Technology

Field Test: Yamaha SPX2000 Multi-Effects Processor

Using the new Yamaha SPX2000 is like visiting with an old reliable friend. 2/01/2004 7:00 AM Eastern

Using the new Yamaha SPX2000 is like visiting with an old reliablefriend. The SPX2000 has the familiar interface and all of the commonprograms of its SPX predecessors but adds 24-bit/96kHz DSP, new REV-Xreverb algorithms and editor/librarian software for the Mac or PC.Yamaha says it brought the original design team from the old SPX daysonboard for the new unit to update and improve this popularmulti-effects processor.

NEW DIGITAL ENGINE


The SPX2000 uses a switchable 44.1, 48, 88.2 or 96kHz internallyclocked audio DSP engine and 32-bit fixed-point internal processingwith a 58-bit accumulator. Even though all of the presets in theSPX2000 were done at 24-bit/96 kHz, all programs work no matter whatclock speed you use. I stuck to the internal 96kHz setting, which madea big difference over the old SPX90 with its 31.25kHz sample rate,16-bit word length and limited frequency response.

There is an external word clock BNC connector to accept rates from39.69 kHz to 101.76 kHz (double-rate) because the SPX can act as masterclock or slave. The Cirrus Logic CS5361 24-bit A/D and AKM AK4393 128xoversampling D/A converters deliver 106dB dynamic range and flatresponse from 20 Hz to 40 kHz at the 96kHz rate. The rear panel hasAES/EBU XLR digital I/O connectors, MIDI In/Out/Thru jacks and a USBconnector for computer interfacing. Connections on the rear includeXLRs with paralleled ¼-inch TRS jacks and +4dBU/-10dBu selectorswitches.

FAMILIAR FRONT PANEL


The single-rackspace SPX2000's front panel starts with a gangedinput level pot and a 12-segment LED meter. There are two backlitbuttons for input/output metering and mono/stereo input switching. Twoindicators show either analog or digital I/O and external or internalclock sources. The LCD is familiar with two lines of 16 characterseach, but the six attractive backlight color choices are new. You canassign the backlighting along with other parameters for each preset. Ifound this an excellent idea when moving quickly through presets on theunit—live sound engineers will find this useful. You can set thesame color for reverbs, another for delay, and on and on. Red isreserved for warning messages.

There are the well-known Recall, Store and Increment/Decrementbuttons for recalling and storing changes to a preset. The lighted Undobutton lets you revert to the last recalled preset and then back to thenew recalled preset. This button lets you compare two presets quickly;after you push it, it flashes until you've recalled the last preset orpushed it again to keep your new choice.

Once a preset is selected, there's an improved editing interfacewith the Increment/Decrement or Up/Down (parameter value) buttons andthe Back and Next parameter buttons. You can step through the parameterlist with the Parameter button and then drill down to the lessfrequently used settings with the Fine Parameter button. I found thisediting system very easy to use and liked the Compare button forinstant “snap back” or toggling between the new setting andthe original parameter value.

The front panel controls finish with Utility, Tap and Bypassbuttons. Utility offers extensive MIDI implementation setup, clocksource, frequency selection, and analog or digital input I/O choice. Italso has the ability to set tempo source (MIDI clocks or Tap), dumpmemory and load to and from an external editor/librarian, renamepresets, backlight colors and program overwrite protection. The largeTap button lets you manually tap in a tempo on delay programs. I wasdisappointed with the Bypass function, which merely mutes any effectand connects the input to the output. That's okay if you patch the unitas an insert and mix internally, but if you send to the unit and returnit to your console, then Bypass will cause whatever you are sending toit to appear on the return faders. There is a slight delay (A/D and D/Acombined latency) marked by a “phase-y” sound thatindicates the SPX's output is mixing with the direct sources thatyou're sending to it. I think there should be an option for both thistype of bypass and a simple input mute.

MONEY IN THE PRESET BANKS


There are three banks that are selectable by a single button:Preset, Classic and User. The Preset bank contains 97 programs, 17 ofwhich run one of the three mysteriously named REV-X reverb algorithms:REV-X Hall, REV-X Room and REV-X Plate. The company states that it hascompletely started from scratch to create new algorithms with newcontrols to allow a “smoother and more open quality,”taking full advantage of Yamaha's new DSP7 chip sets.

The other 80 presets comprise the popular trademark SPX programssuch as gated reverbs, delays, pitch effects, modulation, distortionand other special effects. Yamaha edited the programs so that none arethe same as in previous effect processors or in Yamaha's digitalconsoles. The Classic bank has 25 programs that are reminiscent of theoriginal SPX90 presets; the User bank has room to store 99user-modified presets. To store changes to an effect, you must recallany write-protected effect from the Preset and Classic banks, do yourediting and store it into any User bank slot.

At the time of this review, computer-based editing software for theSPX990 wasn't available. However, when you select a reverb, the programgraphically shows the room's parameters with real-time metering. It canalso control up to eight SPX units at separate USB addresses. Inaddition, the software organizes large libraries of patches and makesarchiving much easier. Your computer connects by way of a USB jack, andthe software will be a free download at Yamaha's Pro Audio Website.

IN THE STUDIO


The first thing I noticed was how quiet and smooth all of theeffects sounded. All of the big reverbs are natural andwarm-sounding—not electronic. I found every patch useful in someway. The Classic bank sounded like “high-definition”versions of the original SPX90 patches. The first dozen reverbs (cyanbacklit) in the new Preset bank are long, lush halls and chambers thatedit easily to fit your needs. Next are plates and brighter roomreverbs (also cyan) with delays (white), followed by pitch change,flange, phase, chorus, tremolo and auto panning effects (magenta). ThePreset bank is rounded out with excellent dynamic filter patches,distortion and amp simulator, and combined effects (yellow).

I tried all of the reverb patches on drums, vocals, electric guitarsand keyboards and found them to have good dynamic responses. They stoodtall in my mixes with minimal application of these effects. For makingpitch centers ambiguous, I found that small amounts of either“Classy Gassy,” “Voice Doubler” or the newversion of “Symphonic” worked well on vocals and guitars.Hardcore harmonizer-like effects come from the wide stereo “VocalShift” or “Stereo Pitch” presets. There is also ahigh-quality pitch changer called “Roger on the 12” that isvery good for fixing an out-of-tune note here and there. Even if theSPX2000 did not have any reverbs, it would be worth the money just tohave access to all of the unique pitch effects that work with minimalglitching.

CONCLUSIONS


The Yamaha SPX2000 acknowledges its legacy with impressive-sounding,high-quality versions of the classic SPX units and adds a whole newclass of reverbs via the new REV-X algorithms. Engineers and producers,regardless of their familiarity with the original SPX units, willdiscover a new instant favorite with this “go to first”multipurpose effects processor.

The SPX2000 sells for $1,249.

Yamaha, 714/522-9011, www.yamaha.com/pro/audio.


Barry Rudolph is an L.A.-based recording engineer. Visit hisWebsite at www.barryrudolph.com.