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An effect that produces a characteristic distortion in a signal by sampling it at a reduced bit width. The bit width of a analog to digital converter has the effect of quantizing the voltage level of the signal from point to point; a low resolution bit width will transform the input signal into a staircase shape. Today, nearly all samplers and digital audio systems sample at a bit width of at least 24 bits, but early sampliers such as the Fairlight CMI and the E-mu Systems Emulator only sampled at 8 bits, due to the technology limitations that existed at the time they were designed. Over the past decade, vintage synth collectors and restorers, in re-vising these early samplers, found that they had a unique sound that differs from modern units, and this was the inspiration for bit crushing.

Compare with downsampling, which is often performed along with bit crushing.

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