OTO Machines’ BISCUIT is new 8-bit effect processing hardware from a boutique design firm in Paris. The essential effect is all 8-bit: using 8-bit converters and processing, you can add crunchy, digital waveshaping, delay, pitch shift, and step filter effects. But because those processes produce distortion and aliasing, BISCUIT combines its 8-bit effects with an analog resonant filter. (It’s switchable, so if you want to retain all the artifacts, you can – but you also have a filter at the ready.)

The whole design is a lovely exercise in reducing a set of sound capabilities to their most essential elements. The appearance of the front panel, though, is deceptively simple. Multifunctional uses, all provided within the eight buttons at bottom and the parameter controls at top, allow effects from filtering and basic bit reduction to wild, radical bit destruction, step-sequenced filtering, delay, and even a little synthesis.

The BISCUIT is also fully MIDI-enabled: every control sends MIDI, and every function receives MIDI CC. Critical to its step-sequenced and delay functions, BISCUIT receives MIDI clock, as well, or you can use tap tempo.

Finally, quality and local production figure prominently in the OTO: the company advertises that they don’t outsource production and work entirely with local companies in France.

Price: EUR529 including VAT (so 442,30 if you’re outside Europe). Available now:
http://www.otomachines.com

That’s pricey, I know, but it also packs as much sonic power as a collection of several Moog effects – and likewise might be the only effects box you need.

And, oh yeah – the future of BISCUIT may provide more than it does now.

I got to look more closely at the BISCUIT (think “bis-QWEE” as in French), at least on paper. I’ve also had the chance to talk to one of the creators about the evolution of this box, which reveals something of the process of hardware creation in general.

First, let’s take a closer look at the hardware.

Inside the Hardware

Onboard controls include:

  • Drive: Input gain, up to +15 dB (which can clip your sound prior to conversion)
  • Naked: dry signal
  • Dressed: 8-bit (wet) signal
  • Filter controls: set to green (low-pass), yellow (band-pass), or orange (hi-pass), then adjust cutoff (20-15kHz) and Q
  • Brain: changes the function of the rectangular switches at the bottom, between selecting parameters and muting/inverting the 8-bit signal
  • Clock: 250-30kHz sample clock frequency
  • Bypass: a true relay bypass
  • Switches 1-8: mute or invert your 8-bits, select effects and parameters, and recall presets/snapshots

The main issue is that it’s using the 8 rectangular switches along the bottom of the unit that most directly shapes the sound, by allowing you to set each bit independently – literally, the eight bits of the signal itself. Switch off “Brain” mode, and you can directly manipulate the bits of the signal, then mix that signal with your dry source.

The presets portion can incorporate all of your own presets, with 16 slots and SysEx dump functions for storage and recall on your computer. (Hmmm, may be time to dig up an editor/librarian tool, or make a new, simpler one.)

I/O:
Unbalanced 1/4″ inputs (2x mono L+R)
Unbalanced 1/4″ outputs (2x mono L+R)
MIDI in, MIDI out
9V AC adapter

Form factor:
Metal case
1.27 lb (580g)
7.48″ x 2.36″ x 4.60″ (190mm x 60mm x 117mm)

Interview with the Founder/Creator

I talked to Denis Cazajeux, creator of BISCUIT, about his work.

It took time to design this device. I started by building stompboxes in my kitchen under the name Cazatronics (http://www.myspace.com/cazatronics). I built some MIDI controllers, SID and FM Midibox synths (I lover [MIDIBox creator] Ucapps !), analog reverb stompboxes…

Few years ago, I built a box in a plastic butterdish, to simulate the sound of an old Fairlight CMI, but without have to sample through this machine.

The idea was simple: use an 8-bit AD converter with a parrallel output, and connect these 8 outputs to an 8-bit parrallel input DA converter. The sampling frequency was controlled by a special pot. You could pass sounds from a modern hardware or sofware sampler through this box to get an old-school 8-bit sampler sound.

I discovered that I could get some very harsh and radical digital distortion by simply mute (always 0) or invert (a 0 becomes a 1 and the opposite) one or several of the 8 lines between AD and DA converters. The initial box was then upgraded with 8 toggle switches, each with 3 positions (on, mute and invert).

As the sound can become very strong and aggressive, I added a 12db/octave low-pass filter with a Q control.

I forget a little bit this box in my kitchen for some years. One day, I met an engineer/producer in a vintage studio near Paris, where I worked as a sound engineer and maintenance tech. We shared the same passion for music, electronics, lo-fi, 8-bits,… (Thanks for your blog, we really love CDM and have a look on it few times a week!).

He loved the 8-bit box and we started the idea to sell this thing, as there were no other things like that on the market (except Frostwave Sonic Alienator). It took me 2 years to set the company, find the money, improve the initial design (MIDI, stereo, FX, multimode filter, pads instead of toggle switches,…), find subcontractors…

I wanted a strong box, with soft switches similar to a monome, customs knobs…

There’s more than 350 components inside BISCUIT, most of them are SMD (Surface Mount Devices) to keep the product small and not too much expensive. This is small and local economy: all parts (electronics boards, metalwork, pad and knobs design, packaging…) are made in french factories (most of them are in Normandy). Each Biscuit is assembled by our hands and tested by our ears in our workshop.

Input gain (Drive pot), little mixer (Naked and Dressed pots) and filter are analog, but with digital control (using Maxim digital pots IC’s), so you can memorize some presets and have a MIDI control.
I choose to use hi-quality parts (Panasonic low signal relay for bypass, Polypro Caps for filter, Neutrik jacks, linear -8v/+8v power supply…).

Digital processing (waveshapers, delay, pitch, bit manipulations) is pure 8-bits, using a simple Microchip PIC microcontroller. Delay and pitchshifter use the internal PIC RAM (3kB !).

The PIC microcontroller can upgrade its firmware, using a MIDI SysEx utility (SysEx Librarian for MAC users or MIDI OX for PCs).

All firmware upgrades are for free, as a simple SysEx file to download from our website.

In case it wasn’t evident from the gorgeous design of the case and associated graphics, yes, there was a significant design collaboration behind all of this, says Denis:

We worked with graphic artists H5 (http://www.h5.fr/).

They design the:

OTO and BISCUIT logo,
Knob design,
Silkscreen drawing,
User Manual layout.

They work in advertisment for companies such as Dior, Yves St Laurent, Audi…but also for music (record cover and videoclip) : Air, Royksopp (“Remind Me” videoclip), Massive Attack, Goldfrapp, Etienne de Crécy, Alex Gopher,…

They did a very nice job for us so I wanted to talk about them!

Producer/engineer Stéphane Alf Briat is the partner with Denis, and the man who prompted actually releasing BISCUIT as a product.

Let us know if you have further questions for Denis. This is far more information than I usually do for a product preview, but it’s fantastic, of course, to be provided with this much detail. It looks like a fascinating design, and I can think of a couple of friends I expect will want one. More coming soon.

http://www.otomachines.com

  • Dave Onions
  • http://www.kidwithoutradio.com/store edison

    this is really amazing sounding…

    great box!

  • http://afuera.me.uk/ ssam

    I love that '8 bit sound' is now a selling point! I wish I could go back to 1990 and try to convince someone that this would happen!

  • http://www.myspace.com/plyci Plyci

    I am salivating!

  • http://www.tranzfuse.com Adam S

    Sexy.

  • Andrew Zero

    damn it my wishlist was long enough!

    the major chiptuners will grab one i would wager

  • jake

    sounds not very good, people are still obsessed with bit crushing?

  • Genjutsushi

    absolutely gorgeous. If only i had limitless amounts of cash then i could afford one of these, an analogue rack synth, a monome, a Mackie PA rig, and a Teenage Engineering OP1. Drooooool.. again. add to wish list!

  • Todd Fletcher

    Kind of off topic, but that video was really excellently done. I wish more product demo videos were this good.

  • rogerbtorn

    shit yeah!

  • JDG

    @Todd Fletcher – I was thinking the same thing! Great video, demo videos really should be like that more often. Also, the dude in the video (Mr. Cazajeux?) is British in a completely awesome and appropriate way for the vid.

    Outstanding!

    Oh yeah, and the box is super-cool and sexy. :-)

  • Crix Madine

    I'm really loving all the awesome boutique music gear surfacing these days. The Biscuit sounds great! But I will say that it's sample rate reduction capabilities sound *very* characteristic of Elektron's SRR feature. So if you own an MD or MM, you basically have the Biscuit sound already but with parameter locking and LFO capabilities among many other things. But there is something to be said for dedicated hardware and the Biscuit seems to hit that really well for 8-bit crunchiness at a much lower price point.

  • http://www.wiretotheear.com/ Oliver Chesler

    Sounds and looks great!

  • s ford

    is it me or that a super distortion pedal with midi? not that is a bad thing btw. i reckon it could do with a version with a on and off switch for guitarists as such.

    i'd love to have a go with the oto and a guitar, i reckon it could produce some very interesting tones… that, a loop, a delay could produce some very strange sounds….

  • anon

    very nifty… but at over $600 i'll stick to the bit reducer and filters on a cheap roland s760 or amiga xD

  • aidan

    amazing device and design! I'm pretty happy with my thoroughly ghetto where's the party at sampler though…

  • aidan

    amazing device and design! I’m pretty happy with my thoroughly ghetto where’s the party at sampler though…

  • nitemunk

    I got one of these from Schneiders last week, and I have been pleasantly surprised. The box that it came in (you can see it on the table in the video), the instruction manual, the unit itself, all speak of quality and effort. In use, the mixing section makes it as subtle or dominant as you like, with the various 'bonus' effects really adding to the experience. It plays well with my T-Resonator, too.

    More, sil vous plait!

  • http://www.inoutfest.org active

    now question, perhaps i missed this, but can you layer the effects? or is it only the delay, or filter, or super distortion? it seems like you can layer them which totally makes this worth while…

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Comments not relevant to this post have been deleted.

    Seriously, I can take criticism – that's cool – but when this gets out of hand, you guys do know I have admin privileges and you don't, right? ;) I don't want to have to shut down comments like Engadget did. If it's just about this blog and not anything about the post, go start your own blog; no one's stopping you, least of all me.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @active: I took a look through the manual, but I'm not totally clear on how layering works; I'll ask.

  • Ugh

    Oh man, i wanted to see what the hubbub was about!

  • infradead

    http://www.otomachines.com/BISCUIT-usermanual.pdf

    even the manual is lovely.

    from a design standpoint this seems overall really well thought out. and it sounds so nice as well. do want… do want

  • http://woolyss.com/chipmusic-hardware.php jikoo

    Wow ! Very nice !

  • grimley

    Active, according to page 13 in the PDF you can only activate one effect at a time. Sounds great though.

  • nitemunk

    It is possible to have the 'bitcrushing' happening while also using one of the digital effects (delay, pitch shifter, or waveshaper) and then being able to sweep the filter manually. Plus a lot of parameters are adjustable in real time as you can toggle between the two operating modes via the Brain switch. It can get very involving, and speaking as someone who is not a fan of glitchy, bit-crushy music, I am really impressed with this box. Plus, I will still have it in ten years, unlike every piece of software that I have or may get. Worth the investment…

  • grimley

    I want it but for now I'll try to mimic it:
    http://electro-music.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=28

  • Zoopy

    God this thing is fucking gorgeous… I want more beautiful electronic manglers…

  • Polite

    It's a bit of a shame there isn't an lfo on this thing. Sexy otherwise.

    Does anyone know of any pedal style bit crushers? I really want one for my electronic drum kit, but the closest i've found have been more along the lines of overdrives with half-assed filters on them. They are amazingly hard to find.

    It's annoying because i used to have an awesome bitcrusher effect on my roland jx-305 which crashes on me, now.

  • http://www.billthompson.org prof_lofi

    @polite

    I own the wmd geiger counter and it's a great bit crusher in pedal form. highly recommended: http://wmdevices.com/geiger.php

    Bill

  • http://debsinha.com deb

    ok, that was a great demo video. particularly great—the dude.

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  • http://hardsync.blogspot.com/ Exsurdo

    I like a lot the idea (and effect) of individual control over each of the 8 bits. It's the first time I see this, I hope will see this idea take form in software soon!

  • Trustle

    FYI..Bitcrush and filter are always active, and you can add ONE of the WAVESHAPING PITCHIFT and DELAY..

  • Yann Donnelly

    Easily the best product demo I have ever seen (strobe lampshade teehee!)

    Otto have a winner here…

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