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Roland DEP-5 multi-effects
Julian Colbeck brings you the key facts on Roland's improvement on the SPX90.
Julian Colbeck - fresh from a rousing chorus of 'Altogether Now' - reflects on the combined effects of the Roland DEP-5 Digital Effects Processor.
Even the dullest of keyboards spring to life on being watered with a touch of reverb, splashed with a hint of delay, or swirled about a bit with a touch of chorus. This is no secret, of course, but signal processing can be an expensive and time-consuming business.
Whereas a studio can (and indeed has to) invest in all manner of dedicated 'effects' in order to survive, it's all too tempting for keyboardists to stretch themselves to maximum on instrument purchases, leaving themselves with little time or money not only for signal processors, but for decent amplification, proper stands, MIDI boxes: items, frankly, that sort the men out from the boys.
And indeed for those who have hung fire to date on some of the above, Roland's latest little wheeze is here to remind you that buying a new instrument is not the only way of moving up a class. Courtesy of one reasonably priced unit (£675) you can now savour the, to a large extent, simultaneous delights of digital reverb, parametric EQ, delay or chorus - headings, by the way, that barely begin to describe the range of goodies available in Roland's aural treasure chest, the DEP-5.
With the DEP-5 Roland seem to have cracked several old chestnuts that have put people off buying signal processors in the past. The first being, to coin a phrase, user-hostility.
Whereas most modern DDLs or digital reverbs are generally devoid of dedicated knobs and switches (most often you are presented with a display screen, keypad, value editor, and little else), the DEP-5 positively bristles with an inviting array of brightly coloured (and in the main, self-explanatory) control knobs. And, most importantly, these have not been chosen in preference to the more accurate digital access control, but rather the two work in conjunction with one another.
The second potential turn-off has been expense and access; too much of the first, too little of the second. Even on such wunderkinds as Yamaha's SPX90, such 'multi effects' as that machine can muster happen one at a time. Accordingly, if one device is going to devour your entire budget you will be forced into such impractical recording corners as choosing between EQ or reverb... at times about as handy as choosing between a car and petrol!
"With the DEP-5 Roland seem to have cracked several old chestnuts that have put people off buying signal processors in the past."
Here, however, courtesy of 11 algorithms (combinations of effect, and signal flow) the DEP-5 allows you to have, say, reverb with EQ, delayed reverb, a chorused reverb, etc etc. And, even if you are working in a studio blessed with REV-7s and SDE3000s, I can assure you this facility is bloody useful.
Having said that though, the DEP-5 does still have some limitations.
Although as a digital reverb unit, or a chorus, it is well up to (or even beyond) scratch, there is only one parametric band of EQ, and you should not confuse the machine's delay capabilities with those of a fully-fledged DDL - especially when being used with reverb.
And now for the dry boring bits... The DEP-5 is a 1U rackmount design, with stereo inputs and outputs. Using 28-bit internal processing and operating at 12kHz bandwidth the sound quality, on paper, is impressive. The quality, aurally, is also impressive with less of the asthma-attack digital 'wheeze' to which the REV-7 and the SPX90 are prone. Combination settings are stored in 99 memories, 29 of which are preset. However, you can assign a full 128 MIDI patch numbers which, for the MIDI-conversant, will save a lot of re-jigging when it comes to matching instrument programs to patches in the DEP-5.
"Combination settings are stored in 99 memories, 29 of which are preset."
The first thing you do with any such 'new toy' is simply flip through all the preset programs and see what's what. The second thing most will probably do is simply get on with writing a song or re-recording their favourite piece such is the DEP-5's instantly invigorating effect on one's playing. The next step, having found a setting which you've 'blissed out' on for half an hour, is to lunge at the Bypass switch to remind you of just how far your original sound has been taken. Well you'll get a bit of a shock here since the DEP-5 will simply switch off!! For some totally inexplicable reason Bypass and On/Off share a button. The only way round the problem is to use a footswitch: an optional (and some may say, irritating) extra. Still, the DEP-5 in toto more than makes up for this oversight.
This part of the DEP-5 is fundamentally divided into four types: Room, Hall, Plate, and Special, controllable by the large Reverb Select button to the right of the display. More specific parameters are governed by three dedicated control knobs faced in blue. They are Pre-delay, Reverb time, and High Frequency Damp the - latter doubling as Gate Time controller when non-linear reverb (a la AMS) is on call.
Operating these guys is really easy-peasy. Twiddle a knob and immediately the screen displays your value change and then reverts back to its normal operational mode displaying effect combination, patch number and the like. It may come as a shock to discover that the reverb is not reverb. It can be coloured, shaped, lengthened, and delayed to suit any application.
The thing here is that all options are presented clearly and understandably. There simply are not enough distinct functions in which to get lost. (Yet, at any rate.) That said, the options are plentiful with a possible 99 second decay, gated reverb, reverse effects and pre-delay. And we haven't even come on to the EQ. All manner of reverb types - from large auditorium and long hall (as opposed to long haul) plate settings to a whole range of room types: kitchen (no joking), small bright room, large bright room, and tiled room-have been preset into the machine which even the rankest amateur will be able to tweak to perfection in a matter of seconds if they so desire.
"...the reverb options are plentiful with a possible 99 second decay, gated reverb, reverse effects and pre-delay."
As I said, the display will revert to 'normal' after any knob-tweaking. If, on the other hand, you really want to spend time on a parameter value change then the Value button can be pushed and whichever parameter you're working on will appear permanently on the display. This might all sound a bit long-winded but in practice such a system is a godsend.
This same system applies to the digital chorus part of the DEP-5, governed by three familiarly-named control knobs: Feedback, Rate (0.3-10Hz), and Depth. Well, I'm a sucker for 'chori' I know, but the range and quality of these modulatory effects (chorus, phasing, pseudo-flanging) is first class.
The chorus control knobs also govern EQ - in EQ mode. As I said, only the Mid control is parametric (push button frequency and Q selected) with each of the three frequencies capable of a 12dB cut or boost at 100Hz, 10kHz and sweepable 300Hz-12kHz.
EQ-ing of effects can be as important as the effect itself. With just three bands of EQ to work on, the DEP-5 may not rival a dedicated parametric equaliser but it certainly helps you tailor your effects to an extent unknown on most dedicated delay or reverb devices.
"The dedicated control knobs.... make the tailoring of presets... a cinch!"
Above all, the DEP-5 is versatile and fast to operate. The dedicated control knobs reduce one's display-squinting time considerably and make the tailoring of presets (as opposed to fullblown programming) a cinch!
The applications of such a device are numerous. I have been using one in a 16-track studio, mainly on a snare drum, for which I have fiddled about with a delayed plate reverb treatment until it is positively yummy. But keyboards, obviously, are the prime target, and even if you don't want to do any fiddling, the wide range of presets and factory programs seem to make older instruments (like my Juno 60 for instance) sound new, fresh and vital once again.
In the final analysis, although the DEP-5 is made up from several distinct forms of signal processor, its real beauty lies in combination effects whose sum-total is hard to define. And ultimately, when (or if) you outgrow it, finding that you now need the precise control that only dedicated single-effect signal processors can offer, there will still be a place for the Roland DEP-5 - as simply a magical box of tricks to provide a bit of fairy dust on a keyboard part, on a snare, on an effect... I think you'll have a long wait if you're looking to pick one up secondhand.
MRP £675.00 inc VAT.