Few things on the Earth bask in lower regard in my eyes than the proverbial all-in-one multi-effects pedal. Crocs. Pork rinds. Maybe some particularly toxic societal memes that make me too mad to want to think about right now. With the exception of a handful of glorious high-end alternatives to actually owning any gear beyond a guitar, the multi-effects pedal is universally known for accomplishing nothing musical while costing pedalboard real-estate and priceless time learning a menu system you’ll never want to see again after you actually run your signal through whatever digitally mangled fizz-fest you’ve unwittingly inflicted on yourself. In the instance you find yourself in the gleam of those rare affordable mulit-effects gems, you’ll find their auxiliary features lacking, or their ability to match the sounds they claim to pull off poorly executed, or even their shape or size downright outlandish. They’re rarely expensive per se, but they’re often disappointing: which is scores worse.
Whether you want to sacrifice money on more pedals or time on testing as many effects as you can cram into one pedal, the only thing that really matters is your tone and quite frankly, most multi-effects miss the mark here by a fat margin. Even as a support for other pedals, the MFX’s role on the ‘board often ends up relegated to the one or two cookie-cutter presets in its data bank that actually sound great, but even then: why wouldn’t you just seek out those effects in dedicated pedals of much better quality? With all the hooplah surrounding the flexibility of the multi-effects unit, the menu-diving and limitations of most affordable digital modeling usually makes the real thing far superior in the audio fidelity department, if not more varied in its approach.
These gripes aside, digital modeling has come an incredibly long way, and there’s no doubt that there are great algorithms out there, but there are twice as many boxes cram-packed with algorithms that fall short. What I think the companies behind those cursed simulacrum fail to accomplish is building a digital Multi-FX pedal that is also simply a pedal. The screens, the fleet of effects, the apps – can all more than we ask for in all the wrong ways. We want something we can plug into that does more than one thing, and we want all of those things to sound good. Maybe that’s a taller order than just having more effects, but I know for sure it’s the honorable one. While we’re making unreasonable demands, how about a few more knobs and a kickass overdrive/fuzz circuit?
Come to think of it, that description snugly fits a pedal that’s been out in the world since 2014: The BitQuest, Dr. Scientist’s happy little Jack-of-all-trades. Despite its retro aesthetic and lack of screens based digital interface, the BitQuest feels lightyears more futuristic than its multi-effects cousins, boasting a tiny footprint the size their Frazz Dazzler & The Elements pedals, a horde of parameters to tweak, and hand-programmed patches that no one but a Mad (Dr.) Scientist would think to create.
- True Bypass
- Soft Touch switch and relay
- Clean/Fuzz switch
- Eight Unique voices, each offering a clean and fuzz variation
- 3 Analog knobs: VOL, TONE and MIX
- VOL: Controls the affected signal volume
TONE: 15 dbTreble boost/cut
MIX: Wet/Dry Blend
- 3 Digital knobs: CTRL 0/GAIN, CTRL 1, CTRL 2
More on these later
- TRS Expression (50k impedance) input that controls CTRL 1
Visit Dr. Scientist for more info about the BitQuest.
Sound & Performance:
Anyone with enough luck to get their hands on the BitQuest can tell it was made to be envied by anyone who can’t put their hands on it. It was bestowed an art update recently, too! The new glistening black finish contains as many poly-chromatic sparkles as there are stars in the sky, which thematically complement the Space Invader featured on the forward panel. The blue LED is nestled in the cockpit of the ship, making for a friendly, illuminated window peering up at any onlookers with intergalactic promise. The in/out jacks are top-mounted to conserve space on your pedalboard. Bolted-on knobs and a soft-touch switch accent the boutique feel of the BitQuest and give me a strong feeling that I’ll never need that “near-infinite” warranty, so I tempted fate to pop open the back panel. Inside, I discovered that the white circuitboard was decorated with some very nerdy Dungeons & Dragons-inspired artwork, including a 21-sided die and some adventurous banter. I knew I liked these guys.
Used in tandem, the VOL and MIX knobs offer very intuitive tone-sculpting, allowing you to blend the affected signal in parallel with your clean tone at any volume. The CTRL knobs are all digital, variable-use knobs that control different parameters depending on the voice in use. CTRL 0 will always be a gain control with the Fuzz setting active, but Dr. Scientist found a way to make each effect mode just as sweet despite the loss of a unique parameter to control.
Speaking of which: the fuzz channel is an extreme, muffy buzz conduit through which the synthiest energies flow freely into your speakers. There’s a pretty intense volume gain switching from fuzz to clean, so anticipate your needs in real-time. Dr. Scientist’s choice to stack a separate fuzz channel on top the BitQuest’s already generous set of effect voices really speaks to the level of thought that went into this pedal. Every effect is already a wild flume ride into a pixellated dreamscape, but the fuzz really adds an oomph that pushes the BitQuest from tone-sculpting tool past the threshold to “completely new instrument.” It’s such a well-built fuzz that we even included it in our Top 25 Best Fuzz Pedals of 2016!
There’s so much to the BitQuest that I, like anyone who attempts to cover it, will fail to offer a truly in-depth review or demo of all of its features; it truly is a ‘Quest of a pedal. Regardless, here’s my best, summarized coverage of what’s possible in this 8-bit behemoth.
FLA – Flanger
The BitQuest opens strong with a very tasteful Flanger that touches on almost all of the doubling family; it can enter into wavering chorus territory or sound like a warped record with ease. CTRL 0 serves as the positive/negative feedback and at either extreme can cause the effect to oscillate out of control, but towards the center you can dial in a casual chorus-y feel. I know of a few pedals designed specifically for flange and chorus that lack the versatility of this patch, so if you’ve a discerning ear for flange or chorus you’ll be pleasantly surprised. With the fuzz channel active, you lose the feedback control in exchange for the gain but you get to keep the Rate on CTRL 1, so you can control the speed of the modulation with the expression out. CTRL 1 also features the ability to freeze the filter’s rate by dialing in a rate you like and quickly backing off to zero. This iteration of the flanger is more like a traditional flanger in that it’s a little harder to get a conservative tone with the fuzz, but it’s still a ton of fun to play with a fuzzy, flangy Nirvana lead no matter the loss in nuance.
FIL – High pass & low pass filter
This patch is a low-pass (CTRL 1) and high-pass (CTRL 2) filter working together to filter out large chunks of your signal from the top and bottom. At most conservative settings, the slice of signal you’re left with croons thinly as if received by a transistor radio from 1913, but at higher volume levels, can push your amp into overdrive in really chewy ways. The Low-pass filter is expressible on this patch and sweeping the low end while playing is a blasty-blast. The resonance knob cranked full clockwise oscillates like two pissed off slide-whistle wielding clowns: don’t do this. Or do, if that’s what you’re going for. Engage the fuzz channel and now your guitar is a synth. There’s no way to say it otherwise: the ability to perfectly filter your fuzz tone makes your guitar a fuzzy, buzzy, synth with the power of a thousand wubs.
BIT – Bitcrusher & Sample Rate reducer
The voice for which I imagine the BitQuest was named for, the Bitcrusher “crushes” your signal by omitting information with a sample rate reducer controlling the resolution of the signal. This tone by omission is a squashed out splash of gritty nostalgia, recalling Triforces and little blue robots. CTRL 0 becomes a modulation on the sample rate that adds a vocal-sounding sweep to the signal; counter-clockwise sounds like slow hiss of the ocean in a scene from Chrono Trigger, clockwise for a particularly potent weapon from Doom. Used conservatively, I managed to get a pretty solid Eriatarka vibe from the Bitcrusher, and that makes my inner cover musician happy. I also experimented in the extreme, and that made my inner f*cked up weird ambient guitarist very VERY happy.
REV – Infinite Reverb
If you’ve read any of my reviews you already know I’m a fan of reverb and other ambient sounds, so with the Dr. Scientist pedigree vouching for it, I held this reverb to a very high standard. It did not disappoint. The clean voicing sports a predelay and a modulation knob (CTRL 0) for that predelay; like much of the BitQuests voices, the magic in this effect is the sine wave that controls the modulation. For the reverb, this means your wet signal becomes the pitch-shiftable wailing of a drowned ghost. What I really dig about this patch is that after a certain point the reverb tail will feedback into itself and oscillate on a long curve into grating static, which occurs much sooner in the fuzz setting. If you’re hungry for dark, atmospheric sludge, the fuzzy reverb will force feed you more than your body can contain. Conversely, with the fuzz/reverb balance (CTRL 2) dialed back to just before noon, you can squeeze a searing lead tone out of it without much of a hassle.
NOT – Notch Filter
The Notch Filter takes a slice of EQ right out of the signal, the width of which is controllable by CTRL 2. CTRL 1, and by extension, your Expression pedal, controls exactly where the notch lands in the EQ. Sweeping and phasing in realtime sounds nasty. When the fuzz setting is active, this voice really shines: the ability to select exactly where your overdrive tone is cut is perfect for lead, rhythm, and (with the expression in) dipping in and out of the two.
RIN – Ring Modulator
If you’re thinking of the metallic bell sound of your garden-variety ring-mod, you’re about a fifth right. While that is one of the intended possibilities, this is perhaps the most flexible voice in the BitArsenal. What the Ring Modulator voice pulls off is the full spectrum of harmonic trem-based effects, and even includes a spooky plate-sounding reverb. I’m not a massive fan of full-wet ring mod in a straightforward musical context but atonal church bells are always fun to play around with in an atmospheric jam, and with the mix pulled back to about 3 o’clock and your foot on the treadle of an expression pedal, sweeping through the harmonic spectrum in the sizzling glow of that perfectly paired reverb adds a thick layer of weird you won’t be able to ignore.
PIT – Pitch Shifter/Harmonizer
The clean voice in it won’t replace your Whammy unless you’re looking for an unavoidably modulated organ-like tone, but it’s a very pleasing effect if you’re down for some warbles. The Clean voice works better as a harmonizer than a real-time Pitch Shifter due to CTRL 1 acting as the blend between the two generated pitches, while the Fuzz features expression control on the pitch, so it’s justified most when used in those Morello or White styles we all know and love.
DEL – 1 Second Delay
This voice is, at its core, a super clean digital delay with a length range of 5ms to 1 second, but there’s much more to it than that. CTRL 0 serves as a “delay address” that determines how the repeats are rendered. In many instances, the sine wave-controlled delay address makes the repeats sound like something unsettling you might hear in the background of a Radiohead song, insect clicks or pitch-shifted nonsense that is actually super cool when used tastefully. Some of you geniuses out there might even find a way to make it sound awesome in a not-so-tasteful way. With the decay (CTRL 2) cranked further clockwise, the repeats start to oscillate and degrade in increasingly filthy ways, making for some evil Frippertronics. The Fuzz takes the delay address out of the equation, and mixes the dirt into the repeats. This is nice for that distorted wall-of-sound delay some of us pine for.
In a better-than-perfect world it would have a preset button of some sort to allow more realtime switching between voices. There are those who may love the unique tonal capabilities of the BitQuest but are so busy playing in a live setting that the prospect of bending down to change a given patch fills them with abject terror. To them, I soothe, just get more than one BitQuest. It’s that good. It does ship with lazy relay, meaning that the BitQuest won’t remember if it was on or off the last time it was fed power. Kind of lame if you keep your effects in a switcher or rack and want them all to be activated when you power on, but one can forgive under the circumstances of this pedal being so awesome. One other potential gripe: the lack of options when it came to which knobs the expression-in controls bummed me out the tiniest bit. You’d think with three of the knobs being digital, at least those three would be free game to affect in real-time. That said, those parameters affected by the EXP were clearly vetted to exhaustive extremes, and make more sense controlled by an auxiliary expression pedal than the others. I’m so excited about the chance to experiment in the studio with all the wacky future noises the Good Dr. has bestowed on us undeserving mongrels, and you can expect to see many more of our musician contemporaries embark on this retro journey. Join our party.
The Dr. Scientist BitQuest is more of a studio workstation than your average plug-and-play and can cover such a broad range of unique sounds that you might forget you own other pedals. I dare say that the BitQuest is an auricular Apollo: a godly representative of the spirit of music, of light, and of truth. Okay, that’s a little extreme, but I just can’t stop gushing over the downright shapeshifting this unassuming pedal pulls off. There are some beautiful tones in the BitQuest that are rarely possible in even groups of pedals, let alone one enclosure, and I had one hell of a time trying to put the thing down.
That concludes our Dr. Scientist BitQuest review. Thanks for reading!
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