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Lexicon Jam Man Digital Echo • Sampler • Loop Recorder

Hot from AES New York, we test this tasty loop recorder/sampler.


Lexicon follow up their highly desirable Alex digital reverb with a truly innovative new product. Last seen cavorting on stage with rock band Living Colour, Jam Man offers not only echo and sampling, but also allows you to create spontaneous music tracks, courtesy of its looping digital recorder. Paul White turns on and Fripps out...


Following the release of their budget digital reverb unit, Alex, it's evident that Lexicon are turning their attention further toward the MI (musical instrument) market. While Alex could be described as a 'better mousetrap' product, Jam Man is far more radical and has no obvious equivalent from any other manufacturer. It's really three products in one — a digital echo, a sampler and a looping digital recorder — all based around a 15kHz bandwidth, 16-bit delay line which can be expanded from the basic eight seconds up to 32 seconds by adding more RAM chips. In Multi Loop mode, the available delay memory is shared out between the various loops, so with only the basic eight seconds of RAM, it's likely that you'll run out of memory well before you fill up all eight loops.

The first two effects, Echo and Sampling, are not new, but Jam Man's ability to record up to eight different loops and switch between them is quite novel. Because the unit is able to recognise and generate MIDI clock information, both loop recording and loop playback can be locked to a MIDI sequencer.

Jam Man is an uncomplicated rack-mounting device styled along the lines of the Alex, with stereo inputs and outputs on unbalanced jacks, a pair of footswitch jacks and a pair of MIDI In and Out jacks to connect it to the outside world; power comes from an external adaptor. The inputs are fairly high impedance at 50 Kohms (25 Kohms mono) and work with signals down to -30dBu in level, so it's possible to work with a high impedance mic plugged directly into the unit — though it's better to feed Jam Man from a mixer. Footswitch options are provided to allow hands-off, real-time control of some of Jam Man's control functions, including Tap Tempo and triggered record or playback, and a footswitch is included with the basic package.

ECHOES AND SAMPLING



Jam Man's Echo mode is perhaps the simplest of its modes to use. Unlike conventional delay units, you can only set echo delay times on Jam Man using the Tap Tempo function. The delay time may then be divided by two, four or eight using the Function button to produce faster delays, still related to the original tempo. The only other parameter that can be varied is feedback, which is accessed using the 16-position Select knob. Only mono, single-tapped delay is available; maximum delay time is determined by the amount of memory fitted in Jam Man (up to 32 seconds).

Sampling is very basic, offering no editing facilities and no MIDI control of playback frequency. Selecting Sample using the Mode switch arms Jam Man and pressing Tap starts the recording process. Pressing Tap again plays the sample back — simple. The Function button may be used to reverse the sample — which can be fun — and an external audio signal can be used to trigger the sample as an alternative to the Tap button. Again, the sample length is determined by the amount of memory.

LOOP



There are two types of loop operation: Punch In Loop and Phrased Loop. Recording a loop is dead simple using the Tap button to start and stop recording. The loop continues to play after you've recorded it so you could use this facility live to create impromptu backings. Once the loop has been recorded, you can do one of three things via the Function switch, the first being to add more Layers. Jam Man defaults to Layer mode after recording and this allows several overdubs to be added to the loop just by pressing the Tap button again. The overdubs continue until you press Tap again to stop the process. Though there is some deterioration in sound quality as the loop is built up, it's surprising how many overdubs you can get away with, and I was particularly impressed by the low level of noise. This mode is handy for putting together a basic rhythm loop, but I also found it a fascinating tool for experimenting with layered African and Aboriginal style chants. Anything you do create will be lost when the unit is switched off, so any masterpieces should be recorded to tape for later use.

The Other two options are Mute and Replace. Mute is useful in live performance, as it allows the loop to be turned on and off to provide breaks, while Replace permits sections of the loop to be replaced by new sounds, much like the punch in and out on a tape machine. The Phrased Loop mode is very similar, the only real difference being that when you hit Tap to initiate Layer, Mute or Replace, the process doesn't start immediately but instead starts at the beginning of the next cycle of the loop.

So far I've only looked at working with a single loop, which means all the memory can be used to create a loop of up to eight seconds (32 seconds with memory expansion), but there's also the option to create up to eight separate loops (which will only play sequentially, not simultaneously), in which case the memory has to be divided between them. During playback, you can switch from one loop to another using the Select switch or MIDI program changes.

The first loop is made as normal, with or without overdubs.

When you're ready to record the second loop, simply turn the Select control one position clockwise.

The new loop will then start to record at the start point of loop 1 and will automatically switch out of record at the loop end. The only drag is that you can't hear the first loop while recording subsequent loops, so you need to have a good sense of timing — or lock a MIDI drum machine in to provide a click track.

CONCLUSION



This box is very easy to use, and it's also lots of fun. In the studio you can use it as an echo unit or as a sampler for flying in chunks of audio (such as vocal phrases), or you could use the looping features to create layered rhythms. Though the memory is wiped on power down, you can still record the results to tape or use them as the basis of samples. The MIDI clock facilities also make it easy to lock the Jam Man to a sequencer.

Jam Man will appeal to a wide variety of musicians; DJs and rappers working live will appreciate the ability to easily knock up two or three rhythmic loops on the spot and then switch between them; new age/ambient musicians could use Jam Man as a hi-tech substitute for tape loops — in fact, this is where the original inspiration for Jam Man came from (see box for background); in fact, the concept behind this inspiring device shows an encouraging level of understanding of what excites musicians of all types. In the short time I had Jam Man, I really enjoyed playing with it, and started to come up with ideas that I'd never have pursued using conventional recording equipment. If it wasn't for the lack of space, I'd tell you all about my Rolf Harris impressions, my Gregorian chants and my African drum ensembles! As the cliche goes, the possible uses of Jam Man are limited only by your imagination...

Jam Man £399 inc VAT.

Stirling Audio Systems, (Contact Details).

LEXICON JAM MAN £399

PROS
Easy to use.
Excellent sound quality.
Practical real-time control of loop recording and playback.
Memory may be expanded.

CONS
You can't monitor previous loops while your record new ones.
Yet another external power supply adaptor to trip over.

SUMMARY
This innovative unit encourages spontaneous musical experimentation and has a wide range of practical uses, both live and in the studio.


FOOTSWITCH

For live or hands-off use, Jam Man can be controlled via simple footswitches. These allow control of the Tap and Reset/Bypass (or Select and Function) operations. A dual footswitch and lead is included with the unit which provides control over the Tempo and Reset (Bypass facilities). An additional (optional) footswitch may be used to control the Function and Select operations.


FRONT PANEL


1 INPUT, MIX AND OUTPUT: These controls operate just as they do on any effects unit, Mix controlling the balance between the dry and processed sound. A single LED glows green when an acceptable signal is being received and red when clipping is imminent.

2 RESET/BYPASS: Depending on which mode is being used, this button resets the Jam Man. Bypass also toggles the Muting status.

3 DISPLAY: This is a two digit LED readout with an additional +/- symbol and three LED dot markers relating to the Function switch. The meaning of the display content is different depending on which operational mode you've selected.

4 FUNCTION BUTTON: This selects the function assigned to the Tap button and lights the corresponding marker LED in the display window, opposite the legend Mute, Layer or Replace. A blinking LED shows that a function is selected ready to be triggered by the Tap button (or footswitch if used).

In Echo mode, the Function button allows you to easily double up the tempo of your echoes.
In Sampling mode, it reverses the playback direction of the sample.
In Loop mode, it selects Mute, Layer or Replace as the dub function assigned to the Tap button.

5 SELECT: Depending on the operating mode you're in, this knob does various things:

In Echo mode, it selects the Feedback Level.
In Sampling mode, it selects the Audio Trigger Threshold.
In multi-loop mode, moving the knob along one notch moves you onto the next loop, whether you're in record or playback.

6 TEMPO LED: This blinks at the current tempo or lights during sample record and playback.

7 TAP: Used to set Tap Tempo or trigger recording.

8 MODE SWITCH: This is a 16-position rotary switch used to select Echo, Sample or various Loop modes of operation. When Jam Man is being sync'ed to an external MIDI clock, this switch is also used to choose loop length, expressed in MIDI quarter notes.


BACKGROUNDER: JAM MAN'S DESIGNER SPEAKS

I spoke to Lexicon's Marketing Communications Manager Jon Durant and Jam Man System Programmer Bob Sellon about the background to this innovative device.

Bob Sellon: "Jam Man began as a series of modifications to the Lexicon PCM42 digital delay. I had modified a customer's PCM42 for 80 seconds of memory, but he found that it was difficult to use, due to the synchronisation problems inherent in long delay systems. We then worked out a user interface that allowed the size of an audio loop to be defined and modified in real time. I designed the hardware to implement the new system, and the first real time looping system was born.

"Using the modified 42 as a model, Joe Walz (another Lexicon engineer) and I worked up an advanced feature set for Jam Man. This included new features such as Tap Tempo Echoes with musical divisions, sampling features, and perhaps most significantly, the MIDI interface.

"We then made a formal proposal, which we presented to Lexicon management. Our demonstration was an overwhelming success, and plans were drawn up to implement the product concept in a hardware platform similar to the Alex digital effects processor. The core of the development team was assembled, the project was launched, and nine months later Jam Man arrived on the market."

Jon Durant commented that initially the company had envisaged Jam Man's potential buyers to be similar to the customers for whom Bob Sellon had modified the PCM42, which had sparked off the initial idea for Jam Man — experimental guitarists such as David Torn. However, a Jam Man fell into the hands of Living Colour, who pointed out its potential uses in the dance field — especially on the UK rave scene! Derek Johnson


MIDI

Jam Man can sync to or generate MIDI clock, which means you can sync it to a sequencer when creating loops or, alternatively, sync your sequencer to the loops you've created. The Mode control sets how many quarter-notes should be in a loop. When recording a loop under MIDI clock control, recording is terminated when the selected number of quarter-notes have elapsed, unless the Tap button is hit first. Two Jam Man units may also be locked to each other using MIDI, which allows stereo loops to be run.

Jam Man's front panel controls are mapped to 20 MIDI program changes, which not only enables the user to switch between the eight loops, but also to emulate the Tap switch via MIDI, reset the device, operate the layer and mute functions, and even select three lengths of fadeout. Fade causes successive loops to fade in level, so the actual fade time will depend on the loop length.



Previous Article in this issue

Del Palmer

Next article in this issue

Emagic Notator Logic Audio


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Dec 1993

Donated by: Rob Hodder

Gear in this article:

Studio FX > Lexicon > JamMan


Gear Tags:

Digital FX

Previous article in this issue:

> Del Palmer

Next article in this issue:

> Emagic Notator Logic Audio


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