Roland SDE3000 & SDE1000
Appearances, as your dear old mum used to say when she bounced you on her knitting, are not everything. But they help.
Before we start investigating eternal verities, such as delay time, signal to noise ratio and feedback loops, let's first LOOK at these two new rack mounted digital delay lines from Roland.
They are gorgeous. Thin boxes are not the easiest items to make attractive but the Roland artists have succeeded beyond their dreams. The SDE-3000 in particular has a silky black finish and a dazzling blue/green LED display treated to a sloping artwork frame.
Most of the controls are on oblong buttons which again blend into the shadowy paint job with spots of colour to identify their functions. The result is a machine easy to understand and fast to access because all the information is displayed on the readout.
The 3000 in the title presumably refers to the maximum delay time — 3000 milliseconds expandable to 4500 via a back panel control.
It boasts eight programmable memories in two banks of four. Control features include delay time, feedback, delayed signal output level, modulation rate and modulation depth. You can also shift the phase of the delayed signal, add a filter, alter the phase of the feedback and double the delay time.
This last function is how you achieve the full 4500 milliseconds from the device's internal logic circuits. By stacking the delay chips so the signal goes around twice, you can increase the time — that's what the times two button is for on the front. But it's like building a tunnel. If you possess a fixed number of bricks then you can extend the length only at the cost of reducing the height. Thus, not all of the signal squeezes through, and as you hit that times two button, the uppermost frequencies of the delayed signal are lost.
The SDE-3000 and SDE-1000 are only I just arriving in the country and as we were carrying out the review, Roland had no firm technical figures on the frequency range, signal to noise and so on. So, all we can tell you is that in terms of hiss (or rather lack of it) and signal preservation the SDE-3000 performs immaculately as you might expect from its price tag and heritage. Instruments such as the Yamaha DX-7 reviewed elsewhere did suffer slightly from the times two effect, but that's mainly because digital keyboards create many high harmonics adding sparkle to harpsichord and bell-like sounds.
That's the upper range which is chopped off, but guitars, for example, are less afflicted.
The buttons have three 'touch' areas. Take, for example, the delay time. Press the top of the button once, and the figure in the display will step up by one. Hold your finger down and the delay setting will start to accelerate, now slide your finger towards the centre of the button and that acceleration reaches escape velocity proportions. At the bottom of the control the process is repeated but this time reducing the settings. So on one switch you have slow, medium and fast paced adjustments.
The same goes for the feedback, output and other controls. The maximum figure they can reach in the display is 99. The delay time drops from 3000 to 10 in steps of one and then from 9.9 to 0.1 in steps of 0.1 for fine tuning of flanging and chorus patches.
This system is certainly neat, accurate and excellent for recapturing specific settings, but one of my favourite silly pastimes is to fiddle with the delay time while you're playing and hear the echoes take a roller coaster ride in pitch. You can't do that with the SDE's touch buttons.
Three small LEDs nestle alongside the display. One shows you the rate of modulation from the inbuilt LFO, another indicates the clock rate (the SDEs internal time keeper allows it to be synchronised with another 3000 for stereo set-ups) and delay on/off.
The last is not as daft as it sounds because when you do hit the times two switch, the Roland takes a second to rearrange its electronics. That can be annoying if you're not prepared for it as the first instant of your playing won't be echoed. The light is there to let you know.
As for the modulation section, it's patched into the delay time so that by gently increasing and decreasing the value in a cycling sweep, you can achieve the classic chorusing and flanging sounds. The advantages are manifold. First, the fine tuning of the delay, particularly between 10 and 0.1 permits extensive control over the tone of the flanging effect — whether it be coarse, delicate, nasalish or smooth. Similarly the chorus can be tweaked anywhere from a very dry swirl to a live, ringing effect with a hint of flanging.
But for my purposes the most useful results were in getting two effects from one machine at the same time. You can set up longer echo times - 250 to 300 milliseconds, say — but by slowly sweeping that figure up and down by five or 10 milliseconds in each direction, there's still a Chorusey element.
This isn't the only way the SDE-3000 can add extra space around your ears. On slapback echoes (very short delay times) it helps to push back the phase of the echoed signal. This gives your brain one more element with which to distinguish the original and the secondary signals and it certainly establishes a roomier feel, as if your guitar chord is bouncing back off a stone wall, not a silicon chip.
The feedback phase can also be swapped around but if you're definitely into loopy effects then the modulation section can be cranked up in speed or depth to send the pitch of the echoed signal up and down a small mountain range. It almost makes up for being unable to twiddle with the delay time in mid strum — almost but not quite.
What else have we got? Have I done the bit about the back panel? No? Okay, quite a few sockets and things round here. There's a single jack input with a switch for +4dB or -20dB roughly aligning it for mike or line levels leaving the volume control at the front to make the final adjustments. This ensures you are giving the 3000 the maximum it can take, resulting in the minimum background hiss at the far end.
Nearby are the two output sockets. One used on its own gives the original plus the delayed signal, when both are connected you're left with the echoed half on one side and the original signal on the other — again v. useful for stereo chorus.
A hold socket connecting to a footswitch lets you freeze the electronics so the last echo carries on forever... well... at least until you hit the footswitch again. At the full 4500 millisecond delay, this means you can tuck a tidy riff into the SDE's memory then solo frantically against it, always presuming, of course, that people still do that sort of thing.
Playmate is Roland's name for a remote control footswitch adjusting the delay time. Theoretically you press the footswitch once from your position on stage and the delay jumps back to zero, press again and it races up the scale towards max, but you can stop it en route at a desired value by stamping the footswitch a third time.
That, as I said, is the theory. Unfortunately the SDE accelerates through the milliseconds so rapidly, you'd need the dashing feet of a Sebastian Coe to halt the machine even 100 milliseconds either way of the echo you want.
To sum up — fine quality, low noise, versatile delay, ideal for eight, maybe 16-track recording, and an able helpmate for an outfront sound man.
And, saving the greatest boon until last, it's programmable. ALL the information regarding delay time, feedback amount, modulation speed, even the inclusion of the filter or the phase delay can be stored in the eight memory sections.
Writing a new patch is simply a matter of setting up the desired values in the readout, then pressing the appropriate memory button for a little longer than usual. After a second or so its indicator light will start to flash, then you know the new information is locked in place.
All the memories are permanently in edit, so tapping any of the incrementing controls will move away from the stored values, but punching the memory button again will snap them back to the original levels. And for on stage work, you can flick through the eight programmes one at a time via a remote footswitch.
And so to the smaller brother. The SDE-1000 mimics many of the 3000's facilities — it just can't remember them all.
The slim (1½in) black, rack-mounted beastie packs a similar menu of feedback, level and modulation controls, except this time on good 'ole knobs instead of incrementing buttons. And once more there's a slick green LED display but showing delay time only.
As the name implies, the smaller SDE is shorter on echo space. The maximum delay is 1125ms. And there are four memory buttons which will store delay time values for you, but nothing else. Details such as modulation amount or output have to be set up individually on the front panel controls.
That said, there's nothing to stop you getting all the sounds available on the 3000 — barring those that need echoes over the limit. The fine tuning of delay values again allows a wide range of flanging, slapback and chorus effects and you can twiddle with phase inversion, and other barely legal practices until the cows nudge up against the barn's back door.
The 1000's signal to noise and bandwidth performance is not quite up to that of the more expensive 3000's — for example a squint at the circuit diagram printed on the top of the casing will show that a compander has been included in the signal path. This is to keep control of the more wayward elements of hiss or distortion. The SDE-3000 uses more sophisticated technology to circumnavigate such problems. Even so the 1000 is quiet and clean.
In fact, dang me for an old stick-in-the-transistor if you like, but I preferred the knobs for modulation, feedback, etc to the 3000's incrementors. The all important delay time DOES stay on a button, however, which is a wise move since the finer timings would be difficult to hit accurately without the 0.1 step-at-a-time facility offered by tapping the switches.
And round the back we have the now familiar row of Playmate, hold, preset and delay-off footswitches that give you some degree of stage front control over the 1000's activities.
This gadget probably matches the home four track market even better than the 3000, considering the price, and if you do have the time to mess about in the loft/bedroom/studio then it's not so essential to have a memory system that recalls all the modulation and level information. That you can set up as the mood dictates.
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