Dynacord DRP16 Digital Reverb
A low-cost preset reverberation device offering high quality effects. Ian Gilby investigates.
That old maxim, "all good things come to those that wait", is most definitely true of the home recording market. Just under a year ago, there was absolutely no alternative to a springline device for the home recordist looking for an affordable means of producing reverberation treatments in his/her back bedroom 'studio'. Even then, the majority of the cheaper spring reverb units suffered from appalling signal-to-noise ratios, non-existent dynamic range and poor signal bandwidth - but they still sold! Why? Because there was no alternative, until the appearance of the Yamaha R1000 digital reverb unit towards the end of 1983, costing around £500.
Since then, several digital reverb devices have hit the UK market, all selling for 'budget prices', such as the MXR 01a and Lexicon PCM60. However, such units still cost over £1500 - which is an awful lot of money to the guy who has just shelled out a similar amount for a new or secondhand 8 track recorder. The facilities offered by the R1000, for the asking price, seem mighty tempting if you're in the latter situation and looking for a good quality reverb unit to inject space into your recordings. To be frank, there has been no direct competition in this field, which is great for Yamaha who have been successfully reaping the rewards of such a glorious invention (and why not?); but the recent arrival onto the UK market of the DRP16 digital reverb from German manufacturers Dynacord will change matters considerably, I'm sure.
First off, what about Dynacord. Well you can be forgiven for never having heard of them, but the company has had a long history of involvement with musical equipment in Europe - but most past products of theirs, unfortunately, never saw the light of day in the UK, thanks to shoddy distribution and a very poor exchange rate.
In Germany, however, Dynacord rank high in the amplification stakes and have recently entered several new musical fields with their Simmons 'look-alike' electronic drum kit, and a range of digital-based signal processors that are aimed at the PA/studio markets. The digital reverb under review forms part of the latter category and looks to be a real winner in my books.
The DRP16 is a fully digital, stereo reverberation unit offering 8 preset effects programs housed in the ever familiar 1U high, 19" wide rack-mounting case. Its suggested retail price is £669 including VAT according to new UK importers, Washburn, but you'll probably see it for around the £600 mark, making it slightly more expensive than the Yamaha unit.
The Dynacord reverb is endowed with the expected array of features: input level control with LED headroom indicators; eight pushbuttons for instant selection of the manufacturer's preset reverb programs (details later); a bright, clear, red digital readout of selected program number, plus tone, effect mix and output level controls, all of which are mounted on the black front panel.
Connections to and from the unit are very comprehensive with all sockets being of the unbalanced 'jack' variety. Outputs are provided for original (direct), mixed (reverb/direct), and reverb only (left/right) signals on the rear panel. For added convenience and versatility, the front panel also sports 'input' and 'mixed output' sockets which are wired in parallel with those on the rear, allowing both to be used simultaneously with no drastic side-effects.
The device does provide a stereo output from a mono source input, but it is a pseudo-stereo effect ie. artificial, since the processed signal from the onboard 12 bit microprocessor is monophonic. It is split electrically into two later on, then fed to the left and right outputs. On budget effects devices this is usually achieved by simply introducing a 180° phase shift into the output signal, with the unfortunate consequence that the recorded stereo reverb effect completely disappears when listened to in mono, as the left and right outputs cancel each other out, leaving no reverb output! The same problem can occur with microphones by the way, so take care.
However, this problem does not arise on the DRP16 as the stereo reverb outputs are, what is most commonly termed, 'mono-compatible'; which means they won't disappear if monitored in mono. If you're not into stereo reverb yet (you should be!), the left reverb output jack also provides a mono (summed) signal when no other jack is connected to the right reverb output socket.
Dynacord betray their professional background further on the DRP16 by providing a very handy groundlift shift on the back panel. This helps eliminate the problems of 'earth (ground) loops', which manifest themselves as an audible buzz or hum in your recordings. They often occur when several earthed devices in a studio rack are connected electrically together via their cases. The easiest way to remove the loop is to unearth all but one of the units in the offending rack. For a detailed explanation of this refer to 'Studio Earthing Techniques' (Interconnect: HSR September/ October 84).
If you wish to utilise the Dynacord reverb on stage, the optional remote footswitch unit (PFS 14) can be plugged into the rear panel Remote socket giving instant selection of any reverb program. In addition, another footswitch can be connected to the front panel On/Off jack socket to give control of the effect bypass facility (indicated by a flashing dot on the program display).
Finally, I mustn't forget the detachable mains lead, which is some ten feet long. Long enough, that is, to allow the DRP16 to be installed at the very top of a tall rack and still have enough cable to reach the plugboard on the floor. Oriental designers please take note!
'Preset' invariably equates with 'lack of versatility' in my book, but that has to be balanced out by the selling price. In terms of the Lexicon PCM60 (reviewed last month) it is a valid point, but not for the DRP16 (or Yamaha) which cost about one third of the price.
There's undoubtedly a case to be argued for a reverb device with four or so, very good, very usable reverberation effects, as most end users invariably discover one or two settings that they like and use all of the time. It's pointless to buy a very expensive reverb unit when your budget is tight, only to end up using one 'overall' reverb treatment on your final mix recording. It's an unavoidable situation, unless you choose to record reverb on individual tracks before mixing down, which can cause problems ie. too much or too little reverb on a particular track with no way of changing it, and you'll tie up a valuable unit which is capable of giving more than a simple background ambience.
This is where the likes of the Dynacord prove a saving grace. Providing you like what is on offer in terms of the presets, they can be used to take care of the more mundane reverb duties, leaving your expensive 'all-singing, all-dancing' device to do just that. For the commercial semi-pro studio, it makes financial sense, and enables you to offer a very wide variation of spatial effects to your customers.
So, to the presets. As you may well know by now, reverberation occurs after the original signal; how long after is determined by the size of the acoustic environment (room) that produces the reverberation. This delay between original and reverb signals (known as a predelay) is usually in the order of milliseconds, and plays a considerable part in telling the human brain (via the ear) just how 'big' a room is. The other important element is the duration of the reverb 'tail' or decay ie. how long it takes the original signal to die away.
On this Dynacord unit, the pre-delay is automatically varied on each program as is the decay time. The longest decay occurs on Program 1 (4.8 seconds) and the shortest on Program 8 (900 milliseconds). The full rundown on program variations being as follows:
|Program||Pre-Delay (ms)||Decay (ms)|
The DRP16 was tested by patching it into the send/return auxiliary loop of a Starsound Dynamix 16-8-2 mixer, and used whilst mixing down an eight track tape recorded on a Tascam 38 machine.
Because of the comprehensive output facilities afforded by the DRP16, I tried routing the left/right 'reverb only' signals to two separate input channels on the mixer and panned them hard left and right in the stereo image. I also took the direct, original, signal output, stuck it through a good quality flanger pedal (set to give a slow sweep effect), and returned that to another input channel and panned that left of centre. I simultaneously fed the mixed output to a digital delay set to give a 100ms repeat, returned that to a fourth mixer input channel and positioned it to the right of centre in the stereo image, but kept the fader well down. Sending the vocal tracks on the 8 track tape through that lot produced an absolutely 'stunning' sound, when Reverb Programs 1 to 4 were employed. On Program 8, using the same arrangement but with the drum tracks (the new Korg Super Drums - brilliant!) a punchy, dynamic kit sound that totally filled the stereo soundstage resulted. The combination of digital drum sounds, reverb, echo and flange brought home to me the sheer amount of fun you can have when making your own recordings. If you've never done it before, find time to experiment with the reverb devices you already own and discover all the different ways you can alter the reverb. It's the best way to learn about the important effect reverberation has on all recordings. Listen to Peter Gabriel's records or The Police very carefully and you'll discover the secret of the little black box...
Subjectively, this unit provides a good range of reverberation treatments. Programs 3 and 4 were my favourites for overall 'blanket' reverb effects on a complete drum kit (well, drum machine 'kit'), and the 4.8 second decay of Program 1 was used extensively on synth lines, but kept low in the mix. No noise was evident in operation which bears out the claim of an 87dB signal-to-noise ratio on the effect signal lines.
The 'sound' of the reverb effect was rich and cohesive on all settings with no added EQ. The reverb itself is quite dense and very realistic and has a completely different characteristic to that produced by the Yamaha R1000, for example. It appears warm, whereas to my ears the Yamaha offers a colder, harsher effect. It depends what you're looking for I suppose.
I liked this unit very much; it's easy to get on with, very quiet, fully interfaceable with amps, PA or mixing desk, level-wise, and offers a very good selection of reverb effects. Having spoken to Dynacord, it seems that a retrofittable PROM containing a further eight reverb programs will soon be available for this machine, costing around £60. Once installed, the extra bank of presets can be accessed by first pressing program selector buttons 2, 4 and 6 simultaneously, and then calling up the new preset as required. The idea of software-expandable devices like this one is part of the real beauty of digital technology. It's less likely to become obsolete - although no reverb device should ever be considered obsolete in my opinion; there's always some use to which they can be put in a recording.
At £600 or so, the Dynacord DRP16 Reverb looks set to give the Yamaha a run for its money. The two do sound very different and offer different facilities, but having used both, my money's on the Dynacord - literally! I was so impressed with this unit that I refused to let Hobbs Music have it back, so I bought it!
Review model kindly loaned by Hobbs Music, Mary Street, Lancaster LA1 1UW. Tel. (0524) 60740.
RRP of the DRP16 Reverb is £669 inc VAT.
Further details from above or UK importers, Washburn UK Ltd. (Contact Details).