Test Drive: Symetrix 528 Voice Processor

Our next stop is the parametric EQ section which, when used together with the compressor, supplies the necessary additional processing to end up with a hot, compressed sound with emphasis on your favorite frequencies. There are three sections to the equalizer, one for low frequencies, one for the midrange, and the third for the highs. Each section has three controls: CUT/BOOST, FREQUENCY, and BANDWIDTH. The cut/boost range is a healthy -30dB to +15dB. The FREQUENCY control sets the center frequency to be boost or cut, and the BANDWIDTH control sets the range of frequencies to be affected on either side of the center frequency. On the low end section, the center frequency is variable between 16Hz and 512Hz. The center frequency on the midrange section is adjustable between 196Hz and 6.3kHz, and on the high frequency section the range is 686Hz to 22kHz. Bandwidth for each section is variable from .05 octaves to 3.3 octaves. If you're familiar with parametric EQ's, you'll notice that the specs of the EQ on the 528 are pretty good. Being able to adjust the bandwidth to a narrow .05 octaves means that this EQ works very well as a notch filter. The wide and overlapping ranges of the center frequencies on each of the three sections effectively doubles the boost and cut range on many frequencies.

To the right of the EQ section is the OUTPUT GAIN control. Gain is adjustable from -15dB to +15dB. To the right of the output gain control are two horizontal LED level meters. The top one measures OUTPUT LEVEL. To its right is a CLIP indicator which lights up at 3dB below clipping. The bottom meter measures GAIN REDUCTION and is switchable between the compressor/expander and the de-esser. You can check the gain reduction of the compressor section or push the button on the far right side of the panel and check the amount of "de-essing" taking place.

Moving around to the back panel presents still more nice features of the 528. Aside from two input jacks and one output jack, there are two long barrier strips. These barrier strips, or rows of connectors, provide access to various stages of the processor and are best used when sent to a patchbay. These "patch points" will let you take the output of the pre-amp and send it to any outboard gear you like before returning it to the 528 where it is then sent to the de-esser. Likewise, you can take the output of the de-esser, send it to Peking if you like, then return it to the input of the compressor/expander. Next in the chain is the EQ, and you can access the output of the compressor/expander before it goes to the equalizer; and finally, you can access the output of the equalizer before it goes to the output.

But wait! There's more! If you want to really get into the intricacies of the compressor/expander section, you also have access to a "sidechain" output of the compressor/expander. This sidechain is basically a second and separate "copy" of the input signal. This second signal is what is used by the 528's "program controlled interactive dynamic range processing technique" (the PCIDRPT mentioned earlier) to control how the compressor reacts to the input. By taking this sidechain signal, passing it through an equalizer, and sending it back to the 528, you can alter the way the compressor operates and not affect the output signal with the EQ. Let's say for instance that you want to make the compressor "sensitive" to high frequencies, but you don't want to boost the highs at the output to do it. If you boost the highs in the sidechain (which you won't hear at the output), the compressor will react to those frequencies when they exceed the threshold setting. The sidechain can also be used in this same manner to control how the expander functions. Believe it or not, there are practical applications of this feature, but we won't get into them in this review. If anything, access to this sidechain should just let you know that the 528 is a versatile box.

On one of the barrier strips is a "stacking input" which allows two 528's to be used through a single output. In fact, any line level device can be "stacked" at this connection. Inputs on the 528 include one balanced XLR mike input, one ¼-inch TSR connector line input, and terminals on one barrier strip for a line level input. Both the terminals on the strip and the ¼-inch TSR connector accept balanced and unbalanced signals. Outputs include one ¼-inch TSR connector, unbalanced; and a balanced output at one of the barrier strips. Last stop on the back panel is the phantom power on/off switch.

List price on the Symetrix 528 is $679. We have seen it priced for under $500. For the dollar, you get a lot of voice processing power. The range on the compressor will provide more punch than you could want. The EQ section is very nice. The only drawback to voice processors of this type is the inability to store and retrieve settings. Unless you use a sheet of paper and actually draw your ideal settings, you can't save them; but when you consider the quality and the price, drawing circles and lines doesn't seem so tough. For more information on the Symetrix 528, call Symetrix in Seattle at (206) 282-2555. ♦

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