Digital reverberation continues its advance. Simon Trask puzzles over a unit that combines improved facilities and a lower price tag than its predecessor.
The latest digital reverb from Ibanez is an enhanced version of its predecessor, yet comes with a greatly reduced price tag. Will it find a niche in the increasingly crowded budget reverb market?
ANYONE LOOKING FOR an example of how digital technology can combine advances in quality and sophistication with falling prices need look no further than the area of digital reverb. What was once the province of professional studios and rich musicians is now becoming available to an increasing number of home studio owners and less-than-rich musicians. In fact, the difference is now more one of quantity than quality.
Ibanez SDR1000 digital reverb (subject of an In Brief in E&MM, Sept '86) is a case in point. Since its release last year the SDR1000 has met with the sort of success that's meant some pro studios have bought them in numbers greater than one. Now the company have brought out the SDR1000+, which turns out to be a software-updated version of the 1000. The good news for prospective purchasers is that the new model actually costs significantly less than its predecessor - allowing it to compete with the likes of Korg's DRV2000, Roland's DEP3 and ARTs Proverb.
THE SDR1000+ IS a stereo in/stereo out unit based around a custom-designed DSP (Digital Signal Processor) chip. It uses 16-bit linear PCM encoding for the reverb signal, with a 26kHz sampling rate. Frequency response is 20Hz-10kHz reverb and 20Hz-20kHz dry, while dynamic range is in excess of 90dB and total harmonic distortion is less than 0.03%. That's a lot of figures, but they translate into a very dynamic, bright and clean-sounding reverb.
Ten reverb modes are provided on the 1000+, and the two signal channels provided on the unit are independently programmable for some of these modes - either with different parameter values for the same effect, or with different effects altogether. Eight modes are carried over from the SDR1000: hall, room, plate, gate/gate, reverse/reverse, tap delay/tap delay, panning delay and reverb/reverb.
That leaves two new modes: reverb/gate and reverb/tap delay. With these comes a "cascade" feature which allows the two effects in each mode to be used either in parallel or in series, via an internal software connection. What's more, if you choose series operation then you can also decide which effect comes first - so, for instance, you could have tap delay followed by reverb or vice versa.
Ibanez have also allowed you to choose between stereo and mono modes of operation, the latter allowing a mono input such as a guitar (which should be fed into channel one) to utilise both reverb channels - and consequently, where applicable, both effects. Stereo operation allows you to hook up a single stereo instrument, to input two separate mono instruments or to process a whole mix - in true stereo. Of course with the familiar recording application of inserting the reverb in an effects send loop, you can choose whichever input mode is appropriate to your desk. The front panel provides dual concentric knobs for setting the input level of each channel, with two input level LED meters immediately above, and separate knobs for adjusting reverb and dry signal level.
And there's more good news on the internal memory front. Ibanez have chosen to double the memory capacity of the 1000+: there are now 100 preset and 100 user-programmable memories, which should be enough to satisfy most people for a lifetime and a half. Ibanez have obviously put a lot of care into devising the presets, having come up with a tremendous variety of effects which will make the 1000+ instantly useful in a wide range of applications. The 1000+'s manual lists all the preset patches, complete with parameter settings, and also provides blank sound-creation sheets for your own efforts. The presets provide the starting point for your own effects; once you've edited a preset you copy it into a user location.
There are a total of 12 reverb parameters, though typically six are available in each reverb mode. Standard parameters for the reverb effects are reverb time, early reflection time and level, pre-delay time, reverb time high frequency, and size. Reverb time in both hall and plate modes ranges from 0.3 secs to a massive 99 secs, while for room mode it ranges from 0.07 secs to 24.75 secs.
The reverb time high frequency parameter simulates the more rapid absorption of high-frequency components that takes place in the real world. This is achieved by bringing a low-pass filter into the reverb circuit which removes higher frequencies (above 6kHz) at a rate determined by the parameter setting. Ibanez have also provided the facility to alter environment size, with a choice of 16 different sizes available in hall, room, plate and dual reverb modes.
Modes three and four allow you to program gated and reverse reverb effects respectively (though the latter mode can also be programmed as a gated reverse reverb). The 1000+ allows you to program a wide variety of gated effects ranging from extremely tight to "blurred".
Mode five allows the 1000+ to be used as a dual delay line, with delay time for each channel programmable in millisecond increments up to 1001msecs (ie. one second). By setting feedback level (0-99%) and a different delay time for each channel, it's possible to create a wide variety of delay effects. Ibanez have also allowed you to set a tap delay on a scale of 0-20 taps, with a greater number of taps corresponding to a shorter delay time.
Mode six provides auto-panning, which allows the input (mono or stereo) to be panned across the stereo outputs. Panning speed can be set from 0.10-20Hz (number of pan cycles per second), while depth of panning can range from zero to 100%. Additionally a pre-delay can be set from 0-255msecs.
The flexibility of this mode is a marked improvement over the 1000, incorporating delay features from mode five. Reverb time, reverb time high frequency and feedback level can be programmed independently for each channel, using the same parameter ranges as in mode five.
Mode seven allows the 1000+ to operate two completely independent reverb effects using the plate reverb simulation of mode two - though at the expense of reduced reverb time (9.90 instead of 99 seconds).
A similar situation exists with the two new modes, where reverb is coupled with gate and tap-delay effects respectively. These two modes represent the 1000+'s foray into the world of multi-effects, in the sense that two different effects can run concurrently. But as mentioned earlier, Ibanez have also allowed you to run the two relevant effects in series, and to decide which effect should come first - often with drastically different results, making the feature a useful addition.
The 1000+ comes complete with four-band equalisation which provides centre bands of 100Hz (low), 400Hz (low mid), 1.6kHz (high mid) and 6.4kHz (high). Each band can be boosted or cut by up to 12dB (ie. four times) in 2dB steps, while the overall EQ strength can be adjusted by +/-12dB. Far from being a half-hearted affair, these EQ settings are programmable for each effect channel and for each memory, and significantly enhance both the quality and the range of effects that can be achieved with the 1000+.
THE FRONT PANEL is economically laid out and easy to use. Editing is blissfully straightforward, which is more than can be said for some digital access systems. The reverb has five operational modes: memory, write, edit, EQ and MIDI. The parameter buttons on the right half of the front panel fulfil different functions in different modes (though there are no more than two functions for each button), and these are colour-coded to make life easier. Another helpful (though initially disconcerting) touch is that each parameter button has its own inset "pinpoint" LED which flashes when in Edit, EQ or MIDI modes if that button's function is relevant to the mode (these stay alight when selected). This is particularly useful in Edit mode, where each reverb mode has its own set of parameters.
The rear panel is well-appointed with sockets of various kinds. Ibanez have provided both jack and phono inputs and outputs (jack inputs override phonos). An input/output level switch allows you to select between +4dB and -20dB settings to cater for all types of signal input. Four footswitch jack inputs cater for memory up and down selection, effect on/off and Hold on/off, while three DIN sockets offer MIDI In, MIDI Thru and Remote.
And so to an interesting performance feature of the 1000+: the footswitch-activated Hold feature, which can be used with the hall, room, plate and dual reverb modes. As you might guess, this feature holds the reverb signal at a constant level. It's great for David Sylvian-style sustained ambient noise effects, but also capable of a great variety of sustaining textures. The only possible drawback is that anything you play "on top" of the sustained sound remains untreated.
MIDI ON DIGITAL reverbs has rapidly progressed from being a novelty to being an essential requirement (whether or not everyone makes use of it is another matter). MIDI reception can be set to Omni On or to any one of channels 1-16, and Ibanez have included the ability to "patch map" internal memories to incoming MIDI patch numbers. Each of the 1000+'s 200 memories can be assigned to a patch number from 0-127.
An alternative way of remotely calling up the memories is to use Ibanez' IFC60 Intelligent Foot Controller connected to the six-pin DIN Remote socket on the reverb's rear panel. While this disables MIDI reception, it is presumably intended for guitarists who'd like the patch change facility but don't use MIDI.
Among the upgrade features of the 1000+ is dynamic MIDI control of reverb. However, unlike some reverbs currently on the market (DRV2000, ART DR1, Lexicon PCM70 - only the DRV being equivalently priced) this control is limited to a single parameter: effect level. Control is effected by MIDI controller (0-121), key velocity, channel aftertouch or MIDI note number. In all these cases a higher value generates a higher effect level.
In practice there's plenty of mileage to be got out of just this one parameter to make its inclusion worthwhile. However, its effectiveness would have been enhanced by the ability to set response sensitivity and to reverse the response scale.
On a more esoteric level, there's no facility for SysEx transfer of memory data. Granted, there are plentiful memories onboard - but larger studios in particular could benefit from the ability to port data from one unit to another, or to store data on a central MIDI data filing system.
DON'T LET THE price fool you. Ibanez' latest digital reverb is a professional-quality unit which will sit happily in any top studio. It is undoubtedly one of the most flexible digital reverbs on the market, capable of generating a remarkable variety of reverb effects with a clarity and a quality which can range from smooth and warm to brittle and metallic. And it handles a wide variety of instrumental inputs, from the smoothest of string sounds to the high transient attacks of a drum machine, with equal ease and consistently high-quality results.
The range of preset effects is comprehensive to say the least, but should you want to get into tailoring your own effects, the 1000+ provides more than enough user memories. In fact the reverb's flexibility and easy-to-use editing system encourage you to be creative.
Ibanez' reverb is excellent value for money and undoubtedly a sound investment for any home or pro studio. The only danger is that once you've bought one you'll probably want more.
Price £499 including VAT
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Review by Simon Trask
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