Despite cramming 48 effects and 144 adjustable parameters into a box the size of a double CD case, the Ineko is remarkably simple to use.
Shortly before Alesis was sold to Numark, I spoke with Keith Barr, the founder of the company, and asked him about the idea behind the Ineko effects box. Apparently he designed it for a musician friend called Ineko after she commented that most effects boxes were too complicated. She wanted quality and variety, but without all the usual hassles of programming. The result of that conversation between Keith and Ineko was the effects box bearing her name, but you only have to look at the preset names on the top panel to realise that it goes far beyond basic delays, reverbs and modulation treatments. Nevertheless, the device is simple to operate — you just use two cursor buttons to locate a patch from its eight-by-six grid (status LEDs indicate the selected patch) and then you tweak three knobs to control the parameters shown in red below each patch. Other than that, there's just a bypass button and a single LED that monitors the input level.
Mechanically, the Ineko comprises a folded metal chassis with a plastic top cover. It has stereo ins and outs on unbalanced, quarter-inch jacks and the input has a sufficiently high input impedance to be used with guitars. The left input used on its own converts the unit to mono-in, stereo-out operation, and a miniature pot on the back panel provides a limited amount of input level control. Power comes from an included 9V adaptor and there's no MIDI, no user patches and no display, other than the level LED. In fact the Ineko is so simple that there's little else to say about the unit itself, though the effects are another story.
Alesis were pretty much the first company to deliver a low-cost digital reverb that sounded good, so it's no surprise that Ineko offers plenty of reverb options, ranging from the usual halls, plates and rooms to Gated, Reverse and Trash Can patches. Unusually, there is also a Dyn Reverb patch, where the decay time is related to the level of the input signal — the decay time can either be proportional to level or get shorter as the input level gets louder. Variations on all the regular delay and modulation effects are available, including pitch-shifting, after which there's a whole row devoted to filters, from band limiting and resonant filters to auto-wah, vowel formats and auto envelope phasing.
Things become a little weirder in the next row, with ring modulation, Decimator (bit reduction for adding grainy distortion), a frequency-shifter (as opposed to a pitch-shifter), a vocoder with tunable carrier oscillator for those retro robot voices, and another vocoder variation capable of formant shifting. On a more sober note, an RMS limiter (rather like an opto-compressor) is included, with a single control regulating both the attack and release times. The charmingly entitled Grinder offers filtered multi-band distortion with resonant filters, and is followed by a sub-bass generator.
Then with alarming suddenness, we're back to normality with auto-pan and tremolo, before straying off into vinyl noise, tape saturation emulation, fuzz and G Garage, a multi-effect treatment combining compression, detuning and trashy reverb. For dessert, there's a reverb looped through a pitch-shifter for spiralling reverb pitch and something called Vibrowobl with separate rate controls over tremolo and vibrato plus a joint depth control.
Ineko can be connected via a console's insert points or aux sends, or can be fed directly from an instrument or keyboard. The only limitation is that those presets which are processes rather than effects (such as limiting, filtering, tape saturation and so on) are likely to work best via insert points, as there's no need to add any dry signal. As a general rule, any patch which has Mix as one of its controllable parameters can be used in an aux send loop as well as via insert points.
When you call up a preset, the parameters are determined by the current knob positions rather than coming up with a default setting that changes only when you move the knobs. Personally, I'd have preferred a system that memorised the last control positions for each preset, but perhaps that would have affected the selling price too much.
While the operational side may be almost too simple, the key effects all sound pretty good, courtesy of 24-bit converters and a custom 28-bit Alesis DSP effects chip. The reverbs stand up as being particularly strong, even though you can only adjust the decay time and tonal balance in most cases, the deliberate exception being Trash Can. Gated and reverse options are not unlike the ones provided in the old Microverb range.
Delays aren't a technically challenging effect, so it's not surprising they work well, though there is a low-pass version where the recirculating signal is subjected to adjustable top cut to produce an effect more akin to a tape echo. One of the mono delays has a mix control in front of the delay loop, allowing you to create overdubbed looped phrases, but there's no tap tempo facility at all.
The pitch-shifter is worthy of note, as it provides semitone step shifting (over one octave up or down) for two separate voices. Although pitch-shifting is not free of vices (there's still a pronounced shimmer), it's really no worse than that found in far more expensive units. The detuning provided by the next patch is excellent, while the chorus uses six separate voices to build up a rich ensemble effect. In similar vein, the multi-stage phasers are also first rate (four and eight stages) while the flanger is effective without offering anything new or unusual.
I found the Vibrato patch a little strange, as the middle knob sets the shape of the modulation oscillator from sine through to sample and hold with various stages in between. The combined tremolo and vibrato patch, Vibrowobl, found later on is far easier to set up (and more musical to my ears) for most jobs. All the filter effects worked predictably well, though I felt there could have been more sensitivity range on all those effects that trigger from the input signal, as some weaker guitars have trouble getting the effects to trigger at all, even with the input level trimmer turned all the way up. In many cases the filter effects will be used on synths, so this may not be a problem, but Autowah and similar effects are most definitely designed with the guitar in mind.
Formant filtering has become a must for any signal processor, so the cyclic vowel modulation of the Formants patch is no longer a novelty. Even so, it works well and provides a useful alternative to the more common modulation treatments. The sample-and-hold patch is also effective — even though it's old hat to synth users, it's nice to be able to use it on guitar.
Most ring modulators come with a built-in oscillator — the one here is no exception — and the manual tuning control soon coaxes Doctor Who sounds out of just about any source you feed into it, though I've yet to find a mainstream musical application for this. As for Decimator, all I can say is that it does, but that I'm less sure as to why anyone would want to! Still, it's another flavour of lo-fi, as is Grinder, which sounds like a blender full of oysters and broken glass.
Frequency-shifting is a fun thing, because, unlike pitch-shifting, it moves everything by a fixed frequency, so the harmonics all move out of alignment with each other — very weird. Shifts of a few Hertz were once used in PA systems to reduce acoustic feedback, but a more practical use is to employ very small shifts to create subtle detuning effects. And while on the subject of frequency, the Sub Bass patch is particularly good, adding a low bass end to almost anything you feed into it, monophonic or polyphonic. A variable low-cut filter is included to trim away dangerously low bass frequencies that might otherwise reduce speakers to kit form.
The Record Noise patch is very clever, adding variable amounts of dust and clicks. Cleverer still is a control for making the 'record' apparently skip when you turn it, but that's not half as clever as anyone who can explain to me why this might be a good thing! Like most people brought up in the age of vinyl, I simply detest the sound of surface noise and scratches, let alone skipping. What will future generations think of, I wonder — a plug-in to simulate the sound of a digital connection losing sync and turning into a wall of digital noise? To be fair, though, the effect does sound fairly authentic.
Tape Sat is much more to my liking, provided the optional Noise control is set to minimum, and there's even a bass control to simulate 'head bump' boost. The more drive you add, the more saturation you get, but all in the best possible taste. Equally satisfactory is the RMS limiter, which has a warm, opto-limiter characteristic that works really well on rhythm guitar. Being a limiter, it is easy to overdo the effect, but I think that's one of its charms.
I wasn't entirely convinced by the Fuzz patch, but G Garage is great for getting a cheerfully trashy sound out of guitar or drums. This uses the same super-ringy reverb featured in the Trash Can patch, yet it's also rather musical if applied carefully.
Ineko is capable of a huge variety of effects, but its versatility, when it comes to fine-tuning them, is compromised by its ultra-simplistic user interface. It would also be a difficult unit to use live, because whenever you select a new patch, the current physical knob positions are the ones that determine the parameters. This is less problematic in the studio where you have time to adjust the effect to your liking before using it.
The sound quality of the effects varies from excellent on the delays, reverbs and more straightforward effects to a little noisy where resonant digital filtering is part of the brew. There are some effects that stand out more than others, and you can probably tell which ones I liked best from my earlier descriptions. Given its design brief, Ineko does exactly what it set out to do, offering a wider than usual range of effects with no learning curve. Whether it's for you depends on how deeply you like to get into effect programming.
- As easy to use as a light dimmer!
- Inexpensive in the UK.
- Basic sound quality is good.
- No patch memories.
- No tap tempo.
Although better suited to recording than to live use, Ineko provides a useful selection of off-the-wall effects as well as the usual suspects. Its lack of editability is balanced by its extreme ease of use and intrinsically clean sound quality.
Numark +44 (0)1252 341400.