The Magnificent Seven...
...Reverbs. An across-the-range selection put through their paces, demonstrating both conventional and creative uses...
The reverb is arguably the most important effect in modern recording. Curtis Schwartz looks at seven units ranging from £200-£2,000.
Until recently, one of the great ironies of the multitrack recording process has been the effort to which studios have gone to acoustically 'deaden' the recording environment, only to artificially simulate the reverberant qualities of a room in the final mix-down. There is, of course, a valid reason for doing this in that it gives the engineer a free hand to create any kind of ambience he wishes. However, the trend has now started to go in the other direction (even though reverb simulation has never been as versatile as it is today), by studios being constructed with parquet flooring and wooden panelling on the walls for a more 'live' feel.
Even so, the role of the reverb unit is arguably the most important 'effect' in modern recording. I have selected seven units from the lower-to-middle price bracket (£200-£2,000) to evaluate what is available and at what price, (rather than what is best for a specific price), and I've given a practical demonstration of the sounds possible on our accompanying cassette.
Starting with the cheapest of these units, the Accessit is of the mono in, stereo in/stereo out variety, using six springs housed in their own steel enclosure. This then connects to the control unit which has all the controls — input level, peak LED, Mix (between dry and reverb signals) and a 12dB boost/cut parametric which goes up to 7.5kHz.
Due to the thorough screening and separate power supply, the Accessit can be housed almost anywhere. Once it is plugged in and levels are matched, the Accessit is very easy to use and only a touch of parametric cut at 1 kHz was found to be necessary to produce a very pleasing, smooth reverb effect.
Moving up now in price, we come to the ever popular GBS, used both in broadcast and recording studios. A 12-spring stereo in/stereo out unit which, to the untrained eye, might just as well be a length of a drainpipe. It measures 1020mm long by 120mm in diameter and comes as either the standard version (jack sockets) or broadcast version (cannons). Designed to be mounted on a wall, away from any electrical cabling or mechanical vibrations, this unit can be 'stuck out of the way' and forgotten about, leaving all the controls to the desk.
As can be heard on the cassette, the GBS is capable of a very rich tone, slightly deeper than the Accessit, with a smoothness in handling drums, which is rare in a spring system.
The Yamaha R1000 is the cheapest digital reverb so far available, and although being a straightforward mono in/mono out system, it has some very useful reverb settings from which to choose: there are four reverb time settings from 1.5 to 2.4 seconds, and three extremely versatile parametric equalisers giving 15dB of boost or cut from 50-700Hz, 350Hz-5kHz and 2-20kHz. Additionally there are the controls for input, mixing and output level, and on the back are two break jacks for effects send and return on the signal going to the reverb processor.
Being digital, and therefore less susceptible to inherent problems with springs, the R1000 can easily handle the sharp transients of drum sounds, where its tone is very open and 'breathy'. With the insertion of some short delay into the effects send and return, the Yamaha is then capable of competing with units more than twice its price.
RRP £229.00 & £276.00
Both of these units are more suited to 'live' use than the previous reverbs, as both are integrated into 19" rackmounting units. The RV-1 is a four-spring, mono in/stereo out unit incorporating a very versatile 18dB parametric operating between 100Hz and 5kHz with variable bandwidth. It is also unusual in that it employs a limiting system after the reverb, which has the effect of being able to lengthen the reverb time between 2.5 and five seconds. However this is not a true stereo system, in that the stereo effect is achieved by placing one output out-of-phase with the other. This is fine if the sound material will only be used in a live environment or only played back on stereo equipment, but, as soon as it is reproduced on a mono system, the two sides cancel each other out, thereby making all the reverb disappear.
The RV-2 doesn't have all the extras found on the RV-1, yet being a true stereo in/out system employing eight springs, it will be equally at home in a recording studio as it would be on stage. Each channel has its own low-cut (100Hz highpass) filter which is switchable, and with each channel input limiting, goes a long way to reducing the familiar 'boing' effect that springs produce on percussive sounds. Both of these units have a healthy reverb sound which is certainly more than adequate for live use and home recording.
Leaping up now into the realms of the four-figure price tag, the newest reverb of the lot is Lexicon's PCM60. Best known for their incredibly powerful and not-so-cheap 224X, Lexicon have used their experience to provide the most useable and popular reverb effects in one simple-to-use, budget priced (!) unit. The PCM60 is of the mono in/stereo out variety, whose controls consist of two reverb modes (room and plate), which are then subdivided, having four room-size settings and four reverb time settings each. Additionally, there are two controls marked 'Treble' and 'Bass', which add contouring to the sound — increasing/decreasing bass or treble reverb times and also providing a gentle rolloff above 2kHz to simulate room absorption.
The possibilities from these settings are almost endless, and the basic reverb effects are perfectly chosen to provide you with the best sounds modern technology has to offer, without having to fiddle around, yet with the ability to be adjusted to suit every 'occasion'. In fact, the PCM60's simplicity and deceptive power are certain to make it one of the most popular reverbs in the years (months) to come.
This is the most expensive of the 'magnificent seven' reverbs I am reviewing, just a little over the ominous £2,000 mark. However, it's a 'teaser' for what lies beyond £2,000, as we are now in the realms of 'programmability'!
The 01a has seven memory banks in which can be stored any patches — which are made up from five parameters — Room type, Pre-delay (up to 90mS), High Frequency Damping, Decay Time, and a new addition being 'Diffusion'. This follows on from September's update on the software (even though the 01 was only released in April...). The basic room settings range from a cupboard to the Albert Hall, and there are additionally two special-effects (rooms 8 and 9) which are both similar to a tapped delay with the second being the inverse of the first — a backwards reverb — which is one room I would not like to find myself in...
The 01a is extremely versatile, and although the end results of the more typical settings might not appear too dramatic, its ability to produce more specialised sounds (listen to the effect it has on the toms on the ES&CM cassette), and programmability make it a very worthwhile choice. In addition to all this, there is now an optional remote control unit from which all the front panel controls and displays (including input level) can be controlled.
Rather than make any sweeping statements, dismissing one and praising another, I have given an outline as to what each machine is capable of and under what circumstances they might be best used. The cheaper Accessit and GBS units are not very well suited to live work, yet they provide excellent value for money in a home or small studio set-up. The VestaFires on the other hand will be very comfortable on the road, and of the digital units, all three provide excellent quality and facilities for their respective prices — the Yamaha being 'the bargain', the Lexicon being the cheapest stereo digital reverb, and the MXR the cheapest programmable digital reverb.
Have a listen to the tape and make your own mind up about the sound quality...
Gear in this article:
Review by Curtis Schwartz