Great British Spring Mk 3.
The Great British Spring reverb has been around for several years in one form or another and has gained respect from sound engineers in all fields of recording for its economy and workmanlike efficiency.
Under review here is the Mk3 model which has changed both its circuitry and its appearance in comparison to earlier versions.
The first models were housed in a length of grey plastic waste pipe, and both the wall mountings and end caps came straight from a builders' supply merchant. If it went wrong, you didn't know whether to call an electrician or a plumber!
The latest offering, however, is now finished in matt black, although the main body is still formed from a length of OSMA waste pipe, but the end caps are now purpose built mouldings and do much to add dignity to the otherwise utilitarian styling.
Although the GBS does not look as sleek as some of its rack-mounting counterparts, there is a good reason for its size and shape.
The two sets of triple spring units contained within the piping, are much longer than the ones found in more conventional systems and, when placed end to end, they fill most of the available space in the four foot long pipe which comprises the main body of the device.
The power unit is located remotely in order to reduce hum pick-up, and the DC output is then fed to the electronics via a cable and DIN plug arrangement.
On either end of the tube are the specially moulded plastic covers, which also double as wall-mounting points, and the top one contains the input and output XLR sockets, the DC power cable, and the input level preset.
The unit should be mounted vertically in order to maintain the correct spring tension, and a mounting kit is provided for this purpose, along with instructions and advice concerning the positioning of the unit relative to power cables and possible sources of induced hum.
The GBS Mk3 is a true stereo device in that both channels may be used independently if required, although normally a single input would drive both channels and the outputs would be panned left and right to obtain the most effective stereo image.
Signal connections are made by means of XLR connectors, two input and two output, with balanced line operation being offered as an optional extra.
The drive circuitry is simple but effective, being built around a pair of NE553 low noise operational amplifiers, and there is adequate space on the PCB for the mounting of balancing transformers if that option is requested.
The spring lines themselves are, I believe, made by Acutronics, and are fixed to a long metal screening plate to minimise external electromagnetic interference.
Spring units have a reputation for producing 'twangs' and 'boings' when faced with percussive sounds, and many budget manufacturers have attempted to improve the situation by adding EQ and limiters to reduce these effects. In my experience, these measures cause a deterioration in the overall sound quality and I usually end up bypassing them.
Bandive have opted for a different approach in the design of the GBS Mk3 by producing a 'no frills' unit incorporating the best spring system that the design budget would permit. No signal processing is fitted other than the input gain preset, so if you want to use a limiter or whatever, you have to patch it in externally.
Also supplied with the unit is a computer printout of the measured frequency response for each channel, and although this is of no direct use to the user, it does indicate a thorough quality control check.
No matter how well a unit is built, or how smart it looks, it's no good if it doesn't sound right, so I set up the GBS Mk3 in a studio and set about finding sound sources to tax its abilities.
The quoted signal-to-noise ratio is better than -65 dBm, which must be an improvement over early models which tended to have slightly noisy electronics.
I set up the effect return lines by adjusting the gain on the mixer to a point where the background noise was just audible at normal monitoring levels, and then backed off the gain slightly until the noise was inaudible.
A Roland TR606 drum machine was the first sound source used, and I set up a simple pattern using bass drum, snare and hi-hat voicings. Although it is not customary to add reverb to bass drums, I thought that it would provide a chance to study the low frequency transient performance of the spring line.
On listening to the reverb sound only, with the direct drum sound muted, the characteristic twangs and boings were apparent but they were of very short duration, and when the direct sound was re-introduced, they were almost entirely hidden by the sound of the drum beat. The actual reverb tail that followed the beat was deep, but with a clear top end that did not decay too quickly. Again subjectively, it seemed that the reverberant sound embodied the characteristics of the input rather than deteriorating into a metallic melee of noise, and this is a commendable achievement for any budget spring system.
A tape of real drums produced equally pleasing results, the hi-hat sound producing bright initial reflections before dying away, very similar in fact to a real acoustic environment.
Vocal and keyboard synth sounds also fared well, their generally low transient characteristics presenting little difficulty, and the sound quality was again full bodied and bright with a spacious stereo image.
Decay time is quoted as being between two and three seconds, which was borne out by listening tests. It is certainly long enough for most applications and maybe even too long for some purposes.
The instruction sheet suggests that the decay time can be shortened by passing the output through an expander, or, in the case of stereo, a pair of expanders. In practice, providing that excessive levels of reverberation are avoided, the decay time is a good compromise for most types of programme material.
Given that the device is a spring unit, and as such must exhibit some of the undesirable side effects of such devices, the Great British Spring performs remarkably well with its vices being kept firmly under control. The fixed decay time may be seen as a restriction by some users, but then they can always follow Bandive's suggestion and use an expander or two on it, and at this price, what serious alternative is there?
Adding a short pre-delay enhances the reverb effect still further, but even on its own, the GBS Mk3 gives a full rich sound with a wide stereo image and, unlike early versions, background noise is not a problem.
Although by no means perfect (and no-one expects perfection at this price), the GBS Mk3 offers one of the best, if not the best quality of reverberation in its price range and I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone with a limited budget who is looking for a reverb system for under three hundred pounds.
Retail price £229.95 including VAT.
Further details from Bandive, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White