We try out what must be the most cost‑effective programmable 24‑bit effects unit on the market. But can quality really come at such a low price?
As more newcomers to recording start to achieve decent results with low‑cost computer‑based systems, the perception of value for money is bound to change. In the days when even a basic studio cost several thousand pounds, we accepted that a good studio reverb might cost two or three thousand, but clearly that isn't going to cut much ice with the musician whose entire MIDI + Audio sequencing setup cost under £1500. After all, if £1500 buys you multitrack recording, mixing, a few native effects and maybe even a synth on a card, how much can an outboard effects box really be worth?
The truth is that professional quality gear is still expensive, even though it's cheaper and better than it used to be, but in the area of multi‑effects, advances in DSP technology have enabled designers to come up with some pretty amazing stuff at very keen prices. In fact, the Behringer Virtualizer V2 is probably cheaper and more flexible than most of the software 'virtual effect' plug‑ins that purport to replace such hardware.
Certainly the outward appearance of the Virtualizer gives few clues to its budget nature — the only obvious compromise is the use of a numeric display rather than a proper LCD text version. The Virtualizer uses 24‑bit input and output converters to realise a 98dB signal‑to‑noise ratio and produces effects based on 32 different algorithms, ranging from reverb, delay and modulation to rotary speaker simulation, distortion and vocoding. There are also eight dual effects, whereby the right and left channel produce different mono‑in, mono‑out effects. Behringer claim to use a proprietary room modelling algorithm to produce very natural sounding reverb, and true stereo processing of the left and right channel signals is possible with the relevant algorithms. Reverb is still created on a mono‑in, stereo‑out basis, which generally gives the most natural results. Internal processing is 24‑bit at a 48kHz sampling rate, which adds up to full audio bandwidth processing with acceptably low distortion.
So how, with all these features, does the Virtualizer still manage to be a budget unit? Well, the aforementioned numeric display helps, and it also uses unbalanced inputs and outputs (switchable for +4dBu or ‑10dBV operation), though it does feature an internal power supply. The effects themselves are based on the familiar 'presets with variations' approach, rather than being fully editable — though there are 900 variation permutations to choose from. However, no more than two effects can operate at the same time. Two parameters may be adjusted by the user, and there's also separate High and Low filtering. Sounds that have been changed by using these controls may then be saved back to 100 user memories. The manual also mentions future PC control software which will be free of charge, though this wasn't provided with the review system.
The rear panel features MIDI In, Out and Thru sockets, as well as the audio in/out jacks, the level switch and the mains socket, but there's no provision for a bypass footswitch — a significant omission for live performers. Half of the front panel is dominated by the display, which comprises two 9‑segment level meters and a 3‑section digital numeric readout, as well as a listing of the 32 effect types and their numbers. All adjustments are made using 10 buttons and a rotary encoder. There's no input or output level control, so all levels have to be set on the devices to which the Virtualizer is connected.
Selecting and editing effects is quite straightforward — the Effect button enables the data wheel to select one of the 32 algorithms, then the Variation button gives access to a further 32 variations on the selected algorithm. Separate buttons are provided for the Edit A and Edit B parameters (which change depending on what effect is selected) and for the High and Low filtering. Two further buttons, labelled Engine A and Engine B, allow different Edit A/B and filter High/Low settings to be applied to the two channels; pressing both Engine buttons at the same time links the parameters of both channels.
On the MIDI side, all the Virtualizer's parameters may be adjusted via MIDI controllers 20 to 30, while the user memories may be selected via MIDI Program changes. Controller 29 activates Bypass mode.
Operating the Virtualizer couldn't be much simpler, but what of the effects themselves? Well, the effect variations aren't quite as flexible as they might first appear, as in many cases they simply provide a choice of reverb decay times or delay times affecting the basic algorithm. All the control functions are printed on the lid and in the manual, but there's no cheat card, so photocopying page 29 of the manual is pretty much essential.
The signal path is respectably quiet, though some of the effect types introduce just a little background hiss, as is to be expected. The effects themselves are quiet and very usable, but though the reverbs don't have any serious vices they tend to be a bit on the anonymous side. All the delay and echo effects work fine, and the pitch‑shifter is good for creating detuned effects but less pleasant‑sounding when asked to perform larger shifts. Again, this is true of pretty much all low‑cost effects units. I wasn't quite convinced by the rotary speaker effect, but the tremolo‑delay patch is very nice.
Given the low price and good build quality of this unit, it has to be seen as exceptional value, so if your budget won't stretch any further the Virtualizer is a sensible choice. On the other hand, if you can afford to spend between £200 and £250 you have a choice of several units that probably aren't 24‑bit but will deliver better‑sounding reverb.
- Small Hall
- Gated Reverb
- Reverse Reverb
- Vocal Distortion
- Rotary Speaker
- Tremolo & Delay
- Very affordable.
- Easy to use.
- Nicely packaged.
- No external power adaptor.
- 24‑bit, full‑bandwidth circuitry.
- You need to refer to the manual or unit lid to see what the edit controls do within the various presets.
- No input or output level controls.
Extraordinary value if your budget won't stretch to something more sophisticated.
£149 including VAT.