In developing the Wedge, Alesis have almost returned to their roots -- their original Midiverb was designed to look like the desktop remote for a much larger system. The Wedge is obviously a far more advanced unit than the old Midiverb, and the user isn't confined to presets, but the 'remote control' look is back. Alesis have gone out of their way to stress the 'remote control-like' design of the Wedge, but the forest of cables projecting from the rear panel rather spoil the illusion. With up to four jack leads, two MIDI leads and a power connector, the Wedge will never be as tidy to use on a desktop as a true remote control.
The Wedge gets its name from the shape of its case, though it looks more like a drum machine than a slice of cheese. Four sliders provide direct access to the four parameters that are displayed on screen at any one time and, like the Midiverb IV, the Wedge uses a multiple page system to scroll around the various sets of four parameters. When you're editing effects, pressing the Edit button takes you to the next page, and the current page (along with the number of available pages) is shown in the display window. Four buttons, labelled A to D, sit beneath their displayed parameters, and you can use these to jump from one parameter to another, but as moving any fader automatically selects the relevant parameter, you'll rarely need to use them. However, holding one of them down for a second or two brings up a concise form of on-line help that describes the parameter in question -- nice idea! Patches may also be named via these buttons, and the Wedge comes with 128 factory patches plus a further 128 user patches. The final 28 patches in the preset list are basic configurations; the user section comes ready filled with patches that may be changed or overwritten. MIDI may be used for program selection, to dump and restore patches, or to control up to two effects parameters in real time. There's also the option of creating a patch map if you need to call up specific effects with specific MIDI program change numbers.
Behind all the marketing and cosmetics, the Wedge is really a development of the Midiverb IV's excellent user interface and overall concept, but it is powered by two Quadraverb II chips, enabling it to deliver a better technical performance. Like the Midiverb IV, it presents effects a choice of different configurations, but in the case of the Wedge, 28 are available, most providing one or two effects in single, series, parallel or dual mono varieties. Once a configuration's loaded, all the parameters of the effects that go to make up the configuration can be adjusted, but the configuration itself can't. Though the Wedge does have a limited degree of multi-effect capacity, its main purpose is to produce good-quality, easy-to-edit reverbs, and in this context the configurations don't really impose any limit on its flexibility.
A new (and obviously trademarked) feature has been added in the form of the Impulse Audition feature, which is activated by the Tap Tempo button. This simply generates an electronic impulse that can be used to evaluate the reverb or effects patch currently loaded. This button also has a third function -- if you press and hold it, the Wedge enters automatic setup mode and adjusts its input level setting to match whatever signal is present on the input at the time. Again, this feature has been carried over from the Midiverb IV, and it's an excellent idea.
Because of the discrete faders beneath each parameter, the Value knob isn't likely to be quite as busy as it was on the Midiverb IV, but it may still be used for parameter editing for the benefit of those newer musicians who can't remember what faders are for. It's also used to step through programs, with patch change being virtually instantaneous. The rest of the operating system is equally simple, and the small number of buttons is positively refreshing. The Utility button provides access to the usual MIDI setup parameters, patch map and SysEx dump options, but you can also select whether or not to have the dry signal defeated in bypass mode. Further pages allow you to select the MIDI modulation sources for real-time control, and to specify their range. To set up the input and output levels manually, it's necessary only to hit the I/O button and, once a program is edited, it may be saved into any user memory via the Store button. The remaining buttons are Compare, which switches between pre-edit and post-edit versions of the current patch, and Bypass -- which does exactly what it says on the tin.
All the effects are based on the 28 configurations shown in the 'Configurations' box; a plus (+) in the title signifies a dual patch, for which independent sends can be fed to the left and right inputs to go via two different stereo effects, that are then combined at the output. A colon (:) in the title signifies a dual mono signal path; an arrow (>) shows that one effect feeds into another. Each effect in the chain has a mix parameter determining how much of the effect goes directly to the output and how much to the next effect in line.
Anyone who's used a Midiverb IV will be at home with the Wedge straight away. The main difference is that there are a few new parameters and configurations, and more pages of parameters on most effects. Even so, the majority of effects only have four or five pages, so editing really is a breeze. The main effect is reverb, and Alesis have tried very hard to provide the optimum balance between flexibility and ease of use. The usual decay, damping, diffusion and density controls are augmented by Early Reflections Shape, Spread and Level, Swirl, and a gate for creating your own gated reverb effects. A new Reverb Depth parameter makes the reverbs wider and deeper, at the expense of some mono compatibility.
Delays come in mono, stereo and multitapped variations with almost five and a half seconds of delay available in mono, and half that in stereo. A low-cut filter may be introduced into the feedback loop to emulate old tape-echo units, and modulation is included within some of the delays, so you can add chorus-like effects without needing a separate chorus effects block. The usual chorus, flange and phasing modulation effects are joined by Tremolo, Panning and Lezlie (sic) simulations, and there's also a pitch shifter dedicated to aural thickening effects. Pre-delay is available in both the reverb and modulation sections.
As you can imagine, the Wedge is very simple to use, and if you can find some way to hide the bunch of cables poking out of the rear, it also looks extremely smart. The display is large and generally clear, though it's a little slow in responding when you change pages, but the unit seems to be designed to be looked down at rather than viewed from the side, which is a more likely requirement if it's on top of your console and you're sitting down.
On paper, the dynamic range of the Wedge is 90dB, but in reality the noise limitation is usually determined by the rubbish coming from your effects mix buss, not the effects box itself. Electronically balanced inputs and outputs allow interfacing with both semi-pro unbalanced and professional balanced equipment, and the 1M(omega) input impedance means that you can plug a guitar in directly, if you want a very clean sound. A combination of 18-bit, oversampled conversion and a 48kHz sample rate produces both a wide bandwidth and a good noise figure but, on a more down-to-earth level, no footswitch jack is fitted, which makes the unit almost useless for live performance unless MIDI control is used.
Subjectively, the reverbs have very much the character you'd expect from the Quadraverb 2 and they're generally very open and smooth. They still don't quite manage Lexicon's trick of sounding perfectly natural even when the original sound is removed from the mix altogether, but they integrate nicely with a mix and are very quick to set up. The addition of an ambience program is useful in this modern age when most reverb on records tends to be 'invisible', and the modulation effects are clean and dynamic with lots of movement.
The MIDI control side of things is simpler than on many units, but being able to control two parameters per configuration is probably as much as most users can deal with. How well this works depends largely on what effect is being controlled, and what signal is passing through it at the time. For example, adjusting the chorus depth when a signal is present isn't recommended, as the large amount of data being changed leads to audible zipper noise. However, most parameters change reasonably smoothly, and though the destination parameters for each algorithm are fixed, they're probably the ones you would have chosen anyway.
Conceptually, the Wedge is no great advance, other than in its rather gimmicky packaging, but the operating system is infinitely preferable to that of the rather convoluted Q2 system. Though it's less versatile than some effects units, in combining ease of use with a more up-market sound quality, Alesis have, I think, made the right move as far as the market is concerned. When you're doing a mix, at least one dedicated reverb is always required, and the Wedge does give you control where it's needed, in fine-tuning the reverb algorithms. Being able to shape early reflections, add swirl, and adjust damping and filtering means that you have all the tools you need to create your own custom reverb settings, yet without the complexity -- and the endless forest of parameters -- some manufacturers present you with. If you've ever dreamed of having a Midiverb IV with Q2 quality, this is it.
+ dual patch
: dual mono signal path
> effect feeds into another effect
I had a couple of days with the Wedge, and here are my impressions. A large display, function keys and edit sliders might be common on synths, but on a multi-effects processor they are a departure. And what a difference they make: editing just couldn't be easier or faster. Quite apart from the display and the knobs, I also rather liked the on-line help system and the Tap/Audition button. While you're editing Programs with a delay element, this button allows you to set delays to match a song's tempo; otherwise, it sends a frequency-rich blast of noise through the current effect -- great for spotting undesirable artefacts in a reverb.
The front end is great, and the sound is exemplary, but let's play devil's advocate. A product called Wedge should be, well, wedge-shaped, and this box is only slightly so. It's small enough to stick on just about any work surface (or on top of my Atari!), but a little propping up is in order to keep the display visible. And to my ears, many of the factory settings are over-bright, with delays often brighter than the input signal. However, it was easy enough to tame these tendencies with a few quick tweaks among the comprehensive parameter set. Finally, when you're working with long delay times (you can have over five seconds in some algorithms) and extreme feedback settings, the occasional anomaly occurs. For example, after working with a long, complicated feedback-based delay, which I duly sampled, I turned the delay time and feedback controls to 0; but when I moved on to create another delay effect, chopped-up bits of my previous work were played back to me. Admittedly, this problem won't occur for everyone, but on my other processors turning down delay time and feedback controls generally clears the delay buffer.
Apart from these small points, the Wedge can be highly recommended -- and for a unit that specialises in reverb, its extra effects are pleasingly well specified. Derek Johnson
Very easy to use.
Flexible reverb editing.
Good sound quality.
Though the case looks neat, the wiring can detract from the overall tidiness.
A good combination of straightforward operation and high-quality reverb sounds.
£ £449 including VAT.
A Sound Technology, Letchworth Point, Letchworth, Hertfordshire SG6 1ND.
T 01462 480000.
F 01462 480800.