Despite having a name that most British people associate with small, round chocolate biscuits, Viscount are gaining a reputation for affordable MIDI hardware — and the EFX10 could be their best value effects processor to date. Derek Johnson & Debbie Poyser develop a taste for it.
When Italian manufacturer Viscount burst onto the UK hi‑tech scene in 1993 with two multi‑effects processors, the budget EFX1 and the super‑budget EFX2, the press and public reception was favourable. For the price, the £239 EFX1 was a good deal, though it was criticised for a poor MIDI implementation, a tendency to input overloading, a limited number of effects algorithms, and a hissy output. Three years on, Viscount seem to have addressed all the criticisms levelled at the EFX1, in the new EFX10. And despite having benefited from considerable improvements over the earlier model, the EFX10 has a retail price of just £10 more, at £249.
Physically, the EFX10 takes its cue from Boss's now‑discontinued SE70, packaged in a similar half‑rack box with an almost identical array of front panel controls: from the left, there's an input level rotary knob; a 2‑line x 16 character backlit LCD; a large data dial used for scrolling through effects Programs and parameters; six small buttons used in Program selection and editing; a power switch; and a headphone socket. The unit can be racked with an optional adaptor.
The rear panel hosts a standard selection of connectors: Left and Right inputs with accompanying switch to select between ‑20dBm (for guitar or mic input, for example) and +4dBm (for mixer effects send or keyboard) operation; Left and Right outputs; two footswitch sockets, one for stepping through effects Programs, and one which is user‑definable (this could function as a Bypass switch, as a Hold switch for delay effects, or to select between slow and fast speeds when using the Rotary effect); MIDI In, Out/Thru sockets; and a power supply socket. The latter item is furnished with a small plastic cleat, around which you wrap the power supply cord to prevent it from accidentally detaching — just like on the Boss SE70! In all, it's a lightweight but perfectly sturdy and well‑appointed package.
Inside the box is a true stereo processor offering a comprehensive range of standard studio and guitar effects (see box for listing of algorithms), arranged in single and Multi configurations. Although Viscount state a maximum of six simultaneous effects, plus a Noise Suppressor, this number is only found in the Guitar Multi. Other Multis are made up from between two and five effects each. Unsurprisingly at this price, you can't chain your own effects together or dictate their order in a Multi. You can, however, turn off individual effects within a Multi, giving a certain amount of user control. There is also a good amount of editability of individual effects: for example, the Large and Medium Hall reverbs offer no less than 12 user‑modifiable parameters each, including Size; Reverb Time (0.1s to 20s, in 100ms steps); Pre‑Delay (up to 500ms, in 1ms steps); Reverb Tone (which, according to the manual "equalises the reverberation colour with various shadings". In practice, this amounts to a very subtle rolling‑off of the top‑end at its highest setting); Early Reflection (0‑500ms, in 1ms steps); Early Reflection Tone (Flat, Low, Mid or High); H/F Gate (like high‑frequency damping, to cut off high frequencies over a preset time); and Reverb Attack. It's difficult to know what the latter parameter actually does, as there's nothing in the manual to explain it, but at higher settings it adds a perceptible 'bite' to the reverb. Note also that the Size parameter has a range of 1‑8, but there's no way of knowing how these numbers relate to the real world, except for the common‑sense assumption that '1' would indicate the smallest hall and '8' the largest!
The Rotary treatment deserves special mention for its 'in your face' quality and edgy grittiness.
As mentioned earlier, the EFX10 is a true stereo processor, which enables it to offer a very useful Dual effect capability. Three Dual algorithms (Reverb + Chorus, Reverb + Delay, and Chorus + Delay) allow you to independently process two separate signals. With the Reverb + Chorus algorithm, for example, you could process a vocal with reverb and a guitar with chorus. This also means that you could use the EFX10 with two aux sends on your mixer. By the way, if you treat a single source with a Dual effect, it will be processed by both parts of the algorithm.
Editing & Utilities
The six buttons on the EFX10's front panel enable you to navigate the unit's operating modes, choose Programs, parameters and their values, save edited Programs, and Bypass the unit's effects. Let's take a closer look at what these buttons do:
- PROGRAM: the EFX10 powers up in this mode, where you'll spend most of your time, selecting between the 128 on‑board effect Programs with the large rotary data encoder.
- PARAMETER: pressing this button takes you into Edit mode; using the data encoder then scrolls you through the available editing parameters for the currently selected effect.
- VALUE: press this button when you want to edit a parameter. In this mode, the data encoder changes the value of the currently selected parameter. To select a different parameter, you simply press the Parameter button again.
- WRITE: when you've finished customising your effect Program, press this button and a cursor flashes under the Program number on the LCD display. Use the data wheel to choose a memory location for your edited Program, then press Write one more time and it's saved.
- UTILITY: this button accesses a variety of global functions, including the MIDI Program Change map, MIDI bulk dumping and loading, altering footswitch settings, changing display contrast, and naming your custom Programs. It's a bit of a pain that Program naming is hidden in the Utility mode, since this means that you have to exit Program mode and enter Utility mode before you can name your edit.
- BYPASS: simply mutes the current effect.
The EFX10's user interface is perfectly comprehensible; anyone familiar with the Boss SE50 or SE70 will be flying around it in no time, and even newcomers shouldn't need more than a couple of hours to become familiar with how it works.
MIDI functions on the EFX10 are comprehensive without being over the top. Two parameters per effect can be controlled over MIDI, using Pitch Bend or a handful of Control Change messages, and you can choose which two parameters you want to control. This is a big improvement over Viscount's EFX1 (reviewed SOS November 1993), which only allowed MIDI control of one parameter per effect, and even that was pre‑selected for you. The EFX10 offers a full SysEx implementation, and a chart in the back of the manual gives all the information you would need to set up a MIDI editor in a sequencer program like Cubase. Usefully, you can dump the EFX10's whole memory (or just parts of it) to a suitable storage device or computer over MIDI; bulk dumping is initiated in Utility mode.
The Full Effect
All 128 of the EFX10's memories have factory Programs saved in them; the first 27 contain the ROM algorithms and are non‑erasable, but the remainder can be overwritten with your own edits. The manual actually states that the EFX10 is primarily intended for guitar use, and more than half of the factory settings are guitar‑orientated (but strangely, there's no front panel guitar input, as you might expect). There are lots of serviceable distortion presets, of various types, including a 'User' distortion, which can be very comprehensively customised. The Guitar Multi Program can also be flexibly tweaked to provide a variety of nice guitar treatments. The manual does concede that the EFX10 is ideal for studio use, but when you're using it with the effects sends of a mixer, you'll soon notice that the Direct (dry signal) level of all the factory Programs is turned up to maximum — as would be appropriate for use with a guitar. Therefore, you'll need to go in and turn all the Direct levels down and re‑save the Programs, as you won't want any dry signal at all coming through if you're using the EFX10 with a mixer's effect sends.
As a provider of staple studio effects, the EFX10 performs well.
As a provider of staple studio effects, the EFX10 performs well. The reverbs, while not especially smooth, have a pleasant character and seem to sit well in a mix. The good range of tweakable parameters helps ensure that you can tailor a reverb sound to fit your track exactly. Delays offer lengthy maximum delay times (up to a generous three seconds), and choruses are OK, if not quite as exciting or sparkly as they could be. Flanges, too, could be rather more extreme, though naturally you can edit them to your own taste. The Rotary treatment deserves special mention for its 'in your face' quality and edgy grittiness. It can dramatically change the character of synth pads — not just organs — and is surprisingly quirky and effective on guitar. The two studio processors, the Hum Canceller and the Vocal Canceller, are not 100% effective as they stand, but have potential. The Hum Canceller certainly cuts out hum completely, and since it also includes a noise gate, really does silence noisy gaps on tape. However, if you want to leave it switched in during a whole track, careful adjustment is required to avoid level 'pumping'. The Vocal Canceller, again, certainly cuts the vocal in a track, leaving it a shadow of its former self, but it also has an adverse effect on the frequency content of the rest of the track. Some tweaking is required to achieve a compromise between completely nuking the vocal and completely nuking the backing track. You could easily use the Vocal Canceller as a creative effect in its own right.
One final feature worthy of mention concerns algorithms which contain delays — the programmable footswitch input allows you to create real‑time loops: play a riff, press an attached (normally open) footswitch, and the EFX10 captures the performance and loops it. Accurate capture takes practice, however, and the audio signal fades after several loops rather than looping infinitely, but it is still a fun feature to have.
At normal listening levels, the EFX10 doesn't seem any noisier in use than any other low‑ to mid‑priced effects unit. If you plug it into a mixer's aux return and really crank up the level, you do hear digital grunge, but it's fair to say that this isn't really detectable during normal operation. Viscount appear to have cured their processors of the tendency to input overloading exhibited by the earlier EFX1: the new EFX10's input is actually very forgiving.
When we first encountered the EFX10, we had a wild, unreasonable hope that its physical and operating system resemblances to the Boss SE50 and SE70 (still our favourite effects processors), might betoken more fundamental similarities. An SE70 for £249? Too much to hope for, surely... Not surprisingly, it was. After all, the SE70 is a highly sophisticated processor offering such exotica as vocoding, ring modulation, pitch‑tracking bass and guitar synths, plus top‑quality reverb, delay and modulation effects. It also cost £650 on its release over two years ago. It's much fairer to compare the Viscount EFX10 to preset units like the Zoom 1202 or the ART FXR, which are non‑editable and cost very little less. This comparison serves to highlight what excellent value for money the EFX10 represents, with its true stereo operation, useful Dual effects for processing two sources independently, good range of effect‑editing parameters, sensible MIDI spec, and pleasing sound quality.
Nothing made by man is perfect, however, and there are one or two features which would have been nice to have on the EFX10. Firstly, there's no decent EQ in any of the EFX10's Multi effects algorithms, which can be so useful for tailoring off‑the‑wall treatments. Some kind of tap delay tempo setting via a footswitch would have been welcome, and would have allowed the user to take full advantage of that on‑the‑fly looping ability mentioned earlier; ideally, delays would have been MIDI‑clockable. Lastly, it's strange that there's no amp or speaker simulation available when Viscount are pitching the EFX10 as the ideal guitar effects processor.
Notwithstanding these gripes, however, we'd still have no hesitation in recommending the EFX10 as an ideal general‑purpose effects processor for anyone on a budget, or indeed for anyone who doesn't see why they should pay more than absolutely necessary for decent multi‑effects.
- Half‑rack module format (rack adaptor available).
- Up to seven simultaneous effects (including Noise Suppressor).
- True stereo operation.
- Dual processing facility.
- MIDI patch changing and parameter control.
- 22 ROM Presets/106 user memories.
- 2‑line x 16‑character backlit LCD.
- Large Hall
- Medium Hall
- Large Room
- Medium Room
- Small Room
- Early Reflections
- Space Chorus
- Stereo Pitch Shifter
- Stereo Flanger
- Stereo Phaser
- Reverb + Chorus
- Reverb + Delay
- Chorus + Delay
- Keyboard Multi 1 (Flanger, Delay, Chorus, Panning, Reverb)
- Keyboard Multi 2 (Phaser, Noise Suppressor, Chorus)
- Guitar Multi (Compressor, Wah, Distortion, Noise Suppressor, Delay, Flanger or Chorus, Reverb)
- Hum Canceller
- Vocal Canceller
- A/D & D/A Conversion: 18‑bit linear
- Sampling Frequency: 44.1kHz
- Frequency Response: 10Hz‑20kHz
- Nominal Input Level: ‑20/+4dBm
- Input Impedance: 20 kOhm
- Output Impedance: 600 kOhm
- Connectors: L&R inputs; L&R outputs (jacks); MIDI In, Out,Thru; Programmable & Program Advance Footswitch sockets
- Power Supply: External, 10.5V
The EFX10's slim manual is divided into Italian and English sections, making the English section even slimmer! The information is pretty basic, though the straightforward nature of the EFX10 means that this shouldn't be too much of a problem. Where it really falls down is in explaining what the various user‑editable parameters actually do — for example, in Keyboard Multi 2, the Phaser Step parameter apparently "makes the modulation discontinuous, generating interesting effects of sub‑sampling of the modulant." Er... right. There's also regular and rather endearing use of the word "concatenation" whenever the translator means "combination". Oh well...
- Effects fully editable.
- True stereo, with Dual capability.
- Sensible MIDI spec.
- Easy to use, with a nice sound.
- Excellent value for money.
- Modulation effects could be more exciting.
- No decent EQ.
- Unhelpful manual.
A flexible, versatile stereo unit, with way more facilities than you'd expect for the money, and a pleasing sound. There's little else to touch it for price vs. performance ratio at the moment.