News From The Woods.41


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published August 20, 2000

"Now We're Getting Somewhere"

I can still remember back in the late 70's, sitting around in the control room of the studio trying to outlast the blue-smoke haze of overindulgence, and waxing poetic of things to look forward to in the future with my fellow musicians. This was before the digital age. Reverbs were still plates or actual rooms designed purely for the purpose of producing a specific soundscape.

I had no clue as to how the transition from analog to digital devices would forever change the sound engineers toolbox, introducing digital delays, chorus pedals, flangers, harmonizers, pitch correctors, expanders, and the like. At the time all we had at our disposal was reverb and tape echo.

We were throwing out ideas and technologies yet unborn. In a flash of rare mental clarity amid this late night bull session I was describing to my pals what the future of soundscape design might be. Instead of a fixed size and type of reverb, like a spring reverb, I was pining for something more flexible. More flexible even than the current technological marvel, the EMT plate reverb, which had a pickup mounted on a motorized sliding arm which could shorten or lengthen the reverb space. Tone controls were added to give the reverb a darker or brighter sound. Of course, this was all a tease for what was to become, I assured my friends.

What I envisioned twenty years ago was a concept of actually recreating any acoustic environment one wished. "What if", I mused, "we could actually use the natural reverb of the Sistine Chapel…….. Or ANY natural acoustic space like a huge warehouse, large church, basketball gym, parking garage, even The Taj Mahal?" If we could only emulate the height and depth of space; the density of solid marble; the reflectivity of a metal wall; the early reflections of a brick wall; the unusual characteristics of standing directly beneath the center of a large dome? Wouldn't THAT really be something?

Well, here it is over twenty years later and someone has finally done just that. And wouldn't you know it would be Sony? Thanks to digital technology and the vastly enhanced power of the microprocessor, we can now (for the modest cost of "only" $12,500) have literally ANY acoustic environment at our fingertips. Now, I am not going to turn this into a product review, but this thing looks to be pretty keen! Since I don't have $12.5K laying about just for a "reverb unit" I doubt if I have one any time soon, so I must learn to be satisfied by merely talking about it, and wiping the drool off my mouth.

The Sony DRE-S777 is advertised as a "Sampling Reverb". For those of you familiar with today's 2U-rack space reverbs currently the rage, you'd better clear the decks for action! For one thing, this baby weighs in at a hefty 33 pounds. And you can forget about instant gratification, as it takes the S777 a full three minutes to boot up. That give you a hint of the kind of processing power it takes to call up Carnegie Hall. For memory storage, it uses the Memory Stick system. For recalling those "factory presets" it has a built in CD-ROM. We're talking horsepower here!

Of course this unit is MUCH more than "just" a reverb. It is a sampler, remember? This means that with the proper speaker placement and some quality microphones, the unit can produce the necessary test signals to sample the acoustic space you have set about to capture, tame, and call up at will back in the confines of your studio. Furthermore, Sony has introduced seven programs on the first CD-ROM to accompany the S777, so you don't have to go into the wild to begin your sonic assault. Obvious settings like "Church", Medium Hall", and "Plate" (modeled after the old EMT's) are included. Also included are several famous recording studio rooms.

The second in a series of future CD-ROMS is titled "European Halls and Churches". Future releases will include US halls and churches, world class recording studios, and yes…. Even the Grand Canyon. The Sony team used up to eight microphones to record these acoustical settings, all of which can be adjusted to suit your purposes. You can even select from different types of mics (cardoid, omni, etc.). Then, when you have tweaked it to your heart's desire, you can store this variation of the factory setting on the Memory Stick without altering the original settings.

Of course, all this has also been engineered with surround sound in mind. So now, instead of "simple" stereo or even 4-channel reverb parameters, you can place your listener in virtually - and I mean "virtually" - any location within the sound field. Early reviews include statements like: "What I heard out of the S777 compared with the best of acoustic recordings. Never have I heard this kind of resolution of space in any type or reverberation device, including the best of live chambers. The reverb tails are as smooth as in real life, without any boring patterns or signs of digititus". It seems that users of this device only have one problem. They keep referring to the sounds as "programs" instead of just what they are: Real Acoustic Spaces.

And it was ALL MY IDEA! Maybe I should tell Sony to start sending my checks…………….

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