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Alesis Midiverb

Article from Home & Studio Recording, April 1986

An unbelievable digital reverb at an even more unbelievable price.

At last — a digital reverb that's affordable for the home user and at the same time impressive enough to appeal to the discerning professional user.

Sound Technology may be a relatively new company, but in the past year they have established themselves as one of the UKs leading names in the recording equipment field. It was a brave move to import the relatively unknown Alesis range of equipment but it now seems clear that the design team there are set to create trends, not follow them.

Last month we looked at the Alesis XT:C digital reverb which proved to offer outstanding value for money in terms of both sound quality and technical specification but now, only four weeks later, they have launched a product that may well be the XT:C's most serious competitor.


The Midiverb breaks from tradition in a number of areas. It has no user variable parameters. Instead it offers 63 preset reverb effects ranging from 0.2 to 20 seconds decay time with a selection of gated and reverse programmes. All 63 presets may be selected via MIDI and correspond to patch change information in the range 0 to 62, but don't worry if you don't have any other MIDI gear, you can still change the presets from the front panel and the number of the preset called up is displayed on a dual digit LED display. Also under user control is the MIDI channel on which the Midiverb receives its patch change instructions and this can be set anywhere between one and 16.

Another area in which convention has been ignored is in the physical design. This must be the only non-rack mountable digital reverb on the market. The plastic case must have cost a small fortune to tool up but the fact that this machine is already selling in record quantities in the USA means that the benefits of mass production will help to keep the cost down. Indeed the RRP of this machine is less than that of any other digital reverb I can think of, and yet the performance makes it a serious competitor to machines costing hundreds of pounds more in terms of sound quality alone.


The Midiverb is housed in a stylish but simple plastic case measuring a mere 8¼ x 8¼ x 1½, and looks very much like the remote handset used on some of the pricier units. Indeed it's designed to be used in this way, except for the fact that there's nothing on the other end of the cable apart from a small power supply. There is a threaded insert in the back of the unit, presumably for stand mounting, and all the preset effects are listed on the top panel for easy reference.

"I could enthuse about this product for hours..."

Such controls as there are are mounted on a recessed front panel and these consist of four buttons, a display and two level indicating LEDs. Defeat is as you might expect a system for killing the reverb output without muting any dry signal which may be passing through the unit though you can also turn off the effect via MIDI by selecting a patch number above 63. When defeat is active, the display shows two horizontal lines.

The button labelled MIDI Channel causes the display to read the MIDI channel selected rather than the program number and in either case, the Up/Down buttons are used to modify the value as desired. Lastly we have the input level meter. Because this unit has such a good signal-to-noise ratio offering a dynamic range in excess of 80dB, the input setting is not as critical as it might otherwise be so there are just two LEDs; a red one and a green one. The red LED is an indication that the input level is too high whilst the green one illuminates 12dB before clipping and so the correct setting is arrived at when the green LED lights but the red one does not. In practice you can get away with allowing the red LED to flash briefly on peaks but this doesn't leave you much headroom.

On the back panel we have tedious things like inputs, outputs, MIDI and a power connector but there's also a Balance control for setting the ratio of dry to reverbed signal. Unusually, all the signal connectors are on phonos rather than jacks which may seem a bit strange at first but it does give you the opportunity to use thinner cable and to tie it into a harness so that the Midiverb can indeed be used as its own remote control.

Like the XT:C, the reverb output is in stereo and is derived from a mono input. There are two inputs for stereo use and the way that this works is that the dry signals emerge from the outputs still in stereo but the reverb is derived from a mix of the two inputs. If used with a mixing desk you'd probably use only one input and set the Balance control to give only the reverbed part of the signal so that this can be remixed with the original signal in the desk either by using the effects returns or spare input channels. There is no input level control; it's assumed that you will adjust the input level using the send controls on your mixer or in the case of live use, amplifier.

"What really surprised me though is that there really weren't any effects that I wanted that I couldn't get..."

Technically Speaking

Firstly a word about specifications and what they mean. This unit has an 80dB dynamic range (largely due to its use of 12-bit sampling) which implies that it will be pretty free from background noise. In practice this turned out to be true with the hiss and hum generated by the effects send circuit in the mixer swamping any noise that the reverb may have generated. If you grossly underdrive the Midiverb so as to bring up its own residual noise, this seems to be nearly all quantisation noise, which reduces in level as the reverb dies away. The outcome of this is that what little noise is produced is well and truly buried under the reverb and even this dies away when there is no output from the unit.

Frequency response is something that a lot of people get worked up about but it isn't so important with reverb as it is with delay, the reason for this is that natural sounding reverb contains very little in the way of extreme high or low frequencies. The Midiverb uses a 10kHz bandwidth and though this would be sneered at in a DDL, it produces very bright reverb effects when required to do so.

But you might justifiably ask how this is all possible in so small a box and at so low a cost? Well, it's largely down to RISC, which is jargonese for Reduced Instruction Set Computer. As reverb programmes need to perform a lot of mathematical calculations quickly, there's no point in using a slower processor that is capable of all kinds of tasks that it will not be called upon to perform. By using a stripped down, more streamlined processor, the maths can be done much more quickly and the outcome of this is a more dense, more natural reverb.

In order to make the unit compatible with a wide variety of recording gear, the input sensitivity has been set at -10dBm and the input impedance is 50KΩ. Thus you could plug a guitar directly into the unit at a pinch, but you'd be better off using the Midiverb in a conventional effects send/return loop. Either way it makes it a perfect match for home recording equipment. The output impedance is low so you shouldn't have any matching problems there either.

"...Alesis have really brought digital reverb within reach of the 4-track owner..."


MIDI In and MIDI Thru sockets are also to be found on the rear panel of this unit but there is no MIDI Out. This is of course because our Midiverb is in effect taking orders, not giving them. There is no way to set up which preset is selected by which patch change number... that is fixed. Depending on your synth or sequencer, preset ten for example will respond to either patch change ten or nine depending on whether your other MIDI device starts counting from one or zero. Basically, what this means is that if you are using a synth to select reverb effects to complement its own stored sounds, you'll have to store the synth sounds at the patch numbers corresponding to the effects that you want on the Midiverb. With a MIDI sequencer though you will not even have to do this as you can call up any patch change you like on a separate channel to those on which your synths are operating. More and more studios are realising the advantages of using MIDI sequencers locked to a timing track on tape to expand the capabilities of their studios and the Midiverb makes this type of technology more accessible to the lower end of the market which after all is where everyone starts. One can also see the potential of this unit for use in conjunction with the new breed of MIDI-compatible drum kits such as those produced by Simmons and Roland and then there is the new generation of MIDI guitar amps such as the Dynacord unit to consider.

In Use

Patch changing using the Up/Down buttons proved to be very quick as holding down one of the buttons causes the program number to count up or down very rapidly and in this way you can get from number one to 63 in a matter of seconds. That's all very well but what are these presets and don't they restrict the flexibility of the unit? I must admit that I was a bit worried on that score, but having spent some time with the machine, all such worries have evaporated. What you have are 50 basic reverb settings ranging from 0.2 seconds up to 20 seconds with several variations of reverb character for each decay time. Rather than call the effects rooms, halls or plates and so on, the sounds are characterised as being Warm, Bright or Dark and if this sounds more like a weather forecast than a description of the presets, remember that West Coast Americans talk like this all the time. Also listed is the subjective size of the reverberant environment and this not surprisingly gives you a choice of Small, Medium or Large. For example; preset 24 offers a decay time of 1.6 seconds and is both Medium and Bright. This gives something like a very toppy plate reverb but if you want something a little more mellow, you could choose 22 which has the same decay time but is Small And Dark resulting in something like an extremely live outside loo. Pre-delay is designed into these presets according to the size and character of each simulated environment so to some extent you're getting the advantages of a room simulator in that all the parameters compliment each other regardless of which preset you choose.

In addition to these more or less conventional reverb settings, there are also no fewer than nine gated effects and four reverse presets which adds up to a pretty powerful package.

So now at last we come on to the actual sound. Specifications are all very well, but reverb is a very subjective thing. I've used most of the digital reverbs on the market from the humble Yamaha R1000 to the AMS, Klark Teknik and Yamaha REV1 and I can tell you that I was impressed. I had to fight the urge to look under the table to see what this thing was plugged into, the sound was just too huge to be coming from a little plastic box that weighed less than a take-away curry.

"...talking of reverse effects, this was one of the best that I've heard regardless of price..."

What really surprised me though is that there really weren't any effects that I wanted that I couldn't get and even my most stringent tests using a variety of digital drum voices failed to find any fault. There was none of that clanginess associated with some other budget digital reverbs and the stereo depth was so impressive that you'll have to hear it yourself. Even the reverse gated effects had a built-in panning effect and, talking of reverse effects, this was one of the best that I've heard regardless of price, it really does sound as though the thing is playing backwards. When processing a snare drum using the reverse settings, you can even hear the impact of stick on drum at the end of the envelope, just as though it was a tape being played backwards. Like the XT:C, the gated sounds are brash and exciting, really first rate.

Moving on to tests with a synth, the results were no less impressive whether transforming an insipid string sound into a swirling string section or adding that indefinable ethereal quality to flutes and chimes. Vocal treatments too are no problem and the Bright settings are very effective in giving a vocal extra sparkle as well as depth.


It's not often that I find a product really exciting but here we are at the beginning of the year when all the other manufacturers are just talking about their new products and this one actually turns up in the flesh. By the time you read this the first consignment should have arrived, but don't expect them to hang about long - I've already ordered mine.

Even ignoring the price this is a damned good unit and there's nothing to criticise unless you start demanding features that you couldn't possibly expect at the price. Anyone who thinks that there aren't enough variations available is probably kidding himself. Even top engineers tend to have half a dozen favourite settings on the AMS that get used to the exclusion of all else.

The MIDI is a great bonus to those who sync their mixdowns to a MIDI sequencer and for that perversion known as playing live, the applications are mind boggling. Now guitarists can have a studio reverb sound on stage as can electronic drummers, keyboard players and vocalists... and at a price that makes a lot of sense. Talking of which, I haven't told you the price yet though you've probably seen the ads — it's under £400. This means that if you have a digital reverb already but suffer from the perennial problem of needing different reverb settings for drums and vocals when it comes to mixing down, you can afford buy one of these to use as a second reverb. No more compromising by recording reverb onto tape in mono.

I could enthuse about this product for hours but the only way you'll find out how good it is is to go and listen to it or get the Sound Technology demo cassette. The fact that Alesis have really brought digital reverb within reach of the 4-track owner must make it one of the most significant budget recording products yet and the days of the spring reverb are now well and truly numbered. It isn't the best digital reverb that money can buy but you'll need a lot more than £400 if you are going to get anything significantly better.

The Midiverb costs £395 and further details are available from: Sound Technology, (Contact Details).

Also featuring gear in this article

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Previous Article in this issue

Graham Gouldman

Next article in this issue

Four into Four Will Go

Publisher: Home & Studio Recording - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
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Home & Studio Recording - Apr 1986

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Gear in this article:

Studio/Rack FX > Alesis > MIDIVERB

Gear Tags:

Digital FX

Review by Paul White

Previous article in this issue:

> Graham Gouldman

Next article in this issue:

> Four into Four Will Go

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