6-Voice Programmable Touch-Sensitive Synthesiser
The 'Bit One' appears to offer a lot of synth for the money - but does it? Julian Colbeck investigates.
The Bit One is most definitely a player's instrument. It's a very down-to-earth and straightforward beast, with not a lot stopping you from extracting high class sounds and effects in a matter of minutes, never mind hours or days.
But this doesn't mean that it's simplistic or in any way inadequate. For starters, this is a six-voice, touch sensitive unit that uses 12 digitally controlled oscillators as its sound source, and seems to have all the-standard parameters that one would expect from today's low-cost polyphonic synth.
Parameters are governed by digital access control - by far the cheapest and most accurate way of programming nowadays, and there are few surprises on this score.
Where the pleasant surprises do start is in the way the Bit One allows its sounds and patches to be used. It seems every effort has been made to provide the user with as much help as possible on both the performance and programming side. You can see at a glance what 'tools' are on offer to create your basic sounds, as these are laid out in block diagram form on the control panel. This sort of flow chart explains the routing of parameter banks. There are two DCOs per note, each offering a choice of triangle, sawtooth and variable pulse waveforms, and a basic pitch range of 32', 16', 8' and 4'.
Parameters are primed ready for duty by pressing the 'address' button on the left hand side of the control panel, and then writing in the parameter number by using the ten digit keypad, above which are the display screens. Each parameter's value can be altered via the 'on' (plus) and 'off' (minus) keys. Many of these parameters can only be on or off - like the choice of DCO waveform or basic pitch - but where there is an obvious multiple choice (like settings fo the envelope generator) you'll normally find values ranging from 0-63.
With oscillators, one waves goodbye to digital land and moves on to analog filters (24dB/oct. low pass), sporting ADSR, cutoff and resonance controls as well as envelope generator depth, keyboard tracking, polarity inverter and two more parameters that are governed by velocity sensitivity. These are 'dynamic' attack time, and dynamic envelope generator depth. A wide range of effects can be controlled by one's own playing strength; in addition to these parameters the pulse width on the DCOs can be controlled by keyboard velocity, as can the VCA attack time and LFO rate. All parameters that are velocity controlled are indicated by a double-lined box on the main block diagram. The basic level of touch sensitivity can be varied with the sensitivity control at the back of the instrument. There are two LFO banks, offering a choice of triangle, sawtooth and square waveshapes, which can be used to affect DCO1 or DCO2, the VCF, or the VCA. There are also controls for modulation depth, delay, and rate. As well as its dynamic controls, the VCA features the standard ADSR parameters, all with values ranging from 0-63.
The Bit One being a digital/analog crossbreed, you're not going to find quite such immediately 'edgy' sounds as you would on a completely digital instrument; but even so I found the sounds crisp, clean and (thanks to the generous oscillator) big and powerful.
The most innovative features come into play when you're nearing the end of a spot of programming and are beginning to store sounds in the instrument's 64-channel memory. First of all there's a 'park' feature, which lets you keep a sound on hold until you've found a suitable memory location. I can't over-stress how useful this feature is for day to day programming - well done! Similarly, there's an edit/compare feature which lets you flip back and forth from an original patch, to edits that you've made on it. Again, very useful.
There's a split keyboard feature which can be used quickly and easily, though splits can't be stored in memory. All 64 patches can be assigned to 'upper' or 'lower' sections of the keyboard. The split point is, of course, infinitely alterable. In addition to this, patches can be combined in 'double' mode - though (as with split mode) you'll lose three of your six note polyphony. Both upper and lower assigned patches have their own volume controls. Another welcome addition is a unison switch that combines all available oscillators, whether in whole, double or split modes. A split arrangement would then be rendered monophonic in both upper and lower registers - ideal for lead and bass lines.
Above the unison button are two controls, for 'noise' and 'detune'. Noise is non-programmable, which is a mixed blessing. It can be treated by the VCF or VCA, but you'd have to write in a patch where both oscillators were switched off, if you wanted to create a 'noise' type effect. On the model I tried, I found this a problem, since I couldn't turn the oscillators off! You are supposed to be able to do so, I should add! 'Detune' will lower the pitch of DCO2 by up to a semitone.
Standard performance controls continue with mod. and pitch wheels. These are set quite high on the control panel, and a release footswitch can be plugged in at the back.
If you're using the Bit One through a stereo system, you'll soon notice that certain notes appear hard left and hard right. I thought I could discern a pattern, but in fact the system is supposed to be random - until, that is, you're in split mode, where the stereo outputs then become 'upper' and 'lower' voice outputs, and can be Eq'd or treated accordingly. If this arrangement isn't practicable (there might be problems in live performance, I guess) then it would be safer to stick to mono (upper out). Although the Bit One is blessed with MIDI, it isn't as yet blessed with a full MIDI spec (you can't, as yet, assign different MIDI channels etc.). This, though, is being taken care of - the Bit One is soon to be joined by an expander module, drum machine and sequencer, and the makers promise a free-of-charge update to the MIDI spec.
So, a most impressive debut for the new-look Crumar/Bit One people. And, since the instrument is imported direct by Chase Musicians of Manchester, London and Birmingham, the price has been kept down to a generous level. A good buy? Yes, definitely!
RRP £699.00 inc. VAT
More information from Chase Musicians, (Contact Details).
Review by Julian Colbeck
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