How to bitcrush using Degrader
Use the Degrader effect in Soundation to digitally distort your audio and get a lo-fi effect.
What is a bitcrusher?
A bitcrusher plugin such as Soundation’s Degrader simulates the sound of old lo-fi equipment like early samplers, computers, or video game consoles by lowering the bit depth and sample rate of your audio. Simply put you can say it lowers the quality of the sound, which may sound like something undesirable but it can actually add a bit of aesthetically pleasing nostalgic charm.
This effect is often used to add a 'retro' quality to sounds, and the reason we perceive it that way is that these older machines had a much lower digital audio resolution. If you really want to deep dive into how sampling and playback of digital audio works, have a look at this great article by Griffin Brown.
One important part of the lofi sound is simulating analog artifacts such as the imperfections of a vinyl record player or a tape deck:
- Pitch wobble caused by a crooked plate or worn-out components
- Loss of certain frequencies
- Noise from dust or electric current, hiss, etc.
When we’re bitcrushing audio on the other hand we’re simulating the degradation of the quality from digital hardware.
Have a listen to this comparison
- E-MU SP1200, Drum Sampler, 12 bit/26 kHz (1987)
- Amiga 500, Home Computer, 8 bit/28 kHz (1987)
- Akai S950, Sampler, 12 bit/48 kHz (1988)
- Nintendo GameBoy, Handheld Console, 4 bit/11 kHz (1989)
- CD Quality Audio, 16 bit/44 kHz
As you can hear above, the consumer electronics such as computers and video games weren’t quite as hi-fi as the pro-grade studio equipment even though they came out later. Lower bit rate introduces more noise, and lower sample rate introduces more of the crunchy, shimmering high end distortion known as aliasing.
It’s also noteworthy that from the mid-90s onward most multimedia equipment was able to produce CD-quality sound at bit- and sample rates that are virtually indistinguishable from reality to the human ear, and that was the goal at the time. We grew into liking the nostalgic sound of low quality audio. Hence there is no real “character” produced as a bi-product of digital distortion on most modern equipment.
Iconic samplers used during the golden era of hip hop such as the E-MU SP1200, Akai MPC60, Ensoniq EPS, Akai S950 and others all added their own special coloring to the sound due to their AD/DA converters and filters. On top of that they usually sampled in mono and had limited sampling time. To work around this producers would sample at higher speeds and slow the sample down, causing further degradation of the sampled sound.
Nowadays we purposefully make our samples grittier, either by using old school samplers or VST plugins that simulate their sound. A bitcrusher such as the Degrader can be used to emulate those classic artifacts.
Most old hardware samplers had sample rates fixed at the point of sampling or re-pitching samples, but with the manual tweaking unlocked by modern software we can create more complex and expressive sounds by for example seamlessly sweeping the noise made by the Degrader using automation in Soundation.
How to bitcrush audio in Soundation
Quick degradation [Beginner]
The quickest way to bitcrush your audio is by using one of the presets in the Soundation studio.
- 1Open Soundation and create a project
- 2Double-click the channel to which you want to apply the Degrader, this will open up the bottom panel
- 3Press "+ Add effect" and select Degrader in the drop-down menu
- 4In the upper right corner, you can now select one of the pre-made settings
Customize the degrader [Intermediate]
Let’s have a look at all the individual parameters of the Degrader to better understand what the knobs do.
This knob regulates the gain of the sound going into the degrader. Increasing it will result in more distortion and volume.
The rate knob governs how much sample rate reduction takes place. The higher the percentage the lower the sample rate. This introduces aliasing and ring modulation, arguably the effect that most people are after.
The reduction knob governs how much resolution reduction takes place. This parameter changes what could also be referred to as the bit rate. Increasing it by twisting the knob up decreases the bit rate and makes the sound more noisy.
The mix knob will blend the degraded sound with the original sound.
Automate the lo-fi effect [Pro]
Any of the parameters of the degrader can be automated to breathe some more life into your production.
- 1Click "+ Add Effect" in the bottom panel on any Audio or Instrument channel and choose the Degrader.
- 2Press the Automation drop down on the channel and select the parameter you want to automate. If you can’t see it, make sure your vertical zoom is zoomed out far enough. TIP! Keyboard shortcut: A
- 3A line representing the value of the parameter appears. Draw dots on it to control how it changes over time.