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Roland SRV-330

Dimensional Space Reverb

Article from Music Technology, December 1993

Can a stereo unit create 3D ambience?

A dimension of space. A dimension of sound. Bob Dormon enters... the reverb zone

I guess I was a little disappointed when I opened the box to find there were no 3D spectacles and the manual hadn't been printed with red super-imposed on green. But then again, it's an assault on our ears not our eyes that Roland have mounted with the release of the SRV-330 - the latest in a series of Roland effects processors employing 'psychoacoustic' techniques gleaned from their RSS system.

It's actually a cut-down version of the original, prohibitively expensive RSS system and seems to have been included as an afterthought rather than a main feature. For instance, you have to comb through a dozen or more presets before you even get to an effect that uses any of the 3D algorithms. This, you'll be fascinated to learn, is called 'Deep Breathing' and is a non-linear 3D program that'll have your eyes rolling around your head as the sound cascades from left to right (or right to left if you like, as these parameters can be edited in virtually every detail). It's not the most useful of effects but as an effect, it's certainly, well... effective!

Whilst Roland are to be congratulated for providing such a broad array of user-tweakable parameters, they do tend to reveal the limitations of the small display. Indeed, this may soon be dubbed Roland's RSI (repetitive strain injury) reverb! That aside, the 1U SRV-330 is child's play to set up. The front panel input level knobs provide independent adjustment for left and right channels with a separate control for the direct/effects mix. At the back you'll find true stereo in/outs on unbalanced 1/4" jack sockets with switching for +4dBu or -20dBv operation. Further along there's a useful choice of footpedal options: effect bypass, toggle switching for (say) program changes, and an expression pedal input. There's also the usual MIDI In and Thru sockets plus a MIDI Out through which you can dump your favourite programs - which given the level of programmability of the SRV-330 (and the absence of any RAM card slots) is particularly important.

In Edit mode, the up/down cursor keys act as a fine adjustment, whereas the alpha dial takes parameters up in leaps of ten. Next to the cursor keys are the Edit and Page buttons. When these are active, using the cursors flips the display through the parameters in groups of three. You can only view three parameters at a time and these have dedicated function buttons to the left of the alpha wheel. Press one of these and the SRV-330 drops out of Page mode and allows you to edit the effects.

Press Page and you're back to viewing the long list of parameters. There's an Exit button (if you get in a panic), and pressing Program allows you to hear how things used to sound before you got carried away with the editing parameters.

Obviously aware of the off-putting effect of the wide range of parameters that exist within each program, Roland have included an 'Order' feature which allows you to decide in what order you see each part of the edit screen. You may, for example, want to bunch all the reverb settings together and have the EQ at the end. As you can imagine, the tiny screen displays some often excruciatingly cryptic abbreviations, but the full title can be revealed if you press the corresponding Function button twice.

Towards the end of the parameter trail you get the various controller options, just about everything can be assigned to a MIDI controller of some sort. What's more, you can set up maximum and minimum values so that you can tailor the range the SRV-330 responds to in real time.

The SRV-330 has an impressive 400 programs in all - the first 100 are user locations but arrive with a selection of factory favourites already loaded. The remaining 300 programs are preset and may be scrolled through using the cursor keys or the alpha dial. Using the latter method is hampered by the unresponsiveness of the control: the unit seems to need time to think when changing programs. The cursor keys are slightly faster, but when looking for a particular algorithm it all gets a bit tedious.

This sluggishness may be explained by the fact that the SRV-330 processes left and right signals independently, but what can't be explained - even by the folk at Roland - is why there is no selector for the 22 algorithms. You've got 400 programs and you could conceivably scroll through half of them looking for a particular algorithm combination. Algorithm 7, for example, doesn't make its first appearance till you get to location 344!

I believe there is a list, but this wasn't included with the review model, and anyway, it would only be a matter of time before it got lost. A logical allocation of algorithms would have helped (stored perhaps as the first group of presets). As it was, I frequently found myself working with algorithms which offered something close to what I wanted, but weren't exactly right.

In use, the effects proved to be remarkably clean, if not always musically useful. Some reverbs were barely audible - such was their subtlety - while others were a touch too brittle, no doubt the result of over-enthusiastic EQing. By contrast, there's a fair number of megasounds like Walker Bros Hall and a host of massive reverbs, which though not always easy to work with, certainly reveal the quality of the machine.

At the other end of the scale are a variety of drum ambience programs that incorporate the 3D algorithms. Also very subtle, these allow you to vary the percentage of the 3D ambience and also the early reflections.

Changing the amount of 3D effect seemed to smooth out some harsher straight reverb imaging, and with some programs I actually preferred the sound without the 3D, as it seemed to narrow the stereo image. The non-linear 3D programs offer more in the way of 3D programming and are by far the most striking. Parameters include azimuth (left/right positioning) and elevation (vertical positioning) as well as non-linear envelopes and 3D effects level. These are definitely worth checking out, but as you are provided with two independent 3D set-ups (Type A and Type B) within the program, you have to observe the settings of both so that they're not fighting against each other.

Although I do feel the potential of this unit has been under-explored in a musical sense, it cannot be denied that when tweaked, you can get some great sounds out of it - particularly when you take advantage of the (fully parametric) 3-band EQ. Having to search for the location of algorithms is perhaps the biggest flaw, together with the small display, but as I've pointed out, Roland do go some way to remedying the latter.

The range of presets can be a little daunting and it's questionable how many of these could be differentiated in the context of a mix, but it's always better to have than to have not. (isn't it?). That said, I certainly think you'd have to steel yourself to use some of the more esoteric programs in preference to (say) the lush vocal reverbs that really do reveal the potential of the unit. But again, the choice is there.

Though in something of a truncated form, the 3D ambient effects are not without merit and could definitely be used to add life to mono sources such as drum loops, for example. The inclusion of these RSS algorithms is clearly intended to set this reverb apart from the rest of the pack and ultimately, I suppose you'd have to say the ends justify the means. But like so many innovations, you will have to let your ears and your wallet decide.


Ease of use If you're used to using effects, it should be straightforward.
Originality 3D sound is a definite first.
Value for money Good, given the quality of reverb.
Star Quality RSS gives it the edge over other processors at this price.
Price £749 inc VAT.
More from Roland UK, (Contact Details)

RSS — the system

Back in May 1991 when the full blown RSS system was first reviewed, it cost £25,000. We've clearly come a long way since then but we've still got two ears and Roland are still trying to convince us that we need RSS in some shape or form. Given the level of R&D that they must have invested in the system this is hardly surprising.

The R&D actually involved dummy head experiments to replicate the binaural processing that our ears naturally do for us. There are a number of factors to consider. First of all, there's the distance between our ears, and in sound terms this is an area where delays occur. Then there's the shape of our ears and the masking effect they have on certain frequencies when arriving from different directions. This requires an emulation of the natural spectral filtering that we experience and involves some pretty heavyweight equations to achieve. Even when you have achieved it, dummy head recording techniques only provide the best results when wearing headphones. Loudspeakers, it seems, introduce another evil - inter-aural crosstalk.

Aware of this problem, Roland developed the 'transaural processor' which works by generating a compensating signal to add to the left and right channels to cancel out the inter-aural crosstalk. They also took things a stage further and analysed sound paths, reflections and developed complex filtering to recreate a sound image that could go over the listener's head and under their feet.

It's all done digitally, of course, and the original 8048 RSS processor was MIDI compatible, transmitting the azimuth and elevation positions as aftertouch data, thus giving the unit automation possibilities. The 4-channel system is/was a handsome piece of kit and although there was concern about mono compatibility, that never stopped artists such as Sting from using it.

Also featuring gear in this article

Previous Article in this issue

GeneralMusic WX2

Next article in this issue

Musicator GS for Windows

Publisher: Music Technology - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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Music Technology - Dec 1993

Donated by: Chris Moore

Quality Control

Gear in this article:

Studio/Rack FX > Roland > SRV-330

Gear Tags:

Digital FX

Review by Bob Dormon

Previous article in this issue:

> GeneralMusic WX2

Next article in this issue:

> Musicator GS for Windows

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