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Red Sound Federation BPM FX Pro

BPM Calculator/Effects Processor By Paul Farrer
Published October 1999

Red Sound Federation BPM FX Pro

It's shiny and colourful, it's equally at home in the MIDI studio or between the turntables in a club, and as effects processors go it's very, very clever. Paul Farrer prepares to enter Federation territory...

About 18 months ago I reviewed a curious little box of tricks, designed and built in Britain, for DJs and producers needing to calculate incoming bpm (beats‑per‑minute) values from an audio source and translate these in real time to MIDI clock messages. The company was Buckinghamshire‑based Red Sound Ltd, and the box in question was the Voyager 1 Beat Xtractor. The success of the Voyager 1 spawned the Micro BPM, Micro Sync and Micro Amp range of DJ bpm analysers, which have all paved the way for the launch of Red Sound's new flagship product. It's a unit that offers the potential user improved bpm‑calculation features based on those of the Voyager 1, plus four killer DJ‑friendly effects and an impressive MIDI spec. The Voyage continues...

Alien Lifeform

The Federation Pro's four effects each have dedicated inputs and outputs, so you can use all four in parallel if you so desire.The Federation Pro's four effects each have dedicated inputs and outputs, so you can use all four in parallel if you so desire.

It's unlikely that you'll have anything in your studio that looks like the Federation. It's a visually striking piece of kit that feels more like an analogue synth controller than an effects unit. Measuring 340 x 230 x 50mm, the Federation could hardly be described as cumbersome. However, if you include space at the rear for the various plugs and cables, you'll realistically need about a square foot of desk space to accommodate the unit — though an optional rackmounting kit is available.

Back‑panel furniture includes a 9V external PSU socket, on/off switch, and MIDI In, Out and Thru sockets. The unit's four effects processors each have their own set of stereo input and output phono sockets, so each effect can be accessed in parallel from a separate auxiliary send on a desk if required. For those with less complex setups (ie. those of us without four aux sends to spare!), a switch to the right of the phono sockets enables all the effects to be driven in series from a single pair of in/out sockets. This is an excellent idea, and one that maximises the Federation's usefulness. Whichever input configuration you choose, there's a tiny dual‑colour LED input peak‑level indicator above each set of phonos which, while not exactly perfect, just about does the job of making sure you don't overload the unit with incoming signals. The only other switch on the rear panel sets whether the effects draw their bpm information from the MIDI input or an incoming audio source.

Moving to the front, the upper portion of the stylish panel is split into four areas for the separate effects processors (Filter/LFO Flanger, Frequency Cutter, Delay and Spatial Panning System), each with its own independent control knobs, buttons and LED indicators.

In the centre of the unit is the ingenious joystick mixer. This controls the relative balance between the outputs of each of the effects, and in its centrally upright position allows all four effects to be heard equally. Although it's alarmingly similar to the front/rear stereo controls from early Ford Sierras, this is an amazingly quick way of balancing all your chosen effects at the same time. With all four effects processors going at once, moving the joystick about its axis creates some crazy and wonderful effects that would be near impossible if the Federation had simply come equipped with, for instance, four level faders.

The small 4‑character LED display above the joystick shows (if in a slightly limited way) calculated bpm information, and takes the user through various utility and edit pages. Like the input LEDs, this could hardly be described as a perfect system, particularly for fans of the large, bright backlit LCD displays that adorn everything from mixing desks to fridges and electric razors these days. Still, even in the depths of the utility pages — providing the well‑written manual is close by, to help decode some of the cryptic abbreviations made necessary by the 7‑segment LED — most operational aspects are very straightforward.

At the bottom of the front panel are eight 'soft' buttons that serve three main functions, namely: recalling, saving and comparing effect setup data (rather like stored 'scenes' in a digital mixer); synchronising the trigger rate of internal effects (1/4 = four times every beat, 1/2 = twice every beat, and so on); and recording, deleting and editing triggered effects as part of the 8‑step event sequencer in User Beats mode (see 'Beats Working' box elsewhere in this article). This allows users to customise trigger patterns that can synchronise complex rhythmic effects to incoming bpm signals. A manual Tap/Tempo button on the bottom left‑hand corner and a headphone socket on the top right‑hand side completes the front panel.

Don't Lose Your Tempo

At the heart of the Federation is the revolutionary V2 BPM Analysis Engine which started its life in the original Voyager 1. This cleverly 'listens' to the incoming audio signal, sets all the effects to work at that specific bpm rate and transmits the information as MIDI clock messages. This process is obviously aimed at the dance market — the beat calculation can only take place if there is a clearly discernible rhythmic element present. As did the Voyager 1, the Federation continuallypdates and modifies its bpm calculation to make sure it's always in perfect sync. Of course there may be sections in a track where the rhythm stops, and in these situations the Federation 'free‑wheels' at the last detected bpm until it picks up a new signal.

Red Sound have made some improvements to their beat‑analysis software for the Federation, and compared to the Voyager 1 it has a better chance of reading bpm rates from more obscure audio sources with less well defined beat information. In practice I found that the Federation worked fine with nearly every type of techno, hip‑hop, drum & bass and hardcore track I could throw at it. Its 'lockup' time was noticeably shorter than the Voyager 1's, and it seemed to be even more solid. It's worth noting that Red Sound are offering this software update free to existing Voyager 1 users in the form of a plug‑in EPROM (check out the company's web site for details).

The inclusion of the Tap/Tempo button is a great help if the Federation needs a push in the right direction, speed‑wise. Once it's hunting in the right place for a tempo signal, it's usually not long (a maximum of a couple of seconds) before it finds a strong enough beat to lock on to. The four directional cursors on the front panel also help in this situation, allowing the user to manually tweak the bpm and push or pull the position of the first beat of the bar if the Federation has misjudged where this should fall.

In Full Effect

The many knobs on its front panel give the Federation a distinctly analogue feel, and this is most apparent in the case of the four effects. Having nearly all effect parameters laid out right in front of you (as opposed to locked away in an obscure edit page) should rightly be seen as something of a minor revolution in the effects‑box world. I can't think of any other piece of outboard gear that encourages such radical experimentation with sound; even the most conservative of users will quickly find themselves being drawn towards the more harsh, grainy and destructive end of the sound‑processing spectrum. Another huge plus is that all of the knobs and buttons (including the mix joystick) transmit their changes via MIDI, so once the Federation is wired into your system, what was 'merely' an effects processor suddenly takes on a creative life of its own.

The main effects offered are as follows:

  • Filter/LFO/Flanger: the 12dB‑per‑octave resonant filter comes with familiar Frequency, Resonance and Envelope Modulation controls. For the less technically minded, this effect represents a fantastically creative way of screwing up your signal and making it sound as if it was mixed entirely through a Minimoog! If you prefer, the whole effect can be set to work as two types of dedicated flanger (perfect for that '70s‑style tape phasing effect) synchronised to the tempo of your track.
  • Cutter: this effect acts as a sort of gate which opens and closes in time with the calculated bpm of a track. As with the other effects, you can specify the speed of the gate in terms of how many times it opens and closes in each bar. There's also a waveform‑shape adjuster which provides sawtooth, reverse sawtooth and square‑wave gating pattern characteristics.
  • Delay: the delay section offers up to 1.5 seconds of delay and has familiar Repeat and Speed controls. Also featured is a 'Repro' control, which transforms the clean digital delay into one with a vintage tape‑style sound, and even beyond, into what Red Systems calls 'grunge'. The vintage tape‑delay effect is an extremely potent processing device, and if you turn the Speed knob quickly from one extreme to the other it replicates authentically the pitch‑modulation effects of varispeeding an open‑reel analogue tape machine. Fat Boy Slim and Chemical Brothers fans will particularly appreciate this one.
  • Panning: Red Sound's new gimmick is their Spatial Panning System, which splits an incoming audio signal into low‑, mid‑ and high‑frequency bands, then pans the separated frequencies across the stereo field in different directions, in time with the signal's bpm rate. You can define the frequency crossover points and also the pan directions. This is actually an incredibly sophisticated device, which makes the various frequency bands fly from left to right across each individual beat of the bar, creating an almost hallucinogenic 3D effect. I imagine that this would be something of a show‑stopper used in a club with six hundred ravers in, er... an advanced state of refreshment.
  • Superkill: almost tagged on at the last minute, and operating independently of the bpm engine, are the two Superkill buttons, one of which removes bass frequencies, while the other removes all the upper‑mid frequencies. Like many of the effects in the Federation there's a real low‑tech feel to this feature: it has the kind of attitude that says "don't ask how it works, and no, you can't edit it, but doesn't it sound great?"

Resistance Is Futile

The Federation BPM FX Pro is a truly unique and inspired product. For DJs it contains more than enough real‑time nastiness, accessible quickly and intelligently from the front panel. For studio users it offers a combination of impressive MIDI spec, multiple inputs, clean sound and wide variety of applications that should guarantee it success. As far as the effects themselves are concerned, the instant gratification count is high: the Federation offers loads of real‑time (MIDI‑transmitted) control and largely flawless sound processing. I'm not totally in love with the meagre LED display, the size of the LED input indicators, the external power supply, or the slightly long‑winded User Beats programming features. However, these hi‑tech gripes may be of little consequence to the huge number of non‑technophiles who will be blown away by the ease of use and sheer power this unit delivers by the bucketload.

As a harsh, futuristic‑sounding effects unit perfect for the dance market, the Federation is a hands‑down winner, and if you're bored with your polite multi‑effects software plug‑ins it's guaranteed to re‑ignite your love of all things outboard. In my opinion, this is one of the most innovative products of the year.

Beats Working

The Federation has a neat 'Live' feature which allows various effects to be spun in via the Tap button. This can be very effective if, for instance, you've set up a scorching flange or filter‑sweep effect but don't want it on the whole track all the time. While the track is playing, you simply select the required effect and tap out a funky rhythm on the Tap button (or trigger one via a MIDI device). This activates the flange/filter over the track, in time with the tapping or triggered playing.

Perhaps less accessible is the User Beat facility, which effectively records the tapping out of your funky 'effect on/off' rhythm and allows it to be quantised and edited for triggering at any time. There are two User Beat memory locations and each can store patterns of up to eight bars long. User Beats sounds like a great idea, but the small display and the awkwardness of creating an 8‑bar pattern with such a basic sequencer mean that it's not nearly as much fun as other facets of the Federation. Most studio‑based owners will undoubtedly opt instead for recording their effect‑triggering performances into their own MIDI sequencer which, of course, the Federation also allows.

Utility Mode

The nine pages in the Federation's utility mode deal with business such as master input gain, bpm range, MIDI channel setting, and data dump/load procedures. One interesting feature is the ability to reconfigure the order in which the effects appear when wired in series for 'single input' setup (see main text for details). You can select any order for the four main effects and this configuration, like all utility settings, is retained after power‑down.

Utility page 3 is for adjusting the working range of the bpm‑detection software. For average use this is set at 90‑180bpm, but it can be lowered to 60‑120 or, for speed garage freaks, a setting of 115‑230 can be selected.

Global effects setups can be stored in one of eight memory locations within the Federation, and you can dump and re‑load these via MIDI, en masse or individually.


  • Great‑sounding effects.
  • Affordable.
  • Excellent build quality.
  • Amazing bpm‑analysis features.


  • LED displays not to everyone's taste.
  • Only eight memory 'scene' locations.
  • User Beats Mode can be a bit tricky to program.


It's difficult not to admire the engineering and thought that has gone into the Federation BPM FX Pro. A wonderfully unique product that deserves to win thousands of friends in clubs and MIDI studios around the world.