Hands-On Review:Alesis Nanoverb, Crate SM1SP, and Zoom RFX-300 Milti-Effects Processors.
Do you suffer from mouse finger? How about cursor fatigue, LCD squint or parameterphobia? These increasingly common ailments are all-too familiar for home recordists who spend hours clicking around software consoles and poking at edit buttons. Now relief is at hand, thanks to these new compact effects processors that do their job with just a handful of knobs—no double-click buttons, no data windows and no nasty side effects. Each unit is packed with high-quality sound and occupies only a third of a rack space or, in the case of the Zoom, a tiny bit of desktop real estate.
Packed into a sturdy metal case, the Alesis NanoVerb has five rotary controls on its front panel. The first three consist of an input volume knob, a mix control to adjust the balance of the wet and dry signals, and an output volume control. The fourth control, a 16-position rotary switch, selects the effects presets, and the fifth is an adjust knob with which to tweak one major parameter (e.g., reverb decay, delay time) in each preset. Back panel controls consist of quarter-inch jacks for left/right in and left/right out, a jack for a bypass footswitch and an input for the supplied AC adapter.
Alesis has long since proven it can produce lush stereo effects, and these 18-bit digital sounds were no exception. The NanoVerb’s 16 effects patches consist of nine reverbs (hall, room and plate), two chorus/reverb combinations, and patches for delay, flange, rotary speaker, chorus and gated reverb. Suffice to say, the Nanoverb had enough realistic reverbs to cover any application, and the delay-based effects were superb.
The front panel layout on Crate’s steel-encased SM1SP is identical to the NanoVerb’s, and the rear panel has quarter-inch stereo in and outs and a connection for the included AC adapter. However, Crate has managed to pack 32 separate 16-bit effects into the SM1SP, which are grouped around the rotary dial according to their application. Five presets are reserved for vocal reverbs, five for instrument reverbs and another five for plate reverbs. There are also four gated reverbs, three delays, three chorus patches, two flanger presets and a rotary speaker simulation. The final four patches are for dual effects, including a mono preset that applies a chorus to one channel and a delay to the other.
The SM1SP was easy to operate and had loads of smooth studio effects. Crate has voiced each reverb patch according to its intended application, and the results were impressive. Vocals breathed and instruments shimmered, and the combined effects really made the most of the unit’s capabilities. Although similar in design to the Crate and Alesis units, Zoom’s RFX-300 is made for desktop use; hence, the unit is packed in a plastic casing and has top-mounted controls. These consist of two large input and output level controls, an 11-position patch selector, a time/adjust control and a mix knob. In addition, there are buttons for bypass, bank and variation/tap functions.
Rather than crowd its 22 effects presets around the rotary selector, Zoom has split them into two banks of 11 that can be selected via the A and B bank buttons. The two banks are loosely divided into single effects and double effects. In addition to the usual reverb, delay, flanger and chorus effects, the RFX-300 has a mic and cabinet simulator and mix presets that combine various eq and reverb settings. In addition, there is a time/adjust knob that can be used to tweak parameters, and a variation/tap button that can toggle between two settings (e.g., “warm” or “clear” for chorus) or be employed to tap in a rate for time- and modulation-based effects. The unit’s back panel has full stereo ins and outs for both quarter-inch and RCA-type connections, and an input for the included AC adapter.
The RFX-300 had dished out high-quality 18-bit effects, and the illuminated tap button made short work of syncing up delay repeats and modulations. The mic and cab simulations were great tools to have in the home studio, and the mix patches were all useful.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you find software- and rack-based effect units difficult to work with, then get to know these little budget-conscious processors. Any one will provide a shortcut to lush stereo sounds and requires little more effort than your favorite stompboxes.