Instruments & Equipment
Lexicon have a couple of new developments in the time-twiddling field: the Prime Time DDL with mixer, and the 224 Reverb Synthesiser. Both were on show at LA's AES Convention in early May.
The Prime Time features two independent adjustable delays with digital readouts and 0-25-2048 ms delay times. The machine also has input and output mixing, thereby freeing desk channels for more complex jobs. An internal VCO is included for special effects. A repeat/hold control enables signals to be run round indefinitely — an interesting escape from the live mixing problem of what to do when the backing music runs out before the band comes on stage. Answer: run the last chord round in the box for a few minutes while you rewind the Revox! And talking of live work, all 'dynamic' functions can be controlled by foot-switch, so you can add ADT without anybody seeing your fingers move. Being Lexicon, of course, the box has a dynamic range of 90dB and 0-08% distortion.
We caught the 224 reverb box on a demo at AES and it was most impressive. Operating in two modes, 'Concert Hall' and 'Reverb', the device performs the same type of functions as the EMT 444, but it's smaller, cheaper, and has a few more reverb-type functions available. The 224 has two separate sections, with variable reverb times in three frequency bands. Time is adjustable from 0-6 to 35 seconds on a combination of slide pots and buttons, reverb time being displayed on seven-segment readouts. There are two inputs and four outputs, thus providing two stereo returns with mono sends. The two modes are designed to replicate the space and depth of a concert hall, or a reverb chamber/plate/spring, and this they do very well indeed. The box won't be out until December '78, but at $5000 it'll be well worth a look. Of course, such a device is far more expensive than a spring unit, but unfortunately this is the way digital prices go.
I thought it might be nice from time to time to mention some of the small independent firms that produce really high quality products. One such company is run by George Wellings, and his Rhino cases have already been acclaimed as some of the best available. It's all been done purely by word of mouth among musicians and, let's face it, there are no tougher critics!
I first saw an example of George's work in the form of a cymbal case which he made for drummer Adrian Tilbrook. The material used is an extremely hard-wearing antique-finish red vinyl, which is lined with an inch of heavy foam. This is then covered with a thick black fur-like material which gives great protection as well as looking attractive.
George first made a case for his tenor saxophone which had been badly damaged by being thrown off a plane by a gorilla in overalls (we've all seen them!) One of the reasons for his choice of material was the fact that airlines will often accept an instrument as cabin baggage if it's in a soft case, a point worth remembering if you travel a great deal.
The range of Rhino cases starts with a simple slip-on cover for trumpets at around £8.50, through all the standard guitar and bass cases (around £25), up to a tuba case at £39.50. There is also a double (two-instrument) bass case; in fact George will make anything to order, a great plus for the musician who doubles Sousaphone and Piccolo! I feel that the prices are extremely reasonable when one considers the rubbish that masquerades under the name of guitar cases, often at prices well over £50 a time and which tends, after a few weeks of wear, to disintegrate rapidly.
Rhino also make hard cases and the latest project (well under way) is to provide quality glass fibre shaped cases too. If any of you require any further information, don't hesitate to contact George Wellings at (Contact Details); you'll find him extremely helpful.
Two new synthesisers have appeared on the market, all of a sudden. Big deal? Well, a new synth seems to pop up about once every couple of weeks these days, so what's new? The thing that's new about these keyboard beasties is that they are based around digital technology instead of boring old analogue.
The two new machines are the Coupland Digital Synthesiser (from Micor Inc, Phoenix, Arizona), and the Synclavier from the New England Digital Corporation, Norwich, Vermont. Rick Coupland's box includes 12 waveform generators which can produce absolutely anything you like in the way of waveshapes, at specifiable phase-relationships, envelope timing and shape, AM or FM on all generators, variable scale, portamento... in fact all the things you'd expect from a modern poly, plus a lot. The device was on show at the AES Convention in LA earlier this year but only a hand-sized plastic model was available! Tapes of its performance were played, however, and showed that the machine was capable of very clean and varied sounds. The box has apparently been designed for normal mortals rather than computer programmers: always a danger in this area.
The NEDC machine includes a 16-bit computer and 16-channel sequencer on board, along with FM and 'any-old-waveform-you-like' capability. The device is finished off with a 96-button control board (eek!) and 61-note poly keyboard. The computer uses a massive '32768-byte semiconductor memory and two mini-floppy diskette drives' for storage — ie, large. Waveform genny resolution is 1000 steps per octave. The Synclavier features 'circular FM': a special function whereby one channel can modulate another which can modulate another... which can modulate the first one again: an interesting idea.
New England Digital say the system costs around $15000, with a delivery time of about thirty days.
EVERY so often you may have seen an album cover reference such as: 'This album was mixed with the Aphex Aural Exciter'. Designed by Swedish engineer Curt Knoppel following an accidental discovery in 1956, the Aphex ('Aural Perception Heterodyne Exciter') unit has gained a good deal of respect and use in both the studio and live fields, since its appearance in the early 70s. It's taken some time for the unit to become accepted, but now there are far more users than available systems, and the device has been applied to many a top band's output.
In studio applications, the unit is operated as one would a reverb unit or effects box: the device is connected between echo send and return, the returned level being kept to at least 10dB down on the main program. The effect can then be added to specific tracks in the final mix.
Subjectively the effect is added dynamic range, an apparent 3-6dB level increase, and an extra overall 'clarity' and brilliance. Technically, the effect is not easily measured, as it is primarily 'psychoacoustic'. But this definitely does not mean that it is an expensive black box of the 'emperor's new clothes' variety; it really does work.
The unit adds a frequency-dependent phase-shift (up to 180 degrees at 20K) and a time delay — also frequency dependent — of a few tens of microseconds. Thus the improvement of stereo image-definition and 'clarity'. The unit rolls off below 500Hz, so the output of the box alone is pretty uninspiring: toppy and lacking in bass. The unit must be used as an adjunct to the main signal, and with subtlety, too. Overuse leads to odd effects, like 'phasiness' on cymbals, but used correctly, under the main mix, it is very effective.
Units are not sold, but leased or licensed to users, at a cost of about $30 per minute of final product, or $100 per day for live applications, where it can give added depth and clarity to instruments like pianos and vocals on the PA, or make stage monitors more intelligible. Thus an Aphexed album will cost you about $1200 extra: not a great price to pay for that indefinable 'something'. Not that the Aphex can make a bad mix or track good: it's another tool to help music makers perfect their art.
Aphex units are available from distributors all over the world (see their ad in issue one): in London it's Aphex Audio Systems UK Ltd, (Contact Details), and in LA contact Aphex Systems Ltd at (Contact Details).
The International Frankfurt Fair has long been an important event in the European musical instrument diary; from 1980 the event looks set to take on an even more important function.
From that date the new independent International Frankfurt Musical Instruments Fair will take place, one week before the Frankfurt Spring Fair. For 1979 arrangements will remain unchanged, and musical instruments will be shown for the last time within the International Frankfurt Fair from March 4-8.
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