The trend away from multi-effects processors is gathering pace. Chris Kempster tests the new ART DXR and finds that a stand-alone delay unit can offer your mix more than you might think
Forgive me if you've heard this before, but a whole range of new products are being launched by those masters of budget effects, ART. They include the RXR reverb, FXR multi-effects and the DXR delay, which is the one we're perusing this time around.
ART's tried and tested formula of packing loads of contemporary effects in a no-frills package seems to have worked well for them so far - and they're not about to abandon it now. That much is obvious from looking at these new models: no power switches and the ever-annoying external power supply, but that's only to be expected.
I'm pleased to report, however, that the gaudy pink graphics for which ART are renowned have been toned down considerably on their latest offerings. Not completely, of course - an ART isn't an ART if it doesn't have some pink on its front panel - but this time it's rather more discreet.
Build quality, too, seems to have taken a turn for the better. Gone are the days when you removed an ART unit from a rack to find about a half-inch worth of circuitry behind the front panel. The sheet-metal is reassuringly thick, and the not inconsiderable weight of the thing adds to the general impression of competence and workmanlikeness (smart word, Chris - Ed).
For some time now, effects manufacturers have been shying away from the ten-at-a-time multi-effects that were in vogue for a while, and gone back to producing dedicated reverb and delay boxes again, just like the good of days. ART seem to be following that trend, now offering dedicated boxes alongside their usual multieffects boxes. That, combined with the improvement in build quality and appearance, leads one to assume that they're trying to clean up their act a little, and move ever-so-slightly upmarket. But, as always, it takes more than aesthetic considerations for an audio product to prove its worth. And, as ever, the prime consideration is: 'what does it sound like?'
The front panel of this unit is simplicity itself, with two pots to select the 256 presets (no, it's not programmable) and knobs to control the input level, output level, and the mix between direct and effected signals. This method of selecting patches has two advantages: first it keeps the cost down since you don't need an LCD, second it's very straightforward to use - just select the effect type with one pot. and select a variation of it with the other one (see the side panel for a complete list of effects). There are three LEDs to show the signal level for each channel, and one to show when the signal's clipping.
Moving to the back panel, the first thing you notice is that this is a true stereo unit - no mono-in-stereo-out jobs here (though you can do that if you want). And that's about all you can say - two jacks in and two jacks out.
When you first hook the DXR up, you are struck with something quite surprising: silence. This is not to say that ART machines have been unusably noisy in the past. But I don't think even the company themselves would claim that S/N ratios have always been a huge selling point. Unfortunately, they don't list this particular piece of information on the DXR's spec sheet, but I guess it's about 90dB or better - and that's good news in these noise-obsessed times.
"Considered use of effects is made easier when you have one unit handling delays, another handling reverb, and so on"
There are 16 basic effect types, including various-length delays, chorus, flanging, and multi-taps. As with any preset effects device, there may not always be exactly the right one you need, particularly when it comes to regenerated delays that you want to fall in time with the tempo of your track. But ART have provided a good range of delay times, from 2ms up to a couple of seconds, and in most instances there should be a delay time that's as near as damnit to what you need. If that still isn't good enough, then you should look at the DXR Elite, which is a programmable version of the basic DXR.
Effects are classified as either 'dual' or 'stereo'. Dual effects take the stereo input signal and process each channel separately, while the 'stereo' effects mix both input channels for processing but output them as a stereo signal. You can, therefore, plug in a keyboard on one channel and guitar on the other, and the dry signals will go to the respective outputs on the DXR (with the Mix pot set to dry). However, the effects reaching the outputs will be a combination of the two inputs, so if you're using 'stereo chorus' you'll hear chorused guitar and keyboards on both channels.
The most impressive delays are the 'dual' effects, which make the most of a true stereo source. By applying different amounts of delay to each channel, these give sounds a satisfying amount of mobility in the stereo sound-stage. The use of delays is crucially important in achieving a mix that has space and depth to it (as engineer Stephan Galfas explained in last month's APRS seminars report). Merely adding a touch of delay, chorus, or auto-panning to an instrument will instantly 'deepen' an otherwise flat-sounding mix, and avoid one of the classic mistakes of demo or amateur recordings - namely that everything sounds in the middle, with all the parts fighting to be heard. Used in conjunction with EQing to make 'holes' in the mix for each instrument, delays will help you to achieve that smooth, professional sound that sometimes seems so elusive - and the DXR could be the source of just such delays.
In addition to the wide range of delays, there are two types of chorus available - (you guessed it) 'dual' and 'stereo', and a stereo flanger. The choruses range from subtle, shimmering treatments to thick and dirty, mind-expanding, warp-driving slabs of aural thickening. Again, just a touch of chorus will give an instrument some presence in a mix, though of course there are times when subtlety is the last thing on your mind, and you just need an outrageously fat and wobbly effect - whatever, it's mostly all here on the DXR.
The dual chorused effects again make use of the fact that both input channels can be treated separately, and are therefore more spatially exciting. Checking out the stereo flanger on a piano sound brought on a serious bout of 'Southern Nights', but after taking the antidote, trying a variety of sources proved that once again there's a nice range of treatments here - use a subtle flange on a whole mix, or a cosmic-phase warper on that funky guitar. The choice, as they say, is yours.
In the past I've sometimes been less than sympathetic towards ART's insistence on catering to the lowest common denominator. They seemed to be the Michael Barrymore of the effects world, stooping to any depths of gaudiness and pyrotechnic gratification to ensnare as many punters as possible.
Credit where credit's due, though. I have to say that the whole aura surrounding this DXR is much more professional than many of the company's previous products, in both looks and build. And it sounds pretty good, too.
The trend of returning to dedicated effects units has now filtered down to the bottom end of the market, and that's good news. All those multi-FX encourage the abuse and overuse of effects - slapping loads on won't make your music sound professional, just stupid.
"The choruses range from subtle, shimmering treatments to thick and dirty, mind-expanding, warp-driving slabs of aural thickening"
What is required is considered use of these sonic treatments, and that's made easier when you have one unit handling delays, another handling reverb, and so on. It's a more expensive option, sure, but not overly so. And the results are well worth it.
If you're looking for a good, basic delay unit with no frills, but all the essentials, then you should definitely check out this box. It's well-made, looks okay, sounds good and provides a fair amount of variety. What more could you want?
Price inc VAT: £249
More from: Harman Audio, (Contact Details)
On The Re:Mix CD:
35 Review - ART DXR digital delay
This disk has been archived in full and disk images and further downloads are available at Archive.org - Re:Mix #3.
Review by Chris Kempster
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