Roland's sophisticated, yet highly affordable SRV3030 is the latest contender in the competitive market for dedicated reverb units. Paul White tries it out.
Think of professional reverb and the names Lexicon, Eventide and TC Electronics are probably the first to come to mind, but there's a case for adding Roland to that list too. Over the years, Roland have consistently produced reverb processors of very high quality, but somehow they seem not to have been taken as seriously as they perhaps deserved.
Clearly the company are hoping that the SRV3030 dedicated reverb processor will help redress that balance: not only have they tried to match the sound quality and key features of the competition (such as patch searching by category), they've also added a few new twists of their own, like dynamic morphing between different reverb settings, inbuilt sampled sounds for evaluating the reverb patches, and a three‑level editing system so you can be as casual or 'anorakish' as you like when it comes to patch creation.
Add to that 24‑bit A‑D converters, RSS stereo width enhancement processing, numerous routing options that allow the dual reverb engines to work independently or together, digital I/O (SRV3030D only), and it's evident that this is a serious attempt to produce a quality reverb unit that will tempt buyers away from the mid‑priced Lexicon and TC units. Best of all, the price is very attractive, even if you go for the more expensive SRV3030D with the digital I/O option.
The SRV3030 is a smartly styled 1U processor with stereo analogue I/O on both balanced jacks and XLRs. MIDI In and Out/Thru sockets are fitted, and on the the SRV3030D model only, there is digital S/PDIF I/O on phono connectors (but no AES‑EBU on XLRs). Note that you can't upgrade an SRV3030 to an SRV3030D, so if you feel the digital option might be needed at some time in the future, make sure you choose the latter. Control jacks are available for an optional footswitch (bypass) and an expression pedal for controlling input level.
Though the SRV3030 is a highly sophisticated digital reverb unit, the front‑panel controls are mercifully few and are mainly dedicated to single tasks rather than being multi‑function. The display makes use of instrument icons to show what category a reverb belongs to, and all the editable parameters may be accessed as a single list — there are no forking menus.
To the right of the backlit LCD window are three knobs that, in the simplest edit mode, can be used directly to access the Reverb Level, Reverb Time and one other function (Assignable) that varies depending on the patch called up. In the more in‑depth editing modes, these knobs may be used to access up to three on‑screen parameter values per page, where nice little moving slider icons augment the numerical values. Indeed, the whole interface features cheerful little icons and seems to follow the philosophy set by Roland's V‑Drum.
A continuous control knob with an integral push switch is used both for patch selection and loading, and for navigating the parameter lists when editing. Other than that, there are just eight buttons relating to Bank, Category, Memory, System, EZ Edit, Custom (Edit), Unit A/B and Bypass, plus one further button (Preview) for triggering little sound samples with which to check out the current patch. For example, vocal reverbs have an associated male voice sample saying the word 'check' while drum reverbs have a drum hit, guitar reverbs have a plucked guitar sample and so on. If this kind of thing appeals to you, you can load your own audition samples of up to three seconds each into a PCMCIA memory card, which may also be used to extend the 100 user memories up to around 1000. There are 100 factory patches, most of which provide very good starting points for your own edits.
At the heart of the SRV3030 are two reverb processors, A and B. These may be used separately as mono in, stereo out processors, or combined in series or parallel. In addition, there's a pre‑reverb compressor within the normal reverb algorithm, plus two further processing blocks, one for the RSS stereo width expansion (based on the algorithms used in Roland's dedicated RSS 3D sound processor) and an effects block based on modulated delay effects. The effects block may be placed after either or both reverb blocks but, oddly, it can't be positioned before the reverb input to add 'spin' or 'swirl' to the reverb.
One of the less usual routing options is the so‑called Dynamic Separator, which sums both inputs to mono, then routes them to reverb processor A or B depending on the input signal's dynamic and spectral characteristics. The triggering can be set to operate from the input signal's attack, loudness or note density, or it may be set to Drum, where the system attempts to separate out bass drums from the rest of the kit. This is useful for applying reverb to an already‑mixed drum kit, because by careful setting up, it is possible to avoid adding reverb (or too much reverb at any rate) to any beats upon which the bass drum falls. The manual explains in great depth how Dynamic Separation may be set up, but then fails to give any examples of where it may be useful. However, there are some factory patches featuring this function that can give you an idea of what to expect — vocal reverbs that get longer on loud notes and so forth. In principle, this is a very useful feature, but what the system badly needs is some sort of readout that shows you when reverb A changes to reverb B so that you can gauge the triggering of your input signal. As it is, setting up is rather hit‑and‑miss.
The simplest way to edit patches is just to use the three knobs below the display — you don't even have to enter an edit mode, though if you want to keep the changes, you'll need to save the modified patch. Reverb level and time are always adjustable, but the assign knob may be mapped to one or more other parameters depending on the reverb patch called up. For example, on some patches it changes the level of early reflections. Often these simple adjustments will be all you need to force a preset to fit in with what you're doing, but if you need more control, EZ Edit gives it to you.
Hitting EZ Edit gets you access to a list of up to nine parameters (spread over three pages) for reverb processors A and B (you use the A/B button to choose which reverb engine to edit), some of which (for example room size and wall type) are actually linked to multiple, more complex parameters deeper within the system. For normal reverbs, EZ Edit allows you to access Mix Balance, Reverb Time, Liveness, Room Size, Wall Type, Distance, Reverb Unit, Output Level and Effect.
To edit a reverb in depth or to alter the basic routing structure, it's necessary to go into the Custom edit mode, which works much like EZ Edit but allows you unrestricted access to all user parameters. Again you can select a reverb type as well as its reverb time and level, but you also get to adjust reverb density, reverb size, release density, brilliance, stereo width, compressor settings, HF and LF damping, early reflections balance, early reflection diffusion characteristics and size, delay times, early reflections pan and hi‑cut EQ, and so on. You can even move the first four early reflections if their current position offends you in any way! On top of that, there are various parameters that can be made to respond either positively or negatively to Dynamic Control, starting with reverb level but also including density, early reflections level and early reflection diffusion.
When gated, non‑linear or ambient reverbs are in use, the available parameter list changes, removing some parameters and adding others as appropriate. Navigation and control remains much the same though.
The type of reverb is set up at the patch Structure level — here you can choose from Reverb, Ambience, Gate or Non‑linear. Eight ambience types are available, and Dynamic Control may again be used to vary the reflection level in accordance with the input signal dynamics. It's also possible to adjust the size of the ambient room, HF damping, and reflection density — and this time it's possible to adjust the timing of the first 12 individual reflections.
The gated reverbs don't just give you a burst of early reflections but rather apply a gate envelope to the reverb, triggered by the input signal exceeding a threshold set by the user. This is more akin to the way true gated reverb is created in the studio using separate gates and reverb processors, though the non‑linear section can also be used to create gated‑type effects.
Non‑linear reverbs (which include reverse reverbs) are generated in a similar way to ambience by using just the early reflections, but this time a four‑stage level envelope can be applied. Dynamic Control is possible over level and density. Three variations of non‑linear effects are available: normal, panning left to right and panning right to left.
Each of the two reverb engines may be processed through a three‑band parametric equaliser where the upper and lower bands may be switched for either band‑pass or shelving operation. And of course, there are the effects, though it must be stressed that these are provided to augment the reverb — the SRV3030 has no pretensions to being a multi‑effects unit.
The SRV3030 features one stereo effects block and one stereo RSS block that may be used to treat the output from either or both (mixed) reverb sections. RSS is not adjustable other than to select (in the System menu) between modes optimised for headphones and loudspeakers. Unlike the original RSS system, it doesn't appear to try to place sounds behind the listener, but rather widens the stereo image and makes the reverb appear to have greater depth. It's subtle but worth using.
The effect section can function as a resonator, a phaser or a chorus/flanger, and one aain Dynamic Control may be used to influence the effect level, modulation frequency and modulation depth. Resonator delays the direct sound to produce a metallic, filtered sound, while the phaser and chorus/flanger variations work much as you'd expect. The modulation rate, depth and resonance is adjustable, and once you get to the end of the edit parameter list, you can give your patch a name and assign it one of five icons and one of 11 preview samples. You can also assign up to two parameters to each of the three control knobs for real‑time tweaking.
At a global level, continuous MIDI controllers may be used to vary the input level, to trigger the preview samples (though why would you want to?) and to operate the bypass function. At patch level, up to four parameters may be assigned to MIDI continuous controllers. In all cases, the start and end values of the control range may be defined. Of course patches may be changed via MIDI bank and program change commands, and patches may be dumped or loaded to a suitable MIDI storage device via SysEx.
When I was a lad, we were told that you could judge the quality of an electric train set not by how fast it could go, but by how slow it would go before it stalled. A similar thing is true of reverb units — virtually any old reverb unit can deliver an impressively long reverb (and this particular unit can create reverb tails that last for almost a whole song!), but only the good ones can give you a small room or small plate that sounds natural. I'm pleased to say that with the inclusion of so many good ambience patches, the SRV3030 does a great job in this area, right down to creating rooms so small and dry that they almost sound drier than the original sound. Live drum rooms are no problem for this little box. The 24‑bit engine delivers clean, smooth reverb tails, and there's no ringing except on the plate settings where it is needed for authenticity.
There are so many good factory patches that I'd imagine most users will be able to get what they want by going no further than the EZ Edit mode, though the only thing I found hard to set up in the Custom edit menu was the Dynamic Control system, as you never really know how the algorithm that routes the signal to one reverb engine or the other is responding to your signal dynamics. Again, if you're unsure, there are several factory patches that show off Dynamic Control to good advantage and that can be tweaked as necessary. I have to admit that the Dynamic Control feature is much smoother and more transparent than I had expected — which is a good thing. Most of the time you don't notice anything is happening at all until you sit down and analyse what's going on, and used carefully, the effect can add clarity and dynamics to a mix. Similarly the RSS processor widens the stereo image and increases the illusion of space, but it doesn't jump out at you.
I know that some people have given Roland's manuals a hard time in the past, but this one if reasonably concise and easy to follow. It falls down slightly in not explaining what some of the parameters really do, or how you might go about setting up Dynamic Control effectively, but it gets you up and running pretty quickly with the necessary basics. Fortunately, the operating system is reasonably straightforward, so it doesn't take long to get into patch editing.
The reverb effects themselves are versatile, smooth and very effective in creating both real rooms and impossible spaces. The small rooms and ambience programs are particularly good, though why there isn't an option to patch the modulation effects before the reverb blocks remains a mystery as this would have added further to the flexibility of the machine. I don't think the effects are quite in the Lexicon PCM90 class, but the SRV3030 costs around a third of the price and is arguably easier to get around. Every studio needs one good reverb unit, so if you're on a tight budget but still demand quality and versatility, the SRV3030 has a lot to commend it.
The Roland SRV3030 provides more reverb types than most processors, though the normal reverb listing doesn't include gated, reverse or ambient variations. Instead you get 12 basic reverb types plus a choice of eight ambience algorithms, 12 gated algorithms and a non‑linear section for adding amplitude envelopes to early reflection patterns. It's in the non‑linear section that gated reverb effects may be set up. The choice of whether to use normal, gated, non‑linear or ambience must be made at the signal routing stage within the Custom edit menu.
The main reverb types are:
- Room 1
- Room 2
- Room 3
- Hall 1
- Hall 2
- Hall 3
- Plate 1
- Plate 2
- Plate 3
- Plate 4
- Plate 5
- High‑quality reverb algorithms.
- Straightforward operating system.
- Useful additional features.
- Effects block can't be placed before the reverb blocks.
- Dynamic Control not always easy to set up.
A surprisingly classy studio reverb at a home studio price.