The MIDIverb set new standards for low-price, high quality digital reverb. Can the MIDIfex do the same for even more digital effects? Curtis Schwartz reports.
Earlier this year Alesis launched their Midiverb, a 63 preset stereo digital reverb with a retail price of less than £400. It received a great deal of press acclaim and was equally well received in the shops. The key to its success isn't just the fact that it produces very high quality reverb for a very small price tag, but that those great sounds are so easy to access. Just select the patch number and all the sounds are there.
Now, only a few months later, Alesis have a new addition to their range, the Midifex. Almost identical to the Midiverb in size and shape, the Midifex is a stereo multi-tap digital effects processor, offering a large variety of long and short delay programmes, reverb programmes, and stereo image generating programmes.
It is actually much more than simply a digital delay or chorus unit; and if a conventional DDL was what you were expecting, then you may at first be a bit confused by its lack of the more conventional effects such as flanging or chorusing.
Multi-tap signal processors come in many shapes and forms, the best known and reigning king being Lexicon's 224XL may be forgiven for not having spotted one in your local music shop. The 224XL, however, is almost a standard piece of outboard equipment for the major studios as it provides not only the ultimate in digital reverb, but also a huge variety of unique delays, multi choruses etc; all with the ability to diffuse into reverb-like textures, rather than just an accurate reproduction of the original signal. It is in this way that multi-tap processors such as the Lexicon 224XL can be used to create and control 'space' in a mix.
Coming back to Alesis's this actually fits much more into the mould of the 224XL than your average DDL, as many of its delay programs are diffused (labelled AMB for Ambient) and its digital reverb settings are quite clean and 'unusual'.
The Midifex has 63 programmes which range from the longer ambient echoes to reverse and panning reverbs. Programme numbers 48 to 54 are reverb settings, although some of the thickener and repeat echos are so diffused to the extent that they could also be called reverb settings.
The first thing to point out about the reverb settings on the Midifex is that they are actually quite different to those on Alesis's Midiverb. They are as good in quality as the Midiverb's however they are more suited to providing specialised effects rather than, say, a straighter simulated plate reverb for lead vocals. The short gated reverb would be well suited for gated drum sounds, and the Bloom and Pan reverb settings are long and rich and ideal for pizzicato strings or the odd tambourine hit.
The legend on the top of the Midifex actually gives a good indication of what each patch sounds like. Each program is labelled with its type (Echo, Multitap, etc) as well as some further description of length, filter (if any), and texture. The maximum delay length is around 600ms (patch number 37), which one rarely would need to exceed, and many of the programmes are also filtered with either high or low pass filters or some form of band pass filter. Furthermore, the repeats are given yet more variation by either having an ambient texture, or some offsetting of delay times between the left and right outputs to give slight stereo spread to an actual panning effect.
MIDI programme selection is of course of enormous benefit to live users, yet it is also increasingly important in recording studios. There are now several MIDI mixing consoles, notably from manufacturers such as Soundtracs, Allen & Heath and Akai, which can be used in conjunction with MIDI sequencers in order to provide automated track muting. It is in these areas that a great deal of development is taking place, and MIDI outboard effects such as the Midifex and Midiverb are ideally suited to these applications. Patch change information can be sent to them along the MIDI bus from your master sequencer, which also increases the potential of smaller studios to provide semi-automated mixing.
The Midifex can be set to operate on any of the 16 MIDI channels. To increase or decrease your channel selection you simply depress either the up or down buttons whilst holding down the MIDI channel button. A little blip in the top left of the LED display then indicates that you are altering the MIDI channel number rather than the patch number.
On the rear panel are the two MIDI connections (In and Thru), and then there is the power supply input, two phono outputs, a mix control (between direct and processed signals) and two phono inputs.
Although the processor itself is not a stereo input device, the idea behind having the two inputs is that should you want to mix some of the direct signal through to the outputs, then the stereo imaging of the direct signals will not be summed into mono (ie you could put a stereo pair of backing vocals through the Midifex and the direct signal would still be in stereo at the Midifex's output).
Of the 63 programmes in the Midifex, the majority of them are of a very high quality and are very useable. When it came to be used in a mix, I had to choose between several equally good programmes, rather than not being able to find any good settings.
An example of the kind of situation that I found the Midifex to be very useful in was in 'uncluttering' a mix by sending what was quite a full keyboard line to one of the Midifex's Stereogen patches. This had the effect of spreading this keyboard sound out to the extremities of the sound field, leaving the centre of the stereo image more open.
If I had done the same with, say, a chorus effect (sending the direct signal hard right and the chorus return hard left), although the sound might have become richer, the effect on the mix would have been to remove some of the keyboard's definition, as well as to 'mush it up' when replayed in mono.
Actually, most of the Midifex's patches are very suited to mono playback, and do not have the undesirable effect of making an instrument more or less prominent.
What is interesting, and somewhat unfortunate as far as the shop sales of the Midifex are concerned, is that it is these kinds of considerations — how it will sound in mono and how it can help define sounds within a mix etc — that are not going to leap out at you when you try out the Midifex for a couple of minutes in your local music shop through a keyboard combo. It is only when you start using it for more specialised and critical applications that these hidden advantages come to light.
The Midifex is a somewhat unique product. Whilst Alesis's Midiverb is an immediately accessible and impressive unit, the Midifex is an altogether more subtle and potentially dynamic creature which over the past couple of weeks I have grown very fond of.
The Midifex complements the Midiverb very well, although I think that whilst the potential customer for the Midiverb has tended to be the small/medium home studios, the Midifex is the kind of thing that even 16 or 24-track studios will attract. A rack to mount both units together is available for a very reasonable £10.
Recording engineers are going to jump at the opportunity of having such a versatile selection of multi-tap effects at their finger-tips. Many of the Midifex's programmes would normally require the engineer to go through the laborious task of routing several delays, digital reverbs and parametric eqs through several input channels of the console etc, to produce the unique effects that the Midifex offers them at the press of a button.
Alesis Midifex - RRP: £395
Review by Curtis Schwartz
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!