Hearing the term ‘8 bit audio’ probably makes you think of old school arcade games or vintage Nintendo titles, but converting higher quality audio to 8 bits is an effect that can be used to achieve a variety of sounds – including some very cool guitar tones. Reducing the bit depth of a digital audio signal can create sonic artifacts, noise, and distortion that especially affect the overtones of the original audio. While this can certainly produce glitchy, lo-fi, computerized game boy sounds, it can also create crunchy fuzz tones and a wide range of distortion effects. Here’s a selection of pedals that use or approximate the sound of 8 bit audio to create their own unique sonic character.
While it’s not technically an 8 bit pedal, the Super 8 Bit Fuzz ($175) can give you some serious Nintendo tones. A high-gain gated fuzz, it features controls for gain, volume, and stability – the latter of which gives you the most interesting results. With stability turned down, notes have an immediate attack, then drop off just as abruptly with little to no sustain. When the stability knob is turned up, held notes will drop in pitch instead of volume, and rather than fade away they continue to jump down in pitch until they finally glitch out. Dynamics basically don’t exist with this pedal, which helps give it that lo-fi broken synth vibe. Check out this video demo.
This bit crusher/delay combo unit provides a unique all-in-one tone. There’s a bit knob to control the lo-fi effect, echo level, tense (feedback), and time, which varies the delay from 400 to 800ms. You can also use the pedal as a standalone 8 bit or delay effect. However, if you’re just looking for a bit crusher, check out Freqbox’s Holy Bits, which includes a switch for use with either guitar or bass.
When SkyNet eventually becomes self aware and takes over the planet, this is what all music will sound like. An 8 bit pitch transposer/fuzz/arpeggiator, the Robot ($329) makes it easy to suck the humanity right out of your tone. The only controls are a volume knob and an output control (with different functions depending on which mode the pedal is in). In normal operation, the pedal creates some heavy fuzz from the 8 bit digital conversion, and the control knob bends the pitch down and increases the distortion effect as you turn it counter-clockwise. Octave down mode induces lower octave pitches, octave up mode creates ring mod type sounds, and in both modes the control knob bends the pitch down. In the synth-like arpeggiator mode, the control knob adjusts the speed of the arpeggiator sequence. Listen to what it sounds like here.
If you’re looking for extreme sounds and a whole lotta choices, the Geiger Counter ($299) has you covered. A high gain preamp and tone control feed its 8 bit computer, where a number of sonic options present themselves. You can control the sample rate of the converted signal (260Hz to 58kHz), and the bit depth (1-8 bits). Additionally, a control voltage input allows you to use an expression pedal to control either of these settings with the pedal alone or in combination with the control knobs. The core of the Geiger Counter is the wave table modulator, that according to WMD, “takes your signal and destroys it with math.” You have a choice of 252 wave tables, each producing a different kind of distortion with unique harmonic content. You can view the full set of wave tables here. Thankfully, you don’t have to work at CERN to use this pedal: the controls are surprisingly simple, and provide a wide range of tones: from standard overdrive and fuzz to absolute madness. Put on your hazmat suit and check out these audio samples.
The third generation of Hexe’s Bitcrushers, this model actually processes at 12 bits, for less background noise and more subtle distortion possibilities. More customizable than an Excitebike track, this pedal allows you to really tweak your lo-fi tone. Crush and downsample knobs control the bit distortion and sampling frequency (from 32Hz to 1kHz), and an expression pedal input can be assigned to either or both settings. A blend control lets you mix the wet and dry signals, and the telephone knob is a bandpass filter from 350Hz to 3.5kHz. In case that isn’t enough for you, an additional footswitch engages an internal LFO, which is controlled either by the downsample knob or an expression pedal. Hear what it can do with this demo video; it also doubles as a great drum effect.
Funded by a Kickstarter campaign (and not actually out until November), the Pitch Grinder is the first digital pedal from Dwarfcraft, and it’s more exciting than fighting Bowser in a racoon suit. After reducing your sound down to 8 bits, the pedal puts it through a sequenced pitch shifter. Knobs let you select the number of intervals (1-8), the length of one full cycle, and the pitch of each interval (from -1 octave to +2 octaves). There’s a tap tempo footswitch, which can also freeze the sequence when you hold it down. When you set the pattern to just one interval, hitting tap tempo will cycle to the next interval manually. Another cool addition is the glide switch: when engaged, notes will bend up to the next pitch, rather than jump directly to it. Head over to Dwarfcraft Devices for some more teasers and demos of the Pitch Grinder. –Mike Bauer