ART Multiverb LTX
ART's ever-expanding range of signal processors is intended to cater for musicians of all styles and financial means. Nicholas Rowland test drives a new effects unit whose price belies its power.
Whether you're looking to bring signal processing to your music on a budget or looking to supplement your main processor with a second unit, the ART LTX has a lot going for it.
Demarcation is one concept which the musical march of progress has long consigned to the waste bin. Take effects units for example. Not too long ago, if you wanted to simultaneously add chorus, reverb and echo to your Minimoog, you'd have needed a battery of individual sound processors - and a correspondingly large wallet.
These days, your workstation (which in itself combines a sequencer, sampler and synth) probably has all the above effects onboard. And to deal with anything else, you need look no further than the burgeoning range of multi-effects processors which are currently flowing onto the market.
For a processor to cover every conceivable angle, though, you'll still need a well-filled wallet. All-singing, all-dancing effects units are affordable, but only relatively so.
Which brings us to ART's latest contender for the budget effects crown, the 16-bit Multiverb LTX. Weighing in at just over £200 (including VAT), this 1U-high rack unit packs in 250 reverbs, choruses, flanges and delays along with the facility to use up to three of these simultaneously - the catch being that both single and multiple effects are all preset. The brochure tells us that it means there's "No programming necessary". Read "none possible" and look at it as a kind of Matrix 1000 of the effects world.
Launched at this year's NAMM show, the LTX is essentially a bigger and better version of ART's LT - which had "only" 192 presets. The LTX has gained not only from more effects combinations but also a rejigging of many of the algorithms to give what ART describe as some of the "lushest" and "densest" effects around. We shall see.
ART were one of the first companies to introduce an affordable multi-effects processor and have continued to be in the forefront of this particular branch of technology - although they've never enjoyed the profile of their nearest competitors, Alesis. The LTX represents the bottom end of ART's comprehensive if confusing range of effects gizmos. Higher up the range, programmability and flexibility quotients become higher, but the LTX is intended to get you on the map with a good selection of usable treatments and the minimum of fuss. And certainly the surf junkie looks of the unit could launch a thousand reviews - not this one though. Instead, let's concentrate on the (16) bits that matter.
First, the customary travelogue of sockets, switches and functions. The power supply is internal and there's no on/off switch, so it's plug in and away. All audio connections are made via the rear panel on quarter-inch jack, and the LTX accepts a stereo input as well as delivering a stereo output. It comes set up for line-level inputs - but can be set to Instrument for DIing a guitar. This involves opening the unit and moving four jumpers, so it's not something you want to do mid-gig. Other connections include MIDI In and a footswitch jack.
Although certain of the presets (such as Ping Pong) are optimised for stereo output, a stereo input isn't essential as everything comes out stereo imaged. In fact, there are a number of "image programs" in the LTX' vocabulary. These are extremely effective - a wider stereo image, for example, greatly enhances a mono acoustic piano.
Alternatively, using one output gives you a summed signal from both channels.
Input and output level setting must be achieved by manipulation of the gear surrounding the LTX since the unit has no level controls of its own. The only control available is a slider to balance the dry and effected content of the output signal - an essential inclusion.
The Bypass button on the front panel serves to defeat any active effect. Otherwise, front panel control extends to just three further buttons: two up/down incremental buttons for stepping through the presets, and one to program MIDI functions.
The LTX offers 250 presets based around four basic effect types - reverb, chorus, flanging and delay. While some presets give you variations on these themes, others combine up to three of them.
The first 30 presets open the door to the world of multiple effects with what the manual calls "The top 30 sounds". I suspect that, since they're the first 30 a prospective purchaser is likely to hear, they've been selected partly to show off the potential of the LTX - which they do admirably.
The mixed 'n' matched introductory assortment of effects includes such programs as 'Fast Ping Pong Delay', 'Well-rugged Walls', 'Thick Slow Chorus', 'Inverted Flanger with Regeneration' and so on. Some of the programs are pretty impressive, even dramatic. How usable some of the more extreme effects are is personal.
Further groups of programs are divided rather more logically. The largest single group is of 50 "natural" reverbs, each offering different combinations of decay, damping and predelay times. Decay times range from 0.2s to 23s - the latter ideally suited to Gregorian chants.
The next 75 programs combine various depths and speeds of chorus or flanging with reverb. Here I felt the LTX really began to show its mettle with effects which worked wonderfully with lead and backing vocals.
A further 24 chorus and flange programs come without reverb. Amongst these you'll find the most amazing Arpeggiated Flanging presets. These make individual notes sound as if they're walking up and down the scale and incorporate wide stereo imaging and dramatic panning. Great for those soon-to-be-stereo TV commercials.
"The brochure tells us that it means there's 'No programming necessary' - read 'none possible' and look at the LTX as the Matrix 1000 of the effects world."
Next up are 35 gated reverbs offering sloped, flat and reverse decays - clearly devised with the rhythm section in mind.
Other groups include ten slapback echoes, nine tapped delays (each with either two or three taps and various delay times from 80ms to 300ms), eight of the stereo imaging programs mentioned earlier, four reverbs with long predelays, 19 echoes (12 stereo, seven mono) and a couple of choruses - one entitled 'Thick', the other 'Thickerer' (yes, really).
It's on these types of effect - choruses and doublers - that the LTX really scores. While it delivers an excellent performance in virtually all areas, it's here that it comes closest to ART'S hyperbole of "larger than life", "million dollar" sounds.
Within most of the LTX' program groups, there are enough variations on a theme to meet most situations. Surprisingly perhaps, the echo programs are the exception. It's nothing to do with sound quality, reliability or even the standard of programming - but because using delays often involves fine tuning delay times and repeat numbers to the specific requirements of a track.
The LTX will happily receive on all or any of MIDI's 16 channels. Presets are then accessed via MIDI program changes - only there's a slight problem. While MIDI gives you 128 program numbers to play with, the LTX has 250 presets. The errant 122 have to be accessed manually.
Don't blame the piano player, blame the people who devised the MIDI spec. But all is not lost.
As it comes out of the box, the LTX is set up so that the first 128 programs correspond to the 128 program numbers. In order to grant access to any of the others via MIDI, the assignment must be changed - a job which can be done either from the front panel; buttons or with the aid of a MIDI controller. Either way, the process is fairly straightforward; the only problem stems from the fact that the unit's display only shows two digits at a time. Like the presets themselves, numbers over 99 are identified with letter/number combinations which necessitate frequent reference to the manual.
Better news, though, is that whatever assignment changes you make are retained by the LTX' internal battery during power down.
Presets can also be organised into a sequence which you can step through using a footswitch - a particularly useful facility for live work. Presets can be arranged in any order and you can include the same preset more than once into a sequence - up to a total number of 128 steps. You can put the unit into Bypass mode during a sequence by entering preset Y9, which is effectively blank.
The footswitch can be programmed to perform another function: that of toggling between any chosen preset and Bypass mode.
In terms of its sound and the range and combination of its effects, the LTX put in an excellent performance. If money's tight and you need an easy-to-use unit capable of performing a variety of processing tasks, it has to be considered. It's worth mentioning that the LTX' present asking price of £219 is due to rise imminently. You have been warned.
I would, however, criticise the LTX' user interface - which is a long-winded way of saying that a two-character display is not a comprehensive way of relaying information. A three-digit display would have made a lot more sense and one capable of displaying a name and any program details (as appears on ART'S more upmarket processors) would have been almost ideal.
At this level, a lot of compromises have to be made. The most obvious of these is the LTX' lack of programmability but there are other casualties - performance MIDI, for example. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to weigh up these shortcomings against the unit's plethora of presets and relative ease of use. The equation should be a pretty simple one to balance.
Compromises aside, if you're looking for a high-quality, good-sounding effects unit cabable of handling multiple effects, the LTX fits the bill admirably. And if it's simply a question of quality and sheer number of presets against extra knobs and switches, I know which way I'd vote.
Price £219 inc VAT.
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Review by Nicholas Rowland
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