Universal Audio OTO BISCUIT 8-bit Effects Plug-In by Diogo C
Product: OTO BISCUIT 8-Bit Effects
Formats: AAX/AU/VST Plug-In for UAD2 systems on Mac and Windows
Demo: fully functional for 14 days
Price: $249 (US Dollars, MSRP)
The scope: Released in limited quantities in 2010 by the Frenchmen at OTO Machines, the BISCUIT became a coveted effects processor unit among producers, thanks not only to its scarcity but mostly because of its gnarly sound and unique playability. The BISCUIT is based on a very special converters, which drastically alters the sound by reducing the input to just 8 bits. and each individual bit can be muted or inverted, delivering many different bit-crusher effects. Along with the bit-depth reduction comes the sample rate or “clock” reduction, which can be set all the way down to 250 Hz for super-aliased distortion. Add to that a drive circuit so you can push the signal even further, and to wrap the signal path there’s a sweepable resonant multimode filter. Dry and processed signals can be blended through the “naked” and “dressed” knobs, so it’s quite a powerful combination that’s been put together here, and the BISCUIT can go from subtle to insanely distorted in just a few tweaks. That’s isn’t all, beneath all of this there’s a powerful multi-effects engine called the “brain”, featuring waveshaper, delay, pitch shift and a step-sequencer for the filter cutoff frequency and resonance. The BISCUIT can operate with its own tempo by tapping the appropriate button or be synced to the DAW for easy rhythmic work, which is particularly useful with the delay and step- sequencer. Definitely a very clever and well-thought out box, and Universal Audio has done it justice by recreating the sound in full detail and they also took advantage of the plug-in domain facilities to implement a much-needed interface for the effects section.
The coveted hardware unit - no visual editors for the effects, which are accessed from the bit buttons
Sound quality: This is one absolutely lovely plug-in, if you like things dirty and distorted of course! It’s not only a fun bit-crusher but much more than that when the effects are added into the mix. I’ve grown particularly fond of the delay and sequencer but I can envision using all others in the future. It’s actually quite surprising how unique it sounds for a “bit-crusher plus filter” combo, which in principle isn’t exactly rocket science, but the parts selected for the hardware are what makes it sound so special. In this regard, the plug-in might be the easiest way nowadays since it’s long been sold out and due to lack of parts it might not be ever produced again, so we’re left with a limited amount of units out there, and I bet most owners aren’t willing to sell them or will rightfully ask for some good money. I won’t make the infamous “software versus hardware” comparison since I unfortunately never had the chance to play with the real BISCUIT unit, so all I’m left with are YouTube videos and audio clips from the web, but from those bits it’s safe to say that the plug-in nails that sound even though we debate if it’s identical or not, but it’s undoubtedly very close and it’s one fine sounding plug-in on its own right, regardless of any comparisons.
Ease of use: There’s a learning curve to be dealt with here, and how steep it will be will depend not only on each one’s background but mostly on their creativity and how they can make the plug-in work to their advantage. Perhaps the real challenge here is to find the right spot for the BISCUIT and not quite learning how to use it, which shouldn’t really be much of a problem. Universal Audio made things even easier in this aspect by breaking down the interface to include editors for the effects, something which would be quite an expensive thing to implement in the hardware, making the software version a lot easier to understand thanks to all the visual cues that are provided. As with all UAD plug-ins there’s a nicely written user manual is also provided in case you need further information. On the other hand, the BISCUIT immensely benefits from tactile, hands-on control, and the hardware unit is basically built around the idea of “playable” box, so I wholeheartedly recommend everyone to get whatever controller they can get in order to have such an experience. Unfortunately there’s no MIDI support so you’ll have to find a way around this. In my particular case I’ve used a Novation Nocturn, which is my generic controller for plug-ins and it suited the BISCUIT mostly fine, with mappings made through my DAWs (Bitwig and Studio One). One thing that I’ve missed on my controller was the bits reverse/on/off functions because the Nocturn could only work with two parameters, but it was way better than using the mouse and having the filter, drive, clock and naked/dressed mapped to the encoders made everything much more enjoyable. Lastly, the BISCUIT is not exactly a lightweight in the ranks and will take a third of a chip at 48 kHz, but it’s well worth that load.
Universal Audio took full advantage of the digital goodies to offer visual editors for the effects
Features: The BISCUIT is quite a packed unit for its category, and the plug-in takes it even further with the expanded interface, so in terms of features the plug-in is actually an improvement over hardware. When it comes to software we can always wish for more features, so maybe a set of input/output meters and trim knobs would be cool to have here, but I’m very much okay with what’s offered here. The only thing I miss here would be MIDI support because it would greatly facilitate mapping a controller to this BISCUIT, which have to be made elsewhere in case you want physical control, and as stated before this is something I really recommend everyone to do in order to make the most out of this plug-in.
Bang for buck: A rare case when there’s no alternative other than waiting for someone to give up on their unit, which should be more than enough incentive to get the BISCUIT plug-in given how closely it reproduces the sound character of the hardware, so if you ever wanted the hardware this is probably your best chance at the moment. If you’re not familiar with the hardware but you just happen to enjoy bit-crushers, and fun effects in general, then by all means give it a try. It’s really something you won’t find elsewhere.
Recommended for: UAD2 plug-ins are generally more associated with mixing than with electronic music production, but the BISCUIT and the Moog Multimode XL Filter Collection are very good reasons for electronic musicians and producers to look into the UAD2 universe. In this regard, electronic musicians are definitely the preferred target audience here, but DJs, producers and sound designers looking for a fresh take on the bit-crusher effect can also have a great time with this lovely plug-in.