fill it with a pile of entirely average sounds. After messing around with some of the programmes, I did find a few sounds that I liked, but in general it tended to sound rather nasal in tone (a bit like some of my friends when they first wake up), although this does seem to be a characteristic of synths that have got DCO's as opposed to VCO's. I would recommend making an audio comparison between a few other synths of this sort of price range to see how they fare; it might have just been the system I heard it on.

Sometime in the New Year the Italian manufacturers of the Bit-One (Crumar), have threatened the arrival of various add-on units to accompany this keyboard; sequencer, drum machine, etc...

Finally, I read something in another magazine about the Bit-One that basically said 'because the manufacturers included a built-in chorus, arpeggiator or sequencer, it was obviously designed for keyboardists who can really play', — what a load of crap! The exclusion of the above items has got nothing to do with musicianship, but everything to do with economics.

Anyway, what about us keyboard players with no arms!

BIT ONE — RRP: £799

Also featuring gear in this article

Crumar Bit One
(12T Dec 84)

(EMM May 86)

(EMM Sep 86)

(MT Nov 86)

(MT Dec 86)

(MT Feb 87)

...and 4 more Patchwork articles... (Show these)

Browse category: Synthesizer > Crumar

Featuring related gear

Previous Article in this issue

Pearl GLX-22D50

Next article in this issue

Assorted Paistes

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Jan 1985

Gear in this article:

Synthesizer > Crumar > Bit One

Gear Tags:

Analog Synth

Review by Paul Fishman

Previous article in this issue:

> Pearl GLX-22D50

Next article in this issue:

> Assorted Paistes

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