I first became acquainted with the Lexicon 224X digital reverb in Studio One at the Strongroom around about 1989. It was the first time we had made that level of investment, and back then, Strongroom was a small, independent company, which meant that such a purchase was a big decision; I remember it being a really big deal. The 224X brain sat in a rack, and before we had a machine room, it was mounted above the Sony PCM-701ES (a high-quality, 2-channel converter which would write to Betamax).
Being an illustrious tea-boy back then, I got lots of time at round 4 am (when cleaning the studios) to mess about and really get to know how certain gear made such a difference. I did not have a user manual for the 224X (too young to read probably), so I started by just pushing each of the buttons and moving the sliders in multiple ways. In the following years, I was given many lessons by the wonderful Martin Rex, who was doing lots of mixing at that time.
The first thing you need to understand about the 224 or 224X is the fact that they employ 12-bit converters (albeit with gain-shifting for additional dynamic range) and 20 kHz or 32 kHz sampling-rates, respectively — not much when you consider today’s level of performance. But these units met the requirements of the recording technology of the time, and the 224-series became the standard digital reverb that you hear on so many classic recordings. Certainly, the bandwidth and dynamic range limitations were partially responsible for shaping the sound.
What I really love about Universal Audio’s Lexicon 224 Digital Reverb plug-in is the ability to turn the “system noise” on and off. Of course for the UAD-2 platform, when it’s in the signal path, the effect of all that analog circuitry and conversion processes, beyond just the reverb algorithm, has a great deal to do with the faithful character of the 224 plug-in. But it is nice to hear how the reverb algorithms perform on their own, or at least how they did in Dr. David Griesinger’s mind. It certainly demonstrates the difference for those who are interested.
Having easy access to the Mode Enhancement feature is also nice. I think the original method of modulating the delay lines to prevent modes from building up in the tail works quite well, but the option to adjust the settings can give some variation and thickness if required. The Decay Optimization really helps clean up the response, in particular the subsonic frequencies. Both of these features were hidden behind multi-button-press combinations in the real 224’s interface in later versions of firmware.
Two Band Reverb Time controls (Bass/Mid — this should be Treble if I’m picky) with adjustable crossover meant that with very few parameters, you had an amazing level of control over the response. You got to the sounds you wanted quickly, which meant you stayed focused on creating the best mix. The crossover sweeps all the way from 100 Hz to 11 kHz, so you could get some very cool effects, especially when used with the Treble Decay, which also helped tonal experimentation. Depth of course simply sets the distance of the material from the listener, which really helped to position things in the mix, especially when trying to emulate certain environments. All this is true to the original 224 in the plug-in.
Diffusion to me in its purest form is how much disruption there is at the point of reflections; the more diffusion there is, the smoother and less metallic the response. Conversely, a reduction in diffusion creates a response with the ringing and resonating you would associate with a smooth-walled room — often useful for certain instruments and artists. Again, the plug-in gets this right.
Another really cool function of the 224 is the Immediate mode switch, which allows you to switch algorithm types without changing your basic parameters; this is an incredible time saver and can be turned off if you want to recall the default positions, just like in the original.
The addition of the rear outs so that the 224 plug-in can be integrated into a surround environment will ring some bells with anyone working on music for picture. The icing on the cake is access to a “hidden panel” so you can crank the input gain and really exploit the non-linear response for snares and anything which needs that extra crunch. It tickled me to see UA also fixed the bugs in the original code and gave us an option to run with or without the fixes!Just brilliant engineering!
In summary, UA have recreated an industry standard which would have been lost to the annals of time (which will help younger engineers perceive what all the fuss is about). From subtle use as a vocal reverb, all the way to an intense and aggressive drum reverb, this does everything the original 224 did with incredible transparency. I love this plug-in.($349 direct; www.uaudio.com)
–Neil Mclellan, www.thelodgemusic.com
Ah, upgrading, what fun! I'm paying for a product I already own, fixing something that isn't broken, and spending my time installing, authorizing, and configuring software when I should be making...