Alesis MIDIVERB II
When it comes to the MIDIVERB II, Phil South discovers that sequels can sometimes be better than the originals!
Phil South discovers that sequels can be better than the originals.
This devil in 19-inch clothing comes from the people who brought you the MIDIVERB and Microverb, two outstanding products in a market where the words 'cheap' and 'quality' are rarely mentioned in the same sentence, let alone about the same product. It's the sign of a smart company when, instead of building a reputation on a couple of products and then sitting back for a round of applause, they proceed to make something better and cheaper than ever before.
The MIDIVERB II is a 16-bit digital reverb/effects unit, does a remarkable impression of a flanger, chorus, and reverb/echo, has 99 preset programs, 32 MIDI patch locations and will cost you only £429.
Taking the MIDIVERB II out of its box for the first time was a bit of a surprise. I'd always only seen it from the front and assumed it would have a very deep case, like most other 19-inch rackmounts I've seen. In actual fact it's a very trim box indeed, with three knobs on the front covering Input, Output and Mix, an LED display, and 14 'dead flesh' rubber pushbuttons. On the rear you've got a footswitch jack marked Defeat, MIDI In and Thru DINs, and a pair each of stereo Input and Output jacks, of the ¼" persuasion. Power is supplied to the unit by what looks like a calculator power pack, with a very thin cable terminating in a microjack, which plugs in-between the MIDI sockets and the footswitch.
Lurking on the PCB inside the MIDIVERB II is a 16-bit linear PCM convertor, running in a RISC environment with a custom-built VLSI chip (clocked at a snappy 8MHz) which, unless you've got ears like a bat, is as clean as you're likely to need, buddy. Seriously though, although anything you can't hear won't hurt you, having as little as 0.1% distortion isn't bad, and it gives you that ultra-clean, digital sound that people love so well. Some other interesting specs are as follows: the effect bandwidth is 15kHz, input impedance is about 1 Mohm per channel (making 500Kohms in mono) and it can take input signal levels of between -10 and +20dBv.
There are 99 preset effects supplied (plus defeat), featuring 29 very natural sounding reverbs, 10 gated reverbs, 10 reverse reverbs, 20 echoes, 10 flanges, 10 choruses and 10 miscellaneous effects. That's a lot of stuff, and it's all as easy to use as the remote control on your video. Okay, so you can't alter any of the programs, stepping the reverb up and down in infinitessimal graduations... but there are more different room sizes than you'll ever really use here, so who needs to, hmm?
The dynamic range, a statistic so frequently bandied about by audio salespersons, is a whopping 85dB. Right, so much for the physics of the situation, how does it sound?
All the technical stuff is very impressive, but means nothing if the effects bear no relation to real sounds. Fortunately, this is Alesis we are talking about, and their sounds are their fortune. The reverbs are, not to put too fine a point on it, as near perfect as I have heard. They glorify a sound in the way the old AMS models do. Reverb adds something to the timbre of a sound, making the tinniest samples whump and sparkle like the real thing, and just playing my worst DS:3 sequences through this machine was enough to convince me very early on that the MIDIVERB II was capable of doing this for most any sound. It's a bit like being able to press a button and spread 'instant class' all over your tracks; it's as simple as that.
There are all types of 'room environments' simulated in the programs, from rooms theoretically too small to get your head into, let alone a drum kit (Prog 1, Small Bright, 0.1 sec), to a room so massive you get agoraphobia just listening to it (Prog 29, XLarge Warm, 15 secs)! You realise quite quickly that one or two rooms have the sound you like, and you tend to stick to them. My favourite is the small gig with hard walls, having that live room sound to it (Progs 5 and 10, Medium Bright, 0.6 secs). Talking Heads in a preset, you might say.
The gated reverbs on the Alesis are modern sounding and some of the slower ones are downright weird, having a kind of wwWWWOOOOSSSHHHTTtt! sound on the end as the gate snaps shut. The fast gates are nice though, producing that real "Hey, we've got a very slick production" sound, and giving you access to some very (currently) commercial drum and vocal effects.
If I thought the slow gates were weird, I nearly popped my fruitloops listening to the reverse reverb programs through my headphones. D'you recall Elton John's 'Passenger' ('he want to get off')? D'you remember the massed voices that sang the hook line? Well, set the MIDIVERB II to Prog 43 (Reverse, 200msec) and it all comes back to you. By far the best setting on this bank has got to be Program 45 (and it's brother, 49) called Bloom. This sound is, according to the notes in the manual, unobtainable from any other affordable signal processor. When you hear it, you'll wonder how you ever recorded without it. The sound rises into a rich, diffuse reverb, then decays slowly and smoothly away for a full 7 or 8 seconds. Blissful!
Now then, the flanges are really something. Alesis have incorporated 'triggered flange' on three of the programs. What's that? Well, when you start the sound, and if it lights the green LED on the front panel, the sweep of the flange effect will begin. This is utterly brilliant, especially for strummed acoustic guitar, but does sound best on instruments with a good attack, like cymbals or a steady drum pattern. The sweeps become synchronised to the rhythm and the effect, if properly mixed, is quite addictive. The only drawback with this sound is resisting the temptation to put everything through it! The remaining flanges are all panned in stereo, and sweep across the audio picture with astonishing clarity.
Of the bank of chorus effects, all I can really say is that they did the job. None of them were particularly strident, but I guess it's not the place of chorus to be that way. They did sound smooth though, and they browned and thickened some of the stringier sounds I put through it. So if your string sounds want stuffing, goto Bank 6 and those chorus effects will turn your limp chicken into a fat rooster!
Roast dinner metaphor aside, they do the job of thickening a sound very well, and give that ethereal quality that only an expensive studio chorus could give you. Until now.
Banks 7 and 8 are devoted to delay, from a tiny 35 milliseconds to a ginormous (well, not quite) 460ms, covering most delay line needs. Although there are some regenerated echo effects on other programs (47 and 48 in Bank 4 and some really brilliant ones in Bank 9), these programs are just that, 'delay'. One repeat, then nothing. If you really want multiple repeats, then you'll have to do some fancy patching with your desk and push the gain up to get those psychedelic feedback noises. Otherwise, a very solid range of delay times, obviously selected by a man who knows which timings are useful and which sound just like the last one.
The final bank, Bank 9, is labelled EFX. In here are all the effects that the designer wanted to put in but couldn't feasibly fit into the other banks. 90-93 are delay 'tap' effects - 2 Tap Ambient, 3 Tap Pan, Multitap, and Multitap Reverse Pan. The titles pretty much explain what they do, but in brief they all feature a Tap delay, which is just a fast delay with two, three, or multiple repeats. The first is a twin repeat setting with a lot of stereo ambience; the next a triple tap which knocks in both ears for the dry signal, then left, then right, then left again. The Multitap is a good way of getting one mono voice sounding like many, with it's fast delay creating the effect of being surrounded by stereo clones of the dry signal; and the Multitap Pan is the same but incorporates one fast pan.
The next program, 94, is a Thickener: a frozen flange which lends itself to rich treble timbres like acoustic guitar. This is good because it performs the function of a flange or chorus without the sweeping noise in the background, making it clear and... well, thick! The next two, 95 and 96, are Stereo Generation programs. If you bung a mono sound into it, (you guessed right!) it makes it 'stereo', or - in the case of 96 - 'stereo wide', like the setting you used to get on the early Philips stereo cassette players to give you that 'big' sound on speakers which were terminally fastened together!
Finally, programs 97-99 are Regenerated Delays of 2, 3, and 4 seconds which, oddly enough, are just the right length for a well-timed repeat on most rapid rhythms. Well, most of those I tried fitted perfectly on at least one of them, and at worst sounded interesting on the others. Again, a very well thought out range, and more than enough for most people's needs, without the necessity for some kind of parameter twiddling. The last program is 00, which has the same effect as pressing the footswitch (not supplied) plugged into the Defeat socket in the back, ie. it kills the effect stone dead. Very handy if the 15 second reverb on Bank 2 is starting to give you a headache.
Like it's famous predecessor, the MIDIVERB, the II is MIDI compatible enabling you to transmit program change commands to the unit from the voice/patch selection buttons on your MIDI instrument, to call up effects remotely. But, with its expanded functions, you can also assign which channels the device will accept MIDI information on in one of two modes. In Mode 1, the MIDIVERB II will receive program change info sent on channels 01-16 and will access the assignable program numbers 01-32. In Mode 2, it'll receive program change information on any MIDI channel you send on and will access all 99 programs directly. In Mode 2 you can also send MIDI program number 100 to call up the 00 defeat program when you need instant silence quickly! Where this comes in particularly handy is if you aren't actually using the MIDIVERB II in a MIDI environment, but have purchased the Alesis MPX Patch Transmitter. This means you can use the MPX as a remote control to change programs for you while the II is in a rack in the studio, or indeed on stage, while you repose artistically by your keyboards or mixing desk.
So, given this veritable cornucopia of effects, what's the verdict? I know I've harped on throughout this review about the cheapness of the unit, but the fact remains that for a 16-bit multi-effects processor the MIDIVERB II does leave a remarkably small hole in your wallet. It's affordable, and the amount of programs cover just about everything you would want in a normal set-up. If you want anything whackier than the programs provided here, then you're probably inventive enough to get them by some other means anyway!
The MIDI functions are as near perfect as anything I've used, and no matter how I tried to trip it up, it worked like a dream. I'm really at a loss to suggest the drawbacks of this unit, because as far as I can see there aren't any I It does the job very well and is sure to prove reliable; what else can I tell you? You can even just stick a guitar straight into it and use it like a multifarious effects pedal, it's that versatile.
RRP £429 Inc VAT.
Distributed by Sound Technology Plc, (Contact Details).