Having made a name for themselves in the world of music technology with the acclaimed D7, R7, M7 and F7 single-effect units, Sony are making another foray into the world of studio outboard gear with the DPSV77 multi-effects processor. The R7 and D7 were dedicated to reverb and delay respectively, the M7 dealt primarily with modulation effects, and the F7 majored in digital filters and EQ. The V77 is a distillation of all these units in a new, accessible package.
Digital recording is becoming more and more prevalent, and Sony provide for this: in common with processors such as the Alesis Quadraverb 2 and the Kawai RV4, the V77 offers the choice of digital and analogue inputs/outputs, including the option to run both simultaneously, thus allowing the user to mix and merge different digital and analogue sources into one digital (or analogue) result.
The front panel layout is standard for present-day units, with centre stage being occupied by a high-resolution liquid crystal display. A lot of information can be shown here, and navigation of this information is facilitated by six soft keys beneath the display labelled A-F. In addition to the LCD, there's a 2-digit LED readout showing the current patch number. Other controls include: a dual-concentric knob for the analogue inputs, with level meters for left and right signals (this is a true stereo unit); an output control; a 10-key pad for inputting values directly; dedicated buttons for system setup and patch saving; and a few dual-function buttons to edit/change page, mute/bypass, shift/exit, and bank select/compare. At the right of the unit is a data dial with a spring-loaded outer collar for accelerating the scrolling rate of parameter values.
On the rear panel, both XLR connectors and balanced/unbalanced jack sockets are catered for, so there's no need to scorch your cardie soldering up new leads before the V77 can be put to use. The inputs and outputs can be switched individually between +4 and -20dB levels, and the digital I/O is Sony's 8-pin mini connector, as found on their portable DATs (oops, mind that cardie!). Two assignable pedal jacks, MIDI In and Out/Thru, and an IEC mains socket complete the picture.
The V77 has 198 preset patches, plus 198 user-programmable memories -- a fairly respectable number. These are divided into two banks each of preset and user memories. Many of the presets come with a certain amount of dry signal mixed in (for straight-through applications) so if you're using the V77 on a mixer's aux send, you'll want to set the unit to globally remove any dry signal (more on this later). This is done in the Setup menu, and it is here that you can set various useful defaults (including a clock, to time/date stamp your patch creations) which customise the V77 to your own way of working.
Being a stereo device, the V77 is structured as two separate effect blocks. Each block contains a single or combination effect (you choose from the huge list) and each block has its own EQ section which can be placed pre or post the effect block (to EQ the effect, or to effect the EQ). The effect blocks can also be run in series, parallel, or dual configurations (ie. block A feeds block B (and vice versa); block A is summed with block B; or A & B become two distinct effects applied to left and right outputs independently). Not content with this, the V77 has one other structural trick up its silicon sleeve: morphing. More accurately described as cross-fading, this allows seamless changes from one patch to another, with a morphing time which can be set, in tenth-of-a-second increments, anywhere between 0 and 10 seconds. The trade-off is that the 'morphed' patches can only use one effect block at a time, since one block is crossfaded with the other. Given the huge variety of effects available to a block, this is unlikely to upset anyone other than psychotic sonic mutilators (see 'Effect Algorithms' box). The V77 can be configured in true stereo, where the left and right inputs and effect blocks are independent, or more conventionally, so that any signal arriving at the left or right jacks is fed equally to the two effect blocks.
If there was any criticism to make of the previous Sony effect units, it was that they were almost too complicated. Sony have responded to this by making the V77's displays as friendly as possible. Large, cheery icons pop out of the screen at every opportunity, pointing the way through the editing process. All that's missing is a kettle icon to remind you to take a break! Ease of use is further aided by the 'Active Parameters' on the Play page. Whenever a patch is selected, the six most often-used edit parameters appear on the screen above the six soft keys, allowing you to change them without having to go into edit mode. Simply press the relevant soft key, and turn the dial. Better yet, you can decide for yourself what those parameters should be, thus customising the V77 to your own tastes. If you always want to have access to the HF rolloff of a reverb, for example, you just assign it to one of the soft keys -- nice.
Additional live manipulation is available via real-time control. Parameter access via MIDI is now de rigeur on all but the most budget units, and the V77 is no exception. For each patch, up to six MIDI control sources can be assigned to affect the parameters of your choosing. This includes MIDI Clock as an option, so delays and modulated effects can be slaved to the tempo of your track (see 'MIDI Control Sources' box).
With the sheer amount of editing potential on board, one could easily become fairly bewildered at the choices on offer. Fortunately, the two manuals are very clearly presented. The first explains the operational basics and architecture of the V77, whilst the second explains every parameter in detail, usually explaining what they do, how they do it, and in many cases why you would want to do it. Why can't all manuals be as helpful? Good on you, Sony! However, missing from the production version of the manual is a full list of all patches, an explanation of what each one is doing, and a suggested suitable application for each. This is a shame, as it was included with the preliminary version which I originally received with the unit. Nevertheless, there are plenty of suggestions for experimentation (here, try this...!) the end result being that you don't feel you've been abandoned in charge of some horrific, unfathomable megalith that's relentlessly fuelling a growing inadequacy complex.
To assist in the process of assembling the patches you've created, the V77 is capable of copying, moving, erasing and swapping patches around in its user memory. To make the purpose of patches clear, the main Play page accompanies the patch name with an appropriate cute icon (a tiny drum kit, a man or a woman singing, and so on) which can be selected from a list that covers practically any situation. There's even a 'hairy muso' icon! Patch organisation needs to be taken into account in the case of morphing patches, unless you're changing patches by MIDI Program Change messages, or directly typing in the relevant patch number on the keypad. Otherwise, patches for morphing would have to live next door to each other in memory for the effect to take place.
The V77 offers a vast range of effects, from gorgeous, shimmering ambiences and delays, all the way through to some of the wackiest noises I've heard coming from a box that wasn't a synth. The zanier sounds are rather more likely to have uses contrived for them than being the 'ideal' effect you've been seeking for ages (and there's nothing wrong with that), but the regular effects are fine examples of their type. The reverb algorithms all have distinctly different characteristics, and are extremely clear and precise. The plate algorithm, in particular, has a very musical tonality, whilst adding a real sense of size, and in common with the other reverb algorithms, doesn't sound detached from the original sound, as can be the case with some units. Worthy of special mention is the Spacious Ambience algorithm, whose function is to simulate distance placement of a sound within a room. As well as left/right placement, you can also set the near/far position, together with the reflection/absorption nature of the virtual walls. Splendid for 'miking up' those DI'd samples.
In fact, on that note, I conducted a small experiment: whilst laying down some tracks of sampled percussion to my Akai DR8 for subsequent mixing elsewhere, I sent them through the Spacious Ambience program, and took the signal from only one V77 output to a track on the DR8. Unlike the other reverb devices in my rack, which somehow sound 'incomplete' from just one output, the V77 sounded uncannily real. There was just sufficient effect applied to simulate a distance between a mic and the sound source, such that when it was removed, you really felt something was missing. I tried this with other sounds, including an upright bass sample, with great success.
Even the overdrive programs aquitted themselves well, turning an average Stratocaster sample into a steaming multi-stacked monster! Various amp simulations and mic positions are provided, allowing for an enormous range of tone colours from one original sound.
Striking, too, were the Haas Panner (like auto-panning but with a much greater sense of space), Deca Chorus (up to 10 choruses -- chori? -- going at once), Pitch Breaker (applies pitch-shift only to the mid band, to create unusual chorus or ring mod effects), and a quite respectable Leslie/overdrive simulation. To go through the list would take up the rest of this issue, so you'll have to take it from me that there's plenty to interest everyone.
Niggles do exist amongst the eulogies, and as hinted in an earlier paragraph, the first is to do with dry signal levels. Even if you set the dry signal to 'off' globally, certain programs still have a wet/dry balance, and dry signal is still to be heard. Maybe it's plain pilot error on my part, but I'd have thought it would be removed. The problem with this (when using aux sends -- the most likely scenario) is that any dry signal coming from the V77 is slightly delayed from the dry desk signal, creating a flammy, out-of-phase sound. You have to make sure the effect balance within a patch is always set to fully 'wet' to avoid this.
Niggle number two concerns the overall stereo balance -- the unit I had was heavily biased to one channel, requiring a hefty pan offset on the desk's aux return -- presumably an aberration on the demo model?
My last whinge concerns the input and output level matching switches. Using a -10dB desk, the -20dB input setting was a little over-sensitive, and distortion did occur from time to time. Running at +4dB meant I had to chuck a hell of a lot at the V77 to get the meters high enough. In the case of the output level, it had to be run in the +4dB position if anything was to be heard at all. This wouldn't be an issue using the digital I/O, but many people would be using this with analogue signals on -10dB equipment. None of my other switchable gear suffers this problem.
As I may have opined in the past, effects are a personal taste. Different brands have their own sound and their own devotees, and some devices may be considered better at certain jobs than others. Pricewise, at around £1400 the V77 falls into the same bracket as the venerable Lexicon PCM70. One of the covetable features of the PCM70 and its kin is its ability to make the reverb applied to a sound seem a natural part of it, without any sense of detachment. As mentioned above, I felt the V77 also has this characteristic, together with a sparkling transparency. My overriding impression of the DPSV77 is that whatever it's doing, it's doing it well. And it does a considerable amount into the bargain. There's enough tweaking potential and algorithms to keep you happy for quite some time -- and its basic level of operation shouldn't intimidate anybody. It's perhaps understandable that many people would go straight for the PCM70 at around this price, but for the quality and range of effects, the V77 is definitely worth a listen. If you can, get down to a decent studio supplier and check one out on some good monitors.
C0-C31 MIDI Control Change number
C64-C120 MIDI Control Change number
Note N Note number
Note V Note velocity
BENDR Pitch Wheel
CH-PR Channel Aftertouch
M.CLK MIDI Clock, tempo range 30-250
PEDL 1 Foot pedal 1
PEDL 2 Foot Pedal 2
Min/Max Sets min/max range for each controller
Delay + Reverb
Chorus + Delay
Chorus + Reverb
Pitch + Delay
Pitch + Chorus
Vast range of effects.
Clear, transparent sound.
Reverb attaches itself naturally to the sound.
Friendly user interface.
Having to check that no dry signal is present when used on aux sends.
Uneven stereo output on review unit.
Finicky input-level sensitivity.
A classy-sounding machine, equally at home with the bizarre as with standard fare, and well worth investigation for those considering a purchase in this price bracket.
£ £1404 inc VAT.
A Sony UK Ltd, The Heights, Brooklands, Weybridge, Surrey KT13 0XW.
T 01932 816000.
F 01932 817000.