Vesta Fire Modular Effects System
There is a great deal to be said in favour of the principle of modular effects systems. They consist of individual units that can work alone or combine to form a comprehensive system which can grow as the requirements and budget of the studio allow. Each of the Vesta Fire modules can be operated from a standard 9 volt battery so the initial purchase need be no more than the price of a single effect. They are all compatible with both instrument and line level signals and can, therefore, be used equally well connected in line with keyboard and guitar or via the effects send/return loop on a mixer. A pair of these modules can be mounted in a rack frame (RF-1) to form a standard 1U high 19 inch wide unit, or alternatively the RF-4 can be employed which will hold a total of nine modules in a frame 4U high.
There are four effects modules available in the range: Limiter, Parametric Equaliser, Flanger/Chorus and Noise Gate. These are all updates on the versions first produced by Vesta Fire and have had their noise figures improved to cater for the growing home studio market.
One of the major advantages of a modular system is the need for only one power supply to run a series of modules. This reduces the price and weight of each effect. The MPS-1 Power Supply is fully smoothed and regulated and can drive up to eight modules. It has an illuminated power on/off switch on its front panel and eight DC power sockets at the rear.
The MLM-1 Limiter will operate over two threshold ranges; -44dB to -16dB or -24dB to +4dB. Threshold refers to the level above which limiting occurs and the ranges are selected by a slide switch. The first position should be used on instruments and the second for line level signals. The range selector switch also has a third position which switches off the power.
The Attack control determines the time taken for the limiter to act on the incoming signal and is variable from 1 millisecond to 50 milliseconds. The Release, the time taken for the signal level to return to normal, is variable from 300 milliseconds to 5 seconds. Together, the settings of these two controls are responsible for the final characteristics of the limited programme material. Although limiting is not as versatile as compression, there is still a lot that can be done with it and it is an especially useful tool for recording. A red LED indicates when limiting is taking place and another, above the effect on/off toggle switch, shows when the limiter is in circuit. An output control is provided to regulate the volume of the limited signal to match or contrast with that of the original depending on your purpose.
On the back panel, standard quarter-inch jack sockets are provided for Input, Output, Footswitch and Stereo Tie. The Stereo Tie allows a pair of limiters to be linked together for stereo operation and ensures that both limiters act identically to preserve the stereo picture. If one side were to limit without the other, say, the sound image would appear to shift to the opposite side. The DC input socket for connection to the MPS-1 power supply is also situated on the back panel.
At first glance the MPE-1 appears to be a simple, single channel, parametric equaliser. It has frequency, bandwidth and level control with a Low Cut switch which will roll 6dB per octave off at 50 or 100 Hz. Apart from the usual mains hum (50Hz) and rumble removal possible with this filter, it is also useful to clean up any signal whose fundamental frequency falls above this point - such as voice and six string guitar. The MPE-1 also has a High Cut filter switch which turns the power off and on in the first two positions and filters out frequencies above 5kHz in the third position. It can, therefore, be used effectively for hiss removal.
The frequency range covered by the MPE-1 is variable between 100Hz and 5kHz. The bandwidth is variable from one tenth of an octave to nearly two octaves which allows tight control of frequencies from individual notes to a broader contouring effect similar to that obtained from the mid EQ controls on a mixer. The EQ level control can give up to 18dB of boost or cut at the selected frequency. An effect on/off toggle switch is provided with an associated red LED indicator whilst Input, Output, Footswitch and Power Sockets are again situated on the back panel.
As already stated, the MPE-1 is more than the standard single channel parametric EQ found on some mixers and operates quietly and effectively.
Anything from mild wobbling to deep and heavy flanging is available from the MFC-1. Its delay time control is variable between 12 and 17 milliseconds which seems rather limited, but in practice it covers all the standard types of sound associated with the words 'flanging' and 'chorus'. It is also possible to go well overboard with it into the realms of the discordant if that's your bag. Width controls the amount of delay time sweep and the Rate adjusts the speed of the sweep from 0.1 seconds to 15 seconds. Feedback controls the amount of delayed signal returned to the input and is used for thickening the effects.
There's the usual effect on/off toggle and red LED and on this module the three position slide switch has positions for Power Off, Low Output and High Output to complement the addition of an instrument level input which has been added to the other standard sockets on the back of the unit. The choice of input and output levels is necessary on this module to optimise the signal-to-noise ratio which is more critical with analogue delay-based devices than with most other effects.
The MFC-1 produced very good results on bass, guitar and keyboards and, although a little noise was apparent at the longest end of the delay setting, with careful level matching good recorded results can be obtained.
When noise gates were first introduced their sole purpose was just that - to close the gate on the unwanted noise. Nowadays, units such as the MNT-1 are being used creatively to vary sounds with good use being made of the 'key' facility. Alongside the standard In, Out, Footswitch and DC Power sockets on the back panel of the MNT-1 is a standard jack 'Key In' socket. The gate can be triggered by a signal applied here which is not necessarily the signal being gated. For example, a feed from the bass drum to the Key In socket can be used to open and close the gate on a bass guitar signal. This can cut off the end of notes held too long by the bass player to create an extremely tight rhythm section. I used the MNT-1 to gate the decay section of a reverb unit applied to an electronic drum machine. The Sensitivity on the noise gate was set to open only on the played snare sound and the Decay was set to allow just the right length of reverb decay through before shutting down cleanly in readiness for the next snare beat.
Another valuable use for the MNT-1 is as a spare hand to shut down any channel of the multitrack which doesn't contain any useful information, thus helping to eliminate an extra few layers of noise. One for each channel would be something of a luxury, but nevertheless far more feasible with this type of modular unit than with some of the bulkier candidates.
The AL-10 is a ten band, ten octave spectrum analyser with mic and line inputs, line outputs, pink noise generator and peak hold on the bargraph LED display. Although it is not particularly relevant to the effects modules we have been looking at, it does fit the same rack, taking up space equivalent to three modules - It can be used to identify the shortcomings of an audio chain by feeding a known signal (pink noise) in at the input end, measuring it again at the output and observing any discrepancies.
The AL-10's display is made up of ten columns of LEDs each representing an octave from 32Hz up to 16kHz. Each column is made up of twelve rows, each representing a 2dB step. Pink noise should, theoretically, result in a straight line horizontally across the display. Any peaks or troughs that show up will indicate a variation between the original signal and the measured one. The problem then is to pin down the cause of the variation. In a studio set-up, be it home or otherwise, the biggest changes are going to be caused by an interaction between the speakers and the room acoustics - known as 'colouration'.
The AL-10 could be used in the home studio to try and achieve optimum speaker positioning but once this is done the unit may become somewhat redundant. A more suitable application for the AL-10 would be with a mobile PA. Different venue halls will cause different frequency anomalies and call for different remedies. These remedies can be diagnosed and hopefully cured more rapidly using the AL-10. One would hope that any frequency correction necessary in the home studio would be far smaller than that required for a PA in a hall, and in this respect I don't believe that octave frequency bands would produce sufficient definition for serious studio use. However, a PA engineer could put together a compact and useful rack for himself consisting of the AL-10, a couple of MLM-1 limiters and a few MNT-1 noise gates, that would greatly assist him in achieving a good sound.
The Vesta Fire Modular Effects System is a good way to start building up your outboard gear. Beginning with maybe just the MFC-1 Flanger, operated initially by battery, it would be as much at home with you on stage as in your studio. As time and budget flow, more effects, a rack and the mains power supply could be added to give you a respectable quality studio set-up and, armed with a bank of footswitches, a very tidy stage rack too.
All these modules do the jobs they are intended for and provide a good way to build up an effects system without committing too much money at any one time.
Review by Martin Sheehan
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