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Sony HR-MP5

Multi-effects Processor By Paul White
Published April 1994

What can Sony's new effects processor offer that its competitors don't already have? Paul White took the new Sony HR‑MP5 into his studio to find out.

Sony's DPS series dedicated reverb, delay and modulation effects attracted encouraging comments from all quarters — but I never met anyone who actually bought one! However, far from being disillusioned by the modest sales of these otherwise fine products, Sony have gone on to develop a pair of half‑rack multi‑effects processors which incorporate some of the best features from all three machines, yet cost little more than half the price of any one of them. One, the HR GP5, is intended for guitar use, and may well be reviewed by us at some time in the future. The other, reviewed here, is designed to supply a more general need, both live and in the studio.

Unlike its more costly cousins, the forgettably named (excuse me while I turn to the front page of the manual to remind me what it's called) HR‑MP5 isn't a dedicated single‑effect unit, but neither does it offer the degree of simultaneous effects processing we've come to expect from contemporary multi‑effects processors. I like to think of it as the equivalent of two dedicated effects units in one box. The two units, or blocks, can be patched in any order, either in series or parallel, and the routing allows for the processing of two mono signals rather than one stereo or one mono signal, should this be deemed useful. The two individual effects blocks can be set to generate one effect at a time, and both offer a slightly different choice of effects, though 2‑band EQ is always available in addition to whatever else the block has to offer. Some of the listed effects are actually combination effects, so the limitation of only two simultaneous effects blocks isn't as restricting as it might at first appear. For example, Reverse Shift combines something that sounds like reverse reverb with pitch shifting, yet counts as a single effects block.

The unit has unbalanced jacks for both input channels and both output channels. MIDI In and Out DINs are fitted (though there's no separate Thru), and there's a mini DIN socket for connection to the optional foot controller, which is designed for patch switching in live applications.

On the front panel, there are few obvious surprises, though the LCD is distinguished not only by its size and brightness, but also by the use of custom graphic icons, which cheer the place up a bit. The patch title is displayed in particularly large type, making it easy to read on stage or in a large studio.

Those looking for increment/decrement buttons will find none here. Nudging the patch number or edit data up and down is handled by the concentric controller, over on the right of the front panel, which is set out rather like the shuttle/jog wheel on a video edit machine. The 'fine' inner controller can be turned continuously and is detented so that you can feel when you've moved round by one step. The outer wheel is centre sprung and acts as a 'coarse' control, which steps faster the further you push the wheel from centre. This proved to be quite a quick way of getting around, though I found myself using the fine control for most jobs, as it's far easier to manipulate.

As is the case with most effects units (and synths, for that matter) the memory is divided up into factory presets and user memories. The first 100 patches are the presets, and though they can't be edited in situ, it is possible to make the necessary changes and then store the edited patch into one of the user memories. The editing follows a very conventional, hierarchical menu system and the row of buttons (marked A to F) below the LCD are used to select which of the options shown on the screen is to be delved into next.

The data wheels are used to change parameter values in the time‑honoured fashion, and because of the logical screen layout, you're not constantly looking at the manual to see what to do next. The most obvious effect parameters are revealed first, but some treatments have more extensive editing facilities, which means that there's often a few additional pages to explore if you so wish. In many cases, parameters are separately adjustable for the left and right channels, so you can create reverbs with more pre‑delay on the right than on the left, and so on.

A nice touch is a built‑in headphone amp, with its own volume control, and a front‑panel jack allowing a standard volume pedal to be used for real‑time effects control, such as wah wah or volume. A single tri‑coloured LED is used to routinely check the input level, but a deft button push or two converts the LCD into a stereo input meter, an output meter, or a tuner — very nice.

The technical credentials of this machine are particularly impressive, with 48kHz sampling and 1‑bit, 64 times oversampling converters providing 18‑bit resolution at both the A‑D and D‑A stages. This translates to a signal‑to‑noise ratio of better than 92dB, an effects bandwidth of 22kHz and a distortion figure of less than 0.01%. The input and output levels are optimised for ‑10dBv operation, but I had no problem interfacing the unit with my +4dBu console.

Though the HR‑MP5 might appear numerically challenged in the superfluous bells and whistles department, the effects it does produce are technically clean and artistically usable.

The HR‑MP5's System edit mode deals with display options, setting the clock (yes, there's a clock — and it has a calendar function!), memory management such as copying or moving patches, setting the pedal type and range and, of course, the inevitable barrage of MIDI parameters for patch change, data dumping and real‑time control. The HR‑MP5 responds to MIDI Program Change, Control Change, Channel Pressure and Pitch Bend commands, and can handle SysEx dumping and restoring of both individual and global patch data. Patches may also be named from within the System menu, and any of the 200 patches may be allocated a MIDI Program Change number in the range 1‑128. Real‑time MIDI control of many of the effect parameters is possible, though the actual parameters that may be controlled vary from effect to effect. Four channels are provided for real‑time MIDI control and the user can set the range of control as well as the controller type and destination parameter. Additionally, it is possible to link parameters for simultaneous operation by the same controller.

The Sounds

Ultimately, an effects processor stands or falls by the quality of its sounds, and though some of the effects combinations available from the HR‑MP5 are arguably less showy than you might expect from something that can create ten scrillion effects at the same time, they exude a quality and clarity that no amount of stacking cheap effects can match. Most of the presets are also musically useful — a novel concept!

As a straightforward reverb unit, the HR‑MP5 performs extremely well; it is able to cope convincingly with all the standard room/hall/plate scenarios, yet there are a few welcome augmentations, such as Ducking Reverb, and combinations of reverb and subtle modulation which help keep a sound moving without making the result too gimmicky.

The delay section proffers the usual selection of stereo and multi‑tapped delays, the maximum delay time being a little over half a second, but there's also Ducked Delay and the unusual envelope‑sensitive Sweep Delay. All the modulation effects are excellent, with all the standards, plus very acceptable simulations of rotating speakers, Dimension Chorus (which isn't unlike the Roland Dimension D), and one of the best tape flanging simulations I've heard to date. The fact that each effects block contains an equaliser helps in customising the effects; though the basic equaliser is only two‑band, it can be positioned at either the input or output of its block, with both cut‑off frequency and cut/boost level variable by the user.

Also worthy of mention are the envelope‑sensitive Wah and filter effects, the Auto Panner and the Intelligent Pitch Shifter. The latter may be set to create an automatic harmony based on a choice of preset scale types, or the harmony rules may be modified by the user. Because the shifter needs to track the pitch of the input signal, it works only with monophonic lines, and though the tracking accuracy is generally impressive, even with guitar, there is a slight delay after playing before the harmony picks up the new note. Though some modulation can be heard in the pitch‑shifted signal, it isn't unduly offensive; the shifting is really very competent for a unit in this price range.

The sub‑bass generator and ring modulator are also unusual additions to a unit of this type, and both seem to work exceptionally well. Though the workings of the sub‑bass generator aren't fully explained, I get the impression that it works on a similar principle to the dbx 120XP Boom Box, which simply adds a sub‑octave to existing bass sounds.

For the guitarist, the amp simulator works well enough, but the distortion and overdrive effects don't really convince me. If you're a guitarist, I think you're still better off plugging in your old analogue fuzz box and just using the HR‑MP5's speaker simulator which, incidentally, offers a choice of four amplifier types.


Though the HR‑MP5 might appear numerically challenged in the superfluous bells and whistles department, the effects it does produce are technically clean and artistically usable, with enough variation to allow you to come up with some truly new combinations. The envelope‑related effects are particularly good for creating dynamic, expressive effects that interact with the programme material being processed, while the reverbs and modulation effects stand comparison with all but perhaps the very top‑end professional systems. In this era of digital recording, where quality has finally become as important as quantity, the HR‑MP5 stands out as being one of the few affordable effects units that really offers professional quality, both sonically and in terms of its technical specification.

It's always hard to sum up the sound of an effects unit in mere words, but I felt the HR‑MP5 blended well with the sound being processed rather than sounding 'stuck on top', the only real disappointment being the guitar overdrive patch. Though the 22kHz bandwidth might suggest bright, hard sounds, I found exactly the opposite to be true, with most of the patches exuding a sense of warmth and depth, as well as clarity. I also liked how the effects managed to integrate easily into a mix without overpowering the original sounds. My impression is that the HR‑MP5 will appeal to those who want to combine sound quality with a few new twists to the existing staples of reverb, delay and pitch/modulation effects, rather than to those who feel the need to treat every mix to an adornment of gratuitous processing pyrotechnics.

Sony are moving as of April 5th. Their new contact details are as follows: Sony Broadcast & Professional Ltd, The Heights, Brooklands, Weybridge, Surrey KT13 0XW. Tel: 0923 816000. Fax: 0923 817000.

Unusual Effects

Some of the effects on offer are a little out of the ordinary so a brief description may be useful.

  • DUCKING DELAY AND REVERB: Here the effects level is held low while the input signal is present, but when the input signal falls below a threshold set by the user, the effect level increases. This is one way of having loads of effects during a break, without flooding the music with effects when everything is playing. The effects also responds well to staccato playing.
  • SWEEP DELAY: In this mode, the delay time can be made to vary with the envelope of the input signal or may be controlled manually.
  • TEMPO DELAY: Enables the delay time to be locked to the tempo of the music via MIDI so that all the delays are exactly in time with the track.
  • DYNAMIC FILTER: Allows auto‑wah and similar envelope‑related filter effects to be created.
  • DYNAMIC EXCITER: Enhancer; there are no real details of exactly how this works, but the results are similar to what you'd expect from an analogue exciter.
  • SLOW ATTACK: Envelope effect to give a slow attack time to the input signal to create 'bowing' sounds.
  • SUB‑HARMONIC GENERATOR: Creates a signal one octave lower than the input to enhance deep bass sounds. Doesn't affect mid and high frequency sounds.
  • RING MODULATOR: Multiplies two signals to produce sum and difference frequencies. Useful for modifying synth sounds, creating dissonant chimes or generating robot voices.
  • VOCAL CANCELLER: Attenuates any sound that is positioned in the centre of a stereo mix. This is sometimes effective for removing the vocal from a record, but will also affect anything else panned to the centre.

Hr‑MP5 Effects

<p class="nindent">BLOCK 1BLOCK 2
• 2‑band Equaliser• 2‑band Equaliser
• Flanger • Stereo Delay
• Phaser • Ducking Delay
• Vibrato • Tapped Delay
• Tremolo • Double Delay
• Auto Pan • Tempo Delay
• Ensemble • Hall Reverb
• Stereo Delay • Room Reverb
• Modulation Delay • Plate Reverb
• Sweep Delay • Ducking Reverb
• Ducking Delay • Gated Reverb
• Tapped Delay • Distortion
• Double Delay • Overdrive
• Hold Delay • Compressor
• Tempo Delay • Limiter
• Dynamic Exciter • Gate
• Amp Simulator • 4‑band Equaliser
• Sub Harmonic Generator • Dynamic Exciter
• Compressor • Wah
• Limiter • Vocal Canceller 
• Gate • Dynamic Filter 
• Slow Attacker 
• Wah 
• Ring Modulator 
• Intelligent Pitch Shifter 
• Pitch Shifter 
• Reverse Shift 
• Rotary Speaker 
• Freeze 


  • Smooth, clean sound.
  • Musically useful range of effects.
  • Approachable operating system.
  • Attractive price.


  • Terminally dull name.
  • Disappointing Overdrive.
  • Noticeable delay when using the Intelligent Pitch Shifter.


A capable processor which will appeal to those who want to combine good sound quality with a few new twists to the staples of reverb, delay and modulation effects, rather than those who go for processing pyrotechnics.