Paul White tries out a rather unusual effects collection from Behringer's new budget box of tricks.
Behringer's Modulizer Pro is a rather curious device, because although it's clearly aimed at the budget end of the market, it comes with both balanced jack and XLR inputs and outputs. Essentially it is a stereo‑in, stereo‑out signal processor designed to create mainly modulation‑style effects. Only one effect algorithm at a time may be used, and there aren't any reverbs, but then what sets this unit apart from most multi‑effects units is the number of what can best be described as sound‑mangling effects, such as ring modulators, simulated tube distortion, envelope filters and so on.
Though inexpensive, the Modulizer Pro is a good‑looking unit, solidly built and with a mains power inlet rather than the more usual external supply. It has the full set of MIDI In, Out and Thru sockets for patch changing and real‑time parameter control, and the audio ins and outs may be switched for ‑10dBv or +4dBu operation.
All the effects are based on one of the 24 available effect algorithms, all of which are listed on the front panel, where the user can access the effect type, a Variation parameter, four further individual parameters specific to the algorithm and a pair of high‑ and low‑cut filters. There's a separate button to select the algorithm on which the effect is based and there's a front‑panel bypass button. All the buttons have integral LEDs. Though this is the limit of the user control, the same adjustments may be made in real time over MIDI, and if patches are changed via MIDI, you avoid a delay of a second or two that occurs when you change patches from the front panel. A single rotary control takes care of parameter adjustment, where both parameter values and patch numbers are represented as simple numbers in the 7‑segment numeric display — there's no text facility. In addition to the internal modulation LFO, there's a mode where the modulation rate can be controlled directly using the parameter dial or a MIDI input rather than the internal LFO.
Though pretty straightforward, a potential problem with this system of editing is that unless you have the manual open in front of you, there's no way of telling which parameters the Edit A‑D controls relate to, though you can download a free PC editor from the Behringer web site (www.behringer.de). I brought up this point with Behringer, who say that with future manuals they will be including a separate sheet that lists the editable parameters for each effect; this information is also on their web site. Variation is internally linked to a number of internal parameters, again specific to each algorithm, so the only way to see what effect it will have is to try it out — but as a rule, whatever the main feature of the effect is, Variation gives you more of it.
In all there are 100 memories which come ready loaded with patches, but all may be changed by the user — there are no permanent factory patches. It's possible to set the unit to 'effect only' or 'dry/effect mix' (though some algorithms, such as gating, naturally do not have a mix function), depending on whether you're working with a mixer or not; however, there is no guaranteed way to make the unit work with just a mono input plugged into one input — when I tried this, I found that for some patches I only got an output from the right speaker while with others it came from the left. Behringer point out that this is down to the XLR inputs (which cannot detect when only one channel is connected), and that many of the effects are designed for use with stereo signals anyway. If you must supply a mono input signal to the Modulizer Pro, be warned that the same signal must be supplied to both inputs, by using a split or 'Y' lead.
Operating the Modulizer Pro is easy enough, then — but what are the effects like? For a full listing of the 24 effect algorithms, see the Effects sidebar. The phasers, flangers and chorus effects are fairly typical of what you get from pedals, though I didn't feel they were quite as warm and strong as Boss guitar pedals, for example (digital modulation effects often seem less warm than their analogue counterparts). Nevertheless, they're very usable. The vinyl scratches are very authentic (if you happen to like that kind of thing) and the basic compressor, expander and gate take a workmanlike approach to their subjects. They do their jobs well enough, but as there are no gain‑reduction meters, setting up isn't as easy as when using dedicated hardware. Lack of metering is, however, quite understandable on a unit of this price.
If you're into real weirdness, then the ring modulator has to be the place to visit, because it can convert just about any input into an early Doctor Who sound effect or Dalek‑like voice. It's not very musical, because of the way ring modulators generate harmonics, but it's great for creating ear‑catching spot effects. The Resonator is particularly good on percussive sounds as it gives them a swept, pitched element, rather like heavy flanging with a longer delay time.
The denoiser works on the same principle as most analogue units — an expander or gate takes care of very low‑level noise during pauses, while a dynamic filter progressively reduces the high‑end bandwidth of the signal path as the level decays. In practice, these devices are most effective on individual signals or subgroups of signals, because if you try to treat a mix that has any degree of dynamic range, you can often hear the noise level changing in the background. Used carefully, though, this process can be very beneficial.
The other device that works conventionally is the vocal canceller, which attempts to eliminate vocals by phase‑cancelling any mid‑range sounds panned to the centre of the mix. How well this works depends on the record you try it with, because very often, vocals are processed with stereo effects, which will remain audible after the dry part of the vocal has been cancelled out. Generally, the best you can hope for is a noticeable reduction in the level of the original vocal part. I tried several records and found the outcome varied from almost total vocal cancellation to hardly any at all, but invariably the backing track ends up sounding heavily EQ'd, and the snare drum level tends to fall significantly. To be fair, no voice canceller working on this principle can do much better.
All the stereo enhancement treatments seemed to do the trick nicely (albeit with an inevitable timbral change) and the harmonic enhancer was also fairly effective in brightening things up, though I felt less subtly so than its analogue counterparts. I also had a bit of fun playing through the guitar amp simulations, and though they won't give a high‑end amp simulator much to worry about, they can sound surprisingly effective. It's also useful that a speaker simulator algorithm is included, as it provides a means to DI distortion pedals without ending up with a fizzy mess.
I get the impression that this unit is similar or identical to the Virtualizer in terms of hardware (certainly the front panels are the same) and that Behringer have created a new set of algorithms to produce a complementary product — the Virtualizer does reverb and spatial effects while the Modulizer is geared towards wacky modulation treatments. I like the idea of an effects unit that doesn't focus on reverb — after all, most people have a perfectly good reverb unit already, and some of the more outlandish effects on offer here should appeal to dance producers. Pretty much all the effects work well, though I don't think any could be called outstanding, but remember this is a very low‑priced effects box that can do a lot of neat things that other multi‑effects boxes can't — not least in allowing direct external MIDI control over modulation for that non‑repetitive flanging effect. I also have to concede that this unit is quieter than most analogue pedals, and it compares favourably with more expensive digital effects boxes in that respect. The degree of external MIDI control is also particularly good for such a cost‑effective machine, though it's my experience that very few people actually get around to plugging a MIDI lead into any of their effects units.
The best features of the Modulizer Pro are the more off‑the‑wall effects, the filters and the stereo spreading treatments, which work fine. Operation is simple, the price is undeniably attractive and the build quality seems solid, so it really comes down to whether you need what the Modulizer Pro offers. If you're looking for something different to the usual reverb/delay/chorus box, give it a try.
- Ultra Phaser.
- Spatial Phaser: phaser plus stereo enhancement.
- Harmonic Enhancer.
- Auto Low‑pass.
- Auto High‑pass.
- Auto Band‑pass: all three Auto filters may be modulated from an internal LFO, externally, or from an envelope follower.
- Jetstream Flanger.
- Spatial Flanger: flanger plus stereo enhancement.
- Ultra Chorus: 8‑voice chorus.
- Stereo Imager: stereo width enhancement based on splitting the signal into its 'middle and side' component before processing.
- 3D Spacemaker: as Stereo Imager with '3D' effect.
- Denoiser: dynamic filter plus expander.
- Ultra Ambience: Early reflections program.
- Voice Canceller.
- Noise Gate.
- Ring Modulator.
- Vintager: simulated vinyl scratches with adjustable click level and noise colour.
- Tube Distortion.
- Guitar Combo: guitar amp simulation.
- Guitar Speaker.
- Super Bass: psychoacoustic bass enhancement achieved by adding higher harmonics rather than low ones.
- Resonator: resonant short delay with feedback and modulation.
- Attractive 1U package with mains power.
- Plenty of less obvious effects.
- Real‑time MIDI control.
- Some of the modulation effects could have been richer sounding.
- You need the manual to know what the Edit buttons do for each algorithm.
The Behringer Modulizer Pro is a very cost‑effective box providing slightly out‑of‑the‑ordinary effects. Will probably appeal to the dance market.