The decade that had the most impact on my musical growth and development was the '80s; it was a ripe and fertile time for new recording technologies and techniques. Many artists seemed quite intent on pushing new arrangements and writing boundaries, while simultaneously being influenced by new technology. Peter Gabriel [Tape Op #63], Kate Bush, and producer/artist Trevor Horn [#89] are perfect examples of people that were embracing much of this new tech, including the products coming from Advanced Music Systems, or AMS. They claim their DMX 15-80 Digital Delay Line (released in 1978) and RMX16 Digital Reverb (1981) were the first microprocessor-controlled delay and reverb units commercially available, and they sounded unlike anything else available at the time.
Fast-forward four decades, and AMS Neve have reissued the RMX16 in a three-space 500 Series module; this mono in/stereo out processor includes not only the nine original algorithms (Programs in AMS-speak) that shipped with the original RMX16, but also the additional nine that could be added by using a bar code reader wand and a printed sheet of the extra Programs! All of the control parameters of the original unit are on hand for editing each Program. The original's row of iconic, red, LED readouts for numerical data has been replaced with a small, four-row OLED display, and the processing is now 32-bit, with 24-bit converters on the input and output running at a 48 kHz sample rate. These updates make the Programs shine as never before; I was curious if AMS Neve had attempted to model the sound of the original unit's 16-bit converters and 18 kHz bandwidth. It turns out that the RMX16 employs pre-DSP input-stage modeling that truncates the captured 24-bit samples to 16-bit samples, and then applies an 18 kHz roll-off filter to copy the original unit's sound – but to my ears, this is a unit fit for 2020!
Programs and parameters can be accessed or adjusted with a data entry pot (sliver and beautifully sculpted as on the original!), as well as with the keypad for even finer parametric entry; the data pot adjusts most parameters in values of ±10 with each step of its rotation, whereas specific values can be entered via the alphanumeric keypad. 100 Preset slots are available for saving edited versions of Programs.
So, how does the new RMX16 sound? In a word, glorious! I'm lucky enough to regularly use two different original RMX16s at a couple of studios here in Seattle, as well as the Universal Audio UAD plug-in version, so I'm well acquainted with the sound of these units. It's a sound I love that I also find entirely viable and relevant, certainly not something to be consigned to the annals of early digital processing history.
The Programs of the RMX16 are exactly what one would expect if they had had any familiarity with the original unit, or indeed the UAD version. There's the tiniest difference in sound and frequency response between the original hardware and the new piece, but that's likely due to age in the components of the original unit that I was testing against than anything else; the code for the algorithms is the same. Ambience, Plate A1, and Room A1 sound incredible on drums with a liveliness that newer reverb units and plug-ins seem to lack. Perhaps it's due to the much more simple nature of how these algorithms are constructed – they don't seem to get overly complex as to take up too much space in a mix – only the right amount that will leave more room for other elements. Whatever is happening in the RMX16 (there's no modulation on the tails of these reverbs, so that's a big difference when compared to Lexicon and many other digital reverbs from the same era), it's a beautiful thing. The Delay program offers up to 1.6 seconds of delay that sounds incredible – funnily, delay time is set on this Program by adjusting the Predelay parameter, not Decay. The Image program is another secret weapon for vocals – a dash of this on a send from a lead vocal and the singer is transported to another dimension.
One of the signature programs on the RMX16 is "Nonlin2"; this is AMS's take on the Hugh Padgham [#55] / Phil Collins gated reverb that was manually created for Peter Gabriel's song, "Intruder," using the SSL Listen Mic with its massive built-in compression with a noise gate. Yes, that sound became dated and a bit of a punch-line ("In the Air Tonight," anyone?), but it can still add a lot of life to a snare track when blended in subtly or give a vocal dimension and space without washing it out in a ton of decaying reverb.
Obviously, it's no secret I'm a huge fan of the RMX16 sound – I don't necessarily care about the "ideal" reverb – I want to be excited by an effect if I'm going to use it in a mix. Does the RMX16 sound like the most glorious, perfect room/hall/plate simulation I've ever heard? No, of course not, but that's not the point – this is a reverb/effects processor designed to add a character and unique sound that may be unattainable in any other way. In that, it exceeds perfectly!