Have you ever tried deliberately reducing the quality of your digital audio? Why on earth would someone want to do that? In this article we explain what bit crushing is and suggest some awesome tools to crank up the distortion.
Bit crushing is simply the process of reducing the bit rate and sample rate of any audio signal to add digital distortion to your mixes. Bitrate refers to the number of bits—or the amount of data—that are processed over a certain amount of time. In audio, this usually means kilobits per second. For example, the music you buy on iTunes is 256 kilobits per second, meaning there are 256 kilobits of data stored in every second of a song.
Let’s say we’ve got a sample at CD standard 16-bit resolution and 44.1kHz sample rate. By reducing it to, say, 8-bit resolution or 22.05kHz sample rate, we make it more distorted. The more information we discard, the more inaccurate the signal gets. Note, however, that we can bit crush any digital signal, not just one which is based on a recording of an analogue input. The signal to be bitcrushed may only exist in the digital domain (for example, the output of a synth plug-in).
By dramatically bit crushing and reducing the sample rate of a signal you can create all kinds of artifacts and frequency response in order to create everything from cold, clinical distortion to retro lo-fi effects. The vocals in SAIL by AWOLNATION is a really famous example of bit crushing.
There’s loads of great bit crushing tools out there and the awesome thing is most of them are free! All the major DAWs have their own built in bit crushing plugins but there’s loads of free plugins that offer just about. Bedroom Producers blog has an awesome list of free bitcrushing plugins with links to download.
Krush by Tritik is worth a mention because as well as bit crushing and downsampling algorithms, it gives you the warmth of modeled analog filters (low pass and high pass). It also has an awesome modulation section which allows you to modulate any parameter, allowing you to seriously crush your tracks.
If you want an incredibly simple mobile app then Buttercup Bitcrush is a general purpose bit-crusher, sample-rate reduction & noise effect that you can take on the move. It might look basic but my goodness is it powerful!
To hear more examples of what bit crushed sample sounds like, and compare with with a clean signal, head to EDM Prod.