What is a bitcrusher?
A bitcrusher is a controlled way of lowering the quality of digital audio. It produces a very recognizable lo-fi effect that makes audio sound gritty and noisy. Pushed to extremes, it can reduces an audio track to sporadic stutter-like peaks. The effect works as follows, a 24 bit sample (which is a very standard quality used for samples in production), will be be reduced to a 8bit or even as low as 1bit, for example, at the same time introducing interesting artefacts into the sound. Artifacts which sound very different from tube or tape saturation and give this effect it’s distinctive sound.
What is the history?
Modern high quality digital audio, like CD audio, is stored at a bit depth of 16-bit. Anybody older than 30 could probably remember playing computer games with audio of a much lower audio quality. In the 80’s, 8bit audio was standard amongst video game platforms but audio quality started to improve as the size of computer memory did. The emergence of bit crushing as an effect really started to become used in the mid 90’s with the emergence of the glitch sound from trip hop, glitch-hop and drum and bass genres to name a few. This reemergence was really a resistance to the predictable and formulaic direction a lot of music was taking at the time.
8-bit vs 16-bit audio quality
How does a bitcrusher work, technically?
A bitcrusher works by lowering the resolution of the numbers that are used to store the sample-values that make up a digital audio file. It essentially increases the size of the steps between possible values, making the amplitude of the audio snap to the stepped positions. The less bits are used for representing these amplitude values, the bigger these steps are, and the more degraded the audio gets.
What famous songs use bit crushing?
One example of bit crushing can be found in this remix of a well know Aphex Twin track, “Come To Daddy”. The bit crushing effect is applied during the beginning of the track, just before the drum track begins.
This is a really good example because you hear the sound before and after the effect is applied.
How to use bitcrusher?
Every plugin is different, of course, but Bitcrusher’s will usually have one control one that reduces the bit depth, although they may not be explicitly named this way.A Bitcrusher has such a distinct sound when used with extreme settings, which is great if you want to create an 8-bit remix of something. It’s best used sparingly when used across a whole bus, if you want to add a noisey and gritty quality. It’s very effective to use extreme settings in transitions between song transitions, for example.
Pro tips for mixing with a Bitcrusher – By Enrico Tiberi (nrec).
1. Creating a glitch drum from an acoustic drum
This is a really fun technique, because you can kind of do what you like with the bitcrusher here. I used real drum recording of mine to create a noisy glitch track. The drums are sliced and looped and we’re applying the bitcrusher and automating it to give movement and degrade the signal to taste.
2. Creating a lo-fi synth effect
For this effect, we give a nice amount of lo-fi high frequencies to a synth that sounds too dull, the effect it adds is also very unique and is used a lot in lofi house or lofi hiphop.
3. Adding extra grit to an industrial guitar
Bit crushing has always been a big part of the industrial scene when it comes to guitars. We’re using it to add a lot of grit and exaggerated clarity to a distorted guitar. A good first step for a “Nine Inch Nails” / “Atari Teen Age Riot” type of guitar wall sound.
4. Add some character to a lead vocal
The vocals have been processed with the bitcrusher for an extra lo-fi sound. The analog feature smooths out the high end in this case, making it warmer sounding. In some cases it may be best to add the Bitcrusher in parallel, as the effect is very strong and distinctive.
Jochem de Jong