Test Drive: The Yamaha SPX-990 Digital Multi-Effects Processor


by Jerry Vigil

Have you always wanted to upgrade that SPX-90 to an SPX-1000, but didn't have that much in the budget? And is the SPX-900 just a little less than what you're looking for? Then look no more. It's Yamaha to the rescue with the new SPX-990!

Priced at $1,095, which is $500 less than the SPX-1000, the SPX-990 upgrades you from the SPX-90 or SPX-900 to true stereo processing, 44.1kHz sampling, and clean 20-bit D/A and A/D conversion. You get a lot of the programs and features found on the top-of-the-line SPX-1000 (see RAP Test Drive - November 1989), but there are some sacrifices such as reduced sampling time and shorter delay times. Still, the sacrifices are few considering what you get for the dollar.

The back panel of the SPX-990 delivers balanced inputs and outputs with both XLR and ¼-inch TRS jacks. The broadcast industry will also smile at the Input Level switches that select inputs of 20dB or +4dB for each channel. There's a MIDI IN jack and a switchable MIDI THRU/OUT jack for handling the units extensive MIDI capabilities. Finally, two footswitch jacks on the rear panel enable remote control of the SPX-990. Parameters can be adjusted, and effects can be triggered, selected, or bypassed using the footswitches.

The front panel of this sleek, single-rack space unit provides the same easy-to-read and easy-to-use controls found on most Yamaha effects boxes with a couple of nice additions such as a large Data Wheel and some assignable function keys. At the far left are the concentric Input Level controls for each channel. To the right is the Input Level Meter which consists of eight LEDs per channel. To the right of this is the Memory Area Indicator which consists of three LEDs labeled PRESET, USER and CARD. More on these in a moment. Below the Memory Area Indicator is the Input Select Indicator, two LEDs that indicate STEREO or MONO input configuration. Without having to deal with plugging and unplugging inputs in the back, the inputs can be configured as stereo, mono using the left channel input, or mono using the right channel input. The Input Select LEDs illuminate to show whether the unit is in the stereo or one of the mono modes. Just below these input LEDs is the MIDI Indicator LED which illuminates when MIDI signals are being received at the MIDI IN jack.

To the right of the above mentioned indicators is the large, familiar red LED program number display. When this display is continuously lit, the program selected is active. When it is flashing, the program corresponding to the number is selected, but it is not recalled into memory. That is done with the Recall function key below the LCD display in the center of the unit.

The LCD readout is a 2-line, 24-character display. It provides the usual information such as effect titles, parameter titles and values, messages and so on. Below the display are six function keys, each with various functions depending upon what the display is showing at that time. Primarily, these keys are used as cursor keys to move around the various parameters of an effect while editing. But you can also assign up to four programs to four of the keys for one-button touch recall of your favorite programs. This is an especially nice feature because many times there are only three or four effects that you use all the time. Having them accessible with one key-press eliminates searching for the program with the data wheel then hitting the Recall function button. By the way, the data wheel can also be used for rapid alteration of selected parameters when editing.