Little over a decade ago, I recall being totally entranced by the whole idea of digital reverberation -- the hardware cost an absolute fortune, but it didn't seem to matter -- the magic was worth it. When prices started to fall, it was a dream come true; in my opinion, the availability of affordable quality studio reverb stands alongside MIDI as one of the main enabling technologies that made serious home recording a reality.
Back in the mid-'80s, any form of digital reverb under a grand was a bargain. Since then, prices have continued to fall, while the quality of the hardware itself has improved significantly; but now there are so many models to choose from that it's difficult to know which way to look. Walk into any serious music shop and you'll find shelves of effects units from a number of manufacturers, ranging in price from less than a couple of hundred pounds to upwards of a couple of thousand.
The 1U Digitech Studio Twin sits close to the bottom end of the price scale, and in common with most budget effects boxes, it offers very limited user control. Even so, the effects engine is based on the same S-DISC processing chip used in top-end Digitech units, which means not only lots of processing power, but also a respectable audio bandwidth and a healthy signal-to-noise figure. In fact, the Studio Twin has a full 20Hz to 20kHz bandwidth with 18-bit oversampling analogue-to-digital and 20-bit digital-to-analogue converters, the latter running at the rather odd sampling frequency of 46.875kHz. This yields a signal-to-noise figure in excess of 90dB, which in practical terms means that the Studio Twin shouldn't disgrace even digital recording setups. What's more, the unit is mains-powered -- there's no fiddly power supply to worry about.
Whereas the technology is leading-edge stuff, the user interface has been pared down to a bare minimum; all the patches are based on presets which can be edited in a limited way by the user. A nice touch for a unit of this price is the adoption of discrete knobs as a means of parameter control, rather than the less friendly buttons; the Studio Twin utilises three knobs which can be switched to address either three of the key effects parameters or to act as a single-band, parametric EQ. What the key effects parameters are depends on the type of effect or combination you're editing.
Each of the 99 factory patches can be customised by changing the available effects and EQ parameters, then storing the modified version into the correspondingly numbered user memory. You can't store edited patches into different numbered memory locations, and there's no facility to create a patch assignment table, but you can use MIDI Program Changes 0 to 99 to select user patches remotely via the solitary MIDI In socket. Patch 00 operates as a bypass, but there's no discrete Bypass switch or footswitch option.
The input can be either mono or stereo, and is monitored by twin, peak-reading, 4-section LED ladder meters. The output is also stereo, but one of the biggest surprises is that both the ins and outs are balanced at a nominal +4dBu. Patches can only be selected by number, not by name, but there is a list of the effects groups and their corresponding patch numbers printed to the right of the numeric window. All three of the parameter knobs, Pre-delay, Decay and Level are conventional pots (not continuous shaft-encoders of the type normally used for data entry wheels), and each has an associated LED which comes on only when you move the knob through the position of the previously stored value. Until the LED comes on, turning the knob has no effect.
To select patches, it's only necessary to turn the large program wheel -- there's no Load button -- and if you press Store, any edits made will be stored to the user patch of the same number; a small dot comes on in the display to show that you're in the user bank. To exit the user bank, you have to use the program wheel to spin back into factory preset land, but this takes virtually no time at all. Two further program wheel settings take you into MIDI channel setting territory, and also allow you to adjust the threshold of an internal noise gate. In both cases, the Level Parameter knob LED lights up to remind you that it's the one you need to turn to make your changes. Whenever a parameter is changed, its numeric value is shown in the window for a few seconds before the display automatically reverts back to the current patch number.
Pressing the EQ button switches the parameter knobs to their secondary function: controlling the Frequency, Bandwidth and Gain of the single-band parametric EQ. When you're dealing with what are essentially presets, this provides quite a lot of scope for rounding out a hall sound, or putting a little edge on a plate reverb. That leaves only the Mix knob, which sets the relative balance of the dry and effected sound, and the Input Level knob, which is used in conjunction with the meters to optimise the input signal level.
The Studio Twin isn't without competition, and its obvious rivals are the Lexicon Alex and the Alesis Microverb IV, but I think it puts in a good showing against both these rivals, and for a unit under £250, the inclusion of a true dual effects mode is great news for the home studio owner who can only afford one effects box. Conversely, the high technical spec plus the use of balanced, +4dBu audio connections mean that even the relatively advanced user could benefit from using a Studio Twin as a second reverb unit. What's more, you get MIDI patch selection, which is normally omitted on such low-cost units.
Digitech have always created fine-sounding effects boxes, but there have been occasions when I've felt they haven't made the operating system straightforward enough; and that's a criticism that certainly can't be levelled at the Studio Twin. I have a feeling that this could rapidly become one of Digitech's best sellers.
Though the Studio Twin's effects are based around presets, the quality and musical usability is impressive; there's a full selection of Hall, Cathedral, Plate, Chamber, Room and Gate reverb types to choose from, and in subjective terms, they stand up well alongside most of the better mid-price reverb units. Decay, pre-delay and level can be adjusted for all the reverb programs using the rotary controls, and the noise gate provided works very smoothly.
The delay menu provides for Stereo and Ping Pong variants with continuously variable delay time (640ms max), and feedback (using the Pre-delay and Decay knobs), after which we move into a whole range of combination effects. Only two effects are available at a time, but these are offered in both series (where the output of one effect feeds the input of the next) and parallel combinations, where each input is treated with a different effect. For example, Dual Delay & Reverb has the left input feeding the delay while the right input feeds the reverb. Dual Mod/Reverb and Mod/Delay options work the same way. The series assortment combines modulation with delay or reverb, and the modulation effects include chorus, flanging and tremolo. As you can imagine, this provides quite a lot of scope, and if the Studio Twin is your only effects unit, you can feed it from two aux sends to double your firepower using the Dual effects modes.
The three parameter knobs shift function depending on the effects type you call up, but in all cases, you get access to the most important parameters. To give an example; in Mod/Reverb mode, you get to twiddle with the mod effect speed, the reverb decay and the mix between the two effects. In all cases, the EQ processes just the effects, not the dry signal, and its settings are stored whenever a patch is edited.
Disarmingly simple to use.
Very polished-sounding effects, especially the reverb.
MIDI patch selection and built-in noise gate.
Editing using real knobs.
Dual effect mode allows each input to be treated with a different effect.
Limited user control, especially over the modulation effect parameters.
Patches can only be stored to the same number user memory location.
No bypass button or footswitch jack -- you have to dial up patch 00.
Despite its inevitable limitations, the Studio Twin is a professional-sounding effects unit able to provide all the usual bread-and-butter studio effects to a very high standard, and with the minimum of effort on behalf of the user.
£ 249.95 inc VAT.
A Arbiter Pro MIDI, Wilberforce Road, London NW9 6AX.
T 0181 202 1199.
F 0171 490 0474.