A low-cost multi-effects unit with a huge repertoire of effects.
Although software plug-ins have made huge inroads into studio recording, hardware effects and processors shown no sign of becoming extinct. Indeed, some of the lower-cost units can cost significantly less than an equivalent set of effects plug-ins, which makes them attractive in a number of areas, including hardware-based studios, live sound rigs and software studios with sufficient I/O to accommodate them. The name Virtualizer may not be new, but this Pro model, which can run both its channels independently, claims 71 new effect types, including improved reverberation capability.
To simplify editing, each algorithm has no more than seven editable parameters (not counting high- and low-pass filters) and there are 100 user memories for patch storage as well as 100 factory presets. It's also good to see that the user patches come filled with effects that are not simply copies of the factory patches. All the familiar effects types are available, from reverb and delay to pitch-shifting, modulation and rotary-speaker simulation, but, as you might expect, there are lots of other treatments in there including enhancers, stereo width manipulators, bass enhancers, equalisers, distortion effects, speaker simulators, vinyl emulators and so on.
The 1U unit uses 24-bit converters running at a 46.875kHz sample rate, providing a 20Hz to 20kHz bandwidth (±3dB) and a signal-to-noise ratio of 91dB unweighted. As there's no digital I/O, it doesn't matter that this is non-standard. Analogue I/O (stereo, both in and out) is provided on both balanced jacks and XLRs, with buttons for selecting -10dBv or +4dBu operating levels (independently for each channel). MIDI In, Out and Thru connectors are fitted to allow remote patch selection, real-time parameter control and, according to the manual, even patch editing via PC software (not included, nor indeed mentioned again elsewhere in the manual). Patches may be saved and restored via MIDI SysEx using any external MIDI recording device that can handle SysEx.
Surfacemount technology is used both to expedite manufacturing and to improve reliability, and, unlike some devices that use regular potentiometers as input devices, the Virtualizer Pro features five small rotary encoders and one large encoder as the main data entry wheel. Power is provided through an IEC mains socket, so there are no wall warts or carpet carbuncles to worry about.
The only sign that this is a budget product is that it uses four alpha/numeric LED read-outs rather than an LCD, so patches can only be numbered, not named, though abbreviated parameter names are visible when editing. Several status LEDs to the left of the numeric read-out depict the effects type (there are eight algorithm groups) and also the units of the values being adjusted (percent, decibels, hertz or seconds). Every patch has at least four editable parameters, which are adjusted via the four rotary edit controls. Up to two pages of effect parameters can be accessed, with a further level addressing mix, MIDI and I/O settings. Three LEDs show which page the controls are currently addressing, and the edit modes are clearly marked. The master wet/dry mix is set using the fifth small encoder, which also doubles as a bypass control courtesy of an integral push switch, though when an EQ algorithm is loaded, where mix would have no meaning, the control functions instead as a gain adjustment.
Presets are dialled up using the large data wheel after first selecting the Preset button, which is one of the six buttons to the left of the data wheel. New effects are based on the 71 effect algorithms — pressing Effect and using the data wheel scrolls through them. The Edit button gets you into Edit mode while Store saves the edited patch into any desired user patch location. While the Store LED is blinking pending a final jab at the button, the Compare key allows the original and edited patches to be compared. The Setup key gets you into the utility mode, more of which later.
Going back to the effect algorithms, many of these are based round a single effect, but there are also a number of combination programs, such as distortion fed via a flanger, or modulation fed through a reverb. The algorithms also determine the signal routing, where some patches are dual mono-in, mono-out, some are stereo-in, stereo-out, and others allow the two channels to operate as independent mono-in, stereo-out devices, where the two stereo outputs are summed. The Mix parameter accessed using the small encoders sets the signal balance within the algorithm when multiple effects are in use, while the main Mix control sets the overall wet/dry mix. Additionally, the setup menu enables the unit to be configured as mono/stereo in and also provides for a global 100 percent wet mix setting for where the unit is to be used in a mixer effect send loop. This is a real blessing, as there's nothing worse than having to adjust the mix setting on every patch. Setup also allows certain dual effect programs to be configured as serial or parallel. MIDI setup allows any MIDI channel to be selected, and you can decide whether MIDI controller information is sent and received. The MIDI Continuous controllers used by the Virtualizer Pro run from 102 to 116, and their destinations vary depending on the effect selected.
Loading a new algorithm takes roughly one second after you stop turning the data wheel and, as you'd expect, all the usual reverb types are available, from stage and ambience up to plates, halls and cathedrals. There's even a spring reverb simulation for guitar players who can't live without the 'sproing'. On top of that there are gated and reverse options, as well as stereo, tape and ping-pong delay variants, where tape creates progressively duller sounding repeats.
Joining the usual modulation suspects are auto-panning and pitch-shifting in both mono and stereo. Dynamics are represented by compressor/limiter, expander, gate, split-band compression, denoising (which seems to be based around an expander, possibly in conjunction with some dynamic filtering), de-essing, and something called Wave designer, which is essentially an input triggered envelope shaper. The psychoacoustic enhancement section comprises both exciter and enhancer working on different principles, a sub-bass process, two types of stereo-image expander and even a binauraliser designed expand the stereo image using interchannel crosstalk cancellation.
As far as EQ goes, there's a choice of high or low-pass filtering, parametric EQ or an eight-band graphic EQ, while for the guitarist (or dance producer into lo-fi), there are four types of overdrive/distortion, speaker simulation (eight cabinet types), ring modulation and a dedicated lo-fi processor that adds both noise and hum. The special effects section offers more in that vein, with vinyl simulation plus a simple five-second phrase sampler. Unusually for a budget effects box, there's also a rather neat vocoder, a vocal canceller for taking out centrally panned mid-range sounds, plus a resonant filter. The combination effects offer the various modulation and pitch effects with reverb; delay with reverb; tremolo with reverb; plus a choice of chorus, flanger, pitch or tremolo with delay. Detailed block diagrams are included for each algorithm.
This range of Behringer effects has always offered great value for money, but I've never been convinced that the quality of effects lives up to serious studio expectations. Happily, the Virtualizer Pro does sound rather better, especially in the reverb department, where the reverb now knits convincingly with the dry sound and exhibits a natural, warm decay characteristic. It's still not up there with the better Lexicon or TC units, but then neither would you expect that at the price. However, it would make an ideal main reverb in the budget-conscious project studio and could be used in a supporting role for more serious recording work. It also includes some useful ambience treatments for creating a sense of space without swamping the sound in reverb.
Of course, the effects don't stop with reverb — having a tape delay algorithm completes the repertoire of stock delay-based effects, while the chorus effects are warmer and more analogue-sounding than I remember from previous models. I was particularly taken by the vintage flanger preset, which reminded me of an original Electro-harmonix Electric Mistress, but without the noise, and, while the rotary speaker simulations wouldn't fool Hugh Robjohns or Gordon Reid for a moment, they are musically attractive and fall somewhere between a true rotary speaker and a tweaked flanger.
I've never tried a pitch shifter that I've been happy with that cost less than a small car, but the one provided here is quite a bit smoother than you'd expect to find in a budget unit, and is more than adequate for layering with other sounds or for fine detuning/chorus. And then there's the amp and speaker modelling, which again I don't think rivals stand-alone preamps such as the Line 6 Pod or Behringer's own V-Amp, but it is still more usable than I was expecting and doesn't have that awful gritty edge that so many economy amp simulators seem to. In combination with a little compression and EQ, you can get a very passable blues or rock sound. The lo-fi effects sound just as nasty as you'd expect them to and the vinyl scratches are, well, scratchy. The inclusion of a simple vocoder is a great bonus, as is the phrase sampler, but for me the decent reverbs and the warm modulated delay effects are the best reason to choose this unit.
In fact the only real dislikes I have centre around the lack of a proper display. Certainly the designers have done the best they can to make the system friendly — the knobs briefly display an abridged parameter name when you first turn them — but that's not the same as seeing a full and complete description of each parameter and its current value, as you'd expect to see when using a piece of gear equipped with an LCD readout. I don't know what a good display would have added to the price, but it would probably have been worth it. The other feature the unit could usefully have incorporated, given its better-than-average amp and speaker emulation capabilities, is a high-impedance instrument input, possibly with an amp voicing EQ circuit, but as it is you'll need to use a DI box and a touch of high EQ to get the best results with electric guitars.
The Virtualizer Pro is a smart-looking box that, in the main, sounds good and has a simple user interface. Perhaps it's because it looks more expensive than it is that I complained about the lack of an LCD readout, but it really is more awkward to program something using just a four character display, not to mention finding your patches once you've saved them. I don't think I could remember what 100 user patches were from their numbers alone. That issue aside, there's little to complain about when you take the relatively low cost into consideration. Some users may prefer more programmability, but, as the basic effects are good in the first place, you don't really need to change very much to customise them. In any event, I'd rather have a simpler unit that I can be bothered to program than a more sophisticated one that intimidates you into sticking with the presets.
The Virtualizer Pro is a smart, easy-to-operate multi-effect processor that handles all the usual effects well and that manages to fit in a lot of less obvious effects too. It can be used in dual-channel mode, if you need to treat two different aux sends at once, and the reverb quality is certainly a step up from earlier Virtualizer products. If you want good-quality multi-effects at a bargain-basement price, this is a good place to start looking.