Meris surprised the gear world in January 2017 when they revealed the Ottobit Jr., a compact guitar pedal inspired by their 500 series Ottobit bit-crusher but with added stutter, filter, and sequence-able pitch effects. While Meris has been producing 500 series pro-audio gear since 2014, the Ottobit Jr. was their first pedal release, followed soon after by the Mercury7 Reverb and Polymoon. This quick succession of innovative new releases prompted Best Guitar Effects to laud Meris as the Best New Pedal Builder of 2017. But what made the Ottobit Jr. so special and why is this pedal such a landmark release?
Ottobit vs Ottobit Jr.
Rather than just release a feature similar replica of the Ottobit in a stompbox enclosure, Meris decided to reinvent the Ottobit concept for its pedal release. They started by removing the LFO Modulation, envelope Trigger, and Ring Modulation functions. While the original Ottobit’s Ring Mod with Pitch Tracking and dynamic Sample Rate movement may be missed, what the Ottobit Jr. offers in place of those features more than makes up for their absence. The new Filter knob controls a smooth low-pass filter that has a slightly peaked resonance for classic sounding synth-like filtering. The Stutter (with optional Hold function) provides 22 different Stutter variations in Full, Double, & Half Speed options. And probably the most significant of all the features is the Sequencer section which offers up to 6 steps of Pitch, Sample Rate, or Filter movement. You can also modulate all knob parameters simultaneously via an expression pedal, save and recall 16 presets via MIDI or with Meris’ upcoming 4 button switcher, and adjust all of the pedal’s parameter functions in realtime via MIDI CC messages. With this hugely expanded feature set, the Ottobit Jr. may arguably be the daddy in this case.
Here’s a full feature recap before we dig in.
- Handcrafted Algorithms
- Variable Sample Rate and Bit Crushing
- Vintage Synth inspired Low-Pass Filter
- Triggered Stutter Effects
- Sequencer module for Pitch, Filter or Decimation pattern sequencing
- Tap Tempo for Sequencer and Stutter
- Stereo input and output
- Switchable input/output headroom level for Guitar, Synthesizer or Line levels
- Expression pedal control over all parameters simultaneously
- Presets available via external 4-Preset switch or MIDI
- MIDI in/out over TRS via the EXP jack
- Remote Tap Tempo Switch capable via the EXP jack
- Premium analog signal path and 24-bit AD/DA w/32 bit floating point DSP
- Premium Analog Devices JFET input section
- Color – glossy black with subtle flake
- Designed and built in Los Angeles, California U.S.A.
- Premium quality 24 bit A/D and D/A
- 32 Bit floating point DSP hardware
- Premium low noise Analog signal path throughout
- Analog Devices JFET input circuitry
- Selectable True Bypass (Relay) or Analog Buffered Bypass
- 150 mA total power consumption
- Durable black powder coat with fine metal flake
- Current draw –
- Dimensions – 4.25″ wide, 4.5″ long, 2″ tall
Sound & Performance:
A trend I’ve noticed in the Meris pedals released so far is that the top row of knobs usually controls the most easy to grasp functions while the second row begins to dig a little deeper into the slightly more complex stuff. With the bottom row of knobs at minimum and the top row maxed, you won’t notice much happening when you first activate the pedal, just your transparent audio signal being reproduced via A/D D/A at a full 24-bit/48kHz resolution. Turning the Bits & Sample Rate knobs counter-clockwise begins reducing the audio fidelity from 24-bit/48kHz all the down down to 1-bit and 48Hz, respectively.
As you turn the Bits knob down to around noon, you’ll start crunching up your guitar into a pretty gnarly fuzz sound. Bit-crushing can be used as a form of dirt, and the Ottobit Jr. excels in this area with usable grit all the way down to its minimum 1-bit setting. There isn’t a Level control, so you’ll want to be mindful of how the perceived output level increases on lower Bits settings, but there are some great opportunities here for using an expression pedal to sweep from a clean and clear tone to a “crushed” fuzz distortion.
As you reduce the Sample Rate knob, it’s as if the upper frequencies begin folding in, washing over your original audio signal in a wave of descending harmonics. It sounds kind of like tuning the dial on an old radio. If you’ve used a bit-crusher before, you’re likely familiar with this. If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat here as the Ottobit Jr. has one of the smoothest sample rate sweeps I’ve ever heard in a bit-crusher pedal. At the knob’s lowest settings, the pedal emits a dissonant lo-fi growl. You can also park the knob throughout the rest of its sweep a set harmonic sound, similar to dialing in a ring modulator.
Tweaking the Bits & Sample Rate together is the key to finding those classic 8-bit and arcade style video game tones. Usually, it just takes moderate amounts of those parameters to get the lo-fi sound you’re looking for. You’ll of course get a more NES-inspired sound if you actually feed a synthesizer or synthesized guitar tone into the pedal, but whatever sound you’re going for, the Ottobit Jr. applies some very impressive bit-crushing to whatever you feed into it.
To Mix or not to Mix?
I mentioned to someone how impressed I was with the Meris Ottobit Jr., and they immediately questioned the fact that the pedal doesn’t have a Mix control. To my surprise it was only then that I stopped to notice that the pedal doesn’t actually have a Mix knob. I understand how a Mix knob could be useful if you’re creating textures by really crushing your signal beyond recognition and want your original audio signal to be heard clearly through the noise. But there’s a wide range of sweet lo-fi textures that will still let your original signal shine through before it gets totally crushed to oblivion. So yes, even without a dedicated Mix control, the nuances of your original signal are still audible until things get really gnarly on extreme settings. The fact that I never really noticed the Mix knob missing is further testament to the quality of the bit-crushed tones and the smooth and pleasing sweep of the Sample Rate parameter in particular. And also, when bit-crushing I typically only crush the signal extra hard as a temporary effect with intention of completely destroying any trace of the original audio signal. No Mix needed.
The Ottobit Jr. has an excellent Filter that’s really fun for frequency sweeps. You can get some pretty epic filtering sounds by using an expression pedal to control the filter in real-time. The filter has a static resonance setting which has a slight bump right at the cut-off. This adds a pleasing emphasis to the filtering as you sweep through the frequency spectrum. It sounds awesome in most situations, but in a few cases this default resonance setting may not be ideal; when you’re dialing in aggressive bit-crushed fuzz tones, the little resonant boost right at the cut-off point can add a little extra unwanted harshness on some otherwise great sounding fuzz settings. It would’ve been neat to have an Alt option for selecting between either the default Resonance or a flatter Resonance response that rolls off the highs a bit more smoothly. I also love cutting low-pass filters to silence when sweeping through the filter range, so if I were being very picky, I’d also like to have seen an option to extend the minimum Filter value from its current lower limit of around 61Hz down to 0-20Hz. Still, it must be emphasized that the Filter sounds awesome, especially when being swept through its range. It may hard to please everyone with a single static resonance setting, but the way Meris dialed it in will sound killer in nearly all situations. And it’s important to note that when sequencing the Filter, the default peaked Resonance is integral in the musical nature of the effect. (More about the Sequencer in a moment.)
The Ottobit Jr.’s Stutter adds a choppy repeating effect to the mix. It occurs a quarter note after your pick attack in sync with the Tap Tempo. There are 7 Length Options (ranging from one stutter to sixteen) for each of the 3 different Stutter Speed settings (Full Speed, Double Speed, & Half Speed). There’s also a Random setting. These options provide a lot of flexibility for adding in a sporadic glitchy-ness that actually syncs in time with your playing. Pushing and holding the Tap foot-switch will allow you to grab the current or next occurring stutter and repeat it for as long as the foot-switch is held. For a stutter mode that’s so simply implemented and controlled, it’s arguably one of the best such versions found in a pedal format. For best results using the Stutter effect (or the Sequencer which we’ll get to next), I’d suggest keeping the Ottobit Jr. placed early in your signal chain either first or right after your guitar compressor.
The Sequencer section is probably my personal favorite aspect of the Ottobit Jr. There are options for Pitch Sequencing, Filter Sequencing, & Sample Rate Sequencing selected via the small button near the Bypass foot-switch. To activate the Sequencer you simply turn the Sequencer knob from Off to 1X or above. The different values determine how many times the sequence repeats. The Sequencer Mult knob multiplies the playback speed of the sequence by the Tap Tempo amount. Basically, it’ll keep playing the sequence faster and faster the higher you turn the knob but always in sync with your Tap Tempo speed. When sequencing the Pitch, this lets you create warp speed note arpeggios that remain precisely in time.
Programming the Sequencer is where things get a little bit more involved. The 6 steps are accessed by pressing the Alt button while turning one of the 6 knobs that correspond to each step. You can skip steps, mute steps, and pick from a wide range of values in between. In Pitch Sequence Mode, you can select from every semitone interval ranging from -1 octave to +1 octave. By using unison steps (root notes) and mutes, you can even get some killer squared, choppy tremolo effects. Grasping the concept isn’t too hard once you get hands-on experience using it. Just be advised that when sequencing Pitch, the 27 different options on each knob will be easier to set if you temporarily tap in a slow tempo with a low Multiplier setting and carefully listen to the notes of the sequence as you dial in each one. Things get even crazier when you control the pitches from an external sequencer via MIDI, but more on that in a moment. On a couple occasions I noticed a slight drop in signal level when sequencing the pitch, and an Alt parameter for Output Level could have been helpful in making sure the volume is always consistent on a per preset basis, but I’ve been able to compensate by triggering a volume boost via a preset on another pedal in my signal chain. It’s minor, and I only noticed it on a few occasions after playing the pedal for couple months.
The Presets Paradox
The Ottobit Jr. (along with the Mercury7 Reverb & Polymoon) can save and recall up to 16 presets via MIDI. 16 factory presets are available to give you an idea of what the pedal is capable of, but you’ll need an external means to access them. Meris will be releasing a 4 button preset switcher in early 2018 which should be a convenient option for utilizing presets. If you already use a high-end effects switcher with MIDI output, you’ll want to get a compatible MIDI adapter to make the most of this pedal. The Chase Bliss Audio MIDI Box works well, and the official Meris MIDI I/O adapter will also be released in the near future. Without using MIDI or another external preset switching option, you’ll be missing out on saving and recalling more than 1 of your complex creations. To really make the most of this insane pedal, you’ll definitely want some way to conveniently access presets.
Using an expression pedal adds a lot of possibilities for real-time control. All knob parameters, the 6 Sequencer Steps, and Tempo can have different values assigned to the toe and heel positions that are saved along with each preset. The Filter is fun to sweep, and you can mangle your sound at will by assigning the Sample Rate and/or Bits to the exp pedal. You can also play with the sequencer in creative ways. Try creating an arpeggiated pattern with the root note, octaves, fifths, and thirds; then set the expression pedal to shift between the major thirds and minor thirds for a simple way to have the Pitch Sequencer harmonize in key as you play notes of a scale.
The one thing to be mindful of going in is that you can set the EXP/MIDI jack to only one of the following options: EXP (for exp pedal), TAP (for external tap tempo control), PRESET (to be used with the upcoming Meris preset switcher), or MIDI. With all the awesome sounds the Ottobit Jr. is capable of, I’m biased towards recommending one of the two options that allow use of presets before the other options. But the EXP mode is super fun. So what’s a good workaround here?
If you use MIDI, you can still access the exp control by using CC #04. You could also use a DAW to select presets and control the EXP CC. Here’s something I’d really like to see. Assuming the upcoming Meris Preset Switcher is basically a specialized MIDI controller for Meris pedals, it would be brilliant if Meris added an Exp-to-MIDI jack that allows users to simply plug in a standard expression pedal and control the EXP CC. I’ve seen a MIDI effects switcher that offers this functionality, so it can be done. Such an option would allow easy access to the 16 presets on Meris pedals while the exp pedal’s toe and heel positions could theoretically double the available preset settings to up to 32.
External Sequencing via MIDI
While it’s inspiring to have 6 available steps for onboard sequencing, considering that Meris went all-in with full MIDI implementation, I had to dig in to see how well the Ottobit Jr. would respond to external automation. The Ottobit Jr.’s onboard Pitch Sequencing already allows arpeggiated melodies to be triggered from a single note, but external sequencing can allow greater possibilities for evolving sequences and longer step sequenced patterns.
By connecting the Ottobit Jr. to Ableton Live 10 via MIDI, I was able to use Live’s MIDI Clips with MIDI CC automation to change the note sequences at precise moments during chord changes in a progression. With every note from -1 Oct to +1 Oct available for sequencing, you can create complex arpeggiated note patterns that defy what can conventionally be played by merely plucking or tapping every note.
Sequencing Tip: to achieve the best results from pitch sequencing, start your sequences with the root interval (which produces a smoother sound at faster tempo speeds) before the pitch descends or ascends in subsequent steps. It requires strict timing to make sure your sequences are triggered in time, but it’s very rewarding. Your dedicated practice with a metronome will pay off. Without being limited to only 6 steps, you can compose some truly awe inspiring note sequences that are only limited by your knowledge of modes, scales, and music theory… and the 2 octave range of course. And being able to program precise moments for the Stutter and Stutter Hold functions to be triggered is also amazing. If you get in deep with pitch sequencing, you’ll probably join me in wishing Meris included secret MIDI CCs for “Swing” and “Triplet” quantization.
Bit-Crushing… in Stereo?!
At first it may seem unnecessary to have a TRS stereo I/O option on a bit-crusher, but this is actually very handy in some scenarios. If you like the sound of bit-crushing later in your signal chain, the possibility of placing the Ottobit Jr. after your stereo delay and reverb pedals opens up new possibilities. You can add some gentle anti-aliased noise over your delay and/or reverb or completely decimate your entire audio signal, not to mention applying that sweet Filter to your sound. If you’re using the Ottobit Jr. in a professional studio environment and are using delay and reverb on dedicated sends, you could set the Ottobit Jr. to Line level and add it to your wet chain in series with other stereo effects or use the pedal by itself. This is a much better option than buying two mono only pedals and lets you use the Ottobit Jr.’s ironically hi-fi effects in just about any scenario.
Aside from a few minor tweaks I’d like to see here and there, I only have one other noteworthy feature I wish was included. The Sequencer (particularly Pitch) and Stutter functions are triggered with greater precision when the pedal is placed early in your signal chain before distortion, fuzz, and modulation; however, the Bit-Crusher and Filter effects arguably sound best when placed towards the end of your signal chain or after dirt pedals at the very least. This makes it a little tricky to decide where to place the pedal. I prefer to keep it up front for the pitch-sequencing effects, but if you’re not using those effects, you may want to put it later in your signal chain. It would be awesome to have seen a Pre/Post mode for mono operation that could let you put the Pitch Sequencer early in your chain and route the Bit-Crusher and Filter later in your signal chain. While I may still use the bit-crushing and filtering from the pedal’s default position early in my signal path, the characteristics of those effects are arguably more impactful and musical when placed after most other pedals. But this little concern is in no way a deal-breaker, and I think most users will easily find ways to make cool noise with this pedal. As it stands the Meris Ottobit Jr. is one of my personal favorite pedals released in recent years.
The Meris Ottobit Jr. is simply a monster in pedal form. Let’s see the final result.
The Meris Ottobit Jr. is one of the most ambitious and advanced bit-crushers ever released in pedal form with a host of inspiring sound design possibilities on board. While its bit-crushing is some of the best sounding I’ve heard mainly thanks to a very smooth Sample Rate taper that’s beautiful to behold, the Sequencer and Stutter effects really push this pedal over the top in terms of what it offers adventurous effects users. And there’s a truly gorgeous synth inspired Filter onboard. While the stereo option isn’t essential for mono rigs (and the Pitch Sequencing works best when the pedal is early in your signal chain), being able to use the Ottobit Jr.’s bit-crushing and filtering after a stereo delay and reverb offers some truly mesmerizing textures. While a pedal like the Ottobit Jr. probably won’t appeal to old-school guitarists who veer towards simplicity, this gauntlet throwing debut pedal from Meris is among the handful of must-try pedals I’d recommend most to guitarists looking for new sound design possibilities and sources of inspiration.
That concludes our Meris Ottobit Jr. review. Thanks for reading.