Cutec, best known for their budget-priced MR402 4-track cassette recorder, have just introduced this low-riced spring reverb unit with pre-delay. It is housed in the familiar 1U high, 19 inch rack-mountable style, will accept any level of input from microphone to line level and offers two outputs, one of dry and effects signals mixed, and the other of effects signals only.
The input section of the Cutec AE400 comprises two standard quarter inch jack sockets labelled Mic and Inst. The first is designated -40dB medium impedance and will accept microphone and low level line signals. The second is -20dB high impedance and will take guitars, keyboards or higher level line signals. Fine adjustment is made with a level control rotary pot in conjunction with a red peak LED which should flash occasionally on the highest signal peaks when the correct operating level is set.
The signal next encounters the reverb section of the unit. The AE400 reverb is generated by the use of spring lines. The input signal causes a transducer to shake one end of a spring and the resulting vibrations picked up at the other end of the spring generate the reverberation sound. This is the cheapest method of producing the reverberation effect and whilst it is prone to various problems, quality wise it is well capable of pleasing results when used with care. There is also no alternative in this price range.
The more springs used of different sizes, the warmer and less prone to resonance at specific frequencies becomes the reverb. Cutec uses two springs, a fat one and a thin one, and considering they are only about six inches long they produce a better sound than I would have initially expected. A reverb level pot controls the amount of effect from the springs to the output.
The delay section of this unit comes next, controlled by the delay pot which determines the amount of delayed signal sent to the output. The two parameters available for adjustment in conjunction with the delay level are feedback and delay time. Feedback controls the level of delayed signal returned to the input and the delay time is adjustable from 40 to 300 milliseconds. Both the reverb and delay effects can be altered to some extent by a tone control (basically a low pass filter) which does not affect the dry signal.
Two standard quarter inch jack footswitch sockets are available on the front panel to independently turn the reverb and delay on and off.
The output sockets are also standard jacks. The first gives a fixed level of dry signal mixed with the levels of reverb and delay as dictated by their respective level controls. The level of this output can be switched from -20 to -40dB. The other output provides the reverb and delay signals only, and is not affected by the attenuator switch.
Finally, on the front panel is the power switch which has a couple of strange features. First of all its associated LED is green, and secondly, it is 'on' in the up position. Will this become a new standard I wonder?
Description of the AE400 now out of the way, we shall see how it performs. The reverb section seems to suffer from hiss, although for the size of the springs the actual reverb sound itself is quite good and definitely usable. It is a shame though that the tone control is not elsewhere in the circuit as the hiss seems to be generated after it. The stated frequency response only goes up to 3.5kHz for both the reverb and delay signals, so one would have thought it conceivable to put the tone control where it would have been useful in getting rid of this noise.
For studio applications this problem can be overcome to a large extent by using the unit on an effect send from the mixer and returning it through an input channel with the top end cut by the EQ section. This would clean up the reverb signal without affecting the original. The noise problem is not so bad, however, as to prevent in-line use of the unit in the studio altogether, although its most likely application in this format would be for stage use where this level of noise is not unacceptable and is very likely to be masked by the ambient noise of a live gig.
The delay section does not suffer the noise problems of its partner and, within the restrictions of its bandwidth, performs extremely well.
Its fastest setting of 40 ms is ideal for producing Automatic Double Tracking (ADT), and 300 ms is long enough to match timed repeats to almost anything. The quality of the repeats stand up well on bass, guitar, keyboard and vocal signals.
The reverb and the delay sections compliment each other well, and the device really comes into its own when both are used together. A very good sound is obtainable on vocals with the delays set near to minimum (fast) with a little feedback and a small amount of reverb mixed in. The reverb fattens up the ADT without becoming too apparent in its own right. Conversely when longer repeats at low level are added to the reverb they can warm it up without the echoes becoming discernible. Although the delay is not strictly a pre-delay because the reverb is fed directly from the input and not solely by the delay, the repeats are fed back to the reverb section to make the sound more complex and satisfying.
The Cutec AE400 reverb/delay would be very well suited to life in a studio built around one of the cassette-based 4-track recorders anywhere from an X-15 to a Portastudio.
For home recordists on a tight budget there would be a multitude of applications for this unit. When used on vocals as described earlier, a bigger sound can be achieved very easily and recording quality can be preserved by reducing the need for double tracking. This technique can be used to good effect on most signals to achieve a fuller sound. Any failing the reverb section may have is surmountable with a little care and is amply countered by the delay section. As for whether the AE400 can be recommended, the answer is that there is simply no competition. It only costs £133 including VAT and no other unit, I know of, offers reverb and up to 300 ms delay (albeit at a limited bandwidth) for this sort of money.
The AE400 is a versatile piece of equipment and if you are involved with small scale multitrack, it will kill a lot of birds for £133.
The Cutec AE400 reverb/delay retails for £133 inc VAT.
Further details from: MTR, (Contact Details).
Review by Martin Sheehan
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