Field Test: Yamaha SPX2000 Multi-Effects Processor

Feb 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Barry Rudolph

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Using the new Yamaha SPX2000 is like visiting with an old reliable friend. The SPX2000 has the familiar interface and all of the common programs of its SPX predecessors but adds 24-bit/96kHz DSP, new REV-X reverb algorithms and editor/librarian software for the Mac or PC. Yamaha says it brought the original design team from the old SPX days onboard for the new unit to update and improve this popular multi-effects processor.

NEW DIGITAL ENGINE


The SPX2000 uses a switchable 44.1, 48, 88.2 or 96kHz internally clocked audio DSP engine and 32-bit fixed-point internal processing with a 58-bit accumulator. Even though all of the presets in the SPX2000 were done at 24-bit/96 kHz, all programs work no matter what clock speed you use. I stuck to the internal 96kHz setting, which made a 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 from 39.69 kHz to 101.76 kHz (double-rate) because the SPX can act as master clock or slave. The Cirrus Logic CS5361 24-bit A/D and AKM AK4393 128x oversampling D/A converters deliver 106dB dynamic range and flat response from 20 Hz to 40 kHz at the 96kHz rate. The rear panel has AES/EBU XLR digital I/O connectors, MIDI In/Out/Thru jacks and a USB connector for computer interfacing. Connections on the rear include XLRs with paralleled ¼-inch TRS jacks and +4dBU/-10dBu selector switches.

FAMILIAR FRONT PANEL


The single-rackspace SPX2000's front panel starts with a ganged input level pot and a 12-segment LED meter. There are two backlit buttons for input/output metering and mono/stereo input switching. Two indicators show either analog or digital I/O and external or internal clock sources. The LCD is familiar with two lines of 16 characters each, but the six attractive backlight color choices are new. You can assign the backlighting along with other parameters for each preset. I found this an excellent idea when moving quickly through presets on the unit—live sound engineers will find this useful. You can set the same color for reverbs, another for delay, and on and on. Red is reserved for warning messages.

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

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

The front panel controls finish with Utility, Tap and Bypass buttons. Utility offers extensive MIDI implementation setup, clock source, frequency selection, and analog or digital input I/O choice. It also has the ability to set tempo source (MIDI clocks or Tap), dump memory and load to and from an external editor/librarian, rename presets, backlight colors and program overwrite protection. The large Tap button lets you manually tap in a tempo on delay programs. I was disappointed with the Bypass function, which merely mutes any effect and connects the input to the output. That's okay if you patch the unit as an insert and mix internally, but if you send to the unit and return it to your console, then Bypass will cause whatever you are sending to it to appear on the return faders. There is a slight delay (A/D and D/A combined latency) marked by a “phase-y” sound that indicates the SPX's output is mixing with the direct sources that you're sending to it. I think there should be an option for both this type 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 of which 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 has completely started from scratch to create new algorithms with new controls 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 programs such as gated reverbs, delays, pitch effects, modulation, distortion and other special effects. Yamaha edited the programs so that none are the same as in previous effect processors or in Yamaha's digital consoles. The Classic bank has 25 programs that are reminiscent of the original SPX90 presets; the User bank has room to store 99 user-modified presets. To store changes to an effect, you must recall any write-protected effect from the Preset and Classic banks, do your editing and store it into any User bank slot.

At the time of this review, computer-based editing software for the SPX990 wasn't available. However, when you select a reverb, the program graphically shows the room's parameters with real-time metering. It can also control up to eight SPX units at separate USB addresses. In addition, the software organizes large libraries of patches and makes archiving much easier. Your computer connects by way of a USB jack, and the 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 the effects sounded. All of the big reverbs are natural and warm-sounding—not electronic. I found every patch useful in some way. The Classic bank sounded like “high-definition” versions of the original SPX90 patches. The first dozen reverbs (cyan backlit) in the new Preset bank are long, lush halls and chambers that edit easily to fit your needs. Next are plates and brighter room reverbs (also cyan) with delays (white), followed by pitch change, flange, phase, chorus, tremolo and auto panning effects (magenta). The Preset 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 guitars and keyboards and found them to have good dynamic responses. They stood tall in my mixes with minimal application of these effects. For making pitch centers ambiguous, I found that small amounts of either “Classy Gassy,” “Voice Doubler” or the new version of “Symphonic” worked well on vocals and guitars. Hardcore harmonizer-like effects come from the wide stereo “Vocal Shift” or “Stereo Pitch” presets. There is also a high-quality pitch changer called “Roger on the 12” that is very good for fixing an out-of-tune note here and there. Even if the SPX2000 did not have any reverbs, it would be worth the money just to have access to all of the unique pitch effects that work with minimal glitching.

CONCLUSIONS


The Yamaha SPX2000 acknowledges its legacy with impressive-sounding, high-quality versions of the classic SPX units and adds a whole new class of reverbs via the new REV-X algorithms. Engineers and producers, regardless of their familiarity with the original SPX units, will discover 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 his Website at www.barryrudolph.com.






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