Space - the Final Frontier
Roland SRV2000 Reverberator
Roland's first digital reverb unit is all set to make a huge impact on the market.
Paul White explores the intricacies of space and time with the new Roland SRV2000 Digital Reverberator
As you must by now be aware, the two music giants, Roland and Yamaha have recently announced sophisticated MIDI controlled digital reverb units which, although not exactly cheap, are within financial reach of small studios and serious semi-pro home users. Roland's offering, the SRV2000, is a neat rackmounting package that can synthesise and store up to 32 different acoustic environments, and create contemporary gated or non-linear sounds in addition to the more conventional rooms, halls and plates. These memories may be accessed using MIDI patch change information, increment/decrement footswitches or via the front panel controls.
A high degree of control may be exercised over the character of the reverberation including room size, initial reflection characteristics, reverb density and frequency content to name but a few. But more of that later.
The maximum reverb decay time is a massive 99 seconds, but this may be frozen to give infinite sustain (plus or minus 10% - joke) by means of a footswitch. In this mode, the sound may be added to in real time, enabling some interesting layered reverb effects to be created.
Firstly, let me tell you how much rack space this machine takes up... No I won't, just send your guess on a stamped addressed ten pound note to the editor. In terms of styling, the SRV2000 really looks the business, with it's black anodised panel and comprehensive numeric display.
Looking more closely, we find that the first controls from the left of the panel are the by-pass switch with it's status LED and the input gain control, the effects of which are monitored by a six segment LED meter (much the same as on the SDE2500 DDL). The multifunction display is flanked by control buttons, the exact functions of which we'll be considering later, and the display itself comprises no less than six windows, all of which contain either two or three seven segment LED numeric displays. Directly to the left of the display is a rocker switch which increments or decrements the memory number and to the right of the display are five more similar switches which control the parameter values displayed in the last five windows. All these controls work in the same way by stepping up or down through the parameter values and pressing both sides of the switch increases the stepping rate. To the extreme right is the power switch.
"It does bring fully professional flexibility down into the semi-pro price range."
Turning our attention to the back panel, we find MIDI Out and Thru connectors and a recessed Reverb/Direct knob in addition to the more usual signal and footswitch connections. As is customary with reverb units, this is a mono in, stereo out device and it can be switched to operate at +4dBm or -20dBm signal levels making it compatible with the majority of recording equipment in common use.
In the footswitch department, there are five sockets; two for Preset Up/Down switches, two for Delay In/Out switches and one to activate the Infinite facility. No footswitches are included in the price, but if you haven't enough change to buy any, you could always make some, as they're very straightforward.
The SRV2000 can be addressed in omni mode or can respond to any one of sixteen designated MIDI channels and the 32 reverb memories can be called up using MIDI patch change information. In practice, this means that the SRV2000 can be programmed to operate in conjunction with a MIDI keyboard such that each patch change calls up a reverb setting selected to complement the synth patch. Something to bear in mind in this context is that the reverb output is automatically muted whenever a memory is changed so don't expect one reverb effect to flow smoothly into the next without a break.
A reverb sound is set up by choosing one of the basic settings; plate, room or hall, and then adjusting the parameters until the desired effect is achieved. Two plates, five halls and eight room simulations form the basis of all the effects and the rooms vary in size from a one foot cube to a 100ft cube. Size in this context doesn't define the reverb time, but dictates the colouration, reflection, spacing and reverb density of the environment and the same is true of the halls and plates. Decay time is adjustable from 0.5 to 99 seconds, though the choice of basic 'environment' does dictate the maximum decay time for a particular effect. Pre-delay may be added up to a maximum of 999mS to create the illusion of distance between the sound source and the nearest wall.
"...can synthesise and store up to 32 different acoustic environments and it can create contemporary gated or non-linear sounds."
In addition to this, there's also a rather sophisticated EQ section incorporated into the unit. This comprises two parametric sections and a shelving high pass filter which are programmed via the increment keys and the display when the unit is put into equaliser mode. Equalisation can have a very profound influence on the resulting reverb effect and the fact that this is programmable means that you can recall a reverb patch exactly as you last heard it: you don't have to fiddle with the EQ.
Of course a real environment doesn't reflect all frequencies equally, and most man made rooms tend to absorb high frequencies more readily than low ones (possibly due to a fetish for flock wallpaper) and it is for this reason that most electronic room simulators contain some form of high frequency damping control. The SRV2000 allows the user to choose from 99 levels of HF damping, thus enabling virtually any type of room to be emulated, from the empty hold of an oil tanker to the inside of a sleeping bag - well, nearly. Unnatural environments can be created as well by pressing the non-linear button. The non linear section allows you to gate any reverb effect you may have previously set up. The maximum gate time is 450mS which is more than adequate for any gated effect that I've ever come across. Though this effect is generally used on drums, it can yield interesting results when used on other sound sources such as electric guitar or synth. It might seem then that these controls are all you need to produce exactly the reverb effect that you've been dreaming about but no... there's more!
There is a further mode of operation, imaginatively called 'Further mode' and this enables the user to alter the very structure of time and space, or at least what passes for it inside this box. By pressing the equaliser button whilst holding down Write button 6, the mysterious Further mode may be entered...
"The maximum reverb decay time is a massive 99 seconds but this may be frozen to give infinite sustain."
Reverb density corresponds in real life to the number of reflections in any given space of time after the original sound takes place; a high density means more reflections and a low density fewer. In the case of a real room, this would be affected by the shape of the room and the number and type of objects within it. In the case of the SRV2000, this parameter may be varied in ten stages.
A lot of information about an acoustic environment is contained in the first few reflections or initial reflections as they are called and these may be modified in two ways. Firstly, the level of these reflections may be adjusted using the Attack Gain parameter which gives a choice of nine levels. The Attack Time may also be changed, again in nine levels and this also has it's counterpart in real life.
When you are located at the front of a large room near to a sound source, the reverb density builds up quite quickly, but when you move towards the rear of the room, the attack or onset of reverberation becomes noticeably slower. Though this might not appear to be very significant, it's one of those things that the brain picks up on in order to subconsciously analyse an environment. Furthermore, the SRV2000 lets the user change the density of these initial reflections without altering the density of the following reverberation so you can see by now that you have the opportunity to create a vast range of subtly different reverb effects, right down to the finest detail.
If you don't want to go to all the trouble of defining your hypothetical room from scratch, you can just select a room or hall program and then press the Room Simulator button. This calls up from memory a pre-programmed set of parameters which creates a reasonably realistic simulation of a typical room. You select the size and the SRV2000 does the rest.
"It's possible to create some outrageous sounds using this unit such as the effect of a full drum kit played inside a biscuit tin."
The use of 16-bit linear conversion circuitry and 28-bit parallel arithmetic processing means in practice that the sound quality is really very impressive with no perceptible distortion or noise. The dynamic range is quoted as being 90dB which, if you've no head for figures is about the same as you get from a compact disc recording.
As this machine is so flexible, it's a bit pointless trying to say what it sounds like because you can set up just about any conceivable type of reverb. A true sense of depth is afforded by the stereo output and the sound seems to have considerable front to back perspective as well as panoramic spread. I can however state that the reverb sounds were smooth and convincing, and for those cynics who think that a 10kHz bandwidth is not enough, I can tell you that the filters needed to be employed to curtail the high frequencies of virtually every reverb setting I programmed to prevent it sounding overpoweringly bright. This is partly due to the fact that real life reverberation contains relatively little in the way of extremely high or extremely low frequencies. My other theory is that by the time you've worked in studios long enough to understand the advantages of an 18kHz bandwidth, your hearing will have deteriorated to the point where you can't appreciate it anyway.
Seriously though, the straight reverb effects were excellent, as were the gated ones, but as there's no obvious facility for doing reverse reverb effects, I decided to see if I could find a way using the existing parameters.
After much button poking, it transpired that a fair reverse envelope simulation could be set up by choosing a very fast decay time but setting a long attack time and a high level on the initial reflections. This doesn't of course give you the reverb before the sound, but it does give a reverse envelope effect to the reverb directly following a sound and is particularly effective when used on snare drums, where a little pre-delay also helps the illusion.
"A fair reverse envelope simulation can be set up by choosing a very fast decay time but setting a long attack time."
One particularly useful facility that Roland have incorporated into this design is the ability to program the reverb level and EQ as well as the other parameters so you can set up reverb patches for a given mix or arrangement without having to worry about changing the levels and this is of particular benefit if you intend to make extensive use of the MIDI facility.
As you have probably gathered, this is a very sophisticated reverb processor and it takes a good deal of practice to get the best out of it. In some circles, it is held that decline in quality of the sound that can be produced from any given device is directly proportional to an increase number of user variable parameters. In support of this theory, it's possible to create some outrageous sounds using this unit such as the effect of a full drum kit played inside a biscuit tin or the massed voices of the Tabernacle Choir crammed into a cement sewer pipe, but there are also many beautiful reverb effects to be discovered. The fact that you can vary the parameters of the initial reflections is very important in defining the character of a reverb effect and it is this flexibility that sets the Roland unit apart from the competition as a serious room simulator.
In order to help the new owner through the traumatic learning period, Roland have thoughtfully loaded all the memory locations with sensible and useful effects but that's not all. If you overwrite these programs as you surely will, the first 16 can be restored at some later time by holding down certain of the function buttons whilst powering up the machine.
At a retail price approaching £1400, this desirable item is going to be too expensive to be considered by most small home studios but it does bring fully professional flexibility down into the semi-pro price range.
If you're considering upgrading your studio you could consider investing the cash on a first class reverb unit as a good reverb is absolutely essential to the production of virtually all contemporary music styles and can make an unbelievable difference to the subjective quality of your recordings.
The phrase 'let's have a bit more reverb' will never mean the same again.
Further details from: Roland (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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