Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Review: Sonic Charge Bitspeek

Product: Bitspeek
Developer: Sonic Charge
Formats: VST for Windows XP and higher and VST & AU for Intel Macs running OS 10.5 or higher.
Demo: Unregistered version functions as normal with occasional audio drop-outs.
Price: $29

Many years ago, when I tried out Sonic Charge's ┬ÁTonic drum synth plug-in, I was struck by the robotic, spoken alert that announced it was an unregistered version. The voice had a really unique quality to it that I hadn't heard before and I thought to myself that it would be really cool to have a plug-in that replicated that sound. I pretty much wrote that possibility off, though, assuming it was just one of those dorky things that only I would be interested in. Evidently, I was wrong.

Bitspeek is a plug-in that utilizes a linear prediction codec to process sound. If that went way above your head, linear prediction codecs are a voice compression technology utilized in everything from the infamous Speak n' Spell to your cell phone. It works by analyzing certain characteristics of the original audio, such as its pitch and formant, and then resynthesizes it using a combination of an oscillator, noise, and filter. The result is an eerily lo-fi robotic effect.

Bitspeek installs with your run of the mill installer. Left unregistered, Bitspeek functions as normal, but with periodic audio drop outs, thus allowing you to really put it through its paces before you decide to buy (and you will). Registration is done via a simple, unique registration code issued by Sonic Charge.

Bitspeek's interface vaguely mimiks the look of the old Speak n' Spell toys. The top third features a real time visualizer displaying the audio signal. The lower two thirds consist of Bitspeek's 8 controls.

The first of these is a sample rate slider allowing you to select the sample rate at which Bitspeek does its thing. This is independent of your DAW's sample rate and is used only for determining the rate of calculations, and thus the sound quality of the processing. Options for 8, 11, 22, and 44k are available, with the lower rates obviously making the processed audio much more lo-fi.

Next door to that you'll find the Frame Rate control. This determines how often the pitch, volume, and formants of the input material is analyzed. Everything from constant analysis to totally freezing the audio is possible, and by activating the Sync control, you can set the Frame Rate to specific note values, opening the door for bizarre rhythmic effects.

Next to the Sync switch, is the MIDI control, which allows you to "play" the effect via a MIDI controller. This function only works with hosts that allow MIDI to transmit to plug-ins, so some users will not be able to utilize it.

At the bottom of the interface are 4 knobs marked Pitch, Tracking, Detune, and Noise. Pitch allows you to transpose the incoming audio up or down three octaves in both semitones and cents. The Tracking knob controls how closely the resynthesized signal follows the incoming audio. Lower settings will give more synthetic/robotic results. Detune controls the pitch of a second oscillator that can be used to fatten up the sound by up to 1200 cents. The Noise control determines the balance between the oscillator and noise in the resynthesized sound. Turned all the way up, the plug-in will use only noise to replicate the sound giving a Kraftwerkian whisper effect.

Although the number of controls on offer here may seem spartan, Bitspeek is actually capable of a surprisingly wide range of manipulations. The quality is top notch and totally nails the sound of many a speaking toy those of us who grew up in the 80's will remember fondly. Although the most obvious application here is to process vocals with Bitspeek, you can use it on literally any mono audio signal with equally cool results. Unlike mere bitcrushers, Bitspeek can really tear apart a sound until it only vaguely resembles what you fed into it. You're damn right it's fun! If all that isn't enough to convince you, then the pricetag surely will. At only $29 even us starving artist types can add it to our plug-in folder without a second thought. Just get it already. You won't be sorry. [10/10]


papernoise said...

I got it right away when it came out, and I must say, It's worth every penny! Adds great retro-lo-fi-chisoundish character to every track! :)
And I agree, while it may seem pretty simple, its capabilities are quite broad!

Vlad said...

Hi Tom, got an OT question.
I made some patches for the Yellow Tools Independence Free VST sampler using your samples (and man I'm grateful for your sample fridays!) and would love to share them on KvR. May I do that -- of course referencing the source, your blog, whatever else information you see fit?

Tom said...

@Vlad - Yeah, so long as everything is clearly credited I'm fine with that...

Vlad said...

Thanks for permitting!
"Original samples created by Tom Shear. Used by permission of the author. Find more at http://waveformless.blogspot.com/"

Will that be sufficient?

Tom said...


Vlad said...

Here's the KvR post in case you'd want to share those in yor blog or whatever