Fostex 3180 Stereo Reverb
The model 3180 is a compact stereo reverberation unit designed for the live musician or recording studio. The benefit of a stereo device is that a much more natural reverb sound can be produced with a good spatial image. Until quite recently, quality stereo reverb systems were fairly restrictive in price, but this unit offers the user stereo reverb at a budget price.
Like many other budget-priced reverb units, the Fostex 3180 relies upon a springline mechanism to produce the delayed output. However, the unit also employs a novel 24mS predelay circuit, based on bucket brigade devices, to recreate the delay heard between the perception of the source (original) signal and the first echo repeat; the end result being a far more realistic reverberation effect than is usually obtained from such spring-based devices.
The unit itself is well finished in a dark brown colour with most control functions labelled in white. The 2U high front panel is divided neatly into separate sections for Input, Channel 1, Channel 2, Input Mix, Output and Power. The rear panel has eight RCA phono sockets, which are divided into two groups of four by two white legendary surrounds. The output sockets are as follows: Channel 2, Channel 1. The upper two are grouped as Normal, whilst the lower two are grouped as Stereo. The other four sockets are for input connections. They are labelled Chan 1 and Chan 2 with the lower two used for connection to Foldback. A useful feature is that both inputs and outputs to and from the 3180 are available at the front and rear of the unit, the front panel input and output being made via four standard jack sockets. The foldback is just a direct connection to each of the inputs.
For each of the channels, an Input rotary level control is provided. These are dark brown controls with red caps and are rated from 0 to 10. Above each of the input level controls there is an overload LED. This will light if the input level is set too high for the input amplifiers. To the right of the input controls are the output level rotary controls, which have yellow caps. There are two output controls for each channel, one is labelled Dry and the other Reverb. To the right of the level controls is a pushbutton switch. This provides an Input Mix facility which allows a mono input signal to be processed by both channels of the reverb system which will give the final output a stereo spatial image. A very useful feature on stereo mixdown, if you've already recorded your multitrack drums in mono, for example. Beneath this control is a jack socket that can be connected to an optional footswitch and used to remotely switch the reverb on or off.
The next section on the front panel contains the output connections. These are standard jack sockets which are wired in parallel with the Normal output sockets on the rear of the unit. Finally, to the very right of the front panel is the power switch. This is a pushbutton with a status LED situated above it.
For the purpose of review the 3180 was wired into a studio via the stereo echo sends of a mixing console and then the Normal outputs were fed back into the desk via the echo return lines. A selection of different sound material was used to test the unit from rock music to jazz, but on individual instruments the best results were obtained with a snare drum sound. The built in 24mS pre-delay on each channel does add that touch of realism to the programme material. The 'dry' output controls provide a very convenient method of creating a balance between source and reverberated material if there is no mixing desk being used. On listening to the reverb output signal on its own, it was surprisingly distortion free and still exhibited a very good stereo panorama.
The 3180 is a versatile unit, in that it can be used 'live' or in a studio environment. An optional rack mount kit is available to enable the 3180 to be installed in a 19" rack. With all of the facilities available the unit can be used easily as a straight mono reverb if required, or a full stereo system. The only criticism of the 3180 is that there are no onboard equalisation controls which can be a problem if there is no EQ on your desk auxilliary sends. It was found that although the unit did not suffer from the usual springline 'ping' or 'bong' defects on transient sounds, it did lack very much in the bass response. A quick look at the specified frequency response for the reverb signal confirmed these suspicions with the bandwidth extending from 200 Hz to 7kHz.
All in all, this is a welcome device for all home recordists, widening the choice of available reverberation units. The stereo operation is the most attractive feature and this unit will undoubtedly find favour with a lot of people.
Recommended retail price of the 3180 is £338.68 including VAT. The optional rack mount kit is £9.98 including VAT.
Review by Jennifer Johnson
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