Lexicon Of Love
Lexicon Alex Digital Effects
How much did you say that new Lexicon will set me back? Unprecedented low price for a most excellent name!
A Lexicon reverb is a constant presence in top commercial studios, and is high on the wish list for the less exalted of us; with the launch of the Alex, that famed sound can be yours for less cash and with easier editability than you ever imagined. Dave Lockwood says he'd like half a dozen, please.
Ask any random selection of small studio owners what piece of outboard they would most like to add to their collection and the chances are that quite a few of them will give the same answer — "a Lexicon". To some, of course, it may be "another Lexicon", but the aspiration stands testament to a unique market presence. 'The Lexicon sound', disputed by rivals, feted by its devotees, resides either in their specially-developed algorithms (the mathematical process actually used to generate the effect), or totally within the subjective response of the listener, according to your viewpoint. Some would argue that we are simply so used to listening to Lexicon's version of the effect that we have become conditioned into accepting it as the 'norm', regarding any departure, even in the direction of a more accurate simulation of natural reverberation, as inferior. Alternatively, the Lexicon algorithm simply does something uniquely useful to real-world audio signals — in short, it just works for most people most of the time.
Lexicon's legendary model 224 was perhaps the first widely accepted digital reverb, but it is probably the ubiquitous model PCM70 that most readers are more likely to have encountered. Although totally professional in performance, the PCM70 was aimed a little further down-market than previous Lexicons, and consequently found its way into many a home studio. It was also their first processor to feature real-time control via 'Dynamic MIDI'.
The launch of the LXP1 saw Lexicon offer an even more affordable unit. Although the sound quality was undeniably Lexicon, the user-interface was stripped to the point where it was difficult for all but the most techno-literate to work with (unless you also had the MRC MIDI remote control unit). Few users, in my experience, therefore actually utilise the extensive control and editing facilities of these models to any significant degree.
What, it would appear, just about everybody wants is the Lexicon sound in an economically-priced, 'preset' box, perhaps with a couple of easy-to-use editable parameters, and a bit of user storage — and here is exactly that, in the form of Lexicon's new Alex digital effects processor.
Most users will be relieved, I am sure, to find that the Alex has a full 19-inch rack-mounting chassis, rather than the half-rack size becoming increasingly popular at this end of the market. The casing is extremely shallow, at just four inches, and lightweight, making the product disconcertingly reminiscent of a Midiverb II, at first glance — an impression further aided by the blue-on-black colour scheme. These dimensions inevitably mean an external PSU. The Alex's is in the form of a 9V AC combined plug/transformer, with a rather less than generous 1-metre cable leading to the mini-jack connection on the chassis.
Audio connection is via unbalanced quarter-inch jack on the rear panel. Dry signal is passed in stereo, if both sockets are used, whilst the effects signal is derived from summing the inputs, as normal. Switched sockets on the output pair allow either output to be used for mono operation, without losing out on half the effect signal. The rear panel is completed by a stereo quarter-inch jack for footswitch operation, and that's it! No dynamic MIDI, not even MIDI Program selection — nothing beyond that which is essential for its basic task of providing Lexicon-quality reverb at an affordable price.
Front panel controls are also minimal and will be comfortingly familiar, with Input, Mix and Output handling audio level optimisation. Input level is monitored by a single, green/amber/red, tri-colour LED, with red indicating potential overload. In practice, it seems you can flash the red momentarily without audible distortion, but it is always wise to play safe with digital systems, and I would advise using the amber sector as 'peak level' in any situation where signal level is not totally predictable. Interfacing at 'pro' (+4dBu) or 'semi-pro' (-10dBV) level was accommodated with equal ease, and an instrument amplifier with an effects loop at -20dBu was equally successful. You can't get away with passive instrument/microphone level, but anything else should be fine.
Under-driving the Alex a little does not seem to produce any particularly unpleasant results, such as audible quantisation distortion in exposed reverb tails. At the point where output noise imposes the practical limit on lower drive level, the Alex is still sounding as sweet as ever, auguring well for its handling of low-level detail in a mix. Naturally, the unit is full 16-bit linear, utilising PCM encoding, (the bit-format and method used to convert incoming audio signals into digital numbers able to be used by the processor). Sampling rate is 31.25kHz, limiting the upper audio frequency of the digital signal — where new designs invariably now have a bandwidth extending to 20kHz, the Alex, like the legendary PCM70, is -3dB at 15kHz (effect path signal). Yet there is no lack of sparkle or clarity; specifications, like statistics, can be misleading in isolation.
Program selection is achieved simply by rotating the 16-position rotary Preset/Register selector knob to the desired point. The names of the 16 basic effect types offered are clearly printed on the front-panel around the control itself, and the current selection is also indicated via a large LED numeric display in the centre of the unit. Twelve of the 16 presets are reverbs — a logical selection, given that this is almost certainly what the majority of users will have bought this unit for. The remainder are a sensible selection of additional 'basic' effects; Chorus, Flange, Echo and Delay.
Although largely preset, each program in fact offers three editable parameters: Decay, Delay and Effect Level. The parameter names appear next to the central display, with an LED against the current selection. Pressing the Parameter switch causes this indicator to flash, confirming parameter-edit mode, and also converts the program display to showing the value of the current parameter. The displayed value can then be altered using the 16-position rotary parameter knob. The display will automatically revert to showing program number after a few seconds unless either the parameter switch is held, or the data control is still being moved. Alternatively, simply turning the data knob itself will also call up the value for the currently selected parameter. In fact, it doesn't matter which direction you turn at this stage, for you don't actually alter any data until you rotate more than one detented position.
Parameter values are presented merely as arbitrary numbers from 1 to 16. The actual data values that these represent, however, will vary according to the program selected. In practice, when operating outboard, I think many users tend instinctively to think simply in terms of 'a bit more' or 'a bit less' a lot of the time, anyway, but if greater precision is required, a complete listing of the actual values corresponding to the displayed arbitrary figures is included within the unit's documentation. I didn't say Owner's Manual there, because there isn't one. Frankly you don't need one — the eight sides of the little A5 folded sheet supplied is more than enough to guide you through the unit's complete operation.
Within the reverb programs, the Delay parameter refers to pre-delay. Employing fixed parameter names inevitably leads to a degree of conflict with the non-reverb effects. In the Flange program, for example, Decay corresponds to Resonance and Delay represents Flange Depth, which is hardly intuitive. However, I think this is a small price to pay for such simplicity and immediacy in tweaking the reverbs. 'Chorus' proved surprising in that Delay referred not to the base delay time used to achieve the chorus effect but to an additional delay effect within the preset. Decay determines the feedback (regeneration) level for this, rather than the chorus, as it does in the other delay/echo effects. The Chorus effect itself has no adjustable parameters of its own, and some users may find its pitch modulation a little too evident in some applications. However, its presence at all should probably be regarded purely as a bonus, given the Alex's inevitable concentration on reverb.
Having edited a program, you may want to store it for future use. The Alex allows for 16 user programs to be stored, referred to as 'Registers' for no particularly good reason other than Lexicon preference. Switching from Preset to Register mode, confirmed by illumination of the 'Reg' LED, allows the program selector knob to access these instead. Sixteen probably doesn't sound like anywhere near enough, and of course it isn't. In practice you will soon run out, as I did, if you attempt to store every little alteration you make to a preset. However, with so few parameters to play with, and such a simple edit procedure, it is often hardly worth storing, say, a delay time that has been matched to track tempo. It is almost as easy to make a note of it on the track sheet (or sequencer Notepad) and just set it again next time it is required.
With only 16 steps recognised within each parameter, inevitably there must be a degree of compromise on the data values available. Delay time progresses upwards from 24ms to 1.5s in a series of arbitrary leaps, culminating in steps of 200 and 300ms. If your application requires that you absolutely must have something in between the preset values, you really have no choice other than to use another unit. Increment size is a good deal less critical with the reverb decay times — subjectively the effect is far more progressive, with no 'missing steps'.
An edited effect can be stored into any one of the 16 registers, but there is, of course, then no way of knowing which effect corresponds to a particular number unless you write it down. You can usually find out just by listening to them, provided they are sufficiently different, but if you have stored half a dozen decay time variations of the same program you could have trouble sorting them out.
Switching from Preset to Register takes you back into the program you last selected in that mode, and vice versa. This allows the Preset/Register selector to function as an edit/compare switch, which, even with so few parameters to edit, is still extremely valuable. This does also mean, however, that the program selector knob's position will sometimes not correspond to the actual preset in use (although the number displayed is always correct), as when the footswitch facility is used.
As there is no Mix parameter stored for each register, merely the Effect Level, you do have to make sure that the Mix control is set to the same position as when you stored your edit in order to achieve the same result. Using the Alex with a desk, on an auxiliary circuit, this will always be the 100% 'wet' position, but in, say, an instrument rack system, it is probably a good idea to choose somewhere around a 50/50 mix as a reference point, and adjust all your effect levels to that mark (60/40 wet seems to give you a better range to play with on the chorus effect).
Is this the mass-market Lexicon we have all been waiting for? Does it really offer 'that sound' at a fraction of the price of previous offerings? Well, to my ears, it certainly does. The classic Lexicon effects are all here — steamy vocal reverbs, diffuse halls, tight, bright percussion plate and, yes, even that PCM70 favourite, 'Tiled Room'. This product really is the antidote to units that insist on asking you to specify what colour you would like the carpet and curtains to be in your room simulation program; here you just dial up the effect, tweak decay and pre-delay for context, and you're there. The preset names, of course, are for guidance only — 'Guitar Room' sounds great on a brass section sample; 'String Hall' I prefer for vocals, and would be inclined to use 'Recital Hall' for strings. The fact is, despite the limited editing options, there is more than enough versatility here for the majority of day to day reverb applications. Down-market it may be, but the Alex is in no way a second-division Lexicon — it is audibly still a class performer worthy of the name.
Lexicon's Alex may be aimed primarily at the small commercial/private facility market, but I think they will sell bundles of them higher up the scale too. I have lost count of the number of times I would have given anything for 'just one more Lexicon' on a mixing session. The Alex is cheap enough for even the most well-equipped facility to keep one or two in the rack for just such occasions — they will not disappoint.
The Alex is a product that will be well received, not just as an affordable Lexicon, but because many people seem to be becoming increasingly attuned to the wastefulness of buying a unit that does 200 different effects, but which spends its entire working life set to Preset 1 'Hall Reverb', simply because that is all that was ever actually required of it. The dedicated processor is undoubtedly on the way back — a trend which I, and I think the majority of other studio users, heartily welcome.
So, it sounds like a proper Lexicon, it's cheap, it will interface with anything (in terms of level, albeit unbalanced), and it's so simple to operate that it doesn't need the obligatory encyclopaedia in seven languages for a manual. Where's the catch? Well, only two parameters to adjust could be seen as a bit limiting, although that really depends on your working methods. Personally, I find I only get into messing about with Diffusion and High-Frequency Damping in order to achieve a specific effect on an individual instrument or voice. For general ambience applications, the default settings on any respectable unit are usually fine for me, the majority of the time. I think Lexicon have got this just about spot-on. Pre-delay and Decay Time are exactly what I want to get at, and I suspect many others will be equally content. I am not sure that the same can be said for the non-reverb effects, perhaps indicative of their token inclusion, but they are useful nonetheless, particularly for added versatility in live-performance applications.
Lexicon's Alex is a certain winner. Be assured, they are not trading on their reputation in higher spheres to sell an ordinary product down-market — this is the real thing, just as the LXP series units were. I'll take half a dozen please.
Lexicon Alex £389 including VAT.
Stirling Audio Systems, (Contact Details).
Review by Dave Lockwood
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