MIDI FX Controller
Programming Lexicon FX units has never been easier, thanks to this upgraded version of their remote control. And what do you know? Nicholas Rowland, not Top Cat, is the most effectual. Lexicon’s LXP-5 FX module gets the one-over too
Tired of the same old preset multi-effect programs? Get an MRC and get back in control...
It may bear the Lexicon name, but the only connection that the Lexicon MRC under review here has with that legendary reverb sound is via MIDI leads. The MRC is in fact a MIDI controller, originally introduced as a remote programmer for such Lexicon FX units as the PCM-70, LXP-1 and LXP-5. And what a godsend it is too. Those Lexicon owners who've ever tried to program these units using front panel knobs only, would be the first to appreciate the difference the MRC makes. Without it (or a computer-based MIDI librarian/editor) you're reduced to constantly cross referencing knob positions with a series of tables in the manual - a process which makes train spotting seem like an interesting way to spend a day.
Though the MRC has actually been around for a while, the software has recently been upgraded to version 4.0 - a necessary move if it was to be brought into line with Lexicon's current range which now includes the LXP-15 multi FX processor. For owners of the LXP-1 and LXP-5 the software revision means the MRC can now handle two-way communication. In other words, when you change patches or parameters using the LXP front panel controls, the appropriate information will also be transmitted to the MRC.
As well as being generally easier all round, this eliminates the need to have large banks of FX patches cluttering up the MRC's internal memory. Any edits can be instantly dumped in the target device itself and also recalled from there into the MRC's memory. The downside of this is that the MRC no longer has a dedicated setup for the PCM-70 - although you can still control this unit by configuring the MRC as a general MIDI controller.
It's that general MIDI side we're primarily interested in here. While the MRC is an essential add-on if you're lucky enough to own racks of Lexicon FX, it's still worthy of closer inspection even if you don't since the internal gubbins are fully configurable for any MIDI device.
As you can see from the photograph, the front panel is home to four sliders, four buttons, a keypad and a very large LCD. Round the back you'll find the MIDI Ins and Outs (two of each), two 1/4 inch jack sockets for the connection of foot pedals and other external controllers, an input for the cable from the 7.5AC external power supply and a dial controlling the contrast on the LCD, which on power up glows a bonny sky blue.
The MRC can be set up to control 20 different MIDI devices which in Lexicon-speak are referred to as 'machines'. This is in addition to controlling 16 each of LXP-1, LXP-5 and LXP-15 modules. As well as controlling individual instruments, the MRC can also transmit as many as 40 Global Setups which allow you to configure an entire MIDI rig at the touch of a button. In fact this button touch sends out up to 32 MIDI program change numbers along with a setup patch for each of your machines.
The Global MIDI setup also contains an optional leading Program Change message which can be used to ensure the target device is in an appropriate state of readiness to receive all the other messages which follow it.
When addressing individual machines you can choose from four machine types. The first three are dedicated to the LXP-1, LXP-5, LXP-15 and once you've set up the appropriate MIDI channels you hardly have to touch the machine edit buttons again. For every other device you'll have to create an appropriate GMIDI (generic MIDI) machine patch.
Each GMIDI setup can have up to 14 different physical controls assigned to it. You can set up the MRC's four sliders to control two different parameters each and then switch between the different parameters by changing 'pages' on the LCD. The buttons above these sliders control four more parameters, while any external controllers plugged into the MRC will give you another two.
Each slider or switch can be configured to transmit one of the following MIDI messages: controllers 0-120, pitchbend, channel aftertouch, note on/off, program change, registered and non-registered parameters (both coarse and fine), all notes off, sequencer start, stop and continue, song number and a 10-byte system exclusive message. Phew! I think it's fair to say that with a list as long as this you'll be able to communicate with parts of your MIDI modules that you never even knew existed.
Of course, it goes without saying that the level of control you can achieve is entirely dependant on the MIDI facilities offered by the target device. It also goes without saying that with more complex MIDI devices you could well find yourself spending many hours poring over MIDI implementation charts and pages of Sysex data. You could see this as a challenge or a chore, but given that MIDI implementation charts in manuals are almost universally badly reproduced in a minuscule typeface (just to make those hex and binary codes even more difficult to read), I think the latter is more likely to be the case. Nevertheless, providing you're prepared to put the spadework in, the world, so to speak, is your lobster.
For this reason it's hard to say whether programming the MRC is easy or not: it all depends on how much you need to do. The MRC's editing system is in itself fairly fast and intuitive - according to what parameters/types of control you assign to each of the sliders/switches you progress through different numbers of 'pages' on the LCD. With most parameters you'll be able to define the range of control, and, where appropriate, the slope of the control curve.
For control via system exclusive messages the MRC will allow you to assign a SysEx message of up to 10 bytes in length. You can also give each controller a label of up to four characters as well as giving the GMIDI patch a name as well.
If this were not enough, the MRC also possesses what down Lexicon way they call Dynamic MIDI. This enables the MRC to receive MIDI messages on its two MIDI inputs and transmit very different MIDI messages in response. This can be used to translate one controller message into another (in order to transform a standard controller into a SysEx message), or transmit Program changes into response to a MIDI note. It also allows you to use external non-MIDI footpedals as MIDI control sources.
Other tricks up the MRC's MIDI cable sleeves are an ability to control groups of instruments from a single slider - for example, altering the individual volumes of a set of expanders or synths (or for that matter FX units) simultaneously.
Edits can be saved in the MRC's 20 GMIDI memory locations and then sent to the target machine at the touch of a button once that memory has been recalled. Via SysEx you can also dump the edits direct to the target device. Information can also be dumped into the MRC too.
Small, neat and perfectly formed, the MRC is a handy little device for anyone with enough MIDI modules (whether Lexicon FX units or not) to justify the need for a remote programmer. While it can accomplish no more than a decent patch editor/librarian, it sure beats having to lug your computer around whenever you're programming away from base. As for LXP-5 users it's an absolute must; don't leave home without it.
Price: Lexicon MRC MIDI FX controller £399 Inc. VAT. Lexicon LXP-5 MIDI FX module £459 inc. VAT
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Review by Nicholas Rowland