Test Drive: The Lexicon PCM-80 Digital Effects Processor


by Jerry Vigil

Shopping for an effects box is a lot like shopping for a workstation. There are dozens of eligible units to choose from, and each has its own collection of features that separates it from the pack. Of course, the task is picking the one right for you. Like workstations, effects boxes have a wide price range, from a couple of hundred dollars to well into four figures, and the spectrum of features is just as wide. Priced at $2,500, the Lexicon PCM-80 certainly ranks among the high dollar boxes, and for the money you get some high quality effects and a unique user interface that delivers the ultimate in control.

The rear panel of the PCM-80 provides balanced inputs and outputs on 1/4-inch TRS jacks. A 2-position INPUT LEVEL switch, 20dB/0dB, accommodates both balanced and unbalanced input levels. There's S/PDIF digital I/O, and the digital inputs can be mixed with the analog inputs! A 1/4-inch TRS FOOTSWITCH jack enables connecting two footswitches to the unit. The 1/4-inch TRS FOOT CONTROLLER jack is for a footpedal. MIDI IN, OUT, and THRU jacks and the power connector complete the rear panel.

The front panel has only a few controls, but that hardly says anything about how much control you have over the PCM-80's effects. The HEADROOM LED indicator displays both digital and analog input levels. The INPUT level knob sets the analog input. To the right of this is the 2-row, 20-character LED display, the ADJUST and SELECT knobs, twelve function keys, and the MEMORY CARD slot.

This true stereo processor comes with 200 preset programs and 50 user memory locations referred to as "registers." The 200 presets are stored in four "banks" of fifty presets each. Press the PROGRAM BANKS key to select program banks. Turn the SELECT knob to select programs within that bank. Press the LOAD/* key to load the program, or the PCM-80 can be set to automatically load programs once they're selected. Press the REGISTER BANKS key to access the user bank of 50 registers. If a memory card with additional presets is inserted in the MEMORY CARD slot, pressing the REGISTER BANKS key repeatedly will cycle through the program banks on the memory card.

The 200 presets are categorized into twelve groups within the four program banks: Multi Effects, Modulation Effects, Special Effects, Rhythmic Echo and Delay Effects, Ambience Effects, EQ Effects, Spatial Effects, Gain Effects, Resonant Chord Effects, Reverb Effects, Processed Reverb Effects, and Remix Effects. Many of these effects are written primarily for use in music production, but there are many effects useful in radio production as well.

What is a bit surprising is that all of these programs are based on only ten algorithms. Each algorithm includes a multi-voiced stereo effect "tool box" coupled with a high quality stereo reverb. Five of the ten algorithms are categorized as "4-Voice" algorithms and the other five are "6-Voice" algorithms. The 4-Voice algorithms are Concert Hall, Plate, Chamber, Inverse, and Infinite. These are named after the type of reverb effect the algorithm is built around. The reverb effects are link to four independent voices which are basically delays. These delays can be panned anywhere in the spectrum, and there are independent feedback and level controls for each voice. A wide variety of reverb and delay effects are possible with these algorithms.

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