What goes "crack, doing, shudder, shudder"? As every dedicated home recordist with a fairly limited budget knows, the output of a spring reverb does, on receiving the signal from a snare drum.
No one, to my knowledge, has ever pretended that this is an ideal situation, but to this day it seems to remain part of a low cost spring unit's street cred requirement that it should wobble about just a little too much when given the quick, sharp shock treatment, as administered by a snare drum signal or other similar transient.
However, life without reverb is more or less unthinkable. Everybody knows how flattering the "bathroom acoustic" is, and when recording especially at home, a source of artificial reverberation is of fundamental importance.
This would seem to be Yamaha's year for revolutionary new products. The DX-7 has had more written about it than any other keyboard for a long time, and now they may be set to capture a new market with the R1000 digital reverb system. The breakthrough isn't to be found in the concept of the product nor the technology involved, but at a rather less aesthetic level — the price. At £493.00 inc VAT, it's positively cheap.
Certainly, you can get springs for considerably less than that, but they will tend to suffer from the shudders, as previously mentioned. Their sound quality will be limited and until you get into the several thousand pounds price bracket, they will have a fixed decay time.
Digital reverb systems have taken over from the plate as the standard professional reference. It's their physical compactness, immunity to external vibrations and disturbances, high quality and operational flexibility which has made them so successful. It certainly isn't their price, however; between £5,000 and £10,000 would be the average financial burden incurred for a professional unit capable of replacing a plate. You will see, then, that a price tag of under £500 really is a bit of a breakthrough.
The R1000 is a neat, 1¾ in high, standard 19 in rack mounting unit, with an attractive, rather understated appearance.
Unlike most springs, plates and high cost digital units, it's only a mono device, although for most applications this shouldn't be a problem. Pre-effect insert points allow for the inclusion of auxiliary effects such as delays which could synthesise a stereo image if desired.
All connections to the outside world are via ¼ in jack sockets. A rear panel switch allows a choice of nominal operating levels: either the professional studio line level of +4 dB or a lower level of -20 dB to suit most home recording equipment. This sensitivity coupled with a reasonably high input impedance of 50 kOhms, allows the direct connection of electric instruments, including guitars. Yamaha recommend the use of a pre-amp for such applications, and of course ideally, so do I. However, although it isn't a perfect match, direct connection still produces good results, and means that you can use it as a pedal between your guitar and amp with no further messing around required.
The input control adjusts the level with relation to a 4-segment LED ladder, and at the other end of the unit there is an output level control so there should be little difficulty in dropping this unit into any audio chain.
As opposed to the fixed parameters of a spring, the Yamaha promises four different preset decay times, or "modes" as they call them. However, for some unfathomable reason the quantities have been set thus: Mode 1 — 1.5 secs; Mode 2 — 1.6 secs; Mode 3 — 2.3 secs; Mode 4 — 2.4 secs. This is far from a logical choice, I mean, can you tell the difference between 2.3 and 2.4 secs decay time? Of course you can't.
Putting that aside, it has to be said that the two times available have been well chosen, and should cover most normal requirements in a superior manner to most springs. The quality of the reverberant sound is useable and blissfully free of twangs, boings and the like.
In the studio or a large PA system, the engineer would normally require nothing but pure reverb at the output of the unit. For a simpler set-up, where no mixing facilities are available, Yamaha have included a mix control on the R1000. This means that you can simply stick the thing in-line with your instrument or other equipment (as with a pedal) and adjust the mix control to produce the correct direct/reverberant balance at the unit's output.
Of equal usefulness, particularly on stage, is a front panel system bypass switch which can be remotely operated from a footswitch via a ¼ in jack socket next to it.
Correct equalisation is of paramount importance in the musical use of reverb and most devices will include some kind of section to allow this. Yamaha have been somewhat generous in providing a full three bands of sweepable eq: 50 Hz-700 Hz; 350 Hz-5 kHz; 2 kHz-20 kHz, each offering +/-15 dB of gain.
The fact that it's got the word "digital" in its title shouldn't lead you to expect it to be comparable with other digital reverb systems costing many thousands of pounds; that simply wouldn't be cricket.
The R1000 offers simple, good quality, convenient reverb with effectively two possible decay times. At the price, it really has little competition.