Following on from the DRV 1000 and DRV2000, this latest digital reverb cum multi-effects processor is Korg's most sophisticated yet - 16-bit, 20kHz bandwidth, full MIDI control and, for all armchair enthusiasts, an infra-red remote control. David Hughes reports.
David Hughes finds some nice surprises lie behind the sleek front panel of Korg's top-of-the-range stereo digital effects processor for those prepared to experiment.
To begin then, the DRV3000 is Korg's top-of-the-range model alongside the DRV2000 reviewed in the June '87 issue (you have read it, haven't you?!) and appears at first sight to be a rather unremarkable device. It has a simple, uncluttered appearance (rather like a Habitat showroom). There is only one rotary pot on the front and two pushbuttons, one of which is the power switch. The front panel is decorated with a large backlit LCD, a series of LEDs describing the current mode of the instrument, and a LED VU meter for setting input levels. However, all is not lost because the DRV3000 has a master card up its digital sleeve in the form of a rather elegant, hand-held, remote control box, which is used to operate the machine from the comfort of your master keyboard.
Okay, time to actually sit down and use the device. On plugging the unit into a source of electrons, ie. the mains, you are greeted with the simple, rather reassuring start-up message: K O R G D R V 3 0 0 0. The machine then jumps to the effects program you last called up. Now, with every instrument, be it the mega-synth of your dreams or even a humble tumble-drier, there are two ways to get to know the machine. The first is obvious: read the manual. The second, the one which I usually lapse into (naughty, naughty, slap on wrist), is known as the 'tweety-pie' approach, ie. 'here's a knob, what's it do?'.
Far too often this latter approach is pushed upon you by the fact that the manual is about as readable as War and Peace and about as involved. And this, sad to say, is where Korg have goofed up a trifle. The manual doesn't really explain exactly what 'reverb', 'phasing' and 'early reflections' are in detailed terms. You're expected to know what they are and what they should sound like. Also, there are one or two serious gaffs which had me sitting on the floor scratching the proverbial bum wondering what it all meant. Korg's translator appears to be a little confused over the definition of 'serial' and 'parallel'. At this point in the manual, I gave up and went to search out my Collins Dictionary to discover if I'd been using the wrong definition of serial and parallel since I did my O-Level in Maths.
However, I must say that the manual is streets ahead of the efforts from certain manufacturers who seemingly put more thought into their motorcycle repair manuals than those for their musical instruments. The graphics are quite good and do give a meaningful representation of the processes at work. I just wish that manufacturers would spend a little more time roof-reading to remove all of the topying wristaches from a manual before it's released to the general public.
The next step is to connect the device to an instrument and an amp. The rear panel of the DRV3000 is glorious: lots of sockets, both standard ¼" jack and phono, in even more glorious stereo. Consequently, I had no trouble hooking it up to my mixer with no rummaging around in draws trying to find a lead that would fit. The available connections are supplemented by the standard MIDI In and MIDI Thru ports. Sadly, there is no MIDI Out, which means no connection to any form of external storage is possible. So, if you've filled up the available memory locations resident within the machine, you're really up a gum-tree unless you are prepared to delete some of your previous edits. A curious omission. However, all of these marvellous ins and outs matter not one iota without actually assessing the sonic capabilities of this box. Time to start playing...
The first thing I noticed about the DRV3000 was that it does seem to need quite a beefy signal before the 'headroom' LEDs on the front panel start to twitch. I had the output of a DX5 synth at full volume before the first LED lit up and, since the DX5 has a somewhat noisy output, the resultant signal from the DRV3000 was also noisy. And the problem did not vanish altogether when I plugged my Akai AX80 into the mix - and yet that is a synth which is notable for its quiet output. So, I suspect that the Korg unit may have a problem in the pre-amp department. When compared with a Yamaha SPX90 and a Roland DEP5, the Korg certainly sounded a trifle on the noisy side but nothing really to worry about.
The DRV3000 has 16 preset sound processing effects which include five reverb effects, two early reflections, two echo effects and a few 'special' variations on the above to bring the most out of the machine. Jumping through the presets, I began to realise why these devices have become so valuable in recent years. It is always difficult to convey personal impressions of how something sounds in words and, obviously, what I like you might not. So here goes.
The presets available (remember, these are not fixed rigidly, you can edit them quite freely via the remote control and store them away afterwards) form a pretty broad selection from the range of treatments that you might conceivably want. Running through the presets then, 'Concert Hall' sounds exactly as its title implies. A nice effect that needs little introduction since it's really too accurate to quibble over. 'Natural Reverb' adds to a sound in a brilliant way. The original sound still shines through in all its glory but the tightly clustered reflections from the walls of your imaginary reverb chamber combine to make this one of the most usable of the effects available.
Similarly, 'Space Reverb' does much the same but successfully animates a sound, producing a combination of reverb and discernible echoes as the sound dies away. 'Space Echo' is most obvious on percussive notes and sounds just like the old tape echo units, only without the associated hiss of tape noise. And so on. Other notables include 'Chorus and Echo', 'Gate Reverb', and the ghastly 'Reverb and Flange', the last of which successfully emulates the appalling sweeps in pitch that became the hallmark of many a punk artist.
As some of the above names imply, the DRV3000 can be configured to create two effects at once. This is not a new idea, other processors such as the Roland DEP5 put the idea to good use. The Korg unit does not fall short in this area at all. However, the front panel could be a little more helpful. The main user interface is a 40-character backlit (hurrah!!) LCD display and this gives out all of the effect-specific information, such as voice level and program name. Alongside the main display are a series of legends which describe the global functions of the unit, such as the mode you're currently using, either serial or parallel, and the program group that you're accessing. The legends for program and effect selection are backlit and are therefore quite easy to read some distance away. Program number is easily legible in the form of a large, bright, two-digit LED.
However, the indicators for the serial and parallel mode consist of two small rectangular LEDs and these are very hard to interpret unless you learn exactly where they are on the front panel. This I certainly had trouble with since I'm becoming myopic in my old age!
Creating new programs is quite straightforward with the DRV3000 and comes as a breath of fresh air in this world seemingly obsessed with 'preset-itis'. To me, buying a preset synth was somehow a contradiction in terms and, hence, I never really took to the idea of all these Alesis or ART processors - but that's a personal preference. You may, after all, be perfectly happy sounding just like every other band that happened to buy such a machine and, yes, there are an awful lot of them around.
The initial route to customising your own effects is by adjusting the levels of the direct (untreated) and processed sounds. This is quite satisfying and lets you tailor the balance of the final elements to suit the type of hypothetical environment you're attempting to imitate. The second method of customisation is by editing the program parameters themselves.
There are some restrictions on the way in which effects may be combined on the DRV3000 and this I didn't take to very well at first, but you can't have everything I suppose. This has more to do with the restrictions imposed by the hardware rather than any fault of the programmers.
My conclusion to this review was not hard to arrive at. The Korg DRV3000 is a very good product. It scores over most of the competition in that it has more to offer in terms of both facilites and potential uses. It is easier to use and to modify existing programs than most other machines by virtue of the hand-held, infra-red, remote control unit. The sound quality is very high due to the 16-bit resolution and 20kHz frequency response. The unit, by virtue of being programmable, allows you to twiddle to your heart's content giving rise to all manner of abstract treatments. When you consider the amount of work and thought that must have gone into this box, all I can do is recommend it most heartily. It's what synthesis is all about.
Price: £999 inc VAT.
Distributed by Korg UK, (Contact Details).
Review by Dave Hughes
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