Test Drive: FireworX Studio Multi-Effects Processor from T.C. Electronic

Article Index

The Effects

Enough about the secondary stuff; let’s talk about the heart of FireworX. There are twelve main effect categories or blocks, each represented by one of twelve gray keys on the front panel. They are: Dynamics, Filters, Formant, Distortion, Vocoder, Synth, Pitch, Chorus, Delay, Reverb, Pan, and EQ. Most of these effect blocks have three or more sub-algorithms for a total of nearly 40 algorithms in all. As you select a preset, the LEDs on the various effects keys light to show which effects are being used in the currently loaded preset. Among other things, these keys act as mute keys for their specific effect. If you have an effect loaded with flange, reverb, and delay, and choose to kill the reverb, it’s a simple press of the Reverb key. The reverb mutes and the LED goes off.

Under the Dynamics block, there are three sub-algorithms. You get Expander/Gate, Soft Compressor, and Hard Compressor/Limiter. All three algorithms provide the following parameters: Threshold, Ratio, Release, In Level, Out Level, and LED Meter (which, if more than one Dynamics effect is in use, selects which one will use the Gain Reduction meter on the front panel). The Expander/Gate and Compressor/Limiter algorithms add Attack and Mix parameters. The Compressor adds Knee Mode and Gain parameters.

There are five Filters sub-algorithms. The Resonance filters create a “ringing” effect by utilizing a high and low-cut filter. Lo and Hi Resonance parameters adjust the amount of resonance on each filter. The Bandpass algorithm provides two bandpass filters with a filter on each for both left and right channels. This is a great algorithm for creating those commonly used EQ effects on the voice. The Phaser algorithm comes with Order and Feedback parameters that help create a variety of great sounding phaser effects. The Resonator algorithm offers a great playground for those with some creative time. This algorithm is a set of four very short delays that use lots of feedback to get a resonating, ringing effect somewhat like the Resonance filter. There are parameters for each delay for Feedback, Panning, Low Cut and High Cut filters and more. Finally, the Reso-chord algorithm is a lot like the Resonator, but it offers Master Frequency and Chord parameters that keep the resonators musically accurate.

The Formant block has just one algorithm, Formant Filters. This is another very interesting filter effect that’s still fairly new to effects boxes. It’s based on vowel sounds. To the ear, the result is not much different than what you could do with a multi-band parametric equalizer, but this algorithm gets you there much faster. It’s another good algorithm to play with, especially when used together with other effects.

The Distortion block offers two algorithms, Drive and Cruncher. These are effects once reserved for musical instruments only, particularly guitars. These days, the distortion effect is being used on voice-over in imaging production more and more.

The Vocoder block offers two algorithms, Vocoder and Ring Modulator. Again, these are effects with more musical applications, but they do some great things to a voice track. The Vocoder effect requires a second signal input to the rear panel which is used to control the sound of the primary input signal. Make your mike the primary signal and a musical instrument the secondary input for some real fun. There was a time when you couldn’t find a Vocoder. Now the effect is showing up in effects gear regularly. If you haven’t played with a Vocoder effect, try it sometime! The Ring Modulator algorithm is a lot like the Vocoder effect and, when used on the voice, creates some unearthly sounding characters.

The Synth block has three algorithms that are sound generators. You get Curve Generator, Chaos Generator, and Noise Generator. The Curve Generator is an oscillator that generates tones from 2Hz to 2kHz. The type of wave generated can be set to Square, Sine, Triangle, and Sawtooth. The Chaos Generator produces random noise. Parameters include Frequency and Chaos. Both the Curve and Chaos Generator can be used as the secondary or carrier input to the Vocoder effect for some interesting results. The Chaos Generator also does a nice job of creating strange backgrounds for today’s contemporary imaging production.

The Pitch block provides two pitch-shifting algorithms: a single-voice shifter, and a dual-voice version. The pitch range is +/- two octaves. Other parameters include Delay (up to 400ms), Pan Position, and Feedback.

The Chorus/Flanger block has four algorithms. Classic Chorus and Classic Flanger are two great sounding versions of these age-old effects. Advanced Chorus and Advanced Flanger add a few more parameters to the Classic versions.

The Delay block has six algorithms. Stereo Delay has up to 740ms of delay per channel. Dual Delay is like Stereo Delay except with independent delay Time parameters for each channel. Dual Three Tap takes the Dual Delay and adds three taps to each channel. Maximum delay per tap is 1480ms. Lowcut and Highcut filter parameters are included. One Tap Delay is a simple mono-in, mono-out delay with a maximum delay time of 1480ms and Feedback, Pan, Lowcut, and Highcut parameters. The Six Tap Delay has six taps on one delay line with independent Feedback, Level, Pan, Lowcut, and Highcut parameters for each tap. Maximum delay on each tap is 1480ms. The Reverse Delay is interesting. It takes the input and outputs playback in reverse. What’s interesting is the Grade parameter. When set to 100%, the output is completely reversed. The closer you set it to 0%, the less reversal takes place. At around 10-15%, spoken words are still understandable, but have an unusual effect added.

The Reverb block offers only two algorithms, Simple and Advanced. While these reverb algorithms sound very good, there aren’t more in the FireworX because the unit was designed to compliment T.C. Electronic other effects boxes such as the M2000 and M5000, which are devoted more to reverbs. FireworX was designed to be a box that delivers the more unusual effects available today. Still, you get two reverb algorithms that sound as good as those from a box devoted to reverb only. Simple Reverb uses the same algorithm as Advanced Reverb but removes some of the parameters to make the algorithm easier to set up. T.C. Electronic gets my vote for making parameters easier to understand. As complex as reverb design and reverb program editing can get, it’s nice to see parameter values that don’t require a degree in sound science to figure out. In the Advanced Reverb, the High Frequency Color parameter has values of: Wool, Warm, Real, Clear, Bright, Crisp, and Glass. Similar values are used for the Low Color parameter. You even get a Room Type parameter with values of Round, Curved, and Square; and, there’s even a graphic representation of a round, curved, and square room for those who prefer the visuals. Room Size parameter values are Large, Medium, Small, Tiny, and Box! Thank you, T.C.!

Nearing the end of the effects tour, we come to the Pan/Tremolo block. The five algorithms included are Simple Tremolo, Advanced Tremolo, Simple Panner, Surround Panner, and Stereo Enhance. The tremolos are straightforward, as is the Simple Panner. The Surround Panner adds phase shifting to provide the surround effect, but this is an effect you have to use wisely in broadcast production because of the effects of transmitter audio chains on audio that has unusual phase characteristics. The Stereo Enhancer is a safer way to enhance a stereo image for broadcast. It does so by adding slight amounts of delay.

Finally, we come to the EQ block. Two algorithms provide Fixed Parametric EQ and Modulateable Parametric EQ (also referred to as the Modifiable EQ). The Fixed Parametric EQ offers two shelving EQ filters and three fully sweepable filters. There are Frequency, Slope/Bandwidth, and Gain (+/-12dB) parameters for all five filters. The Modulateable Parametric EQ is cut to four fully sweepable EQ filters with the Frequency parameters limited to 20Hz to 15.8kHz. However, the Frequency, Slope/Bandwidth, and Gain parameters call all be modulated or modified using external controllers.

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