Test Drive: Sony DPS-V77 Multi-Effect Processor

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by Jerry Vigil

Several years ago, Sony came out with a series of top-of-the-line effects processors, the DPS-R7 reverb unit, DPS-M7 modulation unit, DPS-D7 delay box, and the DPS-F7 filter effects unit. (We gave the R7 and M7 a Test Drive back in '92.) Last year, Sony released the DPS-V77 which combines these four effects boxes into one superb digital multi-effects unit.

Installation was a snap with both balanced XLR and unbalanced 1/4-inch jacks to choose from for the analog I/O. And there's digital I/O on this baby, too, both AES/EBU and S/PDIF using an 8-pin mini-DIN connector--the cable is available as an option. Input and Output Level switches next to the connectors switch between -20dB or +4dB input and output levels. Foot pedals connect to two Pedal jacks for remote control of user selectable parameters. MIDI THRU and OUT connectors enable using external MIDI devices for remote parameter control, program selection and MIDI dumps. The AC Power connector wraps up the rear panel.

The V77 is an attractive single rack-space unit with black face and a silver frame around the two displays, the smaller red LED program number display, and the larger backlit LCD display. For a box that packs a ton of effects power, the front panel is surprisingly simple and getting the unit up and running without the manual was a breeze, even when it came to editing effects. The Power On/Off button is at the far left. As I recall, either the M7 or R7, when turned on, greets you with a friendly greeting and a smiley face. The V77 offers an ostrich walking from left to right across the high-resolution graphics display...odd. Perhaps Sony made the ostrich a mascot and the news just slipped by me.

Next to the power switch are concentric controls for Channel 1 and Channel 2 input levels. A single knob controls the master output for both channels, and an internal digital mixer enables precise control of output levels. Just to the right are two 7-segment level/clip indicators and four small LEDs to indicate which program bank is active. There are four banks, two Preset banks and two User banks, each with 99 memory locations for a total of 198 factory presets and 198 user locations. Pressing the Bank/Compare button under the program number display toggles between the four banks (and compares edited programs with the original). The Bypass/Mute button will either bypass the effects and send the dry signal through the unit or completely mute the outputs, depending upon how it is configured in the system setup.

There are six Function buttons, A through F, below the LCD display. These are "soft" buttons and their functions change from program to program, screen to screen, with their current function indicated directly above them on the display. On either side of these buttons are the Edit/Page and Exit buttons. Use the Edit/Page button to enter the program edit mode and move from page to page in programs with more than one page of parameters. The Exit button exits the edit mode.

To the right of the displays is a numeric keypad used for entering parameter values or selecting programs by number. Next to these are the Save button, for saving programs, the System button, for editing system parameters, and an Enter/Shift button for accepting parameter values and program numbers. Press the Enter/Shift button and use the up and down arrow buttons to adjust parameter values in single digit increments. Yet another way to adjust parameters and select programs is with the dual-concentric Operation Dial/Shuttle Wheel. The outer Shuttle Wheel can be turned approximately 35 degrees in either direction to very quickly move through the program bank or very quickly adjust a parameter value. The inner Operation Dial has detents and performs the same functions in one-step increments. The outer wheel is one of the fastest program selectors I've come across, and when you stop on a program, it loads in about a half-second. There's no "select" or "load" button to press.

The factory presets are loaded with 198 effects that utilize all the algorithms in the unit. These are some of the clearest and best sounding reverb effects I've heard. The pitch shift algorithms provide one of the most glitch-free pitch shifts I've come across. Various delay programs provide up to 10.92 seconds of mono delay as well as the usual array of stereo multi-tap and ping-pong delays. The chorus, flange, and phase effects all sound great. There are a few panning effects and some dynamics processing effects including a compressor. With 198 factory presets to choose from, there are plenty of effects to use right out of the box. Even though the presets are built with the musician in mind, I found many of them useful for special effects on voice tracks, but I was so impressed with the quality and quantity of effects that I decided to plug a musical instrument into this thing. After all, that's what it was designed for. I never call myself a musician, but I tinker with guitars and keyboards. I plugged both into the V77 and loved the results. If you're looking for an effects box for musical purposes, you'll appreciate the V77.

Speaking of musicians, it is the performing musician who has caused manufacturers to start adding a new feature to effects boxes, the ability to "morph" effects. Let's say a musician is playing a guitar solo using a 1/2-second delay with feedback. When the solo is done, he wants to keep playing the guitar but switch from the 1/2-second delay to a flange. Boxes like the V77 "morph" the two effects so that when the musician switches effects programs from the delay to the flange, the delays continue to decay even though the flange effect is now the primary effect. In the old days, one would have to have two effects boxes to accomplish this.

The V77 does this by providing two effects "blocks" within the unit. These are independent effects blocks, each with their own elaborate EQ section. Because they are independent, the unit can be operated as two separate mono processors, each with access to a large variety of quality effects. The morphing effect is pretty cool, but doesn't really furnish for radio production the benefits the performance musician can reap. However, you can create some interesting effects that work well on a voice track. For example, you might use the effects described above and have delays fading out as a flange effect on your voice fades in, or set up each EQ block so the voice morphs from a normal sound to a "telephone EQ" sound. A nice feature of the morphing effect is the ability to set the time it takes for the morphing to occur. This is a global setting and can be set to a maximum of ten seconds. I preferred long morph times of around five seconds when morphing effects on a voice track. It gives you more time to notice the changes. There are also two options for the crossfade curve. Programs using the morphing feature can each only have one effect block in use.

Getting intimate with the two effects blocks of the V77 is the key to editing and programming the unit. Editing is a breeze. When a program is selected, the unit is in Play mode. In this mode, the LCD display shows, among other things, the name of the program, the algorithms in the two effects blocks, the "active" parameters attached to each of the six Function buttons below the display, and the values of each of those parameters. To adjust a parameter, simply press the appropriate Function button and use the numeric keypad, up/down arrows, or the data wheels to make changes. There's no need to enter the Edit mode to adjust parameters on the Function buttons. (MIDI controllers can also be used to make adjustments.)

There are certainly more than six parameters in any of the programs, and to edit the others, you must enter the Edit mode. Press the Edit/Page button. If the program is using both effects blocks, the display will show five large graphic representations of effects block A, EQ-A, effects block B, EQ-B, and the mixer which takes care of individual effect levels. To adjust EQ parameters, press the Function button below the EQ graphic. To adjust other effects parameters not on the main screen, press the effects graphic for whichever block you want to edit. The top of the display indicates how many pages of parameters there are, and pressing the Edit/Page button scrolls through them. If you decide you want a parameter to show up on the main screen as an "active" parameter, this is a simple process using the Active Parameter Select function which assigns any parameter to one of the six Function buttons on the main screen that appears as soon as a program is loaded.

The Sony DPS-V77 does not let you create a program from scratch. To create your own effect, you must select a preset with the basic algorithms you want to use and modify it. In a sense, this keeps operation of the unit simple. And once you're inside a program, it's very easy to change everything about it, including its "structure,"--how the effects blocks are connected to the I/O and each other. Pressing the Structure Function button in the Edit mode brings up a nice graphic display of the current structure. You can change the structure to put the effects blocks in series with each other so block A feeds block B or vice versa; you can put the two blocks in parallel with each other which lets you apply effects from each block without one block's output being the other block's input; you can set the structure to Dual mode which is the dual mono mode mentioned earlier enabling independent operation of each channel; and you can set the structure to Morph mode if you want to be able to morph the effect with another. All changes made to any program are in real time, and you can hear the effects immediately. This is a big plus, especially when you're not sure what the heck you're doing in the Edit mode!

The V77 comes with a bunch of nice little extras. You can use both analog and digital I/O at the same time! (The V77 accepts only 44.1 and 48kHz digital signals.) Use the V77 as a A/D converter by turning all effects off, sending audio in via the analog inputs and getting the digital signal at the digital out. Copy, Move, Delete and Exchange functions make organizing user memory very easy. When saving programs, you get the option to add a large graphic to the left of the name. Most of the graphics are of musical instruments, but there are some of people on mikes as well as a couple of microphones. You can also select a single digit number, a letter, or a punctuation mark as the graphic, although, for some reason, the letters wouldn't go past Q. Nevertheless, this little feature makes it easy to categorize effects. A system clock apparently stores the current date/time with each "saved" effect, though I couldn't figure out how to display an effect's "creation date." A real nice feature every effects box should include is the V77's noise gate on the input. This is not part of the effects blocks but an independent noise gate on the entire system with Attack, Release, and Threshold parameters. And there's an option to display either the program name or the active parameter values in large characters.

Once again, Sony has come up with an excellent product. List price on the unit is $1,775 and it's worth every penny of your boss's money. The use of graphics displays instead of hard to read character displays has to be one of the best improvements in effects boxes in the past few years. It makes reading and understanding the information so much easier, and the V77 takes full advantage of this technology.

The quality of the effects is due in part to the fact that the design does not try to cram several effects into a single algorithm. When multi-effects became the craze, the game was, "how many effects at once?" Almost all of the algorithms of the V77 contain one single effect. There are five out of the sixty-one algorithms that use two effects. So, the processing power of the V77 is used to provide quality effects rather than quantity. But the V77 is still a multi-effects box. Remember that a program can have two effects blocks working simultaneously. That's two simultaneous effects, or up to four if you use two of the dual-effect algorithms. And a program that has two effects blocks also has two EQ blocks. So, the V77 can provide up to six simultaneous effects if you count the EQ blocks, seven if you include the noise gate on the input.

Reported specs on the V77 include 1-bit/64-times oversampling with 24-bit resolution on the A/D converter and 20-bit resolution on the D/A converter. Sampling frequency is 48kHz on the analog input and 44.1 or 48kHz on the digital in. Frequency response is 10-22kHz, S/N is greater than 97dB, and distortion is less than 0.003%.

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