Possibly the cheapest rack mounting digital delay in the known universe. Paul White examines the DX99RM DDL from John Hornby Skewes.
To date, this is the least expensive digital delay on the market so it will be of particular interest to those working on a tight budget. Paul White puts the JHS DX99RM digital delay through its paces.
Judging by some of the letters we receive, there's still a great need for budget recording equipment to complement cassette based multitrack home studios and this new product from JHS falls squarely into that category.
The DX99RM is a true digital delay costing little more than half the price of its nearest rack mounted rival and it offers a maximum delay time of 512mS enabling it to produce repeat echo and straight delay effects. Of course some corners have had to be cut in order to keep the price so low and features like modulation have had to go out of the window, but then you can get chorus and flanging from cheap pedals.
Yes, I know that it's another 1U rack box, in fact I wanted to change the name of the mag to Rack Mounted Monthly, but nobody would let me. In spite of its modest selling price, the unit looks very smart and is quite solidly constructed with a stylish black front panel. The legend is gold and the five knobs are colour coded as to their function. All the connections, with the exception of the mains lead are on the front panel which is great for desk top use but less convenient if you are going to wire all your effects to a patchbay. On an expensive piece of gear this might form the basis of a valid criticism but for a low cost unit, the choice of location is quite valid.
"The DX99RM is a true digital delay costing little more than half the price of its nearest rack mounted rival."
As there's no modulation section, the controls are fairly straightforward. The input is connected via one of the two input jacks which offer you a choice of -40dB or -20dB sensitivity allowing the DX99RM to match up to either budget recording line levels or the outputs from instruments and high Z mics. A single peak LED keeps its eye on the input level which is set up in the usual way via the Level control and next in line is the Balance control which is used to set the required mix of untreated and delayed sound appearing at the output.
Repeat is used to feed some of the output back to the input in order to generate repeat echoes and at short delay times, you can use this control to produce drainpipe-like resonant effects which are sometimes referred to as hard reverb. This effect should not however be confused with true reverb and is only really useful for slightly off-beat special effects.
"There is no manual control for bypassing the effect unless you connect a footswitch to the Bypass socket on the front panel."
Setting the delay itself is easy using the Delay Time controls and these consist of a four position stepped coarse time control and a fine rotary control with a four to one range. By using these two controls, you can set up any delay time between 16mS and 512mS which will give you effects ranging from short slapback repeats to long sustaining echoes.
There's no manual control for bypassing the effect unless you connect a footswitch to the Bypass socket on the front panel so if you want to kill the effect without recourse to a footswitch, you must either use the balance control or the controls on your mixing desk. Between the Bypass socket and the Output socket (-20dB), there's a socket marked Hold, and this lets you plug in another footswitch, the purpose of which is to enable you to freeze any sound that is in the delay line and cause it to recycle indefinitely. On the face of it, this may not appear to be too useful but you can use this facility to build up rhythmic loops and these may be varied in pitch using the Delay Factor control. Though somewhat limited, this facility does let you get into sampling at a basic level.
"One other parameter that has had to be compromised in order to keep the cost down is the bandwidth."
One other parameter that has had to be compromised in order to keep the cost down is the bandwidth, and though no figures were available at the time of writing, it sounds to me as though it is in the region of 5 or 6kHz. Compared to more expensive delay units, this figure may seem a little disappointing but it is still better than you will get from a typical analogue delay and the background noise is also much lower. Used on vocals or single instruments, this restricted bandwidth does not detract unduly from the usefulness of the machine, indeed, in the case of vocals it actually helps in some circumstances, as full bandwidth repeats can be too obtrusive in many cases. Where you do notice the difference is in processing a complete track, or something containing a lot in the way of high frequencies such as cymbals. In this respect my test procedure is a bit on the hard side as I use a Compact Disc recording as the sound source and then do an A/B comparison between the original sound and the delayed version. As you might expect, the cymbals tend to disappear along with much of the top end detail, but tho noise and distortion performance is well up to scratch for a budget DDL.
"If you are still on the bottom rung of the recording ladder where every pound is crucial, the DX99RM is a godsend."
At its price, this unit lets you do away with that analogue delay pedal you've been struggling with and move up to digital for a very modest outlay. Certainly there are better rack mounting DDL units about but the nearest one will cost you at least £80 more. In all honesty I couldn't recommend that you buy this model if you can afford to pay nearly twice as much for the bigger Digitec unit which is really very good but then the whole idea was to provide an accessible alternative. If you're still on the bottom rung of the recording ladder where every pound is crucial, the DX99RM is a godsend and there is nothing to touch it. At around £135 this Digitec Delay has got to be a winner and the compromises that have made this selling price a reality are well justified.
Further details from: John Hornby Skewes & Co Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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