ART Multiverb II
Taking the Multiverb as their starting point, ART have a new multi-effects processor with which to enhance your music. Ian Waugh says the verb is "to want".
As the choice of multi-effects processors grows, the older units face the choice of becoming outdated or undergoing a facelift. Enter the Multiverb II - smiling.
THE FIRST TWO things you'll probably notice about ART's Multiverb II are the colour and the lack of an on/off switch. The mauve (purple?) legend, characteristic of ART rackmount units, is more reminiscent of Sooty's paintbox than a piece of serious hi-tech equipment. And there's no on/off switch because the people at ART reckon most musicians switch on rack units with a power strip or direct from the mains. They've been peeking. Thoughtfully, the unit has been designed to be switched on in this way with no ill effects.
So, having plugged in - literally - let's get the technical stuff out of the way first.
The Multiverb II houses a 20-bit processor, and while the number of bits isn't the be-all and end-all of quality control, the more bits you have the better the quality should be.
There are left and right audio input sockets with an impedance of 1MOhm and left and right and audio output sockets with a source impedance of 1kOhm. The unit can be used in a variety of situations - in-line between a keyboard or guitar and an amp or hooked into the send and return sockets of a mixer.
The input level is adjusted with a front panel slider which clicks into a central position. Green, yellow and red LEDs indicate -24, -12, -6 and 0dB levels. Input sources can range from -20 to +16dbV and the slider can compensate for most signals although mics with an input sensitivity of less than -40dB will require a pre-amplifier.
There's an Output slider to control the output level and a Mix slider to control the balance between the dry and effected signal.
It's important to get the signal levels right otherwise noise and distortion may result. I found it quite easy to adjust the levels to suit a number of input sources and applications and I eventually hooked the unit into the send and return sockets of my mixer for final trials.
A little noise is perhaps inevitable when dealing with chorusing, flanging and "heavy" reverbs and although the unit does produce some noise (as evidenced by pressing the Bypass button) I was able to reduce it to quite acceptable levels by judicious use of the sliders and the mixer's controls. I'd have no hesitation in using it for recording.
A QUICK ONCE over the Multiverb II's modus operandi and then we'll get down to the effects.
To let you see what it's up to the Multiverb II has not one display but two. A seven-segment LED informs you of the Operation Mode, Preset Number and Memory Location. The top line of the LCD shows the preset name and the lower line shows the effects it contains. Both displays indicate other information, too, during editing. The LCD is backlit and you can adjust the viewing angle - especially useful if the unit is a little higher than eye-level.
All the buttons on the panel - with the exception of the Preset Up and Down buttons and the Bypass button - have dual functions. The functions are colour-coded - purple for preset selection and grey for editing.
You can step through the presets using the Up and Down buttons or you can punch in the preset number using the keypad. You can move through the presets more quickly by holding down one of the selector buttons and pressing the other.
As new presets are selected they immediately effect the signal, but by using the Recall facility you can call up a preset "ready for action" and switch it in at exactly the required moment.
And here's something else. As there are 200 memory locations, you have to enter a three digit number on the keypad to select one, correct? No, not necessarily. For three-digit presets you do but to select preset 24, say, you can press 0-2-4 or you can just press 2-4. If you don't press a third button pretty quickly the unit assumes you wanted a two-digit preset and that's what you get. User-friendly, I call it.
"The Pitch Transposer is one of the most interesting effects - its obvious use is to produce vocal and instrument harmonies but it can also transform and augment sounds."
The Bypass button toggles the bypass function on and off. When it's on you get a two second indication to that effect, and the letters "by" appear in the LCD next to the current preset name.
THE MOST IMPORTANT button on the Multiverb II is the Keypad/Edit mode button. In Keypad mode you select the presets; to perform an edit you must select Edit mode - seems reasonable.
The basic procedure for creating multi-effects setups and editing them is pretty straightforward. Add Effect and Delete Effect buttons are used to step through and select the effects required and Recall/Enter is used to confirm your decision. Up and Down Select buttons are used to step through the effects' parameters (reverb types and so on) and the Up and Down Value buttons alter the parameters' variables (such as decay time). Title Edit is used to name the preset (up to 16 characters) and Store is used to store the settings in one of the 200 memory locations. The MIDI/Utility button gives you access to those things of a hexadecimal nature (only kidding).
You can hear the effect of the effect (if you see what I mean) while you're constructing it and it doesn't overwrite another preset until you tell it to do so. The first 100 memory locations contain factory presets and are locked so you can't overwrite them accidentally. Once overwritten, however, the factory presets can still be recalled.
OK, DOWN TO business. There are 19 categories of effect algorithm each with a varying number of parameters. Up to four effects can be selected at once, although some categories cannot be combined (the unit doesn't give you the opportunity to select mutually exclusive effects). As effects are what the Multiverb II is all about, let's look at them one by one.
Equaliser this is a low pass filter and is always placed at the front of the processing chain. Thirteen roll-off points are available ranging from 665Hz to 15kHz.
Flanger: this can run parallel to (pre) a reverb or delay effect, or it can be placed last (post) in the chain. Its width, speed and regeneration can be varied to produce a wide range of flanges. The subtle ones work best. Crank up any of the parameters and the result becomes a bit grainy. Two of the factory presets use flanging to produce Leslie speaker effects.
Chorus: like the Flanger, this can be placed "pre" or "post" the reverb or delay effects. You have control over width and speed and the base delay time can be varied (O-66ms) which helps give the effect more depth. Chorus and Flanging are mutually exclusive.
Pitch Transposer: this is one of the Multiverb II's most interesting effects. It can shift pitch plus or minus an octave in semitone and six-cent steps. Its most obvious use is to produce vocal and instrument harmonies but it can also transform and augment sounds. It can be used particularly effectively with strings and pads and it does a good job of turning a reasonably tuneful piano into a honky tonk.
Stacking Pitch Transpose with a Mono Delay (Stereo Delay is not allowed) and adding regeneration will transpose each repeat by the transpose amount. Be subtle and use a tone - or be obvious and use an octave.
Another interesting feature is the Base Key parameter. This is used to set the transpose amount from an external MIDI keyboard. For example, setting it to 60 (MIDI note number for middle C) and playing the D above will select a two-semitone shift. E selects a four-semitone shift and so on. Pretty crazy if you're playing the same keyboard which is doing the controlling.
One of the Appendices explains a little about harmonics and their relationship to major and minor scales but I would like to have seen even more hints and suggestions here.
Harmonising functions make great demands on the processor and the only effects you can have with this are EQ and mono delay. The only other thing to be aware of is a slight harmonic ring which become apparent with certain sounds and some settings particularly when regeneration is engaged.
"The Base Key parameter is used to set the transpose amount from an external MIDI keyboard - the results are pretty crazy if you're playing the keyboard which, is doing the controlling."
Panner: this pans a sound across the stereo image. Modulation determines the stereo depth, and speed determines the, er, speed.
Mono Digital Delay Short and Long: Short runs from O.5ms, Long runs from O-240ms in 5ms increments. Both are placed second in the chain. Use Short for slapback effects or for adding pre-delay to reverb settings.
Reverb 1, 2 and 3: each reverb has four types - Hall, Room Plate and Vocal. While Reverb 1 can only access Hall 1, Reverb 2 can access Hall 1 and 2, and Reverb 3 can access Hall 1, 2 and 3 and so on.
Parameters include decay (up to 25 seconds - a real wash) high frequency damping to simulate the absorption properties of different environments, position (front or rear) and level. Reverb 3 also has a diffusion control (this fills in the sound between echoes) which help smooth out the reverb. This is the most complex and dense effect. Use it when constructing your Ultimate Reverb preset.
Gated Reverb 1, 2 and 3: like the reverb algorithms the higher the number the more complex the effect although the manual is honest enough to suggest that they are a little sparse when used on their own an suggests they are excellent "fillers" for use in a four effect stack.
Parameters include type (slope, flat and reverse), decay (up to O.4ms), diffusion and level. A useful diagram illustrates the difference between normal and gated reverb.
Tapped Digital Delay Short and Long: these are a sort of combination of gated reverb and delay. There are three types - flat, reverse and sloped - which can be in stereo or mono and you can select from one to seven taps.
You also select one of three levels of an effect similar to diffusion which is referred to as Even, Shortened and Lengthened. Basically, Even spaces the taps out at regular intervals throughout the processing. Shortened means that as the taps approach the end of the delay the taps are closer together. In Lengthened mode they are further apart. There's a diagram in the manual to explain this. It could be my perverted way of looking at things but it seems to me that Shortened and Lengthened are the wrong way around. Never mind.
Regenerated Digital Delay Short and Long: these are placed in parallel with a reverb algorithm if used (although they are not available with Reverb 3) and can be used to add a small amount of depth to the sound. Parameters are simply delay, regeneration and level. You can add a hard edge to a reverb effect by using a long delay and a smattering of regeneration.
Stereo Digital Delay Short and Long: parameters include left and right delay times (O-360ms per side for Short, O-500ms for Long), regeneration, high frequency damping and level. As you can set different delay times for the two channels you can produce some pretty spiffy effects. Throw in the Panner (or Chorus or Flanger) for increased spatial awareness.
So what can the boys at ART do with these algorithms? Well, the presets are excellent. I won't be rash enough to suggest that there's one to suit your every need, but you can probably find one which is close and edit it.
ON THE FRONT of the unit you'll see the words Performance MIDI. Multiverb II is one of the latest in a line of effects processors to allow control of effects parameters via MIDI. Up to eight parameters can be adjusted simultaneously for each preset. Each controlled parameter requires two items of information - the controller to be used and the Scaling value.
The controller can be any of the MIDI controllers, the Pitchbend Wheel, Channel Pressure, Poly Aftertouch, Note On and Note Off Velocity or Note On and Note Off Key numbers. These last two are particularly interesting.
"The pitch Transposer is one of the most interesting effect - its obvious use is to produce vocal and instrument harmonies but it can also transform and augment sounds."
Control by note velocity is fairly self-explanatory but here's a couple of ideas for applications. Linking it to delay time in a reverb effect could give quiet notes a long decay making them sound further away and loud notes a shorter decay making them sound more upfront. Or vice versa. Link it to regeneration in the Flanger for velocity-controlled flanging, or to delay time in a Delay.
Note Key numbers relate to the MIDI note numbers playing higher or lower has a similar control effect to moving a pitchbend wheel, for example. Link this to Panning to make low notes move slowly and high ones tear around the stereo image. Or to Reverb to give high or low notes shorter or longer decay times - as is your wont.
The Scaling value controls the degree by which the parameter is changed: the higher the Scaling value, the more sensitive the parameter becomes. For example, low values mean that large changes in the controller are required in order to change the parameter's value. High numbers make the parameter more responsive.
Scale values can be negative, too, which lets you invert a controller's effect on effects. As the same controller can be used to control more than one parameter this also allows you to create crossover effects. For example, link Chorus and Delay to note velocity and you could produce chorus by playing softly and echoes by playing louder. You could even link loud and soft to left and right delay times, although if you mess around with the numbers too much you can get serious glitching.
Performance MIDI setups look a little tricky to program at first but one example in the manual steps you through the creation of a 4-PM preset while another shows how to add it to an existing preset. A little experimentation soon breeds familiarity. Ten of the factory presets include PM and if a preset uses PM a number in the bottom right of the display shows how many parameters are under MIDI control.
Finally, we come to the MIDI/Utility button. This allows you to change the MIDI receive channel and select Omni mode. The Multiverb also contains a MIDI Program Table which lets you make any of the 127 program change messages select any of the presets. This allows you to configure the Multiverb to your equipment rather than being forced to work the other way around.
If 200 memories aren't enough, you can save them with a MIDI dump command. This can save the MIDI Program Table settings and it can handle the presets individually or en bloc.
MIDI Merger turns the MIDI Out socket into a MIDI Thru. If the Multiverb is commanded to send a MIDI message of its own (this could only really be a dump command) it will merge them. A socket at the back allows a footpedal to be used to increment the presets or activate Bypass mode.
The manual is quite well written with several programming examples, some tutorial sections, and illustrations where necessary. It hasn't been proof-read and it was printed on a dot-matrix printer and although it is legible, why on earth didn't they use double-strike mode? No big deal perhaps but here's a message to software and hardware producers everywhere - listen up, you guys, manuals are important.
NIGGLES ARE OF a decidedly minor nature. Perhaps the EQ section could be more comprehensive (but then I personally prefer to do my EQing at the mixing desk). Psychoacousticians may yearn for more control over their reverb creations - density, first reflection time - and I suppose a delay longer than 500ms could have its uses. Pitch Transpose may not prove usable for all the applications you'd like (brave of ART to include it at all) and programming does, of necessity, require a certain amount of button pushing. But this is basically a budget unit, remember, and at the price it would be churlish indeed to moan.
I like this unit. It sounds good, it's relatively easy to use, it has a number of novel features and it can produce a wide range of excellent effects. Its dynamic response to signals is excellent without peaking or troughing and the sound quality is on the warm side of digital without being obtrusive or obvious.
Now I'm looking for a friendly welder to fix the review model into my rack. What's more - I'm beginning to love the colour.
Price £499.00 including VAT
Review by Ian Waugh
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