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Alesis Midiverb 4

Article from The Mix, March 1995

The reverb that never dies


The original Alesis Midiverb started a revolution in affordable digital effects, as well as pioneering the concept of endless sequels. Danny McAleer powers up the latest in the line, MidiVerb 4...


Gone are the days when if a hall reverb was required for a recording, a group would pop off to the local church with their 4-track and pester the vicar for an hour of his time. Gone too, is the time when using a drainpipe with a rusty spring inside was an acceptable means of creating a tight reverb. Things tend to be a little more refined now, and one reverb unit that's undergone more refinements than Labour Party policy is the MidiVerb.

As the inventors of the original Microverb, Alesis have developed increasingly complex beasties capable of more than just simple reverbs and delays. In the style of a Hollywood sequel, MIDIverb 4 borrows a great deal of its suave design from the Quadraverb module. The front panel has a humungous backlit LCD, indicating which parameter it is you're editing, and a series of function buttons (some of which are lit when pressed) and a data entry wheel.

The display shows all of the current information, dependent of course on which mode you are in. In program mode, the name of the patch and its combination algorithm are displayed next to a huge, three digit, seven segment numeral. On the bottom of the screen are two bars, which graphically display the volume of the incoming signal with a flashing peak symbol.

Plugging it in



The MidiVerb 4 has a pair of stereo inputs and outputs which can, depending on the program, be used either as two independent mono inputs, a single mono input and stereo output, or for true stereo processing (two in and two out). There are also two MIDI plugs on the rear panel (in and out/soft thru), plus a foot pedal connection which works with any pedal, and can be used for controlling effects parameters. The power supply is of the external variety, but looks more robust than the average shop-bought effort which packs up after an hour or two.

Because of the nature of its software, the MIDIverb 4 has no external hardware controls for input and output volumes; it is all performed internally. There are some obvious advantages to be had from having no volume sliders; Chinagraph pencil marks on the fascia, for instance.


The volumes are controlled within the Input and Output menus. Both the left and right volumes within each of the two menus are adjustable (using the data wheel) between 0 and 100%, except when the cascade function is switched on. When this happens, as the right input isn't used any more, the input volume adjust is only applicable to the left channel.

Pushing both the input and output buttons simultaneously, accesses one of MIDIverb's cleverer tricks: automatic adjustment of the input gain. It listens to the incoming signal for about five seconds, and then adjusts the volume for the best sound, saving you a lot of time fussing about with levels.

There are two ways that the MIDIverb can be bypassed. The first is to select preset program 00 ('bypass'), which emulates the desired effect, or to press both the program and utility buttons simultaneously. Whilst the latter is the proper bypass (lighting the bypass LED on the front panel) the first method is certainly the most useful for MIDI applications, because all that it needs is a program change message (as opposed to a system exclusive) to activate.

Building blocks



MIDIverb uses a system of 'configurations' that determines the way variables like signal routing and effects are used. There are four different types: Single, double, dual mono, and multichain. The 'single' algorithm provides the greatest depth of editing, whilst multi-chain settings opt for cramming more types of effects (in serial) and less parameters per effect. Combining a set of stereo effects in series is achieved with the double algorithm.

Top: the routing configuration in dual mono mode when cascade is switched off. Each signal is effected separately
Bottom: when cascade is switched on, the left signal is routed through both effects

The dual mono algorithm effectively transforms the MIDIverb into two separate mono processors, unless you select the option to cascade the channel one (left) input after the effects through channel two's effects and output to channel two (See diagram). This function can have some particularly creative applications. Routing a vocal mono source firstly through a pitch shifter, and then creating another pseudo-pitch effect by setting the a delay to about 4mS produces some quite bizarre results, especially if the signals are panned hard right and left on the mixer afterwards. What it doesn't allow you to do, however, is to use the right channel in cascade mode, which is a major disappointment, as this could have opened up far more interesting routing experiments.

There are 32 pre-defined combinations on offer with the MIDIverb, comprising 16 of the 'single' type algorithms, seven dual mono, six multi-chain, and three double. The last set of patches in the ROM section are made up of one of each of the combinations, and as such, form a foundation for building up a new patch of your own. These 32 programs offer a wide range of single reverbs and delays (plus Leslie, pitchshifting, and autopan), and mixtures, but don't pander to the needs of the inventive. For example, you cannot mix reverse reverb with anything, or flange with chorus (actually, a lot of units don't mix these two anyway).



"The Dual Mono configuration would have been an even better tool if only the right input could be utilised"


After selecting the desired combination, pressing the edit (page) button opens up all sorts of parameters ripe for the picking. There are six types of reverb, covering all manner of room sizes, plus plate and reverse. With the single configuration reverbs, more parameters are available for editing, like the percentage of swirl (which can cause a fantastic detuning effect to the decay portion of a reverb) and low pass filter.

All generally have a gating effect (making the reverb sound abrupt), decay times, which can actually be more than two minutes long with the hall algorithm, and a dry/mix level adjust (unless the global parameter dry defeat is set to on). The last two parameters are usually MIDI controllable. Both low and high frequency damping are also available, for cutting out any extraneous bass rumbles or washes of noise caused by over-zealous reverberation.

Of the delays, the BPM mono delay must be the most interesting. This effect has the ability to synchronise itself to an external MIDI clock, so the calculator can be put away. Others include stereo delay, multi-tap, and ping pong algorithms, each of which can be finely tuned within 1mS. Other effects available include a whizz of a stereo flange, chorus (and its many derivates), auto pan and pitch shifting.

Each effect can have up to four pages of parameters to edit, with up to four values per page. Moving through the values is achieved with the A, B, C, and D keys, their relative positions corresponding to the parameters on screen. Each value has a short title (by holding down the corresponding A, B, C or D key, the parameter can be better identified), a numeric value and bar graph. The bottom left of the screen indicates the current page (this is true of all modes) which the edit button is used to flick through.

Pressing the store button (once edits have been made) allows you to write your doodlings onto a user patch, and label it with a new name. The MIDIverb asks for confirmation before it writes over a patch. But don't panic if you squander a whole batch of user presets trying to make your vocalist sound like a dalek; you can reset the memory with a power up and key combination.


MIDI implementation



Changing the MIDI receive channel (whose default is omni-mode or MIDI 0) is done in the utilities menu. Other global MIDI parameters include switching on or off the MIDI thru, and the program change settings.

As well as recalling the right effect patch, various parameters can be controlled via MIDI, using controller changes like modulation or pitch bend. Depending on what type of effect is used, certain properties are editable. As a general rule, decay time and mix are controllable on the reverb patches, feedback on delay, feedback and mix controls on flange, chorus, and combinations, but this does vary slightly. It isn't possible to re-define the controller maps (to other parameters) or to have more than two, but the control offered is implemented well. The only real problem is that there is no indication (apart from aural), that any changes are being made. The MidiVerb would have benefitted from a 'MIDI busy' light (or even used the bypass LED), or at least some form of recognition of the values being manipulated.

The 'flange:flange' configuration gets some excellent results when two sweeps are programmed in opposition, using two different controllers for each of the Mod#X and Mod#Y parameters. Alternatively, you can achieve the same result by setting the amplitude levels to +99 and -99 for Mod#X and Y parameters respectively, whilst still using the same controller for each. This means that you can use a single controller, like the pitch bend or modulation wheel, for live manipulation of various settings.

The final use for MIDI is for storing the user patches using system exclusives. All of the files can be dumped together, which is useful for backing up data, or just one at a time, which is more useful for setting up a program for a particular sequence.

Verdict



Anything with a bank of ROM presets immediately gets a thumbs down as far as creativity goes. After all, if the module is equipped with editing features, and a method of storage (via system exclusives), the only thing serving up a selection of ready-cooked meals does, is make the user idle. Having said that, there are some choice TV dinners amongst the presets, including 'Foamy' (a concert hall with hundreds of fluffy dice hanging from the ceilings), 'Rock Lez' (stereo Leslie effect), and 'Sweeper' (the craziest stereo flange ever...).

Without a doubt, the Dual Mono configuration would have been an even better tool if only the right input could be utilised. But this is the case throughout most, if not all, of the functions in the box; there are simply too many constraints (like the MIDI controllers and effect-type combinations being predefined and unalterable) which only cause aggravation. In fact, on the flexibility meter, the MidiVerb registers around the 'solid block of wood' level. On the plus side though, is the incomparable quality of its reverbs and flanges.

The essentials...

Price inc VAT: £399
More from: Sound Technology, (Contact Details).


Spec check

Frequency response 20Hz - 20KHz (±1dB)
THD+noise <0.009% @1 KHz
Crosstalk <90dB
A/D D/A conversion 18bit 128x, and 8x oversampling
Sampling frequency 48KHz
Programs 256 (128 user definable, 128 presets)
Dimensions (WxHxD) 480mm x 45mm x 180mm
Weight 4lbs


Featuring related gear



Previous Article in this issue

Pocket pioneer

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Hard Bargain


Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
More details on copyright ownership...

 

The Mix - Mar 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Simon Dell

Control Room

Gear in this article:

Studio/Rack FX > Alesis > Midiverb 4

Review by Danny McAleer

Previous article in this issue:

> Pocket pioneer

Next article in this issue:

> Hard Bargain


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