Test Drive: Yamaha SPX1000 Digital Multi-effects Processor

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by Jerry Vigil

It might first interest you to know that the most common piece of outboard gear being used by our subscribers is Yamaha's SPX90. Needless to say, since the SPX90 was first introduced, many other manufacturers have responded with more powerful processors, processors with simultaneous effects, 16-bit processing, and more. The SPX1000 is Yamaha's answer to the competition. It is a very healthy processor, and one we're likely to see popping up in studios everywhere for some time.

Most obvious of the features are extended sample time (5.8 seconds), true stereo processing, and simultaneous multiple effects. The long sample time translates into added features in many of the programs. In the FREEZE programs (the digital sampling programs), you have a maximum recording time of 5.8 seconds. Three types of FREEZE programs are available, and all three programs allow recording and overdubbing with variable playback pitch. Sample start and end points can be set for editing purposes. This function also makes it possible to set a start point at the end of the sample and the end point at the start of the sample and get the sample to play backwards. FREEZE 2 adds the ability to set a loop point in your sample for looped playback. FREEZE 3 is a stereo sampling program. Sample time is cut in half (2.9 seconds) to accommodate simultaneous sampling of both left and right channels.

The extended sample time also affects the DELAY L,C,R program. This delay is a little different from most in that it includes a third channel, the center channel. Delay time for each channel is adjustable from .1 milliseconds to 5.2 seconds. There are two feedback delay parameters for this program, each adjustable up to 5.2 seconds. Each feedback delay has a gain control to set the amount of repeats to follow the initial repeat. All these parameters make for an exceptional delay program with numerous possibilities for special effects.

The STEREO ECHO program also takes advantage of the extended sample time and offers left and right channel feedback delays of up to 2.6 seconds along with an initial delay for each channel of up to 2.6 seconds.

The reverb programs include HALL, ROOM, VOCAL, PLATE, ECHO ROOM, GATE REVERB, REVERSE GATE, and 3 EARLY REFLECTION programs. There is more than enough diversity in these reverb programs to handle any reverb need. Reverb time can be adjusted as high at 480 seconds. That's 480 seconds, not milliseconds! Various other parameters give you ample control over reverb characteristics. All bases are covered in the reverb section.

Modulation programs include your basic STEREO FLANGE, CHORUS, STEREO PHASING, TREMOLO, and SYMPHONIC. These are all very good sounding programs, each with a number of adjustable parameters for modifying the effect.

There are four PITCH CHANGE programs: PITCH CHANGE 1, 2, 3, and STEREO PITCH. Pitch is adjustable to plus or minus two octaves. In PITCH CHANGE programs 1 and 2, you get two independent pitch shifted outputs which are combined with the direct signal. In program 1, all three signals are mixed to the center channel. In program 2, the direct signal is in the center channel and the two pitch shifted signals are sent independently to the left and right channels. Delays of up to 2.3 seconds can be set on each of the pitch shifted signals. There are also independent feedback controls for each output.

PITCH CHANGE 3 offers three pitch shifted signals all mixed with the direct signal at the center channel of the output. Delays of up to 4.6 seconds can be set for each of the three pitch shifted outputs. However, there is no feedback control here, so continued repeats beyond the first one are not possible. This is the sacrifice for having 4.6 seconds of delay instead of the 2.3 seconds found on the previous two programs. Still, having a direct signal plus three pitch shifted signals with different delays makes for an interesting effect. Incidentally, there are independent level controls for each pitch shifted signal to adjust the mix with.

The STEREO PITCH program offers simultaneous control of both left and right channel inputs with one pitch shift parameter. Maximum delay time is 2.3 seconds, and feedback gain is available.

Other programs include a versatile NOISE GATE, two PAN programs, and a DISTORTION program. That's right -- a distortion program. This program simulates the same distortion popularly applied to electric guitars in heavy rock. You can set the amount of distortion on the input from 0% to 100%, and you can delay the distorted output up to 1 second. The distortion sounds just like what you'd expect if you seriously overloaded an input, only 10 times worse (or better, if distortion is something desired).

Other not so common programs found in the SPX1000 include a compressor, a low-level expander, and an exciter. The EXCITER program adds mid and upper frequency harmonics to the direct signal which gives the audio a little more presence. To the ear, the effect resembles an unusual EQ setting with emphasis on the middle and upper frequencies.

The SPX1000 has a series of multi-effect programs and "2 Channel" programs. Multi-effect programs have quickly become the standard in digital processors. The multi-effect programs of the SPX1000 combine CHORUS and REVERB, SYMPHONIC and REVERB, and EXCITER and REVERB. With each of these three combinations, you also have access to parameters to control the COMPRESSOR and the DISTORTION settings; so, in effect, there are four effects at once. A PITCH and REVERB program would have been a nice addition, but there probably weren't enough Production Directors involved in the design.

The "2-Channel" programs are quite unique. They are PLATE + HALL, ER + REV, ECHO + REV, CHORUS + REV, and PAN + PAN. What makes these programs different from the multi-effect programs is that one effect can be applied to the left channel input, while the other is applied independently to the right channel. Using the ECHO + REV program for instance, if you send a mike into both channels, at the output you'll have the echo effect on the left channel and reverb added to the right channel. The effects won't be mixed together as in the multi-effects programs, however, there is the option to mix the effects. There are plenty of parameters in these programs to make playtime fun.

An EQ button on the front panel accesses the 2-band parametric EQ and a "Dynamic Filter" mode. Basically, every program has access to this EQ function which makes every program a multi-effect program. You can add EQ to any of the effects by hitting this key and making your adjustments.

Finally, the input mode of the SPX1000 is worth mentioning. From the front panel, you can select STEREO NORMAL, STEREO REVERSE, MONO LEFT, or MONO RIGHT as input modes. This eliminates having to run around the back of the machine every time you change input types. The mode selected is displayed on the front panel with small LED lights. STEREO NORMAL speaks for itself. STEREO REVERSE just reverses the inputs. MONO LEFT takes the left input and sends it to both left and right input channels. MONO RIGHT uses the right channel and does the same.

On the technical side you have full 20-20kHz bandwidth with 16-bit processing and a 44.1kHz sampling frequency. Yes, this unit sounds very clean. You have MIDI control but not over every parameter. All basic MIDI functions are supported, however. Inputs and outputs are unbalanced. There are digital ins and outs for use with other Yamaha gear. There are 59 user memory locations for storing edited programs, and the SPX1000 takes up one rack space.

List price on the unit is $1795. Shop around and you can find it for a few hundred less. Yamaha also offers an SPX900. List price on the 900 is $995, but you sacrifice the 5.8 second sample time of the SPX1000 for a mere 1.35 seconds. Also, the SPX900 is not a true stereo processor like the 1000. You have only one input. Most of the programs in the SPX1000 can be found in the SPX900, but many of them will be limited by the 1.35 second sample time of the unit, particularly the delay programs and programs using delay for added effects. Like the 1000, the SPX900 is a 16-bit processor with full 20-20kHz response. Users of the SPX90 will find the SPX1000 an excellent upgrade. While there is much more to this unit than found in the SPX90, familiarity with the SPX90 will make it easy to jump right in to the SPX1000's powerful programs. As we've done in the past with our Test Drives, you can hear what the SPX1000 can do on this month's Cassette! Be advised that what you hear on The Cassette is only a small sampling of what the SPX1000 can do.

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