ART Multiverb LTX
When it comes to sheer quantity, quality and value for money, this multi-effects unit takes some beating.
It's cheap, it's easy to use, and it offers an enormous repertoire of multi-effect presets. Shirley Gray checks out the latest in a long line of ART studio processors.
It's quite amusing to look back at my early days of recording before digital technology was the norm — the sort of things we had to use to get reverbs, delays and chorus seem pretty mediaeval by today's standards. There were tiled reverb rooms, sometimes with hanging glass plates to reflect the sound, tape loop echoes that always seemed to break down just at the wrong time, and that wonderful Great British Spring reverb built into a drainpipe. Then you had a huge Leslie speaker cabinet with physically rotating horns to produce chorus!
And we loved every minute of it. Now, as with so many things in society, we are completely spoilt by having all that, plus loads of other goodies, handed to us on a plate — or in a low-cost, 1U box, which comes to much the same thing.
The best thing about progress is that effects which once cost an arm and a leg, and were only available at top studios, are now within the reach of virtually every recording musician.
Which brings me to ART's latest low cost multieffects module, the LTX. But before diving right into it, why are multi-effects units so useful?
Multi-effects units, because of their ability to layer effects, tend to be used in the studio environment to treat just one signal or group of signals. After all, you're rarely going to want to treat a whole mix with the same combination of reverb, chorus, flange and delay. Also, especially in the case of low-budget models, the individual effects themselves tend not to be as versatile or classy as those provided by a unit which is purpose-built to create a single effect. In an ideal studio setup, you'd have your favourite reverb for the important tasks, some cheaper but usable reverbs for odd jobs, and a flexible multi-effects unit for treating individual instruments in the mix. Understandably, many enthusiasts can't run to that degree of extravagance, so a multi-effects unit is a good solution, as most are capable of providing the basic, single effects such as reverb and delay as well as the more complex, compound excesses.
For the recording musician working to a tight budget, a multi-effects unit makes a good first purchase because you can obtain different effects on different instruments by recording the effect required to tape. The necessary compromise here is that you won't be able to alter the amount or type of effect on mixdown. The multi-effects unit is also invaluable in live performance, where it can be included as part of the musician's stage setup to give a greater diversity of sounds. As many of our readers play live as well as record, this is a valid consideration.
The LTX comes in a 19", 1U rack and has 250 preset effects, each of which comprise up to three combinations selected from reverb, gated reverb, chorus, flange and delay. The presets may be assigned to a MIDI Program Table, which has the double advantage that you can put the effects into some sort of order and also recall them over MIDI. One minor snag with this arrangement is that MIDI only allows for a maximum of 128 program change possibilities, so you won't be able to access all 250 of the presets from a footswitch or via MIDI. However, it is unlikely that you'll want to use more than a couple of dozen of the effects on offer for either a gig or a recording session, so it's not a serious problem.
"The LTX comes in a 19", 1U rack and has 250 preset effects, each of which comprise up to three combinations selected from reverb, gated reverb, chorus, flange and delay."
Power is supplied from the mains but there is no mains switch, a trait of many of ART's products. They probably take the view that most musicians will have lots of things plugged into a plugboard and will switch them all on and off at once. An additional mains surge-suppressor is recommended, but I feel the manufacturers are just covering their backs here, as this unit is no more susceptible to mains surges than most other studio equipment. However, it is a valid point that in a serious studio setup, a filtered mains supply does help avoid all those clicks and pops which occur when the central heating or the fridge turns on and off.
One thing I noticed immediately about the LTX was the apparent lack of control over input level. On further investigation it transpires that you have a choice of two basic levels, instrument or line, but to switch over from one to the other you have to take the lid off the unit (four screws) and move four little shorting devices (called links or jumpers) — a fiddly little task you wouldn't want to have to do every day. This is fine so long as you don't need different permutations for live and studio use, in which case a rear panel switch would have been a lot more sensible. To optimise the input, the signal feeding the unit must be regulated at source, and this will usually be the master effects send control on a mixer or the output level fader on a synth. As with most effects units, you can't plug a microphone directly into it — you have to use a mixer.
All the unit's connections are made on the rear panel and include stereo inputs which, as with virtually all budget effects units, are electrically summed to mono for processing, with the dry or unprocessed signal remaining in stereo. There are stereo outputs, a socket for a remote footswitch to bypass the effect or to change effect by stepping through the presets, and a MIDI In socket for receiving MIDI program change messages.
The front panel is quite sparse. For information, there's a seven-segment (two-character) display to indicate your current Preset or MIDI program number. Numbers above 99 are indicated with a letter and number (A0 to Y9). Two level-indicator LEDs show when the input signal is set to the correct level. The balance of straight and treated signal is controlled by a slider which cross-fades from dry only to effected only.
The presets have been designed around a fifty/fifty mix of dry and treated signal, as is obtained by having the slider at centre position, but the slider position can be changed if more or less of the effect is required. Used with a mixing desk's effects send system, the fader would normally be set to the effect-only position, as the untreated part of the sound is already present in the mixer.
"For user-friendliness, the 250 presets have been arranged in logical groups, making it easy to find the particular type of effect you want."
You select a preset with the parameter up and down buttons, which can be made to step through the presets available very quickly if both buttons are held down. A Bypass button kills the effected portion of the signal in the mix and, of course, if the mix slider is set to effect only, there will be no output at all when Bypass is in operation. The last remaining button to describe is labelled MIDI; here the MIDI receive channel of the unit may be selected. The default setting is Omni, which means that the unit is receiving on all channels simultaneously, but once the setting is changed, it is remembered, even when the unit is switched off. The MIDI button also provides access to the MIDI Program Change Table.
Whatever the facilities or technical specification, the main requirement of an effects unit is that it sounds good, so I'll take a closer look at the presets on offer. For user-friendliness, the 250 presets have been arranged in logical groups, making it easy to find the particular type of effect you want. A detailed chart in the manual gives you relevant information such as reverb decay time, high-frequency damping percentage, and the length of pre-delay used.
The first group (0-29) is ART's 'Top 30', a mixed selection of useful effects including slow flange with reverb, fast ping-pong delay, 'Well Rugged Walls' (a warm reverb), reverse reverb, lead guitar echo, and so on. These are mostly stereo combinations of reverb, delay and chorus or flange, and make a good starting place for finding a suitable effect. There is nothing too over the top — the most extreme effect is entitled 'Long Slow Special Flange' and has quite a high regeneration element and a short delay, giving a kind of trickling effect. Some of the presets are obviously meant for short, staccato sounds such as picked guitar and consequently sound wrong on long sustained chords, so you have to bear this in mind when choosing an effect. The opposite is also true, with some treatments being better suited to sustained sounds.
The reverb group comes next, treatments being arranged in order of decay time and ranging from 0.2 to 23 seconds, with assorted amounts of high-frequency damping and pre-delays. Most of these are sensible, around 1 to 4 seconds, but there are half a dozen really long ones. The reverb quality itself is impressively smooth and complex, with no hint of the metallic twang you get with some low-cost digital units. However, I couldn't detect any great variety in the reverb sound itself although there are supposed to be Hall, Plate and Room variations. In general, the reverbs are pretty bright but the varying amounts of high-frequency damping produced some warmer options.
Presets 80 to 134 comprised Chorus and Flange with Reverb, including some tremolo choruses suitable for creating a wonderfully 'cheapo' organ sound. The chorus and flange are both very smooth, without any peakiness, though you have to be careful not to drive the unit into distortion on the heavy flange settings. There's a good range of usable effects here and ART haven't wasted any space on silly gimmicks. An ample selection of different types of flange and chorus are to be found and these are arranged so that if you want a bit more reverb, you simply move up to the next preset. The Gated reverbs are excellent for drums, with delay times from 100 to 600mS. You can pick the shape of decay you want from sloped; flat; reversed; reversed with slap, then sloped; and reversed with regenerated delay. Within each group, there is a selection of decay times and a variety of high-frequency decays, making some presets bright and others warm. One criticism I have here is that on the presets with regenerated delay, the repeats were rather too quiet compared to the reverb.
"ART appear to have resisted the temptation to fill the unit with 'sonic fireworks' and have instead made a real effort to come up with a broad range of effects treatments that are musically useful."
Presets 170 to 193 consist of straight Chorus and Flange and include lots of different sweep widths and speeds and regeneration amounts. Once again, there's nothing extreme here — lots of good, usable combinations. The two presets entitled 'Lush Chorus' and 'Thick Chorus' are very good for fattening up a string-type keyboard pad or rhythm guitar. A couple of the presets include an inverted flange for a slightly different effect.
The Tapped Delays come next, with two- and three-tap delays especially useful for creating a jangly guitar sound. There are also some interesting ping pong effects, the trouble with these being that the longer repeats won't generally appear in time with your track — unless, that is, you happen to write your songs at precisely 100, 120, 125 or 150 beats per minute. The Image programs are good for creating a stereo spread out of a mono; there are eight to choose from and they seem to comprise early-reflection patterns but with no perceptible reverberation.
Next come some Slapback Delay programs which start at 20mS and go up to 220mS. These have a built-in stereo split, where the left and right sides of the stereo have a slightly different delay time. Presets 221 to 224 are Reverb with Long Pre-Delay (75, 96 and 150 ms). The reverbs are medium length and you might use one of these presets for special effect on a vocal, but again you'd be limited if you wanted the pre-delay to be in time with the track. The Pre-delayed Flange presets (moderate sweep, short, medium and long pre-delay) are useful on guitar, where they have the effect of giving a bit of repeat with the flange. These are followed by two Thick Chorus programs, 'Thick' and 'Thickerer' (their spelling, not mine!). These are good for keyboard pads and guitars where you're going to be adding reverb later.
Last but one comes the Echo group, which includes some general treatments for making keyboards more interesting. Where the echoes are stereo, the regenerations appear only on one side. The longer mono repeats would only appear in time with your track if your song tempo was 75, 100 or 150 beats per minute. Last of the presets is a blank one so that when you're making up your MIDI Program Table, you can include Bypass where required, without having to select it manually from the front panel.
Overall this is a pretty user-friendly piece of kit — there's little in the way of controls and what's there is simple to understand. I didn't like the fact that there was no mains switch, but at least the power supply is built in, which means there's no need for an external mains adaptor. The manual is helpful, and information such as decay and delay times which ART supply with the list of effects is invaluable to help you find the effect you want quickly. Access to individual presets is fast — preset 0 to preset 249 in just over five seconds. It would have been faster still if they had looped the preset list, so that after 249 the display began at 0 again — but they didn't.
There are lots of really useful effects for keyboards, guitar and drums, but I didn't find much for vocals except basic reverbs and longish delays; I would have liked to see a doubler or imager with reverb, for instance. The quality is very good, the unit is extremely quiet in use and the reverbs, choruses and flanges are smooth and surprisingly classy when you consider the LTX's very low price; if you are into gimmicky effects, though, you won't find many here.
All preset units are limited in that the delay times can't be varied to match a specific tempo. That point aside, I can think of positive advantages in not having an infinite amount of variety available — it's all too easy to get bogged down in endless programming. ART appear to have resisted the temptation to fill the unit with 'sonic fireworks' and have instead made a real effort to come up with a broad range of effects treatments that are musically useful. At the low asking price, it has to be recommended as a good buy.
ART Multiverb LTX £219 including VAT.
Review by Shirley Gray