Malekko Scrutator Review – Best Bitcrusher/Filter Pedal?

Malekko-Scrutator-Review-Best-Bitcrusher-Filter-Pedal-01

In order for your guitar to make sense to your computer, its signal has to be converted to a series of numbers that represent the crests and troughs of the waveform. These are called samples; the higher the sample rate, the more high-range frequencies can be accurately expressed. Those samples are then recorded as on/off memory bits that contain the volume information of the waveform. The more bits, the less compressed and more nuanced your signal will be. Bitcrushers take advantage of this music-computer relationship by taking your analog signal into it’s loving, digital arms and manipulating the sample rate and bit depth to create an increasingly crude compression/distortion effect.

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. It was only recently that I became sure I understood the bitcrusher, and I’m still not sure I’m not afraid of it. The bitcrusher sits somewhere between overdrive and Armageddon machine, yielding surreal warmth at its most conservative and absolute mangled mush at the extremes. Originating as a popular offering in the realm of plugin software, a glut of savvy pedal builders have thrown their hat in the bitcrusher ring, reproducing and building on the effect in amazing and unexpected ways.

One such builder is Malekko Heavy Industry, a company one could describe as “enigmatic.” Today we’re taking a look at Malekko’s Scrutator, the first in a series of (so far, three) new units designed with Malekko’s proprietary DSP platform. The word “Scrutator” is an old, almost never used word which means “one who examines,” an appropriate nomenclature for a pedal designed to reduce your signal to its basest attributes and lay bare the grating nature of the bits below.

Features:

  • Six Knobs:
    Pre Amp control for effect input gain/attenuation
    Bit Rate reduction control from 16bit to 2bit
    Sample Rate reduction control from approximately 48kHz to 300Hz
    Q control for bandwidth and amplitude filter amount
    Mix controls the wet/dry
    Filter controls a filter sweep
  • Expression Pedal Input
  • Low-Pass or Band-Pass Filter
  • Clip LED indicates input clipping
  • True Bypass
  • 9VDC powered

Visit Malekko for more info about the Scrutator.

Sound & Performance:

Those of us with already overloaded pedalboards (myself especially) will rejoice hearing the news that the Scrutator is an MXR-sized baby compared to most pedals with this much meat. A few companies have packed their bitcrushers with really intense modulation parameters that transform your signal into angry, whirring will-o-whisps: the Scrutator is not one such pedal. The Scrutator is a much more straightforward piece of hardware, giving you a ‘crusher, a filter, and that’s it. The parameters manipulating the effects within, however, make the Scrutator one of the most musical bitcrushers on the market.

The lynchpin of the Scrutator is of course, the Sample knob, which serves as more an auditory gradient from clean to slightly overdriven to ringmod to broken fuzz to, eventually, a series of question marks and exclamation points. I found that the most useable (in terms of traditional) tones were found no further than 7 o’clock, and rolling past that point we entered into some pretty bloopy territory. Every reviewer who has ever reviewed a BitCrusher has already said something like this, but so help me, the video game nostalgia is palpable here. Stacked with an overdrive, the dirt that the Scrutator adds cannot be overstated. A laser-focused filter is amazing over overdrive on a bad day; add that bitcrusher into the mix, you’re in for some clippy, synthy insanity.

The Expression pedal input is a swiss-army knife for this effect; you can set it to any combination of the Filter, Q, Bit or Rate parameters, and also the directional sweep can be altered to sweep up or down when the expression pedal is brought to heel or toe. What’s great about this is that the knobs continue to serve a purpose after the expression has taken their duties. For example, I set the filter to sweep up when I brought my expression to toe, while simultaneously crushing the Sample Rate, but I didn’t like how bright the filter or how squashed the sample rate parameter made my signal when maxed out. To fix this, I simply dialed the Filter and the Rate knobs back ever so much and voilá! A much more usable and chewy filter tone, fully adaptable to your notes by use of the expression pedal.

I feel like I should also talk about the Mix and Preamp knobs, because despite being unaffected by the expression, they play an integral role in the Scrutator’s character. Through use of the Preamp, you can attenuate the volume of the bitcrusher; you might choose to set it at unity for rhythm bloops or boost it for lead bloops. Either way, whenever you clip the Scrutator, a tiny LED light under the Preamp knob will flicker to let you know: “Hey! That’s loud!” Clipping the Scrutator actually has a pleasing, compressed effect to my ear, making the loss more obvious the further the Bit knob is cranked. The Mix knob, on the other hand, will allow you to mix in any amount of crushed or not-crushed signal into the sum signal. You might not use it this way, but I set it at about 2 o’clock and cranked the preamp to be just above unity, then swelled in filtered digital space whales. Fun.

The Scrutator can also be set to be affected by either a low-pass or band-pass filter by deactivating while holding down the footswitch, unplugging, and then plugging back in the device. It is kind of annoying that one has to power down the Scrutator to change the filter setting when this could have just as easily been featured using a toggle switch, but with the sheer quantity of variables and no preset option I could see why this is a better design, from a live performance standpoint. The Scrutator is already a small target to hit, and unless you have very long and dextrous toes, having one more thing to look out for is a figurative pain in the neck. Or a literal pain in the feet if you’re a Steven Wilson type and play barefoot.

Malekko-Scrutator-Review-Best-Bitcrusher-Filter-Pedal-02

Overall-Rating-5.0

With its slight profile, clever design, and expression out The Malekko Heavy Industry Scrutator stands out to me as one of the best bitcrushers on the market today. It is a carefully considered piece of hardware, built for the initial confusion and lifelong delight of its master. It’s also a very specialized pedal, but the few things it does, it does with gusto, and considering some of its more popular competitors retail for up to 50% more, I’d be stunned if we didn’t see a ton more Scrutators on ‘boards around the world. It’s certainly not a sound for everyone, but guitarists who love mangling their sound bit by bit will love what this pedal can do.

That concludes our review of the Malekko Scrutator. Thanks for reading!

Red Panda Bitmap Review – Best Bit Crusher / Resampling Pedal?

Red-Panda-Bitmap-Review-Best-Bit-Crusher-Resampling-Pedal-01

Did you know that Red Panda’s first effect offering wasn’t a guitar pedal? Okay, it was, sort of. It was the Bitcrusher algorithm/module for the (now discontinued) Line 6 ToneCore platform. After releasing this cool effect, Red Panda decided to strike out on their own and release the Particle Granular Delay & Pitch Shifter, one of the most inspired and original delay pedals to come along in years. Then after releasing the equally original and ethereal Context reverb pedal, Red Panda decided to revisit the Bitcrusher effect that put them on the map, so to speak. Thus, the Bitmap was born, and the cycle came full circle.

The Bitmap is a “bitcrusher with fractional bit reduction and sample rate modulation”. What does that mean? It essentially mangles and destroys whatever sounds you feed it in twisted and beautiful ways. The Bitmap does this by reducing your signal’s bit depth from 24 bits all the way down to 1 bit and anywhere in between, producing grainy fuzz-like distortion at lower settings. You can also reduce the sample rate to create all sorts of bizarre, ring-mod-esque harmonic overtones. The sample rate can even be modulated and/or controlled via an expression pedal. Of course, if you’re not familiar with how a bit crusher sounds, nothing can accurately explain it. So let’s plug it in and find out if it’s the best bit crusher/resampling pedal in our Red Panda Bitmap review.

Features:

  • Red-Panda-Bitmap-Review-Best-Bit-Crusher-Resampling-Pedal-02Fractional bit reduction.
  • Sample-rate modulation.
  • Expression pedal input for sample rate (CV-compatible).
  • Blend control to maintain bass or add subtle crushing.
  • Input gain switch to accommodate single or dual coil pickups and line-level signals.
  • Output level control for consistent volume, can also provide extra boost.
  • 3 color screen printed enclosure.
  • Soft-touch knobs.
  • True bypass.
  • Made in USA, from PCB to final assembly.

Visit Red Panda for more info about the Bitmap.

See the lowest price on Amazon.

See the lowest price on eBay.

Sound & Performance:

A bit crusher can appear daunting to come to grips with if you’re unsure how they work exactly. Fortunately, the Bitmap makes the concept of bit-crushing surprisingly easy to understand and, yes, just as easy to use in practice. I started out with Crush mode to hear the straight up bitcrushing effects this pedal offers.

With the Crush knob rolled down and the Freq all the way up, you’ll get a clean sound at 24 bits with a 32 kHz sampling rate. Basically, it sounds dry and clean even with the Mix rolled all the way up (fully wet). But once you start rolling up the Crush knob things get interesting. At settings as low as around 9 o’clock, you’ll hear some sizzling distortion creeping into your signal. It’s the nature of resampling and bit reduction causes this noise. While old-school samplers and digital audio workstations (or DAWs, like Ableton Live) filter out distortion and aliased components when resampling/bit reducing, the charm of a Bit Crusher (and hence the Bitmap) is that it leaves all those interesting elements in tact to produce the sounds bit crushing effects are known for.

At the subtle 9 o’clock Crush setting, something interesting happens when selecting between Hi/middle/Lo input options. While the middle position is generally a good overall setting to use with guitar, the Lo option (for drum machines, synths, and line level signals) causes a surge in input signal volume that results in even more harmonic aliasing distortion. Red Panda assures that no harm will come from selecting mismatched input levels, so feel free to experiment with the Bitmap’s 3 settings as it really pays off for dialing in or removing distortion. Just mind your output Level setting.

As you crank the Crush knob towards around noon, the bit depth is further reduced, resulting in more distortion and an increasingly prominent gating effect. Bitcrushers can be too chaotic (and damaging to your ears) if not held with some restraint. The gate keeps it in check while providing cool stuttering, staccato sounds reminiscent of gated fuzz. You can dial this in just right with an appropriate Hi/Lo switch setting to nail the rate of decay you’re looking for. Very synth-like. Just be aware that if you activate the pedal with the Crush knob all the way up and a lower volume Hi/Lo switch setting, you may get no sound and think your pedal is broken! It isn’t. If you feed a high level audio signal into the pedal you’ll hear it.

The Freq knob is where things get really interesting. At the fully clockwise setting, you’re hearing the maximum sampling rate of 32kHz. Pulling it back immediately brings in some strange upper frequency harmonic content. It adds a hint of harmonic complexity to your single notes and chords alike. As you roll the knob down, you’ll hear your melodies becoming less recognizable as their tonality is replaced by the seemingly random digital computations. Keeping the Mix set at moderate levels will let your dry sound peek through the cacophony to anchor the noise with some semblance of melody.

Red-Panda-Bitmap-Review-Best-Bit-Crusher-Resampling-Pedal-03Switching to Mod mode lets you automate the sample rate modulation with an LFO. The Crush knob acts as a Rate control instead of adjusting bit reduction, and there are triangle, square, and random options at your disposal. Setting the Rate at low settings makes for some cool gradual frequency modulation sounds. Cranking it to the max produces cool tones that sound similar to running a tremolo or vibrato pedal at high speeds, only in a bizarre bit crusher sort of way. It must be heard to be understood. The expression pedal comes in handy here as you can set a constant Rate via the Crush knob and move the Freq focal point around with the pedal. A lot of fun can be had here.

So where do you put the Bitmap in your signal chain? Good question, and there’s no wrong answer. Just remember that you’re probably going to use the Bitmap to decimate whatever sounds you feed into it, so it may not be best to have too much going on in your signal after the pedal. I’ve had awesome results putting the Bitmap after distortion pedals. In fact… The Bitmap is one of my new favorite pedals to stack after fuzz and distortion. When stacking fuzz/distortion in front of the Bitmap and using Crush mode, you’ll notice how adjusting the output volume on your fuzz/distortion affects your tone. While the Bitmap has no “tone” control of its own, you’ll hear the tone and distortion intensity change with slight tweaks of the Crush knob and your dirt pedal’s volume knob. You can dial in some wicked lead and rhythm sounds. It can be quite abrasive, so be cautious as you explore the possibilities. Use an expression pedal to sweep the Freq for maximum insanity. So fun! Also, depending on whether you’re using moderate or extreme settings, it’s worth experimenting with delay pedals before and/or after the Bitmap. Using the Red Panda Particle before or after the Bitmap can be interesting. I’d recommend keeping your reverb pedals after the Bitmap to create a space for the chaos (the Red Panda Context works well). But hey, why not just break all the rules with reckless abandon? That’s that this pedal is all about anyway.

The Bitmap is awesome. It’s a seriously fun pedal for guitarists who like to explore out-of-the-ordinary sounds. Studio experimentalists will appreciate being able to feed anything into it as well, mangling any and all audio beyond recognition. The only faults the the Bitmap I can find are my usual wish for MIDI control and perhaps having some user presets. But you can still use CV to control the Freq, so that’s a little perk. I’m sometimes not too picky about having built in tone controls, but it may have been useful to have a high-cut tone control for taming the high frequencies when using extreme settings for feeding distortion into the Bitmap. Not a deal-breaker by any means. Another quirk is that the expression pedal parameter change response is a little slow, with the Freq catching up slight after your move the pedal. It’s not too bothersome for slow-moving ambient sounds, but I generally prefer very precise expression control for faster movements. Also, bit crushing isn’t for everyone as it’s a pretty unorthodox effect, but if you love it weird, you’ll have no problem making a little room on your pedalboard for the Bitmap. I’ll close in mentioning that when I first discovered the Particle and saw Red Panda’s Bitcrusher Line 6 module, I had hoped Red Panda would eventually re-release it as a standalone pedal. The Bitmap is it, and it’s what I hoped it would be and more.

The Red Panda Bitmap is a bit crushing beast that will chew up your guitar and spit out beautiful noise. Let’s see the final result.

Red-Panda-Bitmap-Review-Best-Bit-Crusher-Resampling-Pedal-04

Overall-Rating-4.0

The Red Panda Bitmap is a chaotic and beautiful pedal worth exploring for guitarists seeking excellent bit crushing effects in a stompbox. It’ll coat your clean tones with dissonant, ring-mod style harmonic tones. Stack the Bitmap with dirt for ripping distortion sounds. You can even coax plenty of fuzz-like tones from the Bitmap alone. The frequency modulation effects add some extra charm and quirkiness to the unit. For the most fun, plug in an expression pedal and become a bit-crushing cartographer. The Bitmap is quite possibly the best bit crusher/resampling pedal available.

That concludes our Red Panda Bitmap review. Thanks for reading.

 

Want to buy the Red Panda Bitmap?

See The Lowest Price On Amazon

See The Lowest Price On eBay