ART SGX-LT Multi-Effects
Guitar Multi-Effects Processor
A multi-effects processor for the guitarist who wants instant gratification without all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace? Paul White plugs into the ART SGX-LT.
Far too many guitar processors deprive us of our familiar preamp knobs and replace them with banks of parameter access buttons, the upshot of which is that a tonal tweak — which might normally take two or three seconds — now takes 11 button presses, two LCD 'squintings', and four twirls of a shaft encoder to accomplish. Life is simply too short for such nonsense, and in the studio it's generally easier to set up a guitar sound from scratch anyway — even the nearest programmed patch usually needs some modification.
My usual setup for recording sessions is a manually adjustable guitar amp/speaker simulator fed through a conventional programmable multi-effects unit, though in the interests of commercial impartiality, I shan't tell you which at this stage. ART's SGX-LT simplifies things even further by combining a manual, analogue guitar preamp with a multi-effects unit offering a choice of 249 preset effects combinations, where up to three effects are used to create each combination. These effects are in addition to the overdrive and tonal facilities offered by the guitar preamp section and, though the unit appears to be designed mainly for use with guitar amplifiers, the output would appear to include a degree of filtering, as it sounds perfectly acceptable when used directly into a mixing console for recording. Of course the unit isn't limited to use with guitars and can be used to great effect in creating guitar-like synth patches. But before getting into the sonic capabilities of this little box, a few routine facts.
The SGX-LT lives in a mains-powered, 1U rack case, it has a ghastly pink logo and is virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the ART range of effects processors, both in appearance and title. There's a guitar input socket on the front panel and a further line input on the rear panel which bypasses the analogue guitar preamp section. These can be used simultaneously, in which case the rear-panel line input is summed with the output from the preamp section. As is true of virtually all effects processors of this type, the output is stereo and comprises a mix of the uneffected signal (mono) and the added effects in stereo. All the signal connections are made by means of unbalanced jacks, and further jacks are fitted allowing optional footswitches to be used for clean/dirty channel switching and effects bypass. The fact that the guitar preamp section can be bypassed means that the unit is also useful as a general studio effect processor, which makes it an attractive proposition to the guitar playing, home studio owner.
A single MIDI In socket allows remote access to the effects, but as there are 250 effects patches, including a bypass position, and only 128 MIDI patch change numbers, only 128 patches can be selected over MIDI, via a patch change mapping table. In practice this is quite adequate, but I can't help wondering why more people don't use the Ensoniq system, in which program changes between 121 and 128 select a bank, and numbers up to 120 select a patch from that bank. This entails sending two consecutive patch changes, but most sequencers can happily accommodate this. Furthermore, as ART provide their own MIDI floor controller, there's no reason why this couldn't have a mode allowing it to be used in the same way.
The front panel layout is fairly straightforward, with the rotary controls located to the left of the panel, directly after the guitar input jack and the distinctive logo, which looks rather like the aftermath of an explosion in a fruit yoghurt factory. Separate clean and dirty signal paths are provided, making this a true 2-channel guitar preamp, though the controls are a little unusual. The clean channel has its own gain control, which is normal enough, but instead of a full EQ section, there is something called Clean Contour which affects both high and low EQ, depending on where it is set. In its centre position, the control has no effects, but moved clockwise, it appears to adjust a variable frequency filter which sweeps higher as the control is moved further clockwise. This is not unlike a mild wah wah effect, while at the same time, the bass end is decreased. Moving the control anti-clockwise from centre enhances the bass end while cutting the high frequencies. This produces a surprisingly wide range of usable tones, but is a touch frustrating because it doesn't allow you to combine varying amounts of mid, bass and top boost, as you'd expect from a full EQ section. If you're going via a guitar amp, then the amp's own EQ section will circumvent this problem to some extent, but for recording, it's all down to what EQ you have in your console or outboard rack.
The overdrive channel also has a Gain control, allowing its level to be balanced against the clean channel, while the degree of distortion is controlled by the charmingly titled Dirt Drive control. This is followed up by a 3-section equaliser, but instead of bass middle and treble, we have Thrust (+/- 12dB cut/boost around 180Hz), Mid Voicing (the same at 850Hz) and Edge (4kHz). Though these might be considered odd frequencies for a conventional equaliser, they're quite well chosen, given the spectral content and character of a typical electric guitar.
The output from this preamp feeds into the digital effects processor, and you can select either the clean or dirty channel using the Channel Select/Auto Store button. This button 'remembers' the clean/dirty status and automatically stores it alongside the current effects preset, providing a rudimentary degree of programmability.
A pair of Up/Down buttons allows the presets to be called up from the front panel and holding down both buttons causes the presets to gallop through in groups of 10, which makes patch access fairly quick. A horizontal slider sets the dry/effect mix, while a pair of LEDs act as a simple level meter, showing signal present and clip at the input to the effects processor. This comes after the guitar preamp, so if clipping occurs, it is necessary to turn down the clean or dirty channel gain controls as appropriate.
Like most of ART's processors, the effects are created digitally using 16-bit conversion — an ultra-wide bandwidth is claimed in the brochure, though no mention is made of what the bandwidth actually is. Subjectively, however, it's more than adequate, especially in the context of the electric guitar which is, in any case, a very bandwidth-limited instrument when played through a typical guitar amplifier. The effects themselves are based mainly around reverb and delay, which means plenty of chorus and flanging type treatments. The first 30 presets offer a full variety of usable effects, while the remaining 219 are ordered into logical sections. For example, presets 30 to 79 are all reverbs, spanning decay times from 0.2 to 23 seconds. All the usual reverb types are available, including halls, rooms, cathedrals, reverse reverbs, gated reverbs and plates. After that, the modulation and combination effects start to show up, with gated and reverse reverbs having their own section. Delays of up to 600ms are available in both mono and stereo configurations, with varying numbers of taps and degrees of regeneration. There are also short, slap-back echoes and stereo image programmes based on early reflection patterns. It's gratifying to find that most of the effects combinations are musically sensible, so little memory space is wasted with over-the-top settings that are only ever impressive in the shop.
Though the effects are generally good and reasonably quiet, there is some glitching as you change from one effect to another, so this is best accomplished during a pause rather than while playing.
Trying out the guitar preamp in isolation shows it to be pretty flexible, and it does produce a usable sound directly into a mixing console or Portastudio. The overdrive is convincing, though not as good as on some units I've tried, and the way the tone controls are arranged makes it easier to create fat, Marshall type sounds than biting, singing sustain. There is a certain amount of sensitivity to the overdrive in that you can set it up so that harder picking creates more overdrive, but it doesn't come close to my Sessionmaster in this respect. The clean channel is to some extent limited by the single equalisation control, but not as much as you might think. I found that I occasionally wanted to get brighter sounds from my Strat than this unit seemed prepared to give me, but in conjunction with even a simple EQ section on your mixer, you should be able to coax the extra range out of it.
The digital effects section is relatively clean; processing noise only becomes noticeable on settings which employ a lot of feedback, such as flanging, though overdriven guitar sounds also bring up the noise to a significant degree because of the extra gain employed in the analogue preamp stage. This is quite normal and has become accepted as part of the overdriven electric guitar sound. The reverbs are suitably convincing, especially for a low-cost unit such as this, and manage to create the illusion of space without being unnaturally ringy or coarse. The plate settings have a touch of ring to them, but that's an integral part of the plate sound. For guitar use, I particularly like the combined chorus and reverb patches, or chorus, delay and reverb patches, which work especially well on bright, clean sounds.
My only worry regarding the operation of the SGX-LT is that it's quite easy to set up what appears to be a sensible input level and then drive the effects into overload by playing hard. Surely it wouldn't be beyond the wit of man for the designers to include a simple safety limiter to prevent this happening, as distorted peaks can sound very nasty? In other respects, the effects are clean and effective, if not exactly revolutionary in their application. Most of the presets are stock studio effects and, while this might not open up new horizons, it does ensure that all the patches have practical applications. The only caveat here is that any delay effects are provided only in predetermined time increments, so there's no way to make the delays tempo related unless you write your songs to the match the delay times available.
Because the unit has no programmability as such, it is very quick and easy to use, but the neat trick which allows the machine to remember which effects use the clean preamp channel and which use the dirty channel is both refreshingly simple and incredibly useful. ART's SGX-LT is unlikely to cause gasps of disbelief when you hear it, but if you need a guitar processor that can be used both live and in the studio, and which can produce all the standard effects very quickly and easily, then the SGX-LT is an excellent low-cost option.
ART SGX-LT £199 inc VAT.
Harman Audio, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!