Programmable delay effects from Toa.
Is the Toa 310D just another MIDI-equipped, programmable digital delay or is there more?
In many ways, this offering from Toa does duplicate the functions of many existing digital delays in that it has a modulation section to produce vibrato, chorus and flanging, and is of course programmable with the 32 user settings being accessible either via the front panel controls or by means of MIDI patch information on any of the 16 MIDI channels. It doesn't stop there though, as it also sports three simultaneous, independent delay times which manifest themselves as delay taps routed to left, centre and right of the stereo outputs and these are also available on three separate output jacks for use on those occasions when you feel like patching up something really devious. One big surprise is the audio bandwidth of the unit, which extends right up to 20kHz. And though the system uses 12-bit sampling rather than the preferred 16-bit approach, Toa have taken a leaf out of Roland's book and added an analogue compander circuit to increase the dynamic range and improve the noise performance.
This is (would you credit it?) a 1U rack mountable processor though Toa have made some concessions to the table-top enthusiast by providing rubber feet. Apart from the mandatory Input level control (with LED ladder display) and the adjacent effect Bypass button (with LED), the front panel is divided into three main sections, comprising a numeric display, a set of control buttons and a set of parameter sliders, the latter being far more welcome than those infuriating up/down buttons that seem to be inflicted on us in ever increasing numbers. True, the delay times themselves must still be set up using the dreaded up/down buttons but at least you can fiddle with all the essentials such as levels and modulation in a conventional manner. Considering the lengths that some manufacturers go to in order to make their products irritatingly obscure to operate, Toa are to be commended for producing a piece of gear which virtually anyone could figure out in five or ten minutes without the aid of a manual of any kind (which is just as well as my review sample had become separated from its manual and all I had to go on was a brochure.)
As this machine has three delay settings that can be used simultaneously, I was delighted to find the display window showed all three values at the same time. Furthermore, each delay tap has its own set of up/down buttons so there's none of this triple function key nonsense to contend with. By simply holding down the appropriate key, the delay time will rapidly step through from 0 to 999mS for each of the taps and that's it. The actual level of the taps is set using sliders on the output control section and the Regen slider is also located there so that repeat echoes or resonant flange effects can be set up. Apart from the six up/down keys used to set the delay time, there are only eight more buttons, and six of these have built-in LEDs to show when they are active. To call up a program or patch, the user must enter the Memory mode by pressing the Memory button. Now the up/down buttons for tap number one (relating to display window one) can be used to get the right patch number up in the window. Pressing Recall will load that patch into the system and you're off. Any parameter can be altered directly from the front panel, using the sliders and buttons and then you can, if you wish, select an unused patch location and store your new effect (but with reservations as we shall discover shortly). To accomplish this task is simple. Set the memory or patch number to the one you wish to write into and then hold down the store button for at least two seconds. The Memory LED will blink and the current setting is committed to memory until you get bored with it and overwrite it. There is one snag though, and it's a big one; the memory only stores the delay times and the on/off parameter button status; it doesn't remember the modulation settings, the amount of regeneration or any of the levels which reduces the benefits of programmability considerably, some may say to the point of uselessness.
The appropriate MIDI channel for your system is set up in a similar way by pressing the MIDI button at which point the MIDI channel is displayed in window number three. It can by changed by using the up/down buttons pertaining to display window number three and then pressing Store again for two or three seconds until the new value is safely tucked away in memory.
Remaining buttons either activate or deactivate certain parameters. Mod turns on the modulation section, Regen enables the Regen slider and 2(C) Phase inverts the phase of the second (centre panned) delay tap. All fairly standard stuff, but what's this button labelled X Phase? This is an option whereby the phase of the signal emerging from taps one and three is reversed. The reversed phase of tap one is sent to tap three output and vice versa. (At least that's what I make of it.) At any rate, the outcome is that when short stereo delay effects are set up, such as chorus or flanging, you can create an extra degree of width and movement by employing this option. These switch settings may all be stored as part of a patch program.
The seven slider controls simply set the level of the three delay taps, the amount of feedback or Regen, the dry/effect mix and finally the modulation depth and rate. And to finish off, there's the Power switch which is not illuminated on account of the fact that the front panel lights up like a Christmas tree as soon as the unit is powered up.
"Considering the lengths that some manufacturers go to in order to make their products irritatingly obscure to operate, Toa are to be commended for producing a piece of gear which virtually anyone could figure out..."
It might sound like there's nothing more to tell, but the rear panel hides a further host of surprises. For starters the input is available on either a standard jack or a pair of phonos, all of which are internally mixed so they can be used together as a sort of simple mixer if you need that option. Likewise the stereo outputs are again present both as jacks and phonos and a 2-position switch selects either +4dB or -20dB operation. This latter is ganged to affect both input and output levels. However, the three delay taps are also present on three solo jacks with a +4dB output level, and these are connected pre-fader so that their level is independent of the front panel slider level settings. This could be a useful creative feature, allowing you to further process the delay taps in different ways before returning them to the mixer.
Inevitably there's an input jack for a bypass switch which, equally inevitably, is an optional extra. The remaining two jacks are tied up with the modulation section and these open up further avenues of exploration. For a start the user can put in an external modulation waveform from an oscillator, an envelope follower or even another audio frequency source for those into bizarre FM treatments. This doesn't replace the internal oscillator but rather adds to it, so the user can opt to have a mixture of the two. Next to this socket is another jack which provides a phase inverted version of the internal LF. If you happen to have another 310D lying about, this can be modulated from the inverted output on the first unit by simply patching in a jack lead. This will produce true stereo chorus where one channel is going up in pitch as the other is going down. An extravagant way of setting up stereo chorus maybe, but it's there if you need it.
Yes, it's those innocuous little DIN sockets again, In, Out and Thru. MIDI In responds only to MIDI patch change info in the range 1 to 32 and MIDI through simply provides a copy of MIDI In for daisy-chaining MIDI devices. So why do we need a MIDI Out, after all, the DDL can't play tunes or create DX7 patches? Whenever you select a patch memory in the 310D using the Recall key, the MIDI patch number is sent to the MIDI Out socket so that it can be used to control external equipment: possibly another MIDI sound processor. It may not be needed, but it's there. The system recognises MIDI program patch change messages and Omni On/Off and may be set to receive on any one of 16 MIDI channels. What you can't do though is assign particular effects to specific MIDI patch numbers. Effect memory one corresponds to MIDI program patch number one and if you don't like it, you either have to shuffle round the effects that you've stored or reorganise the patches on the synth (or whatever's been used). If on the other hand you're recording or gigging using a MIDI sequencer, then you don't have to worry because you can dedicate one channel to your effects unit and store the appropriate effects patch changes in whatever order you need them.
The Toa 310D is an easy to use, high-specification DDL with the added flexibility that three taps provide. These allow the user to set up echoes that bounce from side to side, rich pseudo-stereo chorus and flanging effects and quite convincing stereo ADTs (Artificial Double Tracking). In practice the effects are to a very high standard, as the generous bandwidth might lead one to expect, and the companding 12-bit system certainly keeps the noise down and makes the setting of levels non too critical. The external modulation input opens the way to further sonic exploration for those who are interested in experimentation and the fact that the three taps have separate direct outputs could also be of great creative value.
"If you happen to have another 310D lying about, this can be modulated from the inverted output on the first unit by simply patching in a jack lead. This will produce true stereo chorus..."
Such negative comments as come to mind must be aimed at the implementation of the programming section. I would question the choice of only 32 user programs and their non-assignable nature. Add to this the fact that only some of the parameters are programmable and you might be tempted to ask how the remaining programmable functions constitute a workable system at all, either for live or recording work. Also, where has this -20dB level standard come from? Everyone has just got used to recording gear working at +4dB or -10dB and the last thing we need is more confusion. I suspect that it's come about in an attempt to satisfy those who plug instruments directly into effects units and the Japanese are obviously behind it.
Overall, though, it's a nice unit, stylish and well put together, with some carefully thought out extras that should win it a lot of fans just on the strength of its sounds alone, but it won't appeal to those who need a programmable DDL in the accepted sense. And I do think that a price in excess of £470 is a lot to pay for a DDL that is only half way programmable, regardless of the quality of the effects.
The Toa 310D costs £473.80 including VAT.
Review by Paul White
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