ART SGX T2 Guitar And Studio FX
ART have what is probably the most confusing product range on the market — and this is one of the latest models.
Mike Simmons unplugs his synth, scrapes the rust off his guitar strings and proceeds to work through the several squillion effects combinations offered by the ART SGX T2.
The ART SGX T2 is a single-unit, rackmounting effects processor aimed principally at the guitarist, but with applications for use with other instruments or as a studio effects processor. A signal to noise ratio of better than 90dB and a bandwidth of 20kHz means that it can be used on quite serious recordings with no problem. On a unit such as this, you might expect to find reverb, delay, chorus, flanging and so on, but this machine also offers an expander, a compressor and a particularly effective range of guitar distortion effects.
The unit can either be connected between your instrument and amplifier or within the effects loop of an amp or mixer. It is perhaps worth emphasising the significance of the former configuration as, with its built in pre-amplifier, the SGX beefs up the guitar signal sufficiently for it to be routed straight to the desk. Though the manual makes no specific mention of a speaker simulator section, the overdrive sounds appear to have been tailored to sound right when DI'd into a mixing console.
The SGX T2 is produced by ART, a company with a reputation for value-for-money products and, in the eyes of some, tasteless paintjobs. Personally, I've come to appreciate their bright splashes of colour in a world which seems to be dominated by matt black, but I recognize that this is very much a matter of personal preference. If our esteemed editor doesn't manage to slip something abusive about it into this review, for example, I'll be extremely surprised. (I wouldn't do that — but you have to admit, it does look like an inside view of somebody's lunch! Ed.) When it comes to multi-effects units, the number of effects that can be used simultaneously varies considerably from model to model, largely as a result of their internal processing power. ART's offering allows up to 12 effects to be used simultaneously, and though it doesn't provide totally unrestricted mixing and matching of effects, there's still an adequate degree of flexibility. Aside from a fair degree of editability, there's also provision to control some effects parameters in real time over MIDI.
The front panel of the T2 boasts both LCD and LED readouts, and there are a pair of horizontal faders handling input and output levels, accompanied by a three-LED level meter. Ideally, the levels should be set so that the yellow indicator is illuminated almost constantly, with just the occasional flicker of the red. Sixteen buttons are dedicated to specific functions, each being accompanied by a small red status LED; the remainder of the buttons are dual purpose, and when the dedicated Preset button has been depressed they act as a numeric keypad. A rotary encoder enables the user to quickly scroll through a variety of options on the LCD.
The back panel boasts a pair of quarter-inch jack input sockets; a pair for the output; MIDI In, Out and Thru sockets; and a further quarter-inch socket which may be programmed to the user's requirements. This may be connected to an optional footswitch and, according to the option chosen, will function as a bypass, a trigger for the sampler or a means of stepping (forwards only) through the memory locations. Stereo inputs are provided so that the dry portion of a stereo signal can maintain its stereo integrity as it passes through the unit, though the effects are, as always, derived from a mono sum of the two inputs. Though it is mains powered rather than relying on inconvenient adaptors, there is no power switch on the machine, which is an annoying omission, but there is a 9V DC power output and a headphone socket.
The SGX T2 appears to be a very well-designed machine overall, but there are one or two anomalies: in what situation, for example, would the placing of a headphone socket at the back of a rack-mounting device seem like a good idea? In a similar vein, consider this — if the SGX can be used between your instrument and your amp, then wouldn't an input socket on the front of the machine be fairly useful?
The individual effects are eminently useable, especially the smooth, clean reverbs. The decay time on the default settings was a little short for my taste, but editing it only takes a matter of moments. There's a reasonable range of reverb types, ranging from pretty sizeable halls to reverbs more suitable for vocals. There are also a couple of plate types, but no reverse.
I find being objective about flangers an impossibility — I like them too much! The flanger on the SGX seemed wonderful — great swirling strands of sound slithering from each speaker — but this may just be a consequence of living through the '60s! (And here we're talking about a man who still has a pair of crushed velvet Paisley Y-fronts. Ed.) There's a whole range of delays, including multi-taps, regenerative, and long and short stereo effects, and up to seven delay taps are available. I'm still not sure about the sample effect, which seems to be available on just about every effects unit on the market. It certainly works well enough, but I wonder whether many people are ever likely to use it? The inbuilt guitar/bass tuner seems eminently more practical.
The pitch transposer is perhaps the least rewarding of the effects; it can be highly effective when used for thickening a sound by adding in a little detuning, but this is not the machine to provide really convincing harmonies — the greater the pitch shift, the less satisfactory it becomes. Like all budget shifters, there is a glitchy 'lumpiness' to the sound which has the effect of making things sound a little out-of-tune.
I enjoyed the distortion effect immensely. It has a number of editable parameters, including a range of basic distortion types, amongst which is the splendid 'Metal Crunch'. I found myself tinkering around with this effect a great deal longer than was warranted for the purposes of this review, and though it isn't as convincing as a miked guitar amp, it works well in conjunction with the other effects. The guitar effects are not limited to heavy metal emulations, though, since the machine is equally capable of smooth, shimmering guitar sounds as well.
The least exciting effects on any unit are those concerned with EQ, but the setup on the SGX T2 is a good deal more intuitive than most, presenting, as it does, a small 7-band graphic on the LCD. As well as the conventional EQ, ART provide a Low Pass Filter and something they call an Acoustic Environment Simulator, which knocks out specific frequencies over the entire spectrum. Thus, to quote the manual, "This allows you to simulate adding in baffles and sound absorption materials to alter the high end response of your signal." A variety of rooms are simulated in this way, including one with drapes and carpet — but the manual makes no specific mention of the wool-to-nylon mix or the pattern of the said floor covering!
The individual effects then, are fine, but they sound even better when used in conjunction with other effects. The machine, as shipped, comes with the first 115 of its 200 memory locations filled with a variety of multi-effect patches. They are obviously designed to create a good first impression in the shop, but also serve as the basis for some very usable treatments.
Patch names are fairly unhelpful in a review, but I would be failing in my duty if I neglected to mention patch number 7, 'Ultra Wha Blast', which immediately won a place in my heart. This is a monster of a patch made up of a full complement of 12 different effects: distortion, delay, reverb, EQ — you name it, it's in there somewhere! This has to be the stuff that guitar heroes are made of.
I am by no means a great guitarist but I reckon that if I could have taken just that one patch back to The Manor in the late '60s, my whole life would have changed. (History lesson. The Manor: A pub venue in North London, much frequented by the great and the good, most of whom believed that the only real difference between God and Eric Clapton was that God couldn't hold a sustain and that Clapton kept a tighter grip on the omnipotence. I never got a gig there.)
"I enjoyed the distortion effect immensely; it has a number of editable parameters including a range of basic distortion types, amongst which is the splendid 'Metal Crunch'."
The patches already on board are only examples of what can be done, but any one of them can be 'unlocked' and then edited to the user's requirements or simply replaced. If at some time in the future you wish to recall the original patch, this is easily achieved via the utility pages.
The topography of the SGX T2 is such that rolling your own effects patches is quite straightforward; it's simply a question of selecting an empty memory location, filling it with the effects you want by means of the 'Add Effect' button and then editing those effects to your own requirements. There are, in fact, 34 different effects available on the machine but, having entered an initial choice, this does not mean that there are still a further 33 to choose from. Like any other effects unit, the T2 has finite processing power and a second pressing of the 'Add Effect' button will result in a menu being displayed which shows only those effects that are still available, given the limitations of that power. There are, for example, three different types of reverb, intriguingly entitled Reverbs 1, 2 and 3. Of these, Reverb 3 is the most complex — it has more editable parameters and is consequently more demanding of processing power. As soon as any of the more greedy effects have been selected — chorus, for example — then Reverb 3 is no longer available on the menu. Even so, it seemed that whatever kind of patch I tried to construct, there was still room to squeeze in the less complex Reverb 1. This system is understandable but frustrating — once you've thought up a multi-effect patch, it's a little irritating to discover that the machine refuses to make available all the effects that you require.
While creating and editing a patch might be straightforward enough, once it comes to naming the thing, we're back to the same tedious process that is implemented on almost every other synth and effects unit — patch naming. I find it hard to understand why manufacturers choose to provide two alphabets, numbers, and a whole range of esoteric characters for this purpose — the greater the choice, the more frustrating the whole exercise becomes. When you've named the patch, it must be stored into a specific memory location or it will be lost from the memory buffer when you switch off or change effects.
The mix of dry and processed signals is achieved in software via the 'Mix' button. The LCD reveals that there are in fact three signals to be mixed, rather than the more conventional two, since the processed signals are divided into two groups: digital and analogue. The analogue effects include compression, expansion, distortion, noise-gate and various types of EQ, the reasoning being that these can still be done more effectively with analogue circuitry, at least at this sort of price.
The signal which passes to the digital effects section will usually have already been treated by the analogue section — unless you turn that section to 0% on the Mix page. There is an effects crossover algorithm, however, which splits the signal at an editable frequency point so that, for example, the entire bandwidth is fed to the digital effects but only the low frequencies to the analogue ones.
I have never found editing from a small LCD a particularly cheering experience, but the procedure on the SGX T2 is as good as any and better than some. Given the multitude of mnemonics generally on display it's useful — if not essential — to know precisely what you're looking for as you jump from screen to screen. Happily, the manual makes the process as painless as possible.
The device may also be configured so that it can be edited in real time over MIDI. In fact, the T2 offers two broadly different types of MIDI control. The more straightforward of these is simply the facility to switch specific effects in and out of a particular multi-effect patch. Each of the main effects is allocated its own controller number, and sending a low value controller message (0-63) will switch off its effect, while a high value (64-127) will switch it back on again.
More elaborate editing may be performed by designating a specific effect parameter to a control number. Working from the front panel, the effect may be pre-programmed with the high and low points of that parameter so that the effect may then be continuously controlled using MIDI throughout a performance. Up to eight controllers can be allocated to any one effect. This sounds pretty impressive on paper, but I wondered how well it would work in practice. I have to report that I failed in my attempts to overload the memory buffer and experienced no problems with zipper noise as parameters were changed. Given the amount of MIDI data I was sending to the T2 during these experiments, I have to assume that it could probably cope with anything it's likely to be confronted with in normal use.
As shipped, the on/off controllers range between numbers 70 and 79, with a bypass on 84. The continuous controllers on all the factory presets seemed to operate on 4 and 11, but all these values may be edited to suit your requirements, should you already be using these numbers for some other purpose.
The manual takes the user step by step through this entire process, and it's fair to say that it needs to. There is nothing intuitive about setting up the MIDI system, and the only consolation I can think of is that it's unlikely to be something you'd need to do very often.
When it came to checking out the MIDI implementation of the SGX T2, I had to turn to my synth and the RMG page of Creator, but ART have produced a MIDI foot controller complete with switches and pedals — the X15 Ultrafoot — which takes its power from the remote power socket on the back panel and plugs into the MIDI In and Out sockets. Not all guitarists want to go this deep, but for those who do, it's all there.
ART's SGX T2 is surprisingly simple to operate considering the sheer number of effects and parameters that can be varied and, with the exception of the pitch shifter, which suffers in the way all budget pitch shifters tend to suffer, the general effects quality is very high, both technically and subjectively. The unit can produce a good sound directly into a recording desk but is equally useful in a live situation, which means it should appeal to the guitarist who both gigs and records.
Real-time MIDI control is available for those who need it, and my tests confirm that the effects parameters vary reasonably smoothly rather than going up in 'zipperlike' steps, while the analogue section enables overdriven guitar sounds to be created with a fair degree of realism. Effects such as compression and noise gating are immensely useful in creating a guitar sound that sustains but remains clean, and the realtime MIDI control enables classic effects such as wah wah to be created without the noise and unreliability inherent in the original analogue pedals.
There are better guitar preamp/speaker simulators around for those more concerned with tonal authenticity, but when combined with the available effects, the end result obtainable from the T2 is undeniably impressive. Furthermore, the manual is both comprehensive and straightforward in most respects, though there are one or two areas that would benefit from clearer explanations, particularly the effects crossover feature. And finally, the dreadful pun I've been saving up for several months now: you may not know much about ART, but once you've tried the SGX T2, you'll know what you like.
ART SGX T2 £499 including VAT.
Harman Audio, (Contact Details).
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Review by Mike Simmons