Sonic State Studio / Effects Units / YAMAHA SPX90

Average rating: 8.0/10 out of 10

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Saso Podobnik a hobbyist user from Slovenia writes:
The concept of classic gear is a funny one, particularly if you come to question a particular piece of equipment - if so many people swear by it, surely it's me who's to blame if I don't like it. I got the Yamaha SPX90 in a trade long before I became aware of its status, and to be honest, I wasn't overly impressed by it. I realise it must've been great in the mid-80s when it pioneered many things, and it's definitely got that retro cool about it, but the truth of the matter is that, unlike with vintage analogue outboard, modern units of comparable quality simply surpassed it in every way.

If nothing else, the SPX90 noticeably colours the sound due to the fact that it samples the signal only up to 12kHz, although still at 16 bits. While the added texture and graininess don't ruin the sound the way low-quality effect units can do - I can totally see someone actually liking the SPX's signature sound - they're nothing special, and they, along with the single mono input, certainly limit the usefulness of the effect. Many effect algorithms are also showing their age, most notably the reverbs. I never expected them to sound even remotely realistic, but I just didn't like them - maybe it's just me, I hated the REV7, as well. There are a few others, such as the pitch shifter, the auto panner, and the parametric EQ that are nice in a nostalgic sort of way but since the SPX90 is strictly one-at-a-time unit, they probably won't get used a lot.

Quite a few downsides to the first multi-effect ever, then, but make no mistake: there's quite a bit to like about the SPX90. For one thing, it's got an internal power supply, the signal headroom is fantastic, and the build quality is astonishing - the only thing you're ever likely to have to replace is the internal battery. The effect I liked the most was the delay; for one thing, it sounded almost as good as the famed D1500, and I appreciated the fact that you could set the time in milliseconds - I hate how a lot of newer units make you tap it in or do some other arcane way of delay time approximation. Note that the delay is stereo despite the fact that there is only a mono input, which makes for great stereo effects; I would've preferred if you had the choice of 500ms stereo or 1 second mono operation, however, or if you could set the pan so that you could have a multi-tap delay coming from a single output.

The modulation effects - chorus, flanger, and to a certain extent the phaser - were surprisingly good, somewhat digital in character but likeable (as opposed to the reverb mentioned above), and the gate was very tight and nicely configurable. The unit was also very straightforward to programme with well organised and easily navigable menus, which is another thing that many modern units often can't seem to get right. The nicest surprise of them all, however, was the sampler function - it's only half a second and the memory content is lost on power-off, but not only can you trim, transpose, and overdub your sample, you can even play it over MIDI. For 1986, that must've been pretty radical stuff, and it's fun to fool around with even today. Finally, the manual is very informative, with lots of charts and diagrams; Yamaha really went out of their way to make sure you understand what each effect does.

Essentially, then, the SPX90 is nice but unfortunately not all that useful anymore, and as far as I'm concerned, it's certainly overpriced for what it does - after all, you can get a Behringer V-Verb with one of the best reverbs in the business for the money. It has to be said, however, that I'd still much rather have use SPX than, say, a MidiVerb4 (which I made the mistake of replacing my SPX with) - it may be better on paper, but doesn't do anything well. For all its shortcomings, then, the Yamaha is still a superbly engineered, classy unit whose legendary status will, if nothing else, work in your favour when you decide to sell it.

Rating: 7 out of 10 posted Thursday, 21-Jan-10 at 4:14
Don Kelley a Professional user from Canada writes:
just got one for $20 that needs the input pot cleaned (works but scratchy with some dropouts... will clean it out on the weekend or replace the pot if I have to).

Wow - for $20 ya can't go wrong. I used to own an fx500, the 16 bit cousin to this box. I have to admit that I prefer this box for the phaser fx, pitch changers and controls. the fx 500 is more pristine and it's verb is actually good enough for low budget studio work, where this units verb is pretty grainy (while useful still). the other fx are just great though!

love it. not too bright due to terrible frequency response and cruddy converters, but it has it's place.

for money ($20) it's a 9. for $100 would be a 5...

Rating: 9 out of 10 posted Thursday, 25-Jun-09 at 16:35
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