In this age of the preset, you need all the help available to stamp your personality on the sounds you produce. Paul Ireson finds a new ally in the fight for individuality - ART's fully programmable, four-effects-at-once signal processor.
In this age of the preset, Paul Ireson finds a new ally in the fight for individuality - ART's new, fully programmable, four-effects-a-once signal processor.
Do you ever feel that all of the hi-tech gear released these days is becoming increasingly similar? It's very easy to glance at a range of contemporary digital effects units and think that they're all alike, and in fact, in an important sense they are. All employ the same basic internal architecture: a number crunching section sandwiched between A-to-D and D-to-A convertors, and it's the number crunching bit that's really interesting. Crunching the numbers one way gives you reverb, crunching them another gives a delay, yet another gives chorus, and the list could go on for ever. Because all of this processing is software controlled, if you give an effects unit sufficient processing power and the right software, you can apply almost any effect you care to think of to a signal. With the right software, a single unit can produce reverb, delay, pitch transpose or chorus effects, as the Yamaha SPX90 can. Better still, why not make a single unit capable of producing reverb, delay, pitch transpose and chorus effects, simultaneously applied to the same input?
Although the ART Multiverb that is the subject of this particular SOS investigation can't actually produce that particular combination of effects, it can generate a variety of other combinations of up to four different effects at the same time, and as such it represents another step up in the sophistication of affordable digital effects. First came simple dedicated digital reverbs and delays, next multieffects units that could produce any one of a number of effects, and now comes the multi-effects unit that can produce several of its various effects simultaneously. A big plus is that all of the Multiverb's effects are fully programmable, so you're not just restricted to building combinations of presets.
The heart of the Multiverb is a 20-bit digital engine, with 16-bit A-to-D and D-to-A convertors, giving a quoted effect bandwidth of 15kHz and a dynamic range of better than 90dB. Combinations of effects can be written into 200 memory locations, 100 of which have factory presets stored in them. The other 100 are empty, so you have plenty of space to experiment without wiping out any of your favourite presets.
The physical packaging for all of this is a standard 1U rackmount case. Stereo input and output is via four quarter-inch jack sockets, and a fifth socket is included to allow program advance via an optional footswitch. MIDI In and Out sockets are also present, but no Thru.
On the front panel, three centre-detented horizontal sliders control Input, Output and Mix levels - no problem seeing where these are set in a dimly lit studio. The Input control varies the input sensitivity from -20dBv to +16dBv, and a four-segment LED indicator helps you to set levels correctly. Several small pushbuttons control the editing functions and program selection.
The 32-character LCD display shows the name and effect combination of the current program, and displays parameters when editing. This display is intended to be read head on, and some racking arrangements (including those in the SOS studio) rack gear at such an angle that the front panel is viewed from below, making the Multiverb display all but impossible to read. A three-digit LED display shows the current memory location.
19 basic effects are available on the Multiverb. Stereo inputs and outputs are provided, though most effects only employ mono processing: the dry output signal is stereo, and the effected signal with which it is mixed is mono, panned centre. Those effects that are true stereo are the chorus and reverb. The best way to run through the effects on offer is simply to describe the fundamental effects one by one, and leave the permutations to your imagination. So here goes...
EQ: Roll-offs at 12 different frequencies between 665Hz and 12kHz, or Thru (no effect).
FLANGER: Parameters available to vary the effect are Width, Speed, and Regeneration, which affects the strength of the effect. Flanging can only be applied before or after all other effects in the chain. Unfortunately, this was the one effect that didn't sound particularly clean. It produced a slight metallic buzzing when processing flute-type sounds, that didn't seem to be anything to do with signal clipping.
CHORUS: As with the flanger, either before or after other effects. Width, Speed and Delay are variable, and Delay gives an impression of increased depth to the chorus. A great stereo effect.
PITCH TRANSPOSER: Both Smooth and Quick algorithms are offered. The Smooth algorithm produces a cleaner transposed signal, and allows shifting through a greater interval before the effected signal seems too 'artificial' and metallic. Both algorithms add a slight flam to the processed sound (most noticeable on staccato signals such as drums), but with Quick this is markedly reduced. The processed signal can be shifted up to one octave up or down, in semitone steps. A Regeneration parameter is included, for use with a delay effect, allowing a transposed, delayed signal to be fed back into the transposer section to produce a succession of repeats that rise or fall in pitch.
PANNER: Pans the input signal left and right. Modulation Depth and Speed are fully variable.
MONO DDL-S/DDL-L: Single slapback echo, Short (-S) or Long (-L). The Short algorithm offers programmable delays from 0-100 milliseconds, in 1 ms steps, and the Long algorithm offers 0-240ms in 5ms steps. The Mono delay is placed after EQ, but before every other effect in a chain.
REVERB 1,2,3: Three reverb programs of increasing complexity. Reverb 1 offers four basic effect types - Hall 1, Room 1, Plate 1 and Vocal 1. The variable parameters that operate on each algorithm are Decay (0-25 secs), HF Damp (0-50%), and Position. Reverb 2 adds four more reverb algorithms to the four in Reverb 1, and Reverb 3 adds a further four, plus an additional Diffusion parameter. The Position parameter offers seven locations from front to back, and simulates the effect of moving around in the reverb environment.
I couldn't quite hear a 25 second decay on the reverb effects - 20 seconds maybe, but that's good enough for me. The algorithms offered by Reverb 1 are the simplest. Those added by Reverb 2 and 3 are progressively denser and more complicated (thus more realistic), and more suited to use without any other effects. No pre-delay parameter is included in any of the reverb programs, as a delay effect can be placed in line before the reverb. All reverb types offer a Level parameter as expected.
GATE-VERB 1,2,3: The various gated reverb programs here should satisfy just about anyone. As with the regular reverb programs, the algorithms in 1,2 and 3 are of increasing density and complexity. Each offers four types: Flat, Slope and two Reverse varieties. The Slope reverb decays before cutting off, the Flat reverb doesn't, and the Reverse programs are just that. Decay time and Level are also variable.
TAP'D DDL-S/DDL-L: These are short multiple echoes. The number of repeats is variable from 0 to 7, and the time in which these repeats occur can be varied from 0-100ms (-S) or 0-240ms (-L). The repeats can be evenly spaced, or get closer together or further apart as the set delay time approaches, and their amplitude can be set to remain constant, decay or increase. The multi-echo effect can be entirely mono, or successive repeats panned alternately left and right.
REGEN DDL-S/DDL-L: These offer repeat echoes, from 0-100 and 0-240ms delay on each repeat. The Regeneration level (0-100%) and Level (0-100%) can both be specified.
STEREO DDL-S/DDL-L: A stereo delay effect. Delay times can be set independently for the left and right channels, and an HF Damp parameter is added to the Regen and Level parameters available as on all other Delay programs. The Delay time is variable from 0 to 360ms (-S) or 0 to 500ms (-L).
The left and right channels are not in fact separate channels - as on the other Delay programs, it is a summed mono signal that is delayed. The left and right channel delay times specify the delay before the summed signal is echoed to each side. Subsequent repeats on each side are at a rate set by the left channel delay, so a pseudo-stereo echo is obtained if the delay times for the left and right channels are different. Interesting though this effect is, I'd rather have true stereo. Also, a 500ms maximum delay really isn't very much these days; though I suppose a limited delay time is an acceptable compromise given the overall versatility of this unit.
Combinations of simultaneous effects can be built up by successively adding them to a program, either a blank or one already containing effects. Not all combinations of effects are possible, however: it seems that the most complex effects require too much processing power to be used with much else, so the Multiverb prevents you pushing it too far by only allowing certain combinations. For example, Reverb 3 algorithms can only be combined with EQ and Mono DDL-S, whereas Reverb 1 algorithms can be used with Flanger, Chorus, Panner, Mono, Tap and Regen DDL effects (though not all at the same time!). EQ, on the other hand, can be combined with anything.
Each effect combination can be given its own 16-character name when storing it in a memory location, so you can assign each of your treatments helpful descriptive tags like 'Very Big Reverb', or whatever.
Any of the 200 programs can be called up remotely by MIDI Program Change messages, and in order to make it possible to select program numbers outside the permitted 0-127 range, a MIDI Program Table can be configured and saved in the Multiverb's memory. This lets you specify which of the internal 200 effects programs are called up when the Multiverb receives a particular Program Change number from a sequencer or MIDI keyboard, etc.
According to the manual, it should be possible to dump the complete MIDI Program Table, individual programs, or the whole bank of 200 effects settings via MIDI System Exclusive, though this facility was not implemented on the review model (software Version 1.02).
The ART Multiverb is certainly a versatile unit, offering a good range of effects and a healthy variety of ways to combine them, but there are one or two areas where it could be improved. Having used it extensively, my gut feeling is that it's almost, but not quite, a great effects box. The ability to apply up to four different effects simultaneously (albeit within certain limitations), combined with full programmability of all the effects, opens up a huge potential for creating individual and original treatments. The emphasis on 'original' is important here, because in a world increasingly ruled by the preset you need all the help you can get to sound different to every other hi-tech muso.
In several ways, however, the Multiverb doesn't quite make it: true stereo delay and a longer maximum delay time would both have been very welcome for recording applications, and some of the restrictions on effect combinations did seem a little limiting from time to time. But taken in context, that's not much to complain about at this price level.
£499 inc VAT.
Harman UK Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul Ireson
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