Meris may not yet be a household name in pro audio, but its team of three have put in plenty of time developing products and designs for companies like Strymon and Line 6, and working creatively for companies like Disney and Sony Pictures. Currently, Meris produces a line of 500-series modules, which include the 440 [Tape Op #103], a versatile mic preamp with integral pedal effects loop; the Ottobit [#109], a bit-crushing, tone-mangling processor; and the Mercury7, a vintage-inspired, DSP-based reverb processor. I spent some time with a pair of Mercury7 reverbs in my API Lunchbox and discovered both conventional and otherworldly applications for its reverbs.
The Mercury7 takes advantage of the Meris team's analog and digital design strengths and employs high-quality AD/DA conversion and DSP processing, along with high-end analog circuitry, to create unique and captivating reverb and ambience effects. The Mercury7 sports a cheerfully blue, easy-to-maneuver front panel with an array of six knobs and three buttons. Each of the knobs can adjust primary as well as secondary functions, allowing the user deep, but intuitive, parameter control from a concise set of knobs.
In my studio projects, I rely heavily on plug-in reverbs for acoustic spaces, ambiences, and sometimes far-out textures, but not one of my plug-in reverbs really sounds as rich and organic as a Lexicon 480L or a Bricasti Design M7 [Tape Op #69], let alone an EMT 250 or AMS RMX 16. Think about this: Dedicated hardware reverbs take advantage of purpose-built processors and circuits to execute one very complex reverb algorithm, while plug-ins are limited to their meager share of your PC's overall CPU resources. Plug- ins have their place, but can't really compete with complex algorithms optimized to run on dedicated, real-time chips. With that in mind, the Mercury7 utilizes a full DSP chip for each channel of reverb. These mono modules may be individually controlled or control-linked for stereo or surround use.
Setting up the Mercury7 begins with choosing one of two basic algorithms. Ultraplate provides a typical dense plate, while Cathedra provides more ethereal, textured atmospheres. Both algorithms may be modified with parameters such as decay time, high and low–frequency absorption, pre-delay, wet/dry mix, and a few not so standard parameters, like Modulate, Mod Speed, Pitch Vector, Vibrato, and Swell.
Starting with Ultraplate, I easily dialed in a fat plate setting for some live horns in a very busy pop/R&B mix. The Mercury7 imparted a dense ambience to the horns that was familiar and kind of retro, but also blended well in a modern production and provided a nice sense of front-to-back space. I used two Mercury7 modules linked with the supplied cable for stereo control, so that any changes in the left channel's controls are automatically mapped to the right channel. Then, by slightly offsetting the right channel parameters from the left, I could quickly and easily create a dramatic stereo reverb sound-field that would be quite difficult to achieve without delving deep into the pages of the typical reverb unit's parameters. Although not as natural or traditional sounding as, say, a Bricasti, the Mercury7 definitely holds its own against high-end hardware reverb units.
The Cathedra algorithm provides a seemingly limitless playground of sound design options, inspired by the shimmering, pitch-shifting ambiences used in the 1980s Vangelis soundtracks for Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. The reverb times can stretch for many seconds, and the modulation and swell controls transform acoustic guitar or percussion tracks into synthetic beds of pitch-shifting layers of sound. The Cathedra algorithm is a sound designer's dream synth, and the knobs can be played in real-time to create musical and emotional orchestrations.
The Mercury7 proclaims to be the first algorithmic reverb in the 500-series format, and it certainly breaks new ground as both a versatile, traditional plate reverb and also as a sound-bending, ambience-generating hardware instrument. The wet/dry settings and zero- latency analog mixing prove useful when using the Mercury7 as an insert effect. Conversely, setting up the reverb as a traditional aux send/return device works well in mix situations. Moreover, if you have two Mercury7 modules, instead of just using them in stereo-control mode, try patching the output of one unit into the input of the other unit to achieve even more creative sounds.
On the Meris website is a video of DSP Engineer Angelo Mazzocco introducing some of the sounds and capabilities of the Mercury7. It's nicely done and well worth watching. While you're there, you can read about Angelo's past accomplishments as a designer of several now-iconic guitar-reverb effects, as well as the past experiences of Terry Burton and Jinna Kim, all three of whom make up the Meris team. Meris proudly manufactures all of its products in Los Angeles.
March 2017: Geoff Stanfield and Andy Hong add an update to the original Meris Mercury7 Reverb review:
GS: I am a fan of the Meris line of gear. They are a small shop who builds their high-quality modules in Los Angeles. I have reviewed the Meris 440 mic pre and Ottobit modules, but I missed out on reviewing the Mercury7. Meris was kind enough to send one for me to check out and it's not going back!
I only have one module, but it gets used on many mixes as a special effect reverb. I love my springs and plates but the Mercury7 does something unique. I relish the long dreamy harmonically rich ambient tails that can be generated using this box and when you need some swirl this is a good one. It is feature rich and can handle a variety of reverb duties, but I love it for my submarine adventures the most.
AH: I love my Meris Mercury7 modules. I bought two of them, so I can run them stereo with shared control. Did you know that the only difference between the Mercury7 and the Ottobit is the firmware loaded onto the EPROM? (And the front-face graphics are also different, of course.) Otherwise, the hardware is exactly the same between the two units. (I have an Ottobit too.)