Test Drive: The Symetrix 601 Digital Voice Processor

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The next section is the System section which also has two buttons. The Global button has several functions, each accessed with successive presses of the button. It is used to set the digital input gain as well as the clock source for the internal converters and DSP. Inputs are selected with this button -- Mike, Line, Digital, or Mike/Line mix. Memory write protection is also set or disabled here. The MIDI button accesses the unit's extensive MIDI capabilities including MIDI program change and MIDI dump and load of programs in memory. This is also where the "realtime editor" is accessed enabling MIDI control of parameters not available from the front panel buttons.

The final section of the front panel controls is the Presets section which has four buttons. The Save button saves the program in the edit buffer to one of the user memory locations. The Compare button is used for A/B comparisons between the program in the edit buffer and one already stored in the 601's program memory. The Load button loads the program selected using the data wheel. The Leave Edit button takes you out of the parameter editing mode without changing any of the settings in the edit buffer.

The 4-character LED display next to the data wheel displays program numbers and parameter values as well as some prompts such as "donE" after a program has been loaded or saved, and "Prt" which alerts the user that the current memory location is write protected. A 10-LED bargraph above the display serves a dual function as an output level and clipping indicator, or as a gain reduction indicator.

The 601 is an interesting box, to say the least. The list price is $1,995. For some, that may seem like a lot for a mike processor, but on the other hand, this mike processor does some things the others don't. For example, how many 3-band digital parametric EQs have you come across that provide adjustment of the center frequency on each band from 31Hz to 21.1kHz? Since the 601 provides 18dB of boost on each band, you can therefore get as much as 56dB of boost at one frequency band, with a width as narrow as .05 octaves! This makes for some EQ effects not available from most any equalizer you've probably come across.

The dynamics section of the 601 sounds as clean as you'd expect a fully digital dynamics processor to sound. Most certainly, there will be users of the 601 or any similar device who will insist that their analog dynamics processor "feels" better to them. When it comes to how your own voice sounds going through any device, it's difficult for anyone to say one box is better than another. It's a very subjective matter, and the results will vary greatly, especially with a device like the 601 which provides literally an infinite number of possible set-ups for a given mike or individual.

The delay section of the 601 is an advantage because the majority of special effects most used on the voice in radio production are available in the 601's easy to use delay section. Having these commonly used effects in the same digital path as your dynamics processing and EQ can free up your digital effects box for other tasks. The 601 won't replace your reverb unit, but it will accomplish most of your delay, flanging, and chorusing needs.

Symetrix gets a giant kudo for bringing so many parameters to the front panel of the 601. It costs money to do that which jacks up the price of the device, but it's so much easier to see what the machine is doing to your voice, what effects are active and which ones are not. And editing the programs is extremely simple and fast.

Another pleasant surprise is the 601's operator's manual. It actually reads as though it were written for users of a more creative species rather than for the technical types. Several pages at the front are spent discussing, in plain English, the basics of equalization and its application to the human voice. It explains shelving EQ versus peaking EQ in terms your Sales Manager might grasp! You get a full and understandable explanation of noise reduction, downward expansion, compression and AGC. And if you want to venture into techie land, there's even discussion about matching levels versus matching impedances, XLR polarity convention, phantom power and more. And if that's not enough, there's a glossary in the back that defines in really plain English all the terms used in the manual that might be unfamiliar to some. While the manual isn't really necessary to get a lot out of the 601, one time through it lets you know how truly slick the Symetrix 601 really is.

Other reported specs of the 601 include a frequency response at 12Hz to 20kHz, THD at <.01% @ 1kHz, dynamic range >104dB, and a sample rate at 48kHz (44.1kHz with external clock). The conversion method is 18-bit linear with 64x oversampling.

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