Bel BD240 Digital Delay Processor
A peace of magic, or no Bel prize? Curtis Schwartz judges
In addition to launching a new look for all their products at this year's APRS show, Luton-based company Bel Marketing also unveiled an extended memory and full bandwidth version of their very successful BD80 Digital Delay. Called the BD240, this new unit can hold up to 24 seconds of sound with a full audio bandwidth up to 18kHz or up to 48 seconds with bandwidth reduced to 9kHz. Of course, the BD240 with the full 24 seconds of memory is not cheap as it is an unfortunate fact that solid state memory remains an incredibly complex and expensive form of data storage. However, as with most things, the advancement of technology and miniaturisation is sorting out that problem. As a very rough guide, the 'going rate' for RAM a few years ago was around £1,000/second at full bandwidth, while Bel are now providing compulsive samplerists with memory for a little over £100/second.
The beauty of sampling digital delays in general is their versatility. Whilst providing the user with a multitude of standard DDL functions such as chorus, flanging, phasing, ADT, slap back echo and repeat echo, the sampling DDL's ability to store sounds in its memory, change their pitch (amongst other things) and replay them when called upon to do so, enables the user to expand his or her scope of sounds by literally 'pinching' their favourite drum sounds or other such noises off albums.
Where Bel's sampler fits in is in its ability to store sounds and then edit them (so as just to play the bit of the sample you want), change their pitch (deepen a snare, or 'tune' an orchestral blap), and more...
But to first return to the basic features of the BD240 and my largely irrelevant £/second calculation, the BD240 unit without any memory expansion has six seconds of memory and retails at £1,300, each second thus costing you a reasonable £200+ and as you expand the memory with six second memory boards, so the seconds work out cheaper.
Front panel DDL controls on the BD240 are identical to the BD80 — input level is controlled and displayed by a single control and four-step ladder LED (0, -6, -15, -20dB). A Mix control balances the direct signal with the delayed signal for mono operation and the delayed signal can be bypassed, defeated or have its phase inverted with the three respective push buttons hovering around the Mix control. A Feedback control will feedback some of the delayed signal to the input, which can also have its phase inverted for 'healthier' flanging effects, etc. To provide more subtle repeat echoes or chorus/flanging effects, the signal that is fed back to the input stage can be filtered (a bit of treble knocked off).
Chorus and Flanging effects are achieved by careful use of the modulation section's Speed and Depth controls, which can be switched in or out of the delay circuitry via the push button marked Oscillator.
A five digit display indicates the delay time setting in milliseconds, and a decimal point after all five digits indicates the repeat rate. The delay time itself is increased/decreased via four buttons, two for increasing (one fast, one slow) and two for decreasing the delay time. The slow button changes the delay time very slowly, whilst the fast button changes it reasonably fast, although possibly not fast enough if you have the 24 second model (as it will take you well over half a minute to go from a setting of only a few milliseconds to the full delay time of 24 seconds.
The remainder of the front panel controls are all more or less for sampling purposes. There are two modes in which samples are loaded/replayed. In the normal mode, all input signals are stored and replayed in time with the delay setting (as on a conventional delay line). In the sync mode, however, by pressing the start/stop button, a sample will be loaded (starting from the moment you first pushed the start/stop button) and will end when the delay time set has been used up. The sample will then not be immediately replayed and by pressing the hold button it then becomes 'safe' in the memory and can be triggered in one of three ways. Firstly, to check that the sound has been correctly sampled, you may press the start/stop button. This will play the sample once and would be used whilst editing the sample (which I'll come to in a minute). The other means of triggering the sample is selected via the Trigger switch. When in the Internal position samples can be triggered from an audio source applied to the audio input of the unit. Thus on hearing the sound of a live snare the BD240 will immediately play the sampled snare you wish to replace it with. Alternatively, you could select the Trigger switch to the 'External' mode which would then trigger samples from the sockets on the rear of the unit.
Samples can be edited reasonably accurately after having been loaded into the BD240. If when you have loaded a sample there may be some unwanted sound before the, say, sampled snare, by reducing the delay setting you effectively start the sample from a later point in time which corresponds to the start of your sample. Editing off the end of a sample is not quite so tidy as you must release the hold switch at the precise moment you wish the sample to end. Too early and you've erased the end of the sample, too late and you have to do it again. It isn't actually as crude as it would appear as you can slow down a sample quite a lot in order to be a bit more precise.
Samples can be tuned up in pitch by simply turning the 'Repeat Pitch' knob. To lower a sample in pitch, though, you must first double the delay time (halving the bandwidth and reducing the pitch by one octave), and then increase the Repeat Pitch knob. I do find this a bit of a shame not having a pitch knob with a center click position which could be rotated either clockwise or anticlockwise depending on which way you wished to tune the sample.
On the rear of the BD240 are found a single input socket, three output sockets (Direct, Delay and Mix), two Trigger Inputs, and an input for a keyboard's Control Voltage. This last input when used with the first Trigger input and connected to a keyboard, will connect directly to a keyboard's CV and Gate outputs for keyboard playing of samples. This is another very useful function of the BD240. Samples can be played over a two octave range but obviously only monophonically, and immediately retrigger when a new note is played.
Britain would seem to be the only place, at present, where good, solid, high quality DDL samplers are being made. AMS are the other manufacturer that comes to mind when talking of quality samplers, although it would be most unfair to compare the Bel to the AMS, as while the AMS does indeed offer full bandwidth, expandable and editable sampling, it also offers a multitude of other facilities — it is a stereo unit with stereo sampling (latest software update...), memories, two of the most accurate harmonizers in the world in each of the two channels, etc. Whilst all this does overshadow the Bel a bit, the Bel still remains relatively inexpensive, and if you are specifically after a lot of sampling time (ie, for taking vocals from one part of a song to another, etc.) then the Bel could be a bargain. It primarily remains, however, simply a 'souped-up' BD80, and judging by the success of the latter unit, I would expect the BD240 to do very well indeed.
For those masochists among you for whom 24 seconds might not be quite enough, Bel have a BD320 which is identical to the BD80 except that memory expansion cards are in eight second chunks, giving a total of 32 seconds for £2,600. Where will it all end?
Review by Curtis Schwartz