Every once in a while, a signal processor comes along that does so many things so well that you feel like it's the last 19" wide box you'll ever have to buy. In the '80s, it was the Yamaha SPX-90. In the '90s, it was the Eventide 3000 series. We're well into a new century now, and Kurzweil, a company long admired for its high-end keyboard products, is making a surprise run at birthing today's ultimate signal processing Swiss Army knife in the form of the KSP-8. Basically, the KSP-8 is a very high- quality effects device with the capability of acting like four discrete stereo devices simultaneously - or eight discrete mono devices - or 5.1 (for which it uses six of its eight channels and leaves two channels open for doing non-5.1 stuff). You can mix and match ins and outs as needed. There are several hardware options available, including analog, ADAT/TDIF, 8-channel AES and 8-channel FireWire. The unit I reviewed had eight analog ins and outs (balanced 1/4"). I like to work quickly in the studio. Nothing sticks in my craw more than getting bogged down trying to do something which should be simple, such as adjusting the length of a reverb decay time. I was a bit intimidated when I sat down to try out the KSP-8. (Cue "Jaws" theme music.) The front panel sports a flywheel, a bunch of buttons, and a pretty big LCD screen. The optional RSP-8 remote control duplicated all of these items, plus adds "Quick Knobs" and a joystick for 5.1 panning and MIDI controlling. The manual looked pretty dense and hinted at my perennial nightmare... bank upon bank upon page upon page of parameters that wind up being more trouble than they're worth to access. (End "Jaws" theme music, but please don't add that annoying stylus-being- dragged-off-the-vinyl sound.) I've got to say, it's totally worth taking the time to figure this beast out. Not only is it very powerful, flexible, great sounding, etc. etc.... but it's laid out very logically and intuitively. It only took me about a half-hour of fiddling around to get familiar enough with the KSP-8 to use it on a mixing session. The KSP-8 has four main levels in its architecture: Algorithms, Presets, Chains, and Studios. The Algorithms are the basic building blocks for effects and are not editable. There are a whopping 249 of them in the KSP- 8's ROM (expandable by downloading from the web). The Presets (636 installed, with room for up to 999 user presets) are what you'd expect: Editable effects. Plenty of reverbs, delays, EQs, dynamics, filters, distortions, phase-trickery, etc. The Chains (138 installed, with room for 999 to be stored) are strings of effects. For example: reverb sent through a flanger, then compressor. The Studios are kind of like "master" presets that take into account all of the KSP-8's functions. You can set up and store, say, "Joe's Studio" in which the internal bussing, chains, presets and functions are all organized the way Joe wants it. User-edited data can be stored on SmartMedia cards (up to 64 MB). How's it sound? The reverbs were stunning and rivaled the established industry standard stuff. (I A-B'd some reverbs with a Lexicon PCM-70. Though I love and rely on the PCM-70, I found a lot of the KSP-8's reverb presets more convincing and frankly more usable from the get-go.) There were a couple of ring modulator presets that were great. (Why is ring modulation so hard to find these days?) There was something called a "Drum Tightener" which does something like pitch shifting. (It doesn't actually shift the pitch. According to Kurzweil, it "shifts frequencies with no respect to harmonic relationships, so pitched sounds get wacky, but non-pitched sounds like drums can be altered in a pretty interesting way.") The "Drum Tightener" did a nice job bringing a flabby snare sound into focus without making it sound robotic. There were a lot of emulations of "vintage" delays, which I dug. Nice simulations of worn-out tape loops and bucket-brigade analog delay. And I had fun playing guitar through some of the distortion/filter/ compression chains. For my money, the best effects in the box were the rotating speaker simulations. I've owned a real Leslie for years and have recorded all sorts of variations on the theme (anyone remember the Maestro Rover? or the Fender Vibratone?), so I like to think I know what they sound like both in a room and mic'ed up. The KSP-8 contained by far the most convincing digital Leslie clone out there. There are all sorts of options, including overdrive, types of speed control, etc. And tweak-freaks can have a blast adjusting how the "mics" are "positioned" on the "rotating speaker cabinet." The KSP-8's street price is in the $2,300 ballpark ($2,995 MSRP), with the RSP-8 remote going for about $500 ($595 MSRP), so for under three grand you can be sitting pretty with the whole deal. I realize, of course, that this kind of money is not in a lot of project studios' effects processor budgets. But think about what you're getting and then do the math: the equivalent of four completely independent high-end stereo effects processors that sound great and a remote that ties them all together and makes them easy to manipulate. And if you're running out of effects returns or channels in your console, you can easily set up the KSP-8 to buss all of the effects to a single stereo return, while retaining full control over all the discrete effects. In this sense, it's kind of like having an extra full- function, automated 8-channel mixer. If I sound like I'm sold, it's because I am. (www.kurzweilmusicsystems.com)

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