This modern take on the Lexicon 224 may be a pedal, but it has applications that go way beyond guitar.
The CXM 1978, a joint venture between Chase Bliss Audio and stompbox pioneers Meris, is based on a classic studio reverb processor: the Lexicon 224 which, along with its instantly recognisable white LARC remote controller, started to appear in recording studios in 1978. I work in a studio that has a vintage 224 and its appeal to me is obvious. But while the CXM 1978 does set out to replicate that sound, there are also some welcome modern touches, including many features not found on the original device.
Those familiar with the brand will recognise Chase Bliss’s Automatone format from their preamp collaboration with Benson Amplifiers. It’s an elegant design, this time with a white/cream body and complementary side panels, and as with all Chase Bliss Audio products I’ve used it’s sturdy and has been built to a high standard. As well as the footswitches, there are plenty of finger‑friendly controls and it caters for balanced line‑level I/O, with separate TRS jacks for the left and right channels. The whole package is only marginally wider than a LARC too, and it will just as happily sit on a desktop or mixing console as it will on a pedalboard. The pedal accepts a 9V centre‑negative DC input (250mA), but internally this is stepped up to provide ±15V power rails.
Probably the first thing you notice is the bank of six faders, for which there’s an optional dust cover/protector. They feel gorgeous, and are motorised and fully automatable; they react to preset changes, MIDI, control voltage and expression pedal inputs, and give you a helpful visual indication of what’s happening behind the scenes.
Chase Bliss provide an extensive list of CC messages for MIDI, control voltage and expression, so that side of things is incredibly easy to configure, and the full‑size MIDI In and Thru DINs make it easy to hook up. I used an LFO on my Empress ZOIA pedal to control the reverb parameters, but it could just as easily work with a MIDI switching system or be controlled by your DAW. The pedal can store/recall up to 30 presets spread over several banks, all of which are accessible via the footswitches or MIDI.
The CXM 1978 has an interesting approach to controlling the reverb time. Rather than offer a single decay control, it adopts a split‑band approach with EQ‑style and crossover controls. Adjusting these faders does more than you might think: as Chase Bliss put it, they allow you to “set the absorption of the walls that make up the reverb tank”. In other words, just as with an acoustic reverb, the tone and decay behaviour are intrinsically linked.
Cross sets the crossover point (from 0Hz to 1.7kHz) for the Bass and Mids controls: everything above the crossover is tweaked by the Mids control and everything below it by the Bass. In use this is fantastic: it makes it really simple to tailor different decay times and behaviours for the Mids and Bass. It’s very handy if you want to cut low‑end reverb on busier sections of a track, or boost them to create a pad of bass reverb without muddying up the mids. The Treble control seems to be more than an EQ too, and interacts with the Bass/Mids behaviour. Set at its lowest, Treble will darken the reverb (“increasing absorption in the reverb tank”) and, as you’d expect, things get progressively brighter as you bring it up. But even with Mids and Bass at maximum the decay time will remain fairly short while Treble is turned down.
There’s also a Mix fader, which blends between the 100‑percent wet (reverb) and dry (input) signals, and another for Pre‑Dly, which sets the amount of pre‑delay (the delay after the dry sound before the reverb begins).
The overall length of the delay and fidelity of the effect are determined by the Clock switch which, like the others here, is a stylish arcade‑style metal button with bevelled surround. This one offers three Clock modes: Standard, Hifi and Lofi. Standard is billed as the classic 224 mode, and uses a 24kHz sample rate with 16‑bit conversion, and offers a maximum 168ms pre‑delay. Hifi is a cleaner, more up‑to‑date variation on the same theme, using a 48kHz sample rate and 32‑bit conversion, with a maximum 42ms pre‑delay and, naturally, a lower noise floor.
While those modes are great they’re probably just the sort of thing you’d expect of a ‘modern 224’, but Lofi offers something a little different. As the name suggests, this can be used to degrade your signal in a deliberate way, and it works in a similar way to a bucket‑brigade delay: the Pre‑Dly fader acts like a BBD’s time knob: the higher you set this the more your signal will fall apart, with the sample rate varying between 48 and 2.4 kHz. It operates at 16‑bits and offers a maximum pre‑delay of 1.7 seconds.
Lofi mode is great for adding in glittering shards of degradation.
All three modes sound great. I’ve tended to end up working most of the time in Standard mode, though perhaps that’s a matter of familiarity as much as anything. The team really seem to have captured the essence of the 224 in Standard mode: with its warm tone, and imperfect musical nuances from the converters; it feels to me like it’s all there and is certainly very reminiscent of the vintage 224 in the studio where I work. But I’ve also frequently wanted to use Lofi mode, which is great for adding in glittering shards of degradation. This mode worked especially well for me when I patched in a modulation source to the Pre‑Dly fader/parameter; using an expression pedal for this was so much fun!
The Type button gives you access to the three different reverb algorithms: Room, Plate and Hall. With the tap of another button you also have control over the reverb’s diffusion (low, medium, high); this sets how ‘smeared’ the attack phase of the reverb is. Yet another button is Tank Mod, which determines the rate of modulation applied to various parameters — I love modulation on reverb and the CXM 1978 did not disappoint. Low is dialled back to the point where it just adds a feeling of movement, whereas Medium and High take you into territory closer to a chorus or even Leslie speaker effect.
For guitar — this is a pedal, after all! — I generally tend to gravitate towards plate reverbs. But while the CXM 1978’s Plate is lovely, I actually found that I frequently preferred the Hall algorithm; having the ability to sculpt that sound using the ‘EQ’ faders made it really usable. It’s easy to create dreamy, ethereal spaces while controlling the low‑end that can otherwise overwhelm a guitar amp/cab. The Room algorithm is fantastic for putting your dry signal in a complimentary space and blends right in, without any of the obvious boxiness some pedals’ Room settings create.
I want to make a point of mentioning just how beautiful this reverb can be as an aux effect for mixing. I recently mixed a folk album that included a trumpet player, and their instrument was recorded at close proximity so sounded pretty dry. I sent it out to the CXM 1978 on the Plate setting, looking for a little ambience to fill out the sound, and within moments I had a perfect result dialled in — the faders make it so immediate and intuitive to tweak — and I found Standard mode suited this particular track, with its vintage feel. I was printing the wet signal back to the DAW before I knew it!
One slight misgiving is that when you change your reverb type, whether you use a button on the pedal or a MIDI signal, there’s an audible drop‑out while the pedal changes settings. Typically this isn’t a huge problem when programming, recording or practicing. However, one of the obvious attractions of a compact pedal is that you can take it on stage, and when playing live this can be much more annoying — a ‘trails on’ mode to allow the decay of one setting to continue while you smoothly change patches would be a big improvement.
Overall, then, I am a big fan of the CXM 1978. When thought of as a guitar pedal the price might seem pretty steep, and I suppose that might put some people off. But with stereo balanced line‑level I/O on board it is not at all limited to use with guitar, and when you compare its price with that of rack units of similar stature, it makes much more sense.
There are now some brilliant reverb plug‑ins with Lexicon vibes (Valhalla’s VintageVerb, Relab LX480 and UA’s 224 emulation for the UAD platform, for example) but most focus on recreating that device’s sound and don’t tend to try very hard to deliver much different. Because of this, the CXM 1978 felt more interesting to me, and its physical form makes it quick and easy to use. If you are willing to invest in this pedal, then, you will be treated to exceptional sound quality and flexible control over all parameters. It would be a wonderful addition to any pedalboard, synth or studio mixing setup.
- Sound quality is exceptional.
- Very reminiscent of the vintage unit.
- MIDI/Exp/CV control makes this a versatile pedal.
- 30 preset slots.
- Not exactly an impulse purchase!
- Reverb drops when changing between modes.
The CXM 1978 offers all the lush charm of the Lexicon 224 but adds lots of modern niceties too — all in a convenient box that works as well on the desktop as on a pedalboard.