Korg DRV-1000 Digital Reverb
As expected the MIDIVERB has opened up the floodgates for more low-cost stereo digital reverbs. Ian Gilby takes a listen to the first Japanese model to hit the market and concludes that its appearance can only be a good thing.
The DRV-1000 is currently the cheapest stereo digital reverb on the market; and it's also 16-bit. But how does it fare in the light of the competition? Ian Gilby checks it out.
The competition really is hotting up in the the sub £400 range of digital reverb units. The Alesis MIDIVERB with its 63 preset reverb programs has quickly established itself as the de facto standard against which all reverb units now have to be judged, and its appearance earlier this year has undoubtedly sent the midrange reverb manufacturers scurrying back to their drawing boards, tails between their legs.
What I find surprising is just how long it has taken those companies - and particularly the Japanese ones, who hardly ever fail to capitalise on somebody else's good ideas - to get their own low-cost models on the market. Alesis have now had the market to themselves for nigh on nine solid months without any direct competition. That is an awfully long time and more than enough for a product as desirable as the MIDIVERB to get a damned good stranglehold on the market. After all, nine months allows even the poorest of potential purchasers adequate time to save up and not have their minds changed by the sudden launch of a comparable unit at a better price in the meantime.
What all this is leading up to is the obvious fact that any new low-cost digital reverb wishing to enter the game at this late stage is going to find it mighty hard establishing itself and will have to have some distinct price/facility advantage over the MIDIVERB for it to even get a look-in!
The DRV-1000, like the MIDIVERB, has a totally preset range of reverb programs - no user-movable parts you might say. The MIDIVERB was a welcome departure from the frequently encountered (makes a change from saying 'ubiquitous' doesn't it) 1U high, 19-inch rack-mount format to which the new DRV-1000 firmly adheres, but both units share the same liking for a sparsity of controls.
Oddly enough though, Korg have taken what some might consider a retrograde step with the design of the DRV-1000 for it does not make use of the typical 'parameter/value LCD/LED display with incremental buttons' arrangement common to the SPX90 and most all other modern effects units; it actually has four distinctly old-fashioned looking (hold your breath...) mechanical knobs and rotary switches! In my humble opinion I actually preferred them for their user-friendliness - you can see at a glance where every control is set without wasting time stepping through numerous options before finding the parameter you wish to alter. On a preset unit like this, there really is no need for an alternative arrangement.
You are probably all hanging on the edge of your seats by now desperate for me to relieve the tension by revealing just how many reverb programs the DRV-1000 has. The answer is 128 - now what's the question? That total is Korg's incidentally: it depends very much on your definition of a reverb 'program' and I would say that the DRV-1000 has 64 programs, not 128. Korg have arrived at their slightly misleading figure by virtue of the fact that the DRV-1000 has a rotary switch to select one of 8 possible basic reverb 'patterns' (to use Korg's terminology), with a second rotary governing the selection of 8 separate reverb 'time' options for each reverb pattern (8 patterns x 8 times = 64 reverb programs). In conjunction with these there is a high frequency damping selector, marked 'H. Damp', which can be set in one of two possible states: 'on' or 'off'. So you can have a possible 64 programs with high frequency damping and a possible 64 without - making 128 in all.
However, the 'H. Damp' function is a means of simulating the high frequency attenuation characteristic of different room environments, which in reality are determined by such factors as the type of material the room surfaces are made of, and whether the room is full of people/objects etc. A tiled bathroom, for instance, has very little HF damping which is why things sound so 'bright'; whilst a typical sitting room with curtains, carpet, settee etc, has a high degree of damping since those materials absorb the energy of the high frequency sound producing a 'duller' response.
Korg's 'H. Damp' facility simulates this very well but, used on the same reverb pattern, the variation is not enough to warrant its distinction as two programs, which is why I prefer to think of the unit as having 64 presets not 128. Damping, after all, is achieved by low pass filtering the reverbed signal (a form of equalisation), and if you were to agree with Korg's distinction then you would have to say that the Yamaha REV-7 had an infinite number of factory programs since that device sports variable onboard EQ which can be used to 'cut' top-end signals to simulate HF damping.
I'm sorry if it appears that I'm moaning about inconsequential details, but we have to present comparisons based on a like-for-like basis and to accept that the DRV-1000 has 128 programs compared with the MIDIVERB's 63 would be misleading.
The reverb times have been wisely set at the factory to match each reverb 'pattern' (small hall, room, garage etc) and to present you with 8 realistic variations of each reverb type which are all infinitely usable treatments, some more than others obviously, but none strike you as being good only for those 'once in a blue moon' occasions other than the Reverse reverb effect perhaps. (Just how many times can you realistically use it on drums (vocals are even better) before your music becomes laughable? Even so, it is a welcome inclusion and can add a definite air of professionalism to any recording when used tastefully.
Some of the DRV-1000 room and plate (as opposed to bed & breakfast?!) settings - vocal plate 1.7 secs for certain - are ideal as overall sound sweeteners for most styles and pace of music. A 99 second reverb decay is no use whatsoever on a 12-bar blues, but can be beneficial on Eno-like 'ambient' meanderings. Such lengthy reverb tails are not available from the Korg DRV-1000 unfortunately, its maximum reverb time being 10 seconds and only when on the Large Hall setting. The DRV-1000 then is not for those of you who want unusual or unnatural reverb effects; it is, generally speaking, more a solid, reliable provider of natural-sounding reverb.
The Reverse and Gated Reverb options, although very good and versatile, are distinctly fashionable elements which will help sell the product today, but would no doubt be little used by owners in the longterm once they go out of style.
It is the quality of the 6 fundamental reverb programs that make this device. With true 16-bit operation giving an 80dB reverbed signal dynamic range and 10kHz reverb bandwidth, the DRV-1000 will definitely suit all budget and semi-pro installations. However, its restricted choice of operating level (-10dBm jack output only) precludes it from being considered serious enough for top-class professional applications (it's almost quiet enough though), but you would be flabberghasted if it weren't so for this price.
On the matter of connections, the DRV-1000 has a mono jack input (-20dBm) - the MIDIVERB is stereo in/out-which feeds true stereo processed reverb (dry/wet balance set by the easily accessible front panel 'Mix' knob) to left (mono) and right jack outputs. I would have also liked to see a separate 'direct (dry signal) only' output as this is handy for splitting the input and feeding another signal processor as well as the DRV-1000. Performing the equivalent function of a MIDI Thru you might say. MIDI is absent from this unit, incidentally, but savings obviously needed to be made somewhere.
The remaining jack connectors are for footswitches to allow on/off control of the 'Long' and 'Rev Cancel' functions of the DRV-1000. 'Long' can be used to produce some pleasing results, for once activated, it instantly selects the longest reverb time available for that particular reverb pattern you are using, and creates effects similar to those achieved with a piano's sustain pedal - very ethereal on Large Hall setting but it does have a tendency to 'muddy' the sound if used willy-nilly. 'Cancel' produces the equivalent action of raising the depressed sustain pedal on a piano, abruptly curtailing the reverb portion of the sound only. This can be selected from the front panel or via a footswitch if you wish.
I liked the Korg DRV-1000 a lot. It is not as transparent in its sound as others may like, adding a certain degree of character to the input signal, but this is not at all unpleasant- in fact it is the exact opposite. The reverbed output has a friendly, distinctive 'warmth' to it - particularly on many of the vocal plate settings which I relished.
It coped admirably with a wide range of input signals from various sources - 'taped' drums, live vocal, electric guitar, synths, live bass drum (just to see if it would handle the level) and even the girlfriend's piano. A good all-round device then.
I certainly reckon the DRV-1000 will appeal - I just don't know to how many people. If you already own a MIDIVERB, say, then I don't see the need to swap it for this (especially not if you require MIDI control), unless you simply wish for a better quality, ie. slightly less noisy, and warmer-sounding reverb effect. Having said that, the similarly-priced Alesis Microverb looms close on the horizon (see.. p6/7) and the decision of which to buy may ultimately hinge on less important factors - like the style of case or type of connector. Give it a whirl.
MRP £333.00 inc VAT.
Review by Ian Gilby
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