The stunning Bit One Poly - Keyboard split and layer, with separate memory access, and the kind of facilities you would expect to find on a machine costing three or four times as much... our reviewer is seduced...
The Bit One is selling fast. Leto Atreides falls for Chase's stunning £799 synthesiser.
It's astonishing to think that there's any more room on the market for a six-voice, five octave Polysynth after the success of Roland's Juno and Jupiter models, Korg's Poly 6 and 61, SIEL's Opera 6 and so on. However, if there is space for one more, the Bit One is going to be it. Without any exaggeration, the Bit One is quite stunning even before you consider the price — £799.
Just listing the Bit One's spec doesn't do it justice (which is why we've included it on the tape, dummy!) but here goes anyway. Five octave keyboard, six dual-oscillator voices using DCO's for tuning stability, independent velocity sensitivity on each key routable to VCF, Pulse Width, VCA, Attack and LFO Rate, two independent LFO's with independent routing of three waveforms each, LFO delay, combinable oscillator footages, Pulse Width Modulation, ADSR to oscillator pitch, Detune, White Noise, Pitch Bend (+/- a third), Modulation Wheel, Tape Dump.
The specs sound familiar but the sounds aren't — surprisingly digital, with powerful filter effects, lots of modulation in different directions, extensive delay modulation facilities and thick string, brass and piano presets. Most impressive are the touch sensitivity facilities, which are based on eight-bit processing rather than the Yamaha DX7's four-bit system. This means that the levels start very low, with near silence when you play lightly, to very high, with sparkling filter and blaring amplifiers.
Incidentally, the synth has two outputs — Left/Mono and Right, and in normal use the first three voices are assigned to the left output and the second three to the right. But there's more to come, because the Bit One is capable of playing split keyboard patches (with assignable split point) in which the bottom half of the split appears at the left output and the top half at the right. The splits assign three voices to each side, as opposed to the Jupiter 6 method which gives a choice of a 4-2 or 2-4 split; there are volume sliders for upper and lower keyboard on the top panel, which is particularly handy for live use. You can also choose a Unison mode for powerful leadlines, although there are several minor facilities such as arpeggiator, chord hold and program step by footswitch missing. You can choose programs either by punching in two numbers or by using a step up or step down switch, and it would be very simple to add a footswitch to duplicate this facility.
The Bit One is a Digital Access synth, which means there's only one pair of controllers for all the parameters — Up and Down. If you want to change a parameter, simply punch address, choose the number of the parameter you want to alter (every one is labelled next to the appropriate block of the voice block diagram on the top panel) and hold the Up or Down buttons until you've made the change. Parameters typically go from 0 to 64, and there are also 64 memory positions. In fact only 63 of these can be used for permanent sounds — the last one is a Parking Bay used to compare a sound you're editing to the original sound without committing the former to memory or losing the latter.
The performance wheels are very pleasant to use, lightly sprung but peculiarly placed, one above the other on the left of the control panel. This positioning is familiar from the Moog Rogue and SIEL Opera 6, but it's difficult to operate both wheels unless they're side by side. The Bit One can be very expressive though, and could certainly be considered as a leading synth.
MIDI In, Out and Thru are fitted, although on the early models only Omni Mode is available, so the synth will respond to information on all MIDI channels. In the very near future a free retrofit kit will be offered which will give Poly Mode and so allow the Bit One to respond to any of the 16 MIDI channels selectively.
Patch changes are transmitted, as is velocity information, but it's thought that parameter information isn't transmitted on the initial version. It's also not quite clear at the time of writing if the MIDI update will allow you to assign the two halves of the keyboard to two different MIDI channels as you can on the updated Jupiter 6. What is clear, however, is that the Bit One synth is just the first part of an expanding system which will fully utilise MIDI when complete (by the time of the Frankfurt show in February hopefully).
The next part of the system will be an expander module, identical in specification to the synth and capable of editing its own sounds (unlike the SIEL expander which needs an Opera 6 or computer package to do so), at around £500. Following that will be a wooden, touch-sensitive weighted keyboard, a MIDI polyphonic sequencer, then another expander capable of playing multi-timbrally as does the SCI Six Trak (using a different sound on every voice, in other words). After that, a computer interface and a sampling machine using the same 19" mounting as the other units — no details of the sampler yet, just that it's on the drawing boards at Crumar in Italy where all the other gear was designed!
Summing up, the Bit One synth is expressive, flexible and cheap. It's cosmetically very ordinary — a little flat black box really, with few flashing lights apart from the three LED displays for Patch Number Upper and Lower and Parameter Number. The touch sensitivity is very pleasant, and capable of some window-breaking effects as well as more subtle variations of Attack and expression, and it's only a pity that it wasn't possible to provide pressure sensitivity too (what do you expect for this money? Besides, the circuits for Release Time modulation are inside there somewhere waiting to be implemented). The synth also has the advantage of being very compact — it's only about half an inch wider than the keyboard — and you could easily wander along to the gig with one under each arm.
The Bit One is provisionally only available from Chase Music, but there won't be one for you if you don't dash out to get one NOW. They're going to sell very, very quickly. Get your cheque book out.
Chase: (Contact Details) for details.
Review by Leto Atreides