Their LXP1 brought luxury reverb within reach of home studios, now Lexicon's LXP5 offers a variety of new effects to the studio on a budget. Robert Rich reads the lexicon of fx.
Building on the success of their LXP1 reverb, Lexicon have come up with a multi-fx processor that's set to make the "Lexicon sound" still more affordable.
WE ALL KNOW how digital reverb has changed the sound of modern music. We can now record CD-quality music at home with the illusion of almost any acoustic space imaginable. That's old news. Now that digital reverb is cheap and commonplace, many of us dream of owning several effects processors. Digital reverb is no longer just a fake room, it's a sound.
As musicians start using more and more digital effects, it makes sense that manufacturers should start producing units that can supply several effects at once. Examples of this trend include the Alesis QuadraVerb, Digitech's DSP128 and the ART Multiverb. Lexicon have now entered the budget multi-fx fray with their LXP5, an unassuming box with an impressive range of features. The LXP5's effects capabilities include reverb, three-octave pitch shifting, stereo delay, modulation delay, EQ, and an extensive MIDI modulation scheme. Most of these effects can be applied simultaneously, and just about every meaningful parameter is user-accessible.
THE LXP5 LOOKS a lot like the LXP1. When you put them next to each other, they look like a single rack unit. However, the LXP5 is a very different beast, with features that cleverly complement the LXP1. While the LXP1 specialises in ambience (with room, plate, gated and reverse reverbs), the LXP5 seems happiest in the bizarre realm of modulated echoes, pitch shifting, and heavily warped chorus/reverb combinations. The LXP5 cannot create gated and reversed reverbs, nor does it have the resonant Chorus 2 program found in the LXP1. However, it can create several effects at once.
Lexicon have adopted a modular approach with the LXP5. Rather than one expensive box that does everything, they are making several little ones that do different things. (Of course, you can still go out and spend a small fortune on one of their studio-standard machines.) The typical studio uses lots of effects these days, sometimes dedicating one to each channel of a mixdown. Even small home studios can afford to dedicate effects to certain tracks. The people at Lexicon envisage a system of several effects units (preferably theirs, I'm sure) interconnected with MIDI and managed from a single remote control - the MRC MIDI Remote Controller.
To my mind, this system approach makes sense. I use a lot of effects in my own music, and a mixing session can become a nightmare of knob-settings and patch cords. I dread the thought of re-mixing some of my older pieces, because I simply can't recreate some of the effects. With a few LXPs and other MIDI effects tied together with the MRC or a similar device, I can imagine setting up the effects for an entire mix and recalling these settings with the push of a few buttons. Live performers can also benefit immensely from this approach, controlling several effects with a single unit similar to the old stomp-box programmers used by guitarists.
LEXICON WOULD LIKE people to view the LXP5 as a companion to the LXP1. However, while the LXP5 does not replace the LXP1, it does improve upon it in several areas. Lexicon have rearranged and redefined the front panel controls to give you full access to all parameters, without the aid of a computer or the MRC.
While the appearance of the LXP5 is far from flashy, everything about it is useful. Its low-tech appearance may be due in part to a predominance of knobs. (I like knobs - they feel more natural to me than any other user interface.) They may not be very sexy, but they sure make us old analogue junkies happy.
The front panel has six knobs. On the left-hand side are knobs for Input level, Mix, and Output level. The input level is indicated by one green and one red LED - green for normal levels and red for clipping. One minor annoyance is that the level needed to make the green LED flash is not much lower than the level needed to make the red LED flash. The actual dynamic range is much greater than it appears, but it's easy to induce clipping if you adjust levels according to the green light. Oh well...
The three knobs on the right of the LXP5 control the programmable parameters. The centre knob selects which mode or bank will be active. Its 16 positions cover the following choices: four Preset memory banks (Pitch, Delay, Chorus and Multi), eight User memory banks, three Edit banks, and Bypass. Within each of these banks are 16 choices, totalling 128 MIDI-addressable user presets, 64 factory presets, 28 edit parameters and an intricate Patch Edit page. The Select knob to the right of centre selects among the 16 slots for each bank. The Adjust knob furthest to the right performs data entry and editing tasks. While in one of the preset or user banks, the Adjust knob can change up to five different parameters at once. You can define which parameters are affected, and save the knob assignments along with each preset.
A single front panel LED helps you guess what's going on inside the beast. When you call up a program, it flashes green. If you change the program in any way, the LED turns red. If you return the parameters to their original settings, the light will turn green again. When MIDI messages enter the LXP5, the light flickers. When you save a program, it flashes quickly for a moment to let you know it's thinking.
A quick glance at the back panel reveals the usual stuff: Left and Right quarter-inch jack audio inputs and outputs (the inputs sum to mono), a footswitch jack that can be programmed for defeat or memory increment, 9V power adapter jack, and two MIDI sockets. I was happy to find a switch that turns the MIDI Out jack into MIDI Thru.
I COULD WRITE forever about how to program this creature, but then you'd never get the chance to go out and buy one. So, instead, I'll focus on two more important questions: how does it sound and what can it do that makes it special?
"The Adjust knob can change up to five different parameters at once: you can define which parameters are affected, and save the knob assignments with each preset."
Here's the abbreviated verdict. It sounds great, as you'd expect from Lexicon. On the negative side, the pitch shifter is a bit glitchy and the LFO sounds a bit unstable. On the positive side, the reverb is silky smooth, and combined effects tend to hide the imperfections of the pitch shifter. As for special characteristics, the processing algorithms are very versatile. The pitch shifter allows some truly rich and occasionally bizarre sounds, especially when combined with the other effects. The modulation possibilities are astronomical, especially the MIDI control features.
To give you a better idea of what the LXP5 can do, Figure 1 shows the two algorithms used to create effects. The Pitch/Delay algorithm provides the basis for most of the factory presets. It's capable of generating some very fat chorus/doubling effects and wildly bouncing intricate echoes, along with most of the other-worldly extremities we have come to associate with pitch shifters.
Some of the sounds generated by this algorithm can get a bit 'crunchy", for two main reasons. First, the reverb generator used here is not quite up to Lexicon's usual fluffy standard. Second, the pitch shifter occasionally hiccups, and jitters around quite a bit. The problems seem to be worse at low frequencies. When I pointed these noises out to Lexicon, they explained that the two Z80 microprocessors inside the LXP5 were taxed to the limits, and occasionally had problems finding the good splice-points needed to generate a clean pitch shift. I asked them why they weren't using faster microprocessors and they said it would raise the price. The fact remains we're talking Lexicon luxury at less than Lexicon cost (previously).
The Delay/Reverb algorithm sounds a lot smoother than Pitch/Delay, but doesn't do quite as much. However, it does create lush, beautiful reverbs. I confess, I love the "Lexicon sound". The Delay/Reverb algorithm has one unique feature - the Modulation Delay, which allows you to add chorusing or warped echoes (up to 1024ms long) to the reverb. Unlike many so-called modulation delays found in other digital processors, this one acts just like a DDL, changing pitch as it gets shorter and longer rather than just chopping or adding segments to its delay time.
HIDDEN DEEP INSIDE the LXP5 lie some sophisticated modulation possibilities. It takes a while to learn the system, but it's worth it. Luckily, the LXP5 responds in some very intelligent ways to the outside world. Most of the tricks involve the appropriate use of one button on the front panel labelled Learn. When you press this button, you instruct the LXP5 to pay attention to its environment and change itself in some appropriate way. For example, to save an edited preset you press Learn while dialling up a user bank or sending a MIDI Program Change. The LXP5 will then store the edit in that slot when you release the Learn button. Similarly, to select a MIDI channel for the LXP5, hold down Learn and send any MIDI message. The unit will automatically switch itself to the MIDI channel of the incoming message. Programming a Dynamic MIDI Patch involves a similar use of the Learn button. Let's say you want to modulate the LXP5's Pitch Interval with the mod wheel of a synth. You enter the Edit mode on the LXP5, select the Pitch Interval parameter, hold down the Learn button and nudge the synths mod wheel. The LXP5 will automatically assign the mod wheel controller to Pitch Interval. If you want to get clever, you can control several parameters at once with one or more MIDI controllers, though the method is a bit more complex. Suffice it to say that you can control just about anything with anything.
The one big complaint I have about the LXP5 concerns the way it responds to MIDI - when you send it a MIDI program change, it jumps to the proper program, but if you then tweak the front panel Adjust knob, the preset reverts to the one previously selected by the front panel knobs. I want the Adjust knob to control the new preset - not the old one - regardless of what the front panel knobs tell me. To avoid an unpleasant surprise while performing live, I recommend that you use MIDI controllers to modulate parameters, not the Adjust knob.
HOW IMPORTANT IS a good user interface to you? Would you pay extra for an informative display and some sliders? Most companies assume that you'd rather save money and sacrifice such conveniences as knobs and a clear display. The approach has proved very popular, but if you want to program your own sounds, you wind up stuck in a labyrinth of menus with only a pair of increment/decrement buttons to guide you.
Lexicon's alternative approach is the MRC - a generic front-panel unit for the LXP1, LXP5, and PCM70. It's a little box with four sliders, backlit LCD screen, numeric keypad, some extra buttons and four MIDI sockets. Lexicon originally released the MRC along with the LXP1, and while it made a great companion for that device, it seemed a bit incomplete.
Since then the MRC has been improved to make it compatible with the LXP5, and they've made a few welcome improvements. To make room for these, they got rid of one of the functions - the DX/TX Editor for Yamaha FM synths - and with all the software editors available for these synths, this doesn't seem like a huge sacrifice.
"The pitch shifter allows rich and occasionally bizarre sounds, and the modulation possibilities are astronomical - especially the MIDI control features."
I examined a beta version of the new MRC software, and I liked what I saw. Here are some highlights of the improved software (note that these features may have changed slightly by the time you read this):
Extra Memory: The MRC can now handle up to 16 Machines (external MIDI devices) and up to 64 Setups for each of the LXP1, LXP5, and PCM70. Machines of the same type share the same 64 Setups.
Global Setups: You can define up to 20 of these. Selecting a Global Setup will send up to 32 program changes - one per MIDI channel for each of the two MRC MIDI outputs - and assign a Setup for each of the 16 Machines.
Generic MIDI Setups: These have been greatly improved from ten GMIDI Setups, which could do little more than send controller data, they can now send all controller messages, aftertouch, all-notes-off, program changes, and SysEx. With user-defined SysEx strings, the MRC can act as a simple patch editor for almost any MIDI device.
MIDI features: A MIDI Monitor lets you look at incoming MIDI messages but unfortunately not SysEx. Dynamic MIDI Patches let you route incoming MIDI messages to any of the parameters controlled by the MRC - this turns the MRC into a mapper of sorts. For example, the MRC could assign incoming pitchbend messages to a slider controlling LXP5 pitch shift amount, allowing keyboard controlled pitch shifts. Of course the LXP5 can do this without the assistance of the MRC, but the same trick could work with other devices using the MRC's new SysEx capabilities.
Does all this sound complicated? Well, it is. The MRC has become a sophisticated little remote controller. Using it can get downright confusing at times, just because there's so much depth. The price of power.
The MRC still has its faults. The backlit screen makes a somewhat annoying mechanical whining sound. This high buzz can be distractingly audible in a quiet studio. Another gripe involves the PCM70 Setups, which show arbitrary numeric values 0-255 for each parameter, rather than more meaningful units like "%", seconds or "ms". A good interface should display the correct units.
In almost every other way, the MRC is a great user interface. The unit makes it fun to edit sounds on the LXP1 and LXP5. You quickly find yourself tweaking an effect for that perfect sound - which usually takes less time than it takes to scroll through a hundred presets in search for a close approximation. The MRC completes the Lexicon system, allowing several effects devices to share the same front panel, and it's a better front panel than the LXP5 could ever afford to offer on their own.
NONE OF MY complaints would keep me from buying an LXP5. Most other budget effects units suffer from problems like those I mention here. The LXP5s many strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. Unlike the LXP1, you can edit all of its parameters from the front panel. It gives you ready access to these parameters, facilitating an impressive degree of control. Dynamic MIDI modulation lets you perform some pretty interesting real-time effects variations. Most importantly, the LXP5 sounds great. Even if you never program it, the 128 factory presets are varied and useful. While certain settings can introduce a bit of grunge, the overall quality is clean and silky smooth.
The LXP5 really shines when sitting in a rack with other effects, especially when controlled by the MRC or some other remote editor. Its MIDI abilities make it a perfect contender for the new breed of automated small studios. It adds a range of sounds that are hard to achieve with most other budget effects processors, and complements the abilities of the LXP1 in particular. Alas, the LXP5 isn't the cheapest budget effects box, but it may be one of the most versatile.
Prices LXP5, £381.61 MRC Controller. £311.11. Prices do not include VAT.