Several months after the MIDIVERB turned the world of stereo digital reverb on its head, Alesis look set for a repeat performance with their latest unit - a combination of digital delay, reverb and stereo enhancer. Paul Gilby seems lost for words.
Just a few months after the MIDIVERB turned the world of stereo digital reverb on its head, Alesis look set for a repeat performance with their latest unit - a combination of digital delay, reverb, auto-panner and stereo enhancer. Review: Paul Gilby.
Whether you have actually heard an Alesis MIDIVERB or not, one thing is for sure, you'll have heard of it! For the MIDIVERB is an important milestone in the development of reverb technology.
Alesis continue the good work with the introduction of another innovative product, the MIDIFEX, which in keeping with this company's short tradition, does for delay effects what the MIDIVERB has done for reverb.
The MIDIFEX is not merely a straightforward digital delay, for it offers 63 various preset programs that not only give you the obvious echoes and multi-tap delays, but also include some very different effects such as 'Reverse Regen Reverb', which is probably unique to the MIDIFEX. Sceptics will probably bemoan the unit's lack of programmability, but as with the MIDIVERB, this doesn't seem to pose any practical problems in the studio as the MIDIFEX offers such uncannily well chosen groups of delay settings that you always seem to be able to find just the right effect you are after.
All of the preset programs in the MIDIFEX display evidence of a very definite concern to move the sound around the stereo field, giving many of the programs a very lively feel with the sound either bouncing around from left to right or decaying into the distance from the centre of the stereo image. This use of 'stereo animation', for wont of a better phrase, provides dynamic effects that standard digital delays just can't match (especially not in the sub-£400 price-bracket) and it's here that the clue to what Alesis have actually done becomes apparent.
When mixing down a multitrack tape you'll no doubt be adding effects to certain tracks to produce the overall sound you want. These effects can vary in degrees from the simple addition of a little echo to a complex chain of individual effects all linked together to achieve that perfect sound. It's not uncommon practice in many studios to feed an instrument first through a noise gate, then a reverb unit and into an echo device, only for the treated signal finally to be routed back into the mixer for further tonal adjustment via the EQ. These sort of techniques are often referred to as 'production effects' which, whilst sounding particularly good, invariably tie up a lot of expensive pieces of recording equipment in order to produce a single effect for one instrument.
Alesis have cleverly designed the MIDIFEX programs to instantly supply many of these 'production effects' at the touch of a button. Most work from the principle of delaying the sound first then shaping it in some way and the end result is a selection of some 63 different stereo programs all generated from a single cost-effective box rather than by linking two or more units together. True economy indeed.
In essence, the MIDIFEX could be viewed as housing a digital delay unit capable of single, multi-tap and regenerated echoes; a digital reverb; equalisation circuitry with low, high and band pass filters; an auto-panner; noise gate; reverse sound circuitry, plus a stereo simulator. You should therefore be able to understand why the combination of any of these seven devices can offer such variation across the 63 MIDIFEX programs. These sound processors exist in the software rather than hardware, making it relatively easy to generate a flexible and powerful set of interesting effects digitally and most importantly, quietly. As the MIDIFEX does not physically chain effects units together, it does not suffer from the equivalent signal degradation and amalgamated noise problems generated by the input amplification stage of each effects unit in the chain.
It would be pointless to try and discuss each of the 63 programs as the difference between some of them is not only extremely subtle but also impossible to describe. So, as we must say something about the various effects it would be better to deal with them as groups of programs.
The first 21 programs are all single repeat echoes which are broken down into four smaller groups of long, medium, short and extra short repeat times. Within each different duration of echo there are variations in the stereo position of the repeat which is either dead-centre, ambient (meaning a slightly wider central image) or what Alesis term 'wide', where the single repeat is heard hard-left and hard-right simultaneously. This effect is particularly suited to keyboard-generated sounds such as strings and choirs as it fills out the stereo field very well.
The other main variations in the programs concern the tonal characteristics of the repeats and here you can choose from either flat, low pass, high pass or band pass filter response. How you choose the right echo and filter characteristic depends on the sort of sound you're treating, as some of them work very well on keyboards and guitars where others are more suited to vocals - it's just a case of listening.
The next 15 programs are dedicated to multi-tap delay effects with either two or three repeats at medium, short or extra short delay times. Again with differing filter types, but this time there's the extra bonus of automatic stereo panning on some program choices. Selecting a '2 Tap' program with panning gives you a repeat in the left and then right which is superb on some tom-tom patterns, whereas a '3 Tap' program bounces left then right and finishes in the centre. An excellent effect for guitar chords, brass stabs but fairly bizarre sounding on backing vocals.
There are 6 'Regen(eration)' programs available, which are similar to the single repeat echo programs but this time it sounds as though you have turned up the feedback level to produce multiple repeats which you can select to decay at either a medium, short or extra short rate. Dependant upon the input signal level, you can obtain up to ten repeats.
Still in the realm of delay time effects are the MIDIFEX's 5 'Slap' programs. As their title suggests these produce very tight slapback repeats (Hank Marvin fans take note!). In fact, some repeats are so closely spaced that it's difficult to discern a difference without doing an A/B comparison by switching the MIDIFEX out of circuit with its Defeat button and listening to the untreated sound.
Programs 48 to 57 contain some of the most exciting effects the MIDIFEX has to offer. The first (program 48) is the classic gated reverb sound so beloved by modern record producers, whilst program 49 is also a reverb program, this time producing an all purpose 'large hall' sound which is good on almost everything but is particularly beautiful on vocals and 12-string acoustic guitars.
'Reverb Medium Bloom' as Alesis call program 50, is quite extraordinary. It's a little difficult to describe but if you can imagine a sound breathing in and out as if it were mixed through a vocoder, then it's a little like that. It proved difficult to find a use for this one as the program doesn't suit every type of musical application, but it is superb for creating ethereal moods when you find the right sound to use it on.
Of the remaining reverb programs, the 'Reverb Medium Pan' effect is exciting in the way that it throws the reverbed sound across the stereo image creating a swirling sensation and, finally, the 'Multi-Tap Reverb' is interesting in the way it gives two repeats simultaneously left and right within a small-sounding room. Try it on fluid, multi-note guitar solos and you'll wet your pants!!
The last few programs in the MIDIFEX are all enhancement types that either thicken up the sound or turn a mono input source into stereo ('Stereogen'). These are all very useful on vocals and can help transform a lifeless, thin voice into a full-bodied one.
As I mentioned at the beginning, it's a little difficult to explain some of the aural delights the MIDIFEX has on offer, so I hope this short taster has served to whet your appetite. Words simply can't do justice to a device like this.
Basically the MIDIFEX is excellent. Alesis have come up with a unit that complements their MIDIVERB in every way. The fact that the MIDIFEX also boasts a few tasty reverbs of its own would, on first impression, seem to put the MIDIVERB in the back seat, but that's not at all the case. Granted those Alesis people have given the MIDIFEX a good gated reverb and a large hall reverb, but they are by no means a replacement for the 63 that the MIDIVERB has to offer. The MIDIFEX reverb programs are of the same high quality and should serve to give those people who opt for the MIDIFEX first a taste of what they can expect from the MIDIVERB.
From a user point of view, the MIDIFEX offers a good choice of very usable effects with plenty of variation and life to them. Any one of the panning echo or reverb settings will certainly add excitement to a recorded (or live) guitar and wake up even the most docile of keyboard sounds.
The sound quality of the effect is, of course, of the utmost importance and Alesis have done well in this area too as the bandwidth and noise levels cause no problems whatsoever. All the effects are in full stereo and can be selected automatically via MIDI program change numbers (as on the MIDIVERB) transmitted by a MIDI keyboard or sequencer. And now that there's a twin in the family, Alesis have sensibly introduced their rack adaptor which houses two units side by side in a standard 19" rack and sells for under a tenner!
So, to sum up, the MIDIFEX is another winner from Alesis.
£395 inc VAT.
Review by Paul Gilby
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