Ibanez DUE400 Digital Multi-Effects
John Harris subjects this Japanese rack to the English inquisition.
Ibanez have never been ones to stand still in the field of rack-mounting multieffects, and the new DUE400 is an exciting step forward in terms of programmability.
It features a comp/lim, a super metal distortion, a digital chorus/flanger, and a digital delay, all of which maybe programmed in any order you wish and stored in one of the unit's 128 memory positions. Impressed? Read on...
The DUE400 comes in a single rack mounting unit, although heaven knows how they managed to fit so much into so small a space (damned cunning these Japanese)! The effects are all on the left of the metallic finish front panel which we've come to associate with the latest Ibanez rack-mounting products, and these are controlled by smooth action mini-sliders operating vertically. To the right of these, an attractive, eight-digit, seven-LED readout displays all the important functions. This is clear, easy to follow, and the readout is bright enough to be easily read without making you squint - not the case with some other units I've tried.
To the right on the front panel, and arranged in three rows are the 22 program selection switches. These are made of the durable sort of rubber you find on the Roland MicroComposer switches and are coloured grey with the exception of the blue Bypass switch. The legend is clearly written in black, and the switches associated with Effect Selection and Sub Output Assign are numbered in white. Enter and Bypass switches are also clearly labelled in white, while the Increment and Decrement switches have white arrowheads pointing up and down respectively, which is a nice touch. Finally on the front panel we find the power switch.
I feel that the absence of an input level or peak level meter of some kind is a major omission here, because some of the effects (the chorus/flanger in particular) are easily overloaded.
Clearly labelled in yellow legend, the rear panel sports some very useful connection points. The MIDI in control is made via the usual 5 pin DIN, while the Remote input from Ibanez' own foot control system gives you complete access to any of the 128 programs. If you wish to use a normal footswitch to step through the programs this is accessed via a ¼" stereo jack input. Bypass and Hold are also controllable via a footswitch. The single input is situated on the rear panel, while there are two outputs - Main and Sub. The Sub Output is programmable anywhere in the chain of effects and if used on the Chorus/Flanger it gives a pleasant stereo effect. If used on the DDL the echoed signal should logically appear on one side only but on the model I tried, this was not the case and the echoed signal came out of the Main output as well.
Another very useful feature of this device is the External Loop, the Send and Receive of which are found on the rear panel. Again, this may be programmed to appear at any point in the effects order, which means that you can run one, or a whole chain of extra effects of your own.
There are three sliders governing the comp/lim; Threshold which controls the input level at which the comp/lim begins to operate, Attack which dictates the time it takes for the comp/lim to react to a new note, and a slider for output level. In use I found the comp/lim rather sensitive and it had a nasty tendency to 'pump' at extreme settings and there is no decay time adjustment which might help to minimise this. The best places to run this effect were either before the rest of the effects to even out the playing dynamics, (or to overdrive the distortion using a high output and compression), or after the distortion set to limit so that a high degree of sustain was achieved.
Unfortunately, this rather exposes the chief weakness of the DUE400: none of the control parameters are programmable! All your carefully thought out effects chains may be useful with regard to order, but you will have to re-set all the control parameters! The only things that the DUE400 does remember are the delay setting (whether long or short - no more specific than that), and which mode the chorus/flanger is set to. This is not such a problem in the studio where you will have time to reset controls, but it is a severe limitation for live work.
The distortion unit has a stunning five controls labelled drive, attack, punch, edge and level, the functions of which are worthy of a little more description. Drive simply controls the amount of distortion, which is certainly ample! Attack controls the amount of 'bite' you get at the beginning of the note; the plucked portion of the sound and this is quite a nice effect when playing pizzicato style. Punch and Edge are really bass and treble cut and boost, and both controls could have done with a centre detent as they cut or boost from the centre position of the slider. This effect, like the others, has its own output volume control.
On paper I thought this unit was going to be a sort of up-market rack mounted Rockman, but in practice it turns out to be nothing of the sort. The distortion sounds very fizzy when the output of the unit is taken straight into the desk, even when the other effects are used. To be fair, most distortion units sound this way when DI'd, but somehow, I'd expected something more from this unit as I was looking at it from the viewpoint of obtaining good guitar sounds by direct injection straight into the mixing desk. However, when used with a guitar amp, the distortion turns out to be pretty good, with a wide tonal variety but again that doesn't help me if I want to DI it. I found too that I had to be careful how I set up the distortion and compression to run together as too much bass boost on the distortion, for instance, upset the compressor.
The digital chorus/flanger was pretty good, - particularly the flanger. Unfortunately you can only have one effect or the other; selected using the chorus/flange program switch linked to a red LED (chorus), and a green LED (flange) which show what mode the effect is in. Bandwidth is an excellent 16kHz with a variable delay time of 1-8ms for the flanger and 2-16ms for the chorus. The Speed and Width controls worked well for chorusing, my only reservation being that the Width was a bit extreme, resulting in a limitation on slider movement for different straightforward chorusing effects: anything above a quarter way up was too wide! In common with other digital chorus effects the sound was a bit thin when compared to analogue units, but still very usable.
For flanging there is an additional control for Feedback, enabling you to set up some excellent effects. In fact I got a better chorus sound when the unit was in flange mode, but again it is unfortunate from a live performance point of view that only the mode (flange/chorus) and not the parameters is programmable.
There are two modes of delay here; Short (16ms-128ms), and Long (128ms-1024ms), both with a bandwidth of 7kHz. The mode you are in is determined by a program switch linked to a red (short) and a green (long) LED enabling at a glance recognition of status. Delay Time and Repeat are self explanatory and operated by slider while Delay Level is a mix control, governing the amount of delayed signal, but having no effect on the dry signal. At its highest position the delayed signal is equal to the dry signal, but you can make use of the Sub Output facility (delay signal only) to boost the echo. In use, the DDL was very clear given the bandwidth and the repeats died away naturally with no unpleasant break up. The non-programmable Hold facility for the DDL is accessed via a footswitch only, and the master output for the whole unit controlled with the last slider.
Accessing the program is simple, and there are several different ways of doing this. Fortunately the manual is clear on all methods. The Increment and Decrement controls already mentioned are the fastest way to access a program; moving automatically through patches and banks (12 banks, each with patches 0-9, except for bank 12 which has only 8), slowly at first, and then speeding up so that you can move through the programs amazingly quickly if you wish. Using the program shift footswitch will enable you to step through the programs one at a time, which is useful in a live situation where you may have a different effect order for each song, or for each part of a song! In the studio, pre-programming your effects could save a lot of time, and therefore money.
Located to the left of the display is the three digit readout for Program Bank and Patch. When programming, this is usually accessed by pressing the Program button (which makes the program display flash), followed by the numbered Effect Select and Sub Output Select switches corresponding to the Bank or Patch required, and then Enter. If you select a figure not in the program (ie. 129 instead of 127), the word 'Err' will appear, but the DUE400 will remain in Program mode.
Ibanez' own foot controller; the IFC 60 may be connected to the unit to access a patch. This has the added bonus of a digital display of its own, but I found it was rather slow to operate and it was also easy to make mistakes. This was due to the fact that the four Patch pedals (that for some reason are labelled Program on the pedal) pedals: 0/5, 1/6, 2/7, 3/8, 4/9, were slow to respond at first but would then change quickly from say patch 0 to 5, resulting in the most horrendous din if you happened to have quite a different effect order programmed into each one! A fifth pedal on the board dictates the Bank changes so access to all programs is fairly swift but not instant.
At last - the part you've all been waiting for! Well, the sequence is simplicity itself once the program has been accessed. Merely select Order and the unit will go into Program Order Mode, the Bank/Patch lights will stop flashing, and the Order display of five digit positions will begin to flash. These are labelled Comp, Dist, Ch/Fl, Delay, and Ext (external loop). Moving to the Effect Select switches (top row), you simply press the switches corresponding to the effect in the order required. As each one is selected the number of its position in the chain is illuminated on the display underneath the legend for that particular effect, so that a typical effect sequence may read: Dist 1, Comp 2, Ch/Fl 3. Delay 4. If you are satisfied that this is the correct sequence then pressing Enter will commit the chain to memory.
If a mistake is made then the unit becomes cocky and 'Err' will appear on the display, but the DUE400 will remain in Program Order Mode with a clean slate and you can start again. To program Bypass, the sequence is Order, Pass, Enter. Alternatively there is a manual Bypass which is not programmable.
One of the most useful features of this unit is its ability to incorporate the external loop into the program order, and in the studio I found myself using my own ESP Rockbox for distortion in the loop, followed by the Ibanez chorus and DDL with the output straight into the desk. It also enables you to run a whole chain of your own effects to which you can easily switch in isolation.
Another excellent feature is the programmable Sub Output. This can be assigned to a particular effect, but if you're running a chain of effects, all those running before the one chosen will appear at the Sub Output too. Assigning chorus/flange to this output will give a stereo effect, and with the DDL the echoed signal will only appear at the Sub Output. This is useful for live work if you are a guitarist with two amps, or a keyboard player with a mixer, and in the studio it's always nice to have that extra control over the echoed signal by bringing it back through a spare channel in the desk.
To program the Sub Out location the sequence is once again blessedly simple. Once the correct Bank/Patch has been accessed you select Sub, at which point the Sub LED will begin flashing at the bottom right of the display. Then, pressing the Sub Out switch (second row) corresponding to the effect you wish it to be assigned to will cause a small red LED to start flashing below the effect legend on the display. Enter will consign it to memory.
If you wish to copy your program into other program locations, the DUE400 is even capable of this. Once the program to be copied has been recalled, the Effect Select and Sub Output Assign switches are used to select the new program bank and patch location. This appears under the Order section of the display, enabling you to monitor both program locations and if they're correct you press Enter.
All 128 program locations on the unit may be accessed via MIDI and selecting the MIDI button on the control panel will cause the unit to display which MIDI channel it is receiving on. This may be changed using the Increment/Decrement switches between 0 and 16. In practice of course, if you have a Yamaha DX7 keyboard for instance, then MIDI will only access programs 000-031 because the DX has only got 32 on board program locations. By the same token, an Oberheim, having 128 programs of its own will access all those on the Ibanez with a different effect order on each if you wish. Again this could prove to be a vast time-saver in the studio if everything is pre-programmed, or indeed, if there's a code on tape you could run quite a lot on the mix using a sequencer, and it would all be first generation! Having said that, with the possible exception of the Tibetan nose flute, the guitar is the least MIDI orientated instrument around today and so the possibilities offered by MIDI patch changing are arguably less than would be the case with (for example) synthesisers.
I liked this unit because it was so easy to operate, but as usual with many rackmounting products coming out of Japan these days, it is a great idea with some elementary flaws for the musician/engineer. Why they haven't made at least the delay time on the DDL programmable I don't know. Ideally all the parameters on the effects should be programmable as this would turn what is basically a unit of limited possibilities into an amazingly flexible and practical unit. However, as the retail price is in the order of £650, these design shortcomings become more difficult to overlook so you'll need to think hard before deciding if this unit offers any real advantages in a recording situation when its not inconsiderable cost is taken into account and bearing in mind the comments about the distortion effect when DI'ing. Nevertheless, this is an interesting product worthy of attention and if you decide that you'd rather use those effects you know and love, friends, there is salvation in the form of the less expensive Ibanez programmable patching system. This is basically similar to the DUE400 but you plug in your own effects - but think of all the batteries you'd have to buy!
Further information is available from Summerfields, (Contact Details).
Review by John Harris
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