Electrospace Time Matrix
The Time Matrix is a new British designed and built user-programmable multitap digital delay system offering delay times up to 1637 milliseconds with a delay bandwidth of 16kHz. The unit utilises 12 bit analogue to digital to analogue converters and compander circuitry to produce quality delays with a dynamic range exceeding 80dB and a noise level of -75dB. For the uninitiated, this means that the delay signals produced from the Time Matrix are of a very high standard indeed. In addition to pure delay, the machine also produces digital reverberation and multi-echo effects, plus combinations of the three modes.
The circuitry used to achieve all this is housed in a large (3U) 5¼' x 19" black anodised metal case designed for mounting in a standard equipment rack. Connection to the device is done via electronically balanced XLR connectors on the rear, one input and two outputs - left and right. The signals selected for each output are routed via front panel miniature toggle switches on each of the digital delay taps to either left, right or both outputs.
The line level input is controlled by the I/P Level knob and a tricolour peak reading bargraph meter indicates the digital level. Beneath this meter are the mode selection buttons, of the momentary push on/push off type, which initiate the operational mode of the unit - either Delay Only, Reverb or Echo. In all cases a red LED lights in the button pressed to indicate exactly which mode you are in, so no confusion can arise.
The rear panel is completed by a remote control footswitch socket which duplicates the function of the front panel Bypass button, allowing silent drop-ins of effects. The knob adjacent to Bypass sets the level of the direct signal and is best used with the delay tap level controls for setting up mixes of dry and delayed signals.
In this mode 8 delay taps are available, each with a four figure green readout of the delay time in milliseconds, a button marked 'Set' with built-in red LED, a volume control and the previously described output routing switches. The maximum delay time for each tap is 1637ms ie. just over 1½ seconds.
Any delay can be programmed by selecting the Set button on the required tap having first entered Delay Only mode. At the bottom right of the panel are six more pushbuttons for moving the delay time 'up' or 'down' in three ways - fast, slow and 'nudge', which increments the readout one millisecond at a time. The placement of Up and Down nudge buttons next to each other makes for easy and accurate shuffling, permitting very quick modifications to existing settings.
Because of the design nature of the Time Matrix, there is no need to do anything to store a setting - the front panel is permanently in 'write' mode, any little changes to settings will cause the memory program indicated by the thumbwheel to be over-written and the current panel setting to be stored in its place.
Unfortunately, the individual delay level settings are not memorised, but to include this facility would add considerably to the cost of the unit - VCA chips and additional ADC/DACs don't come cheap! This is a wise move on the part of Electrospace as the subsequent price increase would automatically exclude a lot of potential buyers.
Returning to the memory feature of the Time Matrix, any program number can be dialled up using a mechanical thumbwheel counter below the delay tap section, and recalled by pressing the 'Enable' button to the side. The stored tap settings are then immediately displayed in the eight readouts, and the resulting delay effects are instigated.
A particularly useful feature of the unit is the ability to modify the delay time of taps in real-time whilst signals are present, and actually hear the changes as they are made.
In total the Time Matrix has 80 memories for delay. 20 of these come pre-programmed with the unit as examples of the effects range, but can be re-programmed by the user. I think 80 memories is more than sufficient for most people's needs, but for those not satisfied a further 30 preset effects are available in the Reverb mode, so you won't need to use up valuable memory locations for the creation of reverberation treatments.
The Time Matrix is able to produce a fairly convincing reverberation treatment due to the fact that it utilises eight delay taps of its own. Most single tap digital delays can only produce the traditional 'hard reverb' effect which is characterised by closely spaced echo repeats. With the Time Matrix in reverb mode, you effectively have eight delays which are set on very short time intervals but at irregular distances to produce a more realistic effect. The delay time of the whole eight taps can be further controlled by the Feedback level knob to create long reverb 'tails' that take time to fade away.
The 30 reverb memories can be dialled up using a second set of thumbwheel indicators and by pressing the Recall pushbutton associated with it. Unfortunately no display is provided to tell you what delay times are in use when reverb is selected, but a varied range of reverb effects are offered amongst the 30 presets and it doesn't take long to familiarise yourself with which reverb type is produced by which memory.
In order to hear the reverb effect, you need to utilise one or more of the front panel delay taps to select the output. What you do is choose a delay tap, say number 1, then reset the delay time to zero, turn up your output level and route the reverb to either left, right or both outputs. This gives you a straight mono reverb effect.
However, because the delay and reverb systems are independent of each other, you can have reverb from one tap, and still produce delay from the remaining seven. Alternatively, you can delay the reverb up to 1637ms and have eight such feeds. The effects possible are truly wondrous and pretty mind-blowing (to use an old-fashioned phrase). Imagine the original, clean signal placed in the centre of your stereo image and eight reverb effects all delayed by different amounts routed alternately to left and right speakers!
To further vary matters, you have the provision to tailor the tonal characteristics of the reverb decay considerably using the onboard HF and LF Response filters. These are of the continuously variable slope, variable frequency variety. In other words as they are turned in an anticlockwise fashion away from the 'flat' position they sweep 'down' ('up' in the case of the HF control) the frequency range from their initial 1 kHz settings, gradually increasing the degree of signal cut as they do so. It's a difficult concept to grasp but does provide an unusually effective means of varying the feel of the reverb. It can be employed, for example, to filter out the echo effects on high frequency material, such as cymbals, whilst allowing echo repeats on the remainder of the drum kit.
This final operational mode lets you use the Time Matrix as a standard digital delay capable of a maximum delay of, you guessed it, 1637 milliseconds, with feedback control to create multiple repeats. A separate four segment digital display indicates the selected echo which is programmed in the same manner as for the original delay taps, via the Up/Down incrementor buttons.
The Feedback level control has been set internally so that at extreme settings it will break into oscillation so care must be taken when setting volume levels.
Because the echo system uses one of the reverb system's delay taps and is fed onto the internal 8 into 2 mixer bus, its output level and routing are governed similarly by one or more of the delay tap controls. To obtain pure echo with variable feedback, the delay tap must be set for no delay and the level control turned up.
Once again, as with the reverb mode, you are able to delay the echo (by up to 1.6 seconds or so) if you wish, simply by selecting a delay time on any or all of the eight delay taps. Some stunning effects can be concocted in this mode that are extremely difficult to describe, let alone conceive. You could, for example, echo a vocal and delay it eight times, but with very similar short delay times (80ms) to create an 'Automatic Octal Tracked' effect!
This is the term given to the Time Matrix's onboard modulation facility. Unlike most standard digital delay lines, which utilise a low frequency oscillator to modify the preset delay time automatically, this unit achieves the same thing via its software, but acts simultaneously on all eight delay taps either manually or automatically.
With Time Slide you're essentially adding and subtracting time increments equally to the tap delay times displayed above each tap. This feature is programmable and is stored along with other information in memory. However, the on/off data is not memorised, so having dialled up a program containing Time Slide, the on/off button must be pressed to activate the effects.
Time Slide has two buttons associated with it - Auto Limit and Auto Rate, which define the amount and speed of the modulation. When the relevant button is depressed, a corresponding readout is given on the display directly above (the same one used for echo time delay). Auto Limit has a maximum range of +/-818 milliseconds ie. 1636ms in total, which will produce effective pitch fluctuations of up to +/-1 octave on an input signal. The time it takes for the'sweep' is set by Auto Rate which is adjustable from 0 to 1999. These are arbitrary units which could be thought of as the rate of change in milliseconds per second. At extreme settings it will give you almost instantaneous changes or take several weeks to complete one full modulation cycle!
Since Time Slide operates on all eight delay taps it's possible to create a series of eight adjustable delayed modulations. This in reality can produce some absolutely bizarre sound effects and at certain delay times it is even possible to obtain simultaneous downward and upward pitch slides. Additionally, with feedback operative, whatever modulation occurs to the input signal will re-occur every time the signal is fed back to the start of the loop. Thus the action of the Time Slide is cumulative, resulting in a continuous pitch glissando when large values are chosen for the Auto Limit parameter.
You really have to experience these effects yourself to fully appreciate the flexibility and versatility of this function. Some really weird and wonderful sounds can be achieved. Thankfully Electrospace have had the foresight to produce a demonstration tape of the Time Matrix, which should be available by the time you are reading this review. Words do not do justice to the immense amount of sound effects that the Time Matrix can achieve.
I may be sticking my neck out by forecasting the certain popularity of Electrospace's latest creation, but I do feel that this product is a winner. Its sheer physical presence tells you that it is something out of the ordinary and not just "another boring digital delay".
Priced at £1400 excluding VAT, the unit is well within the financial grasp of many small studios and probably several individuals too. A lot of pro studios will want to get hold of one of these for certain, the only restriction, I sense, will come from the number of products Electrospace wish to make available.
Facilities-wise, the Time Matrix represents very good value for money. Certain aspects of it could be improved upon, namely the lack of individual outputs for the 8 delay taps which would have increased the flexibility of the device considerably. I think some people will wish it had an infinite hold or 'freeze' function also, but personally I have rarely found a need for such a feature.
Let your imagination run riot with one of these and you'll see how plain useful it is for all manner of recording applications. To quote Electrospace... "the range of sounds these functions can achieve is limited only by the creativity and ingenuity of the user."
The Time Matrix sells for £1610 inc VAT.
For details of availability contact: Electrospace Developments Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Ian Gilby
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!