Updated on 08.06.2021.
Those who see technology as unstoppable progress towards technical excellence might feel puzzled by the lo-fi and 8-bit movements in pop and rock music. Why on earth would some musicians want to use effects that make their tone sound worse?
Lo-Fidelity Is All About Character
The answer to that question can be found in the numerous, terrible, yet wonderfully recorded albums released by major labels and, at once, in Tom Wait’s voice in that masterpiece record called Swordfishtrombone: so, if on one hand, sound quality has nothing to do with great music, on the other, character in art is an important factor that can be obtained through means as unorthodox as a raspy and guttural voice.
So, yes, lo-fi and bit crushing pedals can add character to your guitar tone, but – as it’s always the case – it’s what you do with them that will determine the quality of the results and – to be perfectly frank – they are a kind of effect that might just not work at all in some more traditional musical contexts.
What is Bit Crushing?
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Bit crushing, together with its twin sample rate reduction, is an effect linked to the way digital audio works. Due to computing limitations, early digital recordings employed very low Bit and Sample Rate values, which have grown exponentially in the last few decades, supporting audio that matches the quality of the best analog devices.
The easiest way to explain them to someone with no experience in the field is through an analogy with digital pictures. Just like low-resolution images display artifacts due to pixelation and a limited number of colors, lo-res digital recordings sound bad because of low sample rate and low Bit depth. So those early recordings, having a lot fewer ones and zeros in them compared to today’s hi-fi ones, mangled the sound in ways that we tend to find unflattering.
Bit Crushing and Sample Reducing pedals simulate these audio artifacts created by obsolete digital recorders. Bit Depth affects the dynamics (at low values, the recording will sound more compressed) while Sample Rate affects the sound (at low values, the sound will sound granier and limited in the frequency spectrum).
The Best Bitcrusher Pedals
Let’s dive into what the pedal market has to offer in this quirky but creative niche. As it’s always the case with stompboxes, different builders have different takes on each type of effect, and in our shopping guides, we do our best to channel the needs of our readers towards a few categories.
Here’s how we decided to organize our list of the Best Bit Crusher Pedals – click on these categories to jump to the corresponding list:
Best Bitcrusher Pedals with Synth-Style Controls
The pedals in this list are like synths without keys. They offer a host of functions to manipulate bit depth and sample rate, and include other effects normally found on synthesizers like filters, modulation, envelops and multiple waves LFO. Many of them are Stereo and all offer CV In inputs and sometimes even Midi compatibility.
Best Intuitive Bitcrusher Pedals
This list includes simpler, more intuitive stompboxes with fewer controls and functions, but not necessarily less fun, and definitely less expensive. Many also include filters and modulation, two effects that are able to tame the roughness of bit crushing.
Best Bitcrusher Pedals in Mini Format
Even more spartan and affordable than the previous category, these mini-pedals are “pure” bitcrushers,” as in, that’s all they do!
Best Bitcrusher Pedals with Fuzz or Distortion
A bitcrusher placed after a fuzz has become very common among noise-loving guitarists. These pedals deliver it to you in a single box.
Best Hybrid Pedals with Bitcrusher and other FX
The pedals in this list are for those looking for devices where bit crushing has an important role, but it’s not necessarily the main protagonist. They include hybrid circuits that marry a bitcrusher with a delay, a reverb or even a chorus.
Bitcrusher Pedals Shootout Video