Digital Effects Processor
Reverb and delay from Roland in the guise of the DEP-3, a scaled down version of the popular DEP-5.
Despite its grand title, the DEP-3 is first and foremost a digital reverberator that can produce straight delay effects as an alternative.
The big brother to the DEP-3, the DEP-5 can justifiably bear the title 'effects processor' because it can produce a wide variety of delay-based effects, in addition to reverb, and some can be generated simultaneously. On the other hand, the DEP-3 is somewhat cheaper and is designed specifically to create reverb, (including gated and reverse effects) and unmodulated digital delays, with or without regeneration. The user is restricted to one effect at a time. While that may seem fairly unexciting on the face of it, the fact of the matter is that the DEP-3 is probably the cheapest programmable reverb around and it can generate a commendable selection of reverb effects to an impressive standard. It is a 16-bit, mono in, stereo-out system, which results in low noise and negligible distortion, while the bandwidth makes even the delay settings bright enough for higher quality studio applications.
For a programmable reverb unit to be cheap, compromises have to be made, but in this case, Roland have taken all the right decisions and come up with a product that is cost-effective, easy to use and reasonably versatile. How have they done this? For a start they've left out all but the most important variable parameters; the reflection density is not variable, nor is the early reflection spacing or reflection pattern, but the user can choose a basic reverb type, vary the decay time and pre-delay, and in addition there's variable high frequency damping and a three band equaliser, all of which can be incorporated into programs. Furthermore, none of those wretched, unfriendly, non-interactive up/down buttons are involved in setting up an effect, only knobs and dials. True there are up/down buttons for selecting the memory number but I can live with that.
All the connections are to be found on the back panel, where unbalanced standard ¼" jacks are used for the input, the left and right outputs and the inevitable remote socket, which will accept a conventional footswitch for bypassing the effect. There's a switch to cancel the dry or direct sound for when the DEP-3 is used with a mixer, and there's the very sensible inclusion of a dual level switch to enable the machine to work at +4dBm or -20dBm. For recording, -10dBm would have been preferable but it seems that all the effects manufacturers are now catering for these perverse people who plug instruments straight into the things without going via a mixer. It all sounds quite unhygenic to me. Still, the levels are close enough to match up to budget recording gear with no problems. The only other feature on the back panel is a lone DIN socket to handle any MIDI In signals that you might care to feed it.
Turning to the front panel, one might initially be forgiven for thinking that this was a non-programmable machine, due to the profusion of knobs and almost total lack of buttons. In fact, it's possible to store up to original 99 effects. When you unpack your shiny new DEP-3, you will find that the first 20 programs are inhabited by factory samples. These may be overwritten if you need the space but they can be recalled if need be using a specially contrived power-up sequence that is unlikely to be repeated by accident. The first thing you come across when working from left to right is a 6-section input level LED meter logically situated next to the Input level control. It reads from -14dB to +12dB, but in practice, the unit is pretty tolerant of high input levels. Next we have the effect out control which, depending on the setting of the Dry Kill switch on the rear panel, either adds reverb to the dry sound or simply sets the level of the reverb output signal.
One very useful feature is the equaliser section which is a nice straightforward 3-band affair offering 12dB of either cut or boost at 100Hz, 1kHz and 10kHz. Without going wild with this it's possible to dramatically change the reverb sound but the extra range is there if needed.
To set up the reverb sound itself, there are only four parameters to vary. First there is an 11-way selector switch giving a choice of three room settings, three halls, two plates, one delay and both gated and reversed reverb. To this can be added pre-delay of up to 120mS and the decay time can be varied up to a maximum of 99S for the longest hall setting. A tweak on the high frequency damping to simulate the effect of high frequencies being absorbed by furnishings and curtains. There's only one thing to keep in mind when setting up or modifying a sound and that's that the parameters may bear no resemblance to the knob positions. This is because any program can be recalled, but the front panel knobs will still be indicating the last setting they were set to. To get a knob to work, it must be moved slightly; then the internal computer will relinquish control of that particular parameter. If you want to set up a brand new effect from scratch, it's good practice to give all the knobs a twirl before starting, including the EQ section and the selector switch. Considering the ease of use of a system using control knobs rather than those unspeakable buttons, this minor inconvenience seems a small price to pay. Another thoughtful touch involves the Manual button, which lets the user recall a program, alter the parameters and then compare it to the original version before committing it to memory. This is mounted next to the 2-digit LED numeric display which normally shows the program number currently operating. In programming mode it's also used to assist in setting up which of the 16 MIDI channels the DEP-3 is receiving on. Add to this the Memory Up/Down buttons and the Write button and that's all there is to it. It's logical to use and for those who don't like reading, the entire operation can be worked out without the aid of the manual in just a few minutes.
"Another thoughtful touch involves the Manual button, which lets the user recall a program, alter the parameters and then compare it to the original version before committing it to memory."
There is a MIDI In socket only, because the DEP-3 can follow instructions but not give them. Its 99 programs respond to patch program information in the same range but there is unfortunately no method of assigning specific effects to specific patch program numbers; you have to arrange for your synth sounds to be in the right patch locations to correspond to the desired reverb treatments or vice versa. In addition to the 16 MIDI channels that can be used to control the DEP-3, there is also the option of using Omni mode so the unit will respond to patch change information regardless of which channel it arrives on. For the more ambitious, the reverb parameters themselves can be accessed by means of MIDI exclusive codes and this facility is documented in the rear of the handbook.
So, we've established that the system is logical, easy to use and, though non-assignable, has enough features to make it appeal to both live and studio users. What we have to establish now is how good it sounds so I'll go through the various effects and add a few purely subjective comments as I go along.
The smallest Room setting (not that smallest room), is a really trashy, ringy metallic type of tunnel echo which is great for special effects such as robot voices, break dance clangy drums and any other oddball use you can think of. It doesn't sound like a natural reverb, nor is it intended to; it's purely for fun. The next two rooms sound more like rooms and are good for filling out a sound or just adding a touch of ambience. They have a certain amount of colouration and flutter, just like a real room would have, and as such are not unconvincing. In particular, the impression of stereo width conveyed by all the reverb effects is to be complemented.
"If you tend to be intimidated by programmable effects units, don't worry about this one because it's absolutely logical to use..."
The Hall settings are less coloured than the rooms and also less dense so that they re-create the longer delays between reflections that naturally occur in a large building. The HF roll-off helps enormously here to simulate boomy, cavernous effects and a bit of pre-delay also heightens the impression of space. At shorter decay times these hall treatments can be used to good effect on drums where the EQ comes in handy to fine-tune the sound.
Both Plate settings, though different in character, sound bright with just the right degree of metallic edge to conjure up the old mechanical plate sound. This is still a popular drum treatment and gives a very up-front attacking sound. Plates are also extensively used to add brightness and shimmer to vocals and these simulations are equally adept when put to this use.
Delay is a simple echo effect with no modulation, so there's no chorus or flanging available. Here, the Pre-delay control sets the delay time (up to a maximum of 500mS) and the Reverb time control sets the feedback for repeat echoes. With the feedback at maximum, the sound will cycle round for several minutes before dying away. Some semblance of stereo is created by the dry signal being fed out of one output and the delay out of the other. The delay effects are conventional, but there's nothing at all wrong with that.
The first of the Non-linear selections is gated reverb, but trust Roland to do it differently to everyone else. Here the predelay may be used as normal but then a reverb decay time is set which is nothing to do with the gate time. The HF damp control sets the actual gate time in this mode and this does exactly what it says: sets the gate time. So, the reverb is initiated by a drum (or whatever) and, after the required pre-delay, starts to decay. However, if the decay is not complete before the gate time has elapsed, the reverb is chopped off in its prime giving a classic gated reverb sound. The beauty of this system is that you can arrange to hear some decay in level before the gate cuts off by setting a fairly fast decay time, or you can have a level burst by setting a long decay time and then chopping that off before it's had a chance to decay. Different material benefits from different approaches and here you do have the option. The actual gated sound is very convincing, and the EQ section helps you to get exactly the required effect.
"Both Plate settings, though different in character, sound bright with just the right degree of metallic edge to conjure up the old mechanical plate sound..."
The function of the reverse setting is also a little unusual. Here the reverb starts to build up directly the drum beat has occurred, again at a rate according to the setting of the Reverb Time control, and then when it reaches a maximum level, it abruptly shuts off, giving that reversed illusion. That's pretty standard stuff, but what Roland have done is to use the predelay time as a sort of mute or gate to create a dead space between the sound and the reverb following it. This isn't like normal pre-delay because the reverse envelope is still doing its stuff during the pre-delay period, it's just that you can't hear it. Once more, this provides more possibilities than a conventional reverse setting, and it's up to the user to use it to advantage.
This is a good compromise between a fully programmable reverb and a preset system. The parameters that make the most difference are all there to vary and there are 99 memories to store the results in. The use of user-friendly controls makes the machine a joy to work with and the sound quality, though not as refined as a really expensive reverb might offer, is certainly well up to home recording standards and wouldn't be out of place in a small professional studio. The MIDI patch change facility makes it ideal for semi-automated use running from a sequencer, but the lack of patch assignment could put some live players off if they rely heavily on MIDI to set up their configurations and who don't use a sequencer.
The delay effects are fine as far as they go and I know that the modulation section had to be omitted to create a discernable dividing line between the DEP-3 and the DEP-5, but some kind of external modulation input could have been handy. Any potential user must hold the price in one hand and the virtues of the machine in the other while performing some kind of balancing act. I think I can honestly say that you get your money's worth.
The DEP-3 costs £515 including VAT
Review by Paul White
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