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Acoustic algebra

Digitech TSR-12

Article from The Mix, February 1995

Multi-effects, sampler and more!

The multi-effects market has been quiet of late, due in part to the renaissance in dedicated reverb and delay units. The lull is now over, as Roger Brown discovers with the Digitech TSR-12...

Multi-effects units ceased to be a cheap alternative to buying lots of different boxes a long time ago, and lately they've evolved into recognisable instruments in their own right.

Digitech have earned their place in the reverb hall of fame with their DSP series, and the TSR-12 is their latest stab at the multi-effects market. It exhibits the usual Digitech flair, incorporating a 1.5 second sampler and MIDI Program change transmission on all channels via its MIDI out port.

This makes it possible to remap program changes to devices connected after the TSR in the chain. The Digitech allows up to eight of its effects modules to be linked together to create those phase-shifting, pitch-shaping choruses and delays we have all come to know... and love or hate depending on the time of day, or just how many times we've heard that gated big reverb on everyone's latest tracks.

Basic kit

The TSR-12 comes with 32 preset algorithms, chaining together its various effects modules in pre-determined paths. These form the basis of the 128 preset patches which Digitech supply, to make this a plug-in-and-play module. A further 128 memory locations are provided, for storage of your own variations.

As multi effects units go, the TSR-12 is particularly well-specified. With a choice of: three reverb types; four delays; three choruses; four pitch shifters, including an arpeggiator; a 1.5 second sampler; a set of four EQs, including a 15 band graphic; modulation effects and a set of two noise gates, a ducker and a phase inverter, the Digitech could well make you just as dizzy programming it as some of its flanging and phaser effects will make you when listening to it.

The reverb types head the list, of course, although that's not where they come in the algorithms. Bigverb is hailed as the flagship of the module in the manual, and certainly lives up to its name. This is spacious and consists of 14 parameters, all programmable, giving a very wide soundfield with tonal shaping control over reverberation.

It obviously takes up a large part of the TSR-12's 24 bit internal processor time and, ably assisted as it is by the Digitech's 48 bit internal data busses, is only available in six of the module's 32 algorithms. In these it is accompanied by a maximum of three other effects (not counting the mixer stages), which the TSR-12 utilises to mix the outputs of the various parts of the chain.

MFXReverb is the slightly trimmer version of Bigverb, to be found in most of the multieffects algorithms which require this spacious effect. Offering only eight controllable parameters, it often outperforms its big brother, if only because it's not so large and doesn't need as much tonal sculpting. One of the Bigverb algorithms is coupled with the aforementioned 15 band graphic EQ, and this certainly proved to be the one to go for if you wanted to use Bigverb without it overwhelming your mix. Either that, or one of the Parametric EQs. MFXReverb, on the other hand, does the job on those FX patches which require phasing, chorus and delays, and offers a choice of nine room sizes.

Finally, to add some boom to those snares and toms, there's Gated Reverb. Here you are offered a choice of three envelope shapes; decaying, the norm; flat, for short percussive sounds and reverse for those famous reversed snare effects. With control over both reverb predelay and reverb accent delay, the reverse envelope allows placement of both the actual sound and the reverberations in relation to each other. This allows the TSR-12 to achieve a reversed reverb, where placement of the reversed reverberations before the actual sound is fine tuneable very simply, by adjusting the values on the two delay parameters.

Addressing envelopes

The decaying envelope, on the other hand, often doesn't require this accent point, although it can produce some very interesting unnatural sounds when this is activated.

For those short hi-hat sounds to which you wish to add sparkle, the flat envelope will prove to be your best friend, although you'll have to be extra-attentive to the decay time to avoid the resulting sizzle crowding out the mix.

Adding extra percussive effects is taken care of by four delays. Straightforward Mono Delay, a one-tap digital business heads a further two variations on the theme, in the shape of two
and four-tap delays.

Modulated Delay features pitch modulation for more subtle effects. Parameters available here for adjustment include the level, time and feedback, with an on/off setting for delay repeat hold, which will repeat the taps indefinitely until disengaged. All of these function simply and efficiently. There doesn't appear to be a tap enter function for determining the delay times, and neither are incoming MIDI clocks read, so it's out with the trusty calculator here.

A chorus line

For fattening up those pads, mono, dual and four-phase chorus offer a variety of chorusing effects, with the latter two providing exceptionally rich chorusing using multiple voices with different phasing characteristics. Dual Chorus uses two choruses set 180 degrees out of phase, for that simple fat chorus effect, while 4-phase Chorus contains continuously variable independent phase parameters.

The speed, depth and delay are all variable, and you have a choice of LFO waveform to control the pattern of the chorus effect. Sine produces a smooth chorus with even transitions in and out of the turnaround points, while Triangle is more linear, ramping the pitch up and down with no slowing at turnaround. These are the most useful for normal choruses, while the Exponential and Logarithmic waveforms are more dramatic in their effect on the signal, and produce some unearthly effects. Perfect for the soundtrack you're writing for that horror movie or doom laden CD-ROM game.

Pitch shifting is handled by a gang of four modules comprising a one and two-voice pitch shifter, a dual detuner for that subtle addition to the overtones, which adds natural richness to guitar and piano sounds, and an arpeggiator. The arpeggiator is of course simply a pitch shifter in the feedback loop of a delay. Every time a note is fed back into the input of the shifter, it is once again shifted and sent to the delay. A simplistic effect compared to sequencer arpeggiators, it is nevertheless excellent at producing arpeggios reminiscent of early analogue arpeggiators, if you use high feedback and short delay times for those ARP-like tones.

Detuning is one of the available programmable parameters here, and affords a gratifying amount of fine-tuning, to add a 'natural' edge to what can easily become a very shrill effect. The pitch shifters also boast a tracking feature, which controls the tracking speed of the pitch-shifted sounds. This should be set to an inverse relationship with the amount of shifting being performed. The higher the pitch-shifting interval, the lower the amount of tracking to increase sound quality.

Lost in space

Modulation effects include Tremolo, an Auto Panner, Dual Flange and Dual Phaser, the latter being the source of some excellent sci-fi effects. The tremolo is there, to imitate that old guitar amplifier effect, and comes with adjustable speed and depth parameters. Auto Panner is the modern relative of tremolo, modulating the sound from left to right at the given rate, rather than the level. Digitech boast that the Flanging is studio-quiet, and whilst some might dispute their accuracy on that score, the choice of waveforms does offer a degree of control over the smoothness of this effect, with the sine wave again producing the quietest transitions.

Flangers usually sound best with choppier logarithmic or exponential waveforms, and the Digitech's are no exception. Not as quiet in operation as the sine and triangle waves, they nevertheless produce the most usable weird effects. The Phaser similarly affords the most useful results with these waveforms. The Digitech really does excel at this sort of thing, and while I found this unit to be noisier than other similar units in my rack, it's certainly not the loudest either.

Duck soup

Noise gates and duckers are here too, to chop up your rhythms and generally mess about with your music. The gate is a particular delight to use, with its threshold setting linked to the off threshold, to maintain the same relative distance in dB between the two. The range is from -infinity dB to +infinity dB, so there's plenty of scope for adjustment here.

Finally, we come to the mixer modules. These confused me at first, until I realised it was the TSR's way of mixing the output of one module to the next when multiple outputs were involved, as in the case of 4-phase chorus.

At this point, I'd like to say that the TSR-12 is not the easiest of modules to get to grips with if you're the sort of person who likes to dive in and start creating your own patches straight away. A small LCD screen means algorithms with more than two modules have to be scrolled from page to page, left to right, in Digitech's continuously looping menu mode. This can easily lead to confusion, and I found myself returning to base by pressing the first arrow for 'next program' all too often. I suspect, however, that most people are not as mad as I am, and will be quite content creating variations on the supplied presets by simply adjusting delay times, et cetera. And perversely, this seems simpler than trying to create your own from scratch. You're tied to Digitech's own algorithms anyway, so why not? All you have to do to any patch is press the second right-arrowed button from the LED display for patch numbers, and you're straight into the scrolling pages of linked modules. A set of buttons to the right (again marked for Reverb, Chorus and so forth) call up the desired effect, and from here you follow the use of the right scrolling button again, to access the adjustable parameters for each module. With 256 memory locations already filled, and the second 128 a copy of the first, creating your own variations on these is a relative doddle.

The 1.5 second sampler is a useful addition and, once a sample is in memory, this will be retriggered every time an incoming audio message is received, along with whatever reverb patch you have selected. Very interesting for creating further chorused and phased effects, and the one feature on the Digitech that keeps me coming back for further experimentation.

The sampler is included in an algorithm of its own, with a noise gate and 15-band graphic EQ, allowing a considerable degree of tonal sculpting. Sample looping is simply selectable between manual, where an incoming audio signal will trigger the sample once, and auto, where the sample will loop until another trigger is received. Although sample loop points are not selectable in practice, this proved not to be such a handicap, and some very usable results can be achieved.

The TSR-12 is certainly an individual multi-effects box, both in its sounds and its configuration. Enticing features nestle alongside an oftentimes frustrating operating system, and curious lack of features, like tap time tempo enter, and unexpected bonus facilities (the sampler and mappable MIDI program changes spring to mind).


The usability of the TSR-12's presets, and its ability to link continuous controllers to effects parameters as well as volume and program changes, means very professional results can be obtained with a little effort. Its front panel is a curious mixture of old and new, with the large red program LED next to the small LCD display. The layout of its buttons strives for ease of use and almost achieves it, falling down only on that first section, the split LED/LCD screen. The latter's scrolling continuous menu is likewise a good idea which falls just short of user-friendliness.

Despite these niggles, the TSR-12 performs admirably, with a large, powerful output that can often add that necessary amount of inspiration by livening up an otherwise dull string patch or drum track. The presets are a well thought-out bunch too, offering everything from straight reverb through to spaced-out phasers, by way of Leslie organs.

The essentials...

Price inc VAT: £479.95
More from: Arbiter UK, (Contact Details)

Spec check

Inputs 1/4" unbalanced
Nominal level +4dBu
Maximum level +18dBu
Impedance 10kOhms unbalanced, 20kOhms balanced
Outputs 1/4" jack
Nominal level +4dBu
Maximum level +18dBu
Impedance 50Ohms
Frequency response 20Hz - 20kHz
S/N ratio >90dB
A/D & D/A converter 16bit PCM
Sampling frequency 40kHz
DSP 24bit

On the RE:MIX CD

Five of the TSR-12's multieffect patches are featured here. In each case, the dry sound starts things off, with the effect being brought up slowly by MIDI volume control. The patches used are as follows:

1. Auto swell pad
2. Dream flange
3. Phaser 1 v deep
4. Gate rev - long
5. Snare plate - large

There's certainly enough here straight out of the box to keep you busy for months, and who knows, perhaps you'll uncover a really good software editor for it by then!

Previous Article in this issue

Dream machine

Next article in this issue

Natural high

Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
More details on copyright ownership...


The Mix - Feb 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Mike Gorman

Control Room

Gear in this article:

Studio/Rack FX > Digitech > TSR12

Re:Mix #8 Tracklisting:

35 Digitech TSR-12

This disk has been archived in full and disk images and further downloads are available at - Re:Mix #8.

Review by Roger Brown

Previous article in this issue:

> Dream machine

Next article in this issue:

> Natural high

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