MEL FX 1001
A sophisticated approach to multi-effects processing comes from a new British company. Simon Trask finds out if it matches up to the stiff Japanese competition.
THE LAST YEAR has seen signal-processing technology develop at a frantic pace, with, as usual, the Japanese and the Americans making most of the running. Now British company Multi Enterprises Limited (MEL) have entered the fray with the FX1001 Multi Effects Processor, which offers up to 10 effects within its 2U-high, 19' frame. These effects come in the form of slot-in PCB cards (one effect per card), each with its own jack input and output sockets.
Our pre-production review model came with six effects: chorus, flanger, phaser, delay, two-band parametric EQ, and shaper, each with its own set of parameters. MEL are not alone in doing this, since Yamaha (SPX90) and Roland (DEP5) have already introduced multiple effects within a single 19' box; the DEP5 even allows two effects to be chained together.
But the FX1001 allows you to chain any number of its effects together, or use them independently to provide up to 10 separate signal paths (one for each effect). You can also adopt any combination of these two approaches at the same time. For instance, chorus, delay and EQ can be linked in an effect chain, while flanging and phasing are used individually - providing three independent signal paths.
You can store these routings, together with the parameters for each effect, in 50 onboard memories. These can be called up from a synth or sequencer using MIDI patch-changes, though on MIDI channel 1 only. The flexibility of this is reduced, however, by the FX1001's inability to 'cross-patch' incoming patch numbers with its own memories. Memory 22, for instance, can only be called up by patch number 22 - and any patch numbers higher than 50 produce no response from the unit. And our review sample was sluggish in responding to valid patch numbers, too.
As a useful onboard alternative to MIDI selection, you can sequence the machine's memories in up to 10 separate 'tracks' of 25 steps each, advancing through a track using a footswitch which plugs into the FX 1001's rear panel. Good for live use, if not for MIDI-based recording.
The FX1001's internal storage capacity might seem enough to many people, but MEL have also given their unit an onboard disk drive. You can save all 50 memories and 10 tracks to a 3.5" disk as a file, and store 25 files per disk. With each file taking under 10 seconds to load, you've got ready access to a large number of effect chains and tracks for minimal storage cost. The ability to load in a new file quickly could be a boon for professional studios, for example.
But now we come to the nub of the matter. The FX1001's analogue effects (for that, unusually for this day and age, is what they are) turn out to be competent but uninspiring. The thing they lack most is bandwidth, which means a loss of brightness and clarity next to digital equivalents. And the delay section, in particular, also suffers from noise. Sad to say, the chorus, flanger and phaser sections taken individually sound little better than the average guitar footpedal - though chaining them together can produce more satisfactory results.
What doesn't help is that the FX1001 has mono outputs only, both for each effect and for the master (chain) output. And the lack of a dry/effect mix will do nothing to endear the machine to recording engineers.
But the good news is that MEL are working on a digital delay module for the FX1001. This should bring the sound quality side of the machine's performance into line with its sophisticated programming, chaining, tracking and storage facilities.
As it stands, it's a little hard to see where the market for the FX1001 lies. Its format should have been enough to win it many friends in professional and semi-pro recording studios, but at the moment, its sound quality lets it down, and with MIDI sequencing becoming an increasingly common aspect of recording, so does its MIDI implementation.
The live stage is more likely to be the kind of setting where the FX1001 will prosper, though it's still dependent on users (and in this case musicians, rather than engineers) programming it to get the best from its analogue effects circuitry.
The likes of Roland and Alesis have already shown us that, where modern sound treatment is concerned, the guiding principle is: "never mind the width, feel the quality". It's a lesson that, at the moment. MEL would do well to learn. If they do, then the FX 1001 has the potential to be improved simply, quickly, and with great benefit to those who use it.
Price To be announced, between £800-1000
Review by Simon Trask
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