Test Drive: FLASH from Uptown Technologies

The more we got into the unit and the manual, the more applications we found. In fact, the 138-page manual contains some forty pages of applications, several of which are better categorized as effects rather than audio routing applications. Something else worth mentioning is that several Flash units can be chained together to give you switching and layering power over a large number of sources.

The passive circuitry and special opto-isolated switching resistors of Flash let the unit handle more than just audio signals. Flash can do its thing with control voltages and straight power of up to fifty volts and one-tenth of a watt. With some relays and a power supply, this box becomes an on/off controller for anything that runs on AC power -- lights, fans, baby bottle heaters, toasters, and EKG machines, just to mention of few of the items suggested by the manual. Flash can also deal with SMPTE code, PCM audio, and other digital bitstreams with some limitations.

The unit is (here comes that phrase again) "designed for musicians" and has numerous applications for use in live performance as well as in the studio. (The applications for live performance are so many that no musician should be without Flash on stage with them.) As is the case with many pieces of gear designed for musicians, Flash still offers many functions that can apply to the radio production studio environment. The ideal hookup in the production room would be to have all ten jacks on the back panel appear on your patch bay. This way, you can easily play with the many configurations available. If you're one of the few MIDI wizards in a radio production room, you'll be able to do a large number of interesting things using a sequencer to send program change messages and volume messages to the Flash. The program change messages select the different combinations available on the GROUP A jacks. The volume messages turn the MUTE on and off.

As you might have gathered by now, the more proficient a person is with MIDI, the more they will get out of Flash, but many of the applications don't need MIDI control. For example, to switch between two inputs to the beat of a piece of music doesn't necessarily require syncing Flash to your multi-track and a sequencer with SMPTE time code. If you have one ounce of rhythm, you can simply push the buttons on the front panel to the beat, though you will be limited by how fast you can push the buttons, and you won't be able to access programs that use only the left or right channels of an input. (You could just unplug the patch for a channel you don't want, however.)

Other non-MIDI applications include layering the outputs of effects boxes to mix, let's say, reverb with a pitch shift. You can split a stereo signal, send one pair into GROUP A-1 and the other pair to GROUP A-2 with the left and right channels reversed. Selecting input 1 then input 2 swaps the stereo image quickly and is a simple but interesting effect on music or anything that has a lot of left/right separation. Because the box is so versatile, the many things you can do with it will largely depend upon your studio setup and the amount of time you have to get creative.

On the MIDI application end, the possibilities seem to be endless. Synced to a multi-track machine and a sequencer, Flash becomes an automated noise gate to turn unused portions of tracks off then back on when audio is present. Split a signal and send it to Flash, using the trims to slightly vary the levels of the two splits. Switching rapidly (up to one hundred times per second) from one to the other gives you the "shimmer" effect found on some effects boxes. Again, Flash is a powerful tool for the live performer, being able to quickly and quietly switch from instrument to instrument, amp to amp, or effect to effect. Synced to a sequencer playing live on stage, the switching can be automated.

Flash lists for $499. This is the price of a good semi-pro effects box. If you don't have an effects box, get it first. If your studio is already equipped with the basics, take a look at Flash. Getting creative with effects boxes results in new and different sounding delays, reverbs, etc.. Getting creative with switching, layering, and muting puts you in another area of special effects altogether. Have a sequencer and know your MIDI, otherwise, you'll be limited to those functions available on the front panel.

Specs for the techs include the previously mentioned noise floor at -108dB and -112dB with the mute engaged. The frequency response is 20Hz to 20kHz. Crosstalk is -96dB at 1kHz. Connectors are the ¼-inch type for both GROUP A and GROUP B jacks. You have the standard MIDI IN, OUT, and THRU connectors on the back panel plus 8-pin DIN remote control connectors on both the front and back panels for the optional footswitch. For more information about Flash contact Uptown Technologies in Whitewater, Wisconsin at (414) 473-1088.

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