Alesis' last flirtation with mini reverb units was back in the days of their Microverb I and II, but since then technology has marched on, making it possible to build more flexibility into a smaller, cheaper box. From what I can tell, the Nanoverb runs similar reverb algorithms to those used in the Midiverb 4 (reviewed in SOS February 1995), and like the original Microverbs, it uses 16 preset effects as the basis for its repertoire. Unlike its ancestors, though, the Nanoverb is fitted with an Adjust knob which provides control over the most important parameters of whatever effect is currently selected.
Around the size of a fuzz pedal, the Nanoverb is a stereo-in, stereo-out processor with connections on unbalanced jacks optimised for -10dBV operation, though you can work at up to +10dBu output level before your headroom account becomes overdrawn. The inputs have a high (1M(omega)) impedance, so that guitars can be connected directly to the inputs when necessary. For mono-in usage, the left input is normalised to the right input, but not vice versa.
In reverb mode, the stereo ins simply pass the dry sound to the output in stereo, and the effects are generated from a mono sum of the two inputs in the time-honoured way. The chorus and flanger settings are, however, true stereo, with independent processing of the left and right channels. Metering is courtesy of a bi-coloured LED which shows green for nominally OK signals and red for clipping. For live performance, a rear panel footswitch jack accepts an optional, momentary-action bypass footswitch. Power comes from the familiar Alesis adaptor, and a front panel Power LED confirms the unit is up and running. Levels are set using the usual Input, Output and Mix controls with a 16-way rotary switch to select the preset effects. That just leaves the Adjust knob, which controls the main effect parameter. And that's all there is to it.
Foremost, the Nanoverb is a reverb unit, but it also includes a few delay and modulation treatments (including two Chorus/Room combinations), all with an effects bandwidth of 20Hz to 20kHz and a 90dB-plus dynamic range, courtesy of the 18-bit, delta-sigma oversampling conversion system. There are three different Concert Halls, three Real Room presets and three Plates, all of which sound similar to their Midiverb 4 counterparts. The Adjust control sets the decay time to create an effect ranging from a slight ambience to a trailing cavern lasting over 30 seconds. Usefully, pre-delay is built into some of the presets.
Moving round another notch, there's a non-linear reverb preset, which provides the familiar gated sound with variable gate time. The chorus programs are also interesting in that the Adjust knob balances the rate and depth of the patch, so that as you speed up the effect, the depth is reduced appropriately. This produces a well-balanced chorus effect at any speed from a slow swirl to a brisk tremolo. Flange is variable in speed from a very slow sweep to a fast warble, and has a very aggressive character which works well on distorted guitars, harmonically-rich synth sounds, or vocals.
Delay is strictly mono, and has a fixed amount of feedback to create gently repeating echoes; the delay time -- 1.27 seconds at maximum -- is continuously variable, enabling you to match delay to tempo where required. Two variations on Chorus/Room utilise a fixed chorus effect combined with a variable decay reverb (one version includes repeat delays), while Rotary provides a passable simulation of a rotary speaker, with rate switchable from a slow drift to a fast vibrato. The Adjust knob selects the fast or slow speed setting and the modulation rate ramps up or down over a period of a second or two, just like the real thing.
What really counts is the sound, and the reverbs are particularly excellent. Given the low cost of the unit, they create a real sense of space and decay smoothly with no ringing or grittiness. All stand up to scrutiny very well and the tonal balance has been chosen to suit most applications, but my favourite is still Real Room, which sounds extremely convincing. This seems fuller and more dense than the halls, and has a more pronounced early reflection structure. For that vintage sound, the plates all work very nicely, with a good combination of edge and warmth. Plate 1 at maximum decay setting works almost like an infinite room patch, with little perceptible decay at all.
There's less circuit noise than from early Alesis reverb units, but I think the Midiverb 4 is quieter than the Nanoverb, and appears to have a slightly more 'open' sound. Even so, the subjective sound is very close.
The chorus effects are pretty standard, but suitably smooth and musical nevertheless, though the flanger suffers a little from inflexibility. You can change the rate, but the effect might be too strong for some applications, and there's no way to water it down by reducing the amount of feedback. Delay is fine, with just about the right amount of feedback, and although the rotary effect doesn't sound exactly like the real thing, it's very usable. Having a delayed speed change is a very nice touch on a budget unit such as this one. Finally, the composite chorus/reverb algorithms are useful general treatments for use on backing vocals, keyboard pads, guitars and suchlike. Though the Nanoverb isn't really a multi-effects unit, the two multi options provided are very useful in a wide range of contexts.
On balance, this is an excellent low-cost effects unit for somebody who needs simplicity and cost-effectiveness, but who doesn't want to sacrifice the quality of the effects. I think it's also fair to say that the unit will be more appealing to studio users than to live performers, because in live situations, you have to change the Adjust knob for each patch. It can also be awkward to see what preset you've selected unless you're looking square on to the front panel.
I'd go so far as to say this is the best-sounding budget reverb unit I've yet heard. If you want more flexibility or need MIDI control, then by all means save up and buy a Midiverb 4, but if what's on offer meets your needs, I don't think you'll have any qualms about the quality.
Great reverb sounds.
Operating systems don't come any simpler.
True stereo chorus and flange effects.
Limited control is frustrating on some of the modulation effects, especially flanging.
You have to be careful the weight of the leads doesn't pull the unit off the table!
A super-sounding budget reverb unit that will allow anyone to add professional-sounding reverb to their recordings.
£ £169 inc VAT.
A Sound Technology plc, Letchworth Point, Letchworth, Herts SG6 1ND.
T 01462 480000.
F 01462 480800.