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Lexicon 960L Digital Effects System, V. 4.0

Once upon a time, all digital effects devices were rigid, fixed devices. However, flexible effects systems such as Lexicon's 960L allow existing customers

Once upon a time, all digital effects devices were rigid, fixed devices. However, flexible effects systems such as Lexicon’s 960L allow existing customers to add new sounds or functions via simple software updates. Lexicon first implemented the software-based strategy back in the days of the first 224, and the tradition continues with its top-of-the-line 960L, now at software Version 4.0.

Reviewed in detail in the June 2001 Mix, the 960L consists of a 4u main I/O and DSP unit and LARC2™ remote, offering a 24-bit, 8-in/8-out architecture (with 16 I/O support) that handles stereo and surround production at up to 96 kHz for broadcast, film, audio post and music applications.

Until recently, the 960L’s automation capability was limited to receiving MIDI program-change messages. However, with V. 3 software, the 960L began offering a full-blown automation option with control/recall of all effects parameters, including panning within the surround (and stereo) programs, mutes and moving faders. The joystick does not move, but any moves are tracked by the cursor within the Panning window on the 960L’s large display.

As with all 960L presets and user data, automation moves are defined as SMPTE timecode events, translated via the unit’s MIDI Time Code (MTC) input and stored (along with wordclock, global mix settings, DSP card configs and I/O routings) to internal hard drive and/or floppy disk. As session data is saved independently of the originally written timecode rate, existing sessions can run at any frame rate without affecting timing accuracy.

The recent V. 4 software provides an option for LOGIC7 UpMix capability. Developed by Lexicon’s Dr. David Griesinger, LOGIC7 is a sophisticated DSP encode (and consumer playback) system that provides improved multichannel reproduction from matrix-encoded and 2-channel stereo recordings. As its name implies, the playback process can expand both 5.1- and 2-channel soundtracks for 7.1 and virtual 7.1-channel playback. Beyond the left/right and matrixed center channel, LOGIC7 can offer full-bandwidth, stereo rear channels from either surround-encoded or 2-channel sources.

Via the 960L’s eight sliders, the LOGIC7 UpMix option offers a huge supply of variable parameters, all instantly (and easily!) accessible. Divergence sets the placement of center-channel information across the LCR channels. Rear dynamic roll-off adjusts the gentle (6dB/octave) roll-off filter applied to the L/R surrounds only. Lock “freezes” all parameters in the current setting, preventing changes in program-dependent parameters. Sensitivity sets a “threshold” that tailors the algorithm’s response to specific program material. Sound Stage places the most predominant surround image to the front, rear or neutral position. Width sets the range of internal panning to normal (more toward center) or a slightly wider image. Controls such as rear delay (up to 80 ms) and bypass are more obvious in function.

LOGIC7’s diverse collection of algorithms are arranged in six banks with 10 programs in each. The bank names (Upmix Classical, Upmix Jazz, Upmix Pop I & II, Upmix Post and Upmix Mix Tools) give a good indication of where to begin looking, while program names (such as Jazz, Flower Power, Balladeer, Detroit Soul, FM, Orchestral, Chorale, Funky Chic, Plaid Flannel and Car Chase) send the user right to a good starting point. For example, The Beatles’ “O-bla-di, O-bla-da” (an odd piece, with mostly center instruments and wide stereo vocals) responded perfectly on Flower Power, with a bonus: After the piano intro, I could hear Ringo’s voice muttering something about “drums” coming out of the right rear speaker! “Dear Prudence” yielded a rich, full surround, while the surround effect on “Back in the USSR” was more aggressively surround — tossing Harrison’s opening guitar note (after the plane landing) into the rear speakers. Cool!

Using the FM program on lush tracks such as George Benson’s “Breezin’” and Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love for You,” was spot-on: A high divergence setting kept vocals and solos focused center, while a high, rear dynamic roll-off brought other elements around the listener. On China Crisis’ “Sweet Charity in Adoration,” the piano and rhythm guitar pulled to rear for an excellent “sitting-in-the-band” effect.

Results with other types of music — hard rock, classical, country and acoustic — were equally astounding. However, there are numerous pitfalls to avoid. In no case did I find a “set-and-forget” program that didn’t need some tweaking, even between similar tracks on the same album; also, the system can produce audible pumping/breathing, particularlly in the surrounds. In most cases, kicking in the Lock mode, or a minor touch on the sensitivity or rear dynamic roll-off controls, took care of this.

My favorite use of the LOGIC7 UpMix was expanding stereo tracks (drum overheads, BG vocals, etc.) into 5-channel stems for surround mixing. Certainly, this functionality would be ideal for post applications, where stereo feeds often have to integrate into existing surround material, and in such cases, the UpMix option could be a life- or time-saver.

The Automation and LOGIC7 updates are now included free with all 960L and 960LD systems. Owners of earlier systems can upgrade for $995/each. Either way, these options add another dimension to an already-powerful tool for surround production.

Lexicon, 3 Oak Park, Bedford, MA 01730; 781/280-0300; fax 781/280-0490;