The past year or so has seen a dramatic reduction in the price of digital delay units, bringing studio quality effects within the reach of the average musician. The Cutec CD-424 at £336 + VAT continues this welcome trend. The 14-bit digital delay line is of Japanese origin offering a maximum delay of 1024 milliseconds, a 15kHz bandwidth and the bonus of a Sub Delay.
The unit is compact, being only 1¾" (1U) high in the standard 19" rack-mounting format with a black satin finished front panel and a colourful array of knobs. The front panel controls are clearly marked and easy to understand. On the far left is an input level control, and to the right are two equalisation controls giving a very useful low and high frequency cut or boost to the signal being fed into the memory. The adjacent vertical, red LED bargraph provides a helpful display of the input level and is very useful for prevention of input signal overload.
A section containing the delay controls follows, the first knob of which is marked Delay and acts as a level control, with an accompanying LED bargraph for visual monitoring of delay level. This knob functions more as a 'mix' control between the dry and delayed sounds. The minimum setting gives 'dry' signal only, whilst maximum gives an equal balance of both signals.
Three latching pushbuttons each with their own red LED status indicator are next. These are clearly labelled Main Delay, Sub Delay, and Feedback and route the input signal to the main or sub sections of the Cutec's digital memory, enabling two separate delay times to operate simultaneously, if selected. A Feedback control recirculates the delayed signals back into the memory, producing 'repeats' ranging from a single repeat echo on longer delay times to self-oscillation effects when very short delays are selected, and the control knob is turned fully clockwise.
A digital readout is provided of the Main Delay time in milliseconds. This display is well positioned on the front panel, making it clearly visible from most angles and in most lighting conditions. Selection of Main Delay time is achieved by depressing the appropriate 'Up' or 'Down' pushbutton to the right of the display, and observing the readout until the required value is reached. Depressing the latching 'Fast' button alongside these permits quicker delay selection, typically taking 17 seconds to step from 0 to 1024 milliseconds. It should be noted that whilst changing the Main Delay settings, the delayed signal is immediately removed from the output, which is standard procedure to clear the memory.
A further three pushbuttons on the extreme right of the front panel select the output level (-40, -20 or 0dB) and there is a mains on/off switch.
Moving on to the back panel, there is a standard Input jack socket which is unbalanced with switchable attenuation for mic or instrument signals. Two unbalanced output sockets are provided, one for the 'Delay Only' signal and the other for the dry/delay 'Mix'. Two further jack sockets permit the connection of external foot-switches to control 'Feedback' and 'Delay' on/off. The latter, however, only operate if the corresponding front panel buttons have already been selected.
Finally, and somewhat unusually, controls are mounted on the back for Sub Delay Level and Sub Delay Time. The logic in siting these valuable functions on the back panel escapes me, for once mounted in a 19" rack, they are virtually inaccessible. A less limiting compromise perhaps, would have been to mount the Sub Delay controls on the front panel in place of the equalisation controls, which tend to be left in one overall position anyway.
The Sub Delay Time control is a four position rotary switch giving two preset delay times on each position. The Sub Delay times available, in milliseconds, are: 50 (124), 101 (252), 203 (508), 306 (764). The Sub Delay is not independent of the Main Delay for when the latter is set on 399mS or less, the shorter Sub Delay times apply, the user being able, therefore, to select one of four possible Sub Delays. However, when the Main Delay is set at 400mS or more, the Sub Delay switches over automatically to the longer delay settings. It's possible though, to have the Sub Delay set on a short delay, whilst the Main Delay is long (or vice versa). The delay permutations are almost endless, and coupled with individual level control of Main and Sub Delays, some very interesting delay treatments can be performed.
The Cutec was used on various sound sources (synthesiser, drum machine, vocals, guitars) both in a live performance and 24 track studio environment. It performed well, was quiet and consistent in operation with no little idiosyncrasies. Being of a 14-bit design, the absence of noise is only to be expected, but still very welcome. The 15kHz bandwidth means that the delayed signal is 'bright' and 'full' sounding. On the longest delay times the bandwidth reduces to 6kHz which is still ample for most applications.
The wide variety of delay effects that can be obtained from this unit range from 'hard reverberation', through 'flutter echo' to long repeating echoes, which are especially useful for generating sequencer-like phrases.
The Sub Delay is most effective when used in conjunction with a short delay on the Main Delay to produce a fairly realistic concert hall reverberation, which is wonderful on lead-line synthesiser, or drum machine. By setting the Sub Delay at 101mS for example, and the Main Delay around 150mS, a convincing automatic 'triple' tracking effect can be obtained — excellent for vocals or wild guitar solos.
Although no modulation oscillator is provided, good 'cardboard tube' sounds and a quasi-flange effect can be achieved by matching a short Main Delay time to a short Sub Delay time and adding a touch of feedback to produce the characteristic comb-filter effect.
The Cutec CD-424 digital delay is well constructed and provides a wide variation of delay effects with no distortion or noise. Unlike the Roland or Fostex delay units, the Cutec cannot produce flanging, chorus or phasing effects, it is strictly a digital delay unit, but as such, must still represent a good investment for any studio or musician. The only criticism of the unit must be the siting of the Sub Delay controls on the back panel.
Considering its good value for money and the bonus appeal of its Sub Delay, the Cutec is destined to find a home with a variety of users.
Further details from: MTR-Cutec, (Contact Details).