Rob Papen BIT – Retro Replication
Rob Papen has a growing number of excellent products available now, so with the announcement of this old-school themed synth we very definitely wanted to look at it.
It’s been a while since we’ve played with a Rob Papen synth so I’m excited to jump in and have a good dig around.
BIT is an analogue modelled synth featuring a 16-voice duel oscillator engine, LFO, filters, envelopes and all the typical livery you would expect from a software synth.
Not specifically inspired by any particular hardware device, BIT is a melting pot of many early synthesis processes coupled with a few modern routing and modulation tricks.
As you come to expect from Rob Papen, BIT includes a massive selection of presets to get you started – over 950!
Right off the cuff BIT comes out swinging. This synth sounds absolutely monstrous. Though the first three of four patches are deliberately showy, there is a lot of fairly jaw-dropping presets to find in the patch browser.
Rob Papen synths all share the same excellent patch browsing system. It is simple, but it works. Arbitrarily left-clicking around presets allows for quick previewing sounds; saving the sounds you like as favourites is a breeze, which is good news as the huge collection would be a nightmare to juggle otherwise.
I particularly like how groups of presets are collected, for instance, there is Moogy Bass 01 through to Moogy Bass 18, not just 18 obscurely labelled bass patches. This makes for much easier recognition at a glance.
In typical Rob Papen fashion, the GUI is slathered with knobs and buttons making for some head-scratching as to what to do first. The layout workflow resembles hardware units like the Virus, but unless you’re familiar with such devices this will take some time to become familiar with.
Overall the interface leaves me a little cold, the crimson on silver look just doesn’t match the sound coming from it. It feels a little lazy, the same stock Kontakt assets are used again with the done-to-death faux brush aluminium fascia.
Happily, the device can be scaled up to 150 or 200%, which is great for everyone with larger monitors.
Once I got over the initial honeymoon period with BIT, it was back to tedious manual diving to start learning how to use this beast, and this is where the numb-brain effect kicks in. Learning these behemoth instruments can feel more like a calculus lecture than art creation, and I have to admit that trying to keep my eyes from glazing over and my thoughts focused on the complex inner workings was a struggle.
If you’re more interested in patch diving and just spinning knobs the previous Go2 synth might be a better option for you. But if you are happy to get your teeth stuck into this meaty instrument, you are in for a treat.
Patch surfing is fine, but to call yourself a guru synth-head you will need to be able to throw together a slamming sound at the drop of a hat. BIT is probably one of the easier synths on the market to program (don’t get me started on NI’s Reactor), and with a little basic synthesis knowledge, it won’t take long to grasp the routing and controls.
BIT certainly has an unmistakable analogue-like sound as advertised. Considering this is a digital plugin, I’m rather impressed with the close facsimile tone. A purist will probably pooh-pooh the notion this is analogue, as it clearly isn’t. But for convincing ‘Stranger Things’ tones or old school 70’s nostalgia, it’s about as good as you’ll get without dropping a lot of money on some dusty old hardware unit.
Most noticeable for me is how the lead sounds are big and warm, but still cut through a mix well – particularly a prog-rock style arrangement that I tested the synth with. While the EDM crowd will probably not choose to ditch their Serums and Massives to jump ship, anyone producing metal and hard rock might want to have a good look here. I found creating those awesome Jon Lord style solo leads no trouble at all.
While there is a good selection of classic emulations, your Mini Moogs and Jupiters, there is a lot of quite well done cinematic approximations from Blade Runner, Total Recall and other classic retro soundtracks. Whether this was intentional or just happenstance, either way, there is loads of character to be found.
Performance is excellent. Considering the number of functions at work, BIT hardly made an impact on our computer’s DPS meter. Of course, start pushing the effects and instance counts you’ll see some more activity, but overall even modest system will have no issues running the synth.
Another great title from Rob Papen, and one that stands out as authentic and flexible.
Though the market is awash in VST synthesisers right now, it is reassuring to see that the company is continuing to expand its line-up in new and exciting ways, making for a full gamut of products under the one roof.
The lacklustre interface is a shame, as I think many shop with their eyes and not necessarily their ears. Competitor products like U-He Diva, some of the sample-based libraries and even NI’s new Massive X might not outclass BIT sonically, but they visually they leave it for dead.
The $99 USD price tag feels about right, and while you could spend considerably more elsewhere, Rob Papen synths all sit around this price point. The savvy shopper will take full advantage of the Explorer-5 bundle that contains this and many other great titles (from $99, depending on how many titles you already own).
BIT does have it where it counts, and that is in overall performance and it’s convincing retro-esque pallet. While there is no real replacement for the real thing, I guess, it is difficult to walk past an extremely good emulation you can carry around in a laptop.
An old-fashion synth with contemporary functionality. Really, the best of both worlds in the box. Fantastic stuff.
Full details over on Rob Papen’s site www.robpapen.com
Header image courtesy of Chris Lawton@chrislawton
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