ART's new MR1 is a cheap, cheerful and eminently cute digital reverb unit aimed at both the gigging musician and the entry-level home recordist. Unlike the highly-styled Zoom mini-effects processors, the MR1 is the epitome of solid steel chunkiness, and is powered via a mains adaptor only a little smaller than itself. Unusually, the signal path is mono only; for the musician routing everything through a single amp, this is fine, but for home recording, where reverb is generally used to add both depth and stereo width to a sound, this could be a serious limitation.
Operationally, the MR1 is about as simple as it could be -- 16 reverb presets, selectable by means of a rotary switch, and a balance control which sets the reverb-to-dry balance. There's a Bypass button, but no input gain control, though both the input and output can be switched between instrument and line level, with the power-on LED doubling as a clip LED. If there is a level mismatch, the gain must be adjusted on the device feeding the MR1, though tests showed that level matching was not too critical.
Rather than developing budget algorithms to go with the budget price tag, ART have based the MR1's presets on their own Acoustic Room Modelling algorithms, which were originally developed for the RXR Elite. These are all 16-bit, offering a dynamic range in excess of 90dB, which is very respectable. Because the input has a relatively high impedance (around 470 ohms), it is possible to plug a guitar directly into the MR1 without compromising the tone of the pickups, though it would be more usual to connect any reverb device either via the amp's effects send/return system, or in-line after a preamp.
Physically, the only reservation I have about the MR1 is the selector switch; there is no side marker line on the knob, which means that unless you view the front panel directly from above, you can't be sure exactly which preset is active.
What really counts with reverb is the subjective quality of the presets -- do they make you believe that you're in a real acoustic space, and if so, is the acoustic space one that you'd actually want to be in? Fortunately, all the MR1 presets have sensible decay times, making them very usable. The selection of presets has been chosen to be as versatile as possible, including one or two very bright settings that you could apply to, say, a whole drum mix without affecting the bass drum too much. I felt that the 'Percussion', 'Gold' and 'Brass' plates were rather too similar in character in the context of a mix, and it may have been useful to replace two of these with gated or reverse settings (which are absent from this box), but in all other respects there should be a patch available for just about any eventuality, so long as you don't actually need a very long reverb.
I was particularly impressed with the way this unit happily accepted virtually any signal level, regardless of whether the clip LED came on or not, and because the amount of noise generated is pretty low, you still get acceptable results when the input level is rather lower than it should be.
As predicated, the mono output does make a considerable difference -- the reverbs sound convincing enough, but there's no impression of width or three-dimensional space. Everything sounds rather two-dimensional, and because real-life reverb is always stereo (it's the laws of physics, Jim), I feel this really limits the usefulness of this device in recording. I really can't understand why ART didn't make the MR1 stereo, unless the product is targeted exclusively at the gigging musician -- but the presets seem to have been chosen more for studio than live applications.
If you're in a situation where you need a good quality, easy to use mono reverb that slots nicely into your gig bag, you know where to look, but for not much more cash, you can pick up a rather more flexible stereo unit. Which begs the question: have ART really read the market correctly with this one?
1 Large Hall
2 Small Hall
3 Percussion Hall
4 Recital Hall
5 Guitar Room
6 Sparkling Room
7 Live Room
8 Bright Small Room
9 Tom Slap
10 Vocal Plate
11 Guitar Plate
12 Percussion Plate
13 Gold plate
14 Brass plate
15 Dark Chamber
16 Large Vocal Chamber
Easy to use.
Sensibly chosen presets.
Generally good sound quality.
I can't believe somebody built a mono reverb in 1994!
There's nothing wrong with the quality of this unit, but it's probably more use as a gigging effects unit for use with single amp or mono PA than as a studio effects unit, purely because of the lack of stereo.
£ MR1 £169.99 inc VAT.
A Washburn, Amor Way, Letchworth, Herts SG6 1UG.
T 0462 482466.
F 0462 482997.