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TC ELECTRONIC M-ONE AND D-TWO

May 1, 2000
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Looking for a powerful and high-quality reverb or delay unit for less than $700? Check out the new M-One and D-Two processors from Denmark's TC Electronic. TC introduced several new effects units last year, including the M3000 and Fireworx, but all cost well over $1,000. This year the company has shifted focus with the introduction of two lower-cost units, each priced at $699.

The M-One dual effects processor offers some of TC Electronic's most coveted algorithms, including enhanced reverbs based on new research and a good selection of other popular effects. More than 20 different algorithms, with 100 factory presets and 100 user locations, are accessible through the fast, simple, and intuitive user interface.

With up to ten seconds of delay, the D-Two provides six direct-access effects, with 50 presets and 100 user locations. And based on the classic TC Electronic 2290 delay, its multitap rhythm delay offers a very musically oriented Rhythm Tap feature.

GUTS AND GLORYFor the price, both units have very impressive technical specifications, with 24-bit A/D/A converters; 24-bit internal processing; lots of headroom; low distortion; a wide, flat frequency response; and a dynamic range rated at better than 93 dB. In addition, you can control just about every parameter through SysEx or continuous controllers.

The units have identical rear panels that feature electronically balanced stereo inputs and outputs on 1/4-inch jacks and S/PDIF I/O on RCA jacks (see Fig. 1), at up to 24-bit resolution with either 44.1 or 48 kHz sample rates. Both also offer a 1/4-inch Pedal Input jack and MIDI In, Out, and Thru ports.

PANEL OF EXPERTSLet's look at the M-One processor first. The left side of the unit's front panel sports a power button and three knobs-In Level, Mix (between dry and wet signals), and Effect Bal (the balance between the outputs of the two effects engines).

The center of the panel features a large LCD that includes input meters (with overload indicators), an analog/ digital input-selection display, and a sample-rate readout. A Routing indicator displays the signal flow of the selected routing mode, and Algorithm displays the type of effect used for each engine. Two meters show gain reduction for the dynamics algorithms. The preset number and type appear on the display, which includes a light that tells you whether the current preset has been modified. You can also see the location of the current patch (Factory or User bank). A MIDI In icon indicates the presence of incoming MIDI data.

To the right of the display are three groups of buttons-Setup, Effects, and Program. Beside them is the Control section, which contains a large data-entry wheel surrounded by four more buttons-Enter, Exit, and up and down arrows.

In the Setup section, the Routing key selects the routing mode; the I/O button lets you choose between the analog and digital inputs, set the sample rate, and more; the Tap key allows you to tap a tempo or enter the tap menu; and the Utility key provides access to MIDI, SysEx, Routing Lock, Bypass, and Pedal functions.

The Effects group has four buttons: Algo/Edit 1, Algo/Edit 2, Bypass 1, and Bypass 2. Algo/Edit 1 and 2 let you select and change the algorithms in each effects engine. With Bypass 1 and 2, you can select one of three modes for each engine. Mode 1 passes the input signal directly to the output; the dry signal is set to 100 percent and the effects signal to 0. Mode 2 (Bypass FX Input) cuts the input to the effects engine so that the effect dies out gradually-that is, it rings out for its normal duration-rather than abruptly. Mode 3 (Bypass FX Output) zeros the level of the effects output but leaves control of the dry signal's level to the Mix knob.

The Program section has two buttons, Recall and Store. You can use these in conjunction with the Control wheel to select a preset.

Finally, in the Control section, the up and down keys allow you to navigate through the display, and the data wheel lets you change values. Press the Enter key to confirm operations; press Exit to leave a menu or cancel an action.

M-ONE FOR THE MONEYThe M-One's user interface is well designed, and I found my way around most of it without having to look at the manual. I did need to look up the Tap function and the Routings, so let's begin with those.

The Tap function lets you tap out a tempo for the Delay time, Chorus rate, and so forth: just press the Tap key once, and the Tap delay parameter appears at the bottom of the display. Tapping on the key in time with the music sets the delay to the approximate value; you can then use the Control wheel to fine-tune it. Pressing the down key brings up Tap Subdivision (the rhythmic subdivision you want to tap along with), which you also set by using the Control wheel. Pressing the down key again brings up the Tap Function selector, letting you select which engine the Tap control works with-1, 2, or both. Tapping down once more takes you to MIDI Sync, which you can set to on or off. Adjusting the parameters is completely straightforward: simply use the cursor keys to select parameters, and spin the Control wheel to select values.

RURAL ROUTEI found the routings difficult at first. Six are available: Dual Send/Return, Parallel, Serial, Parallel/Serial, Stereo Linked, and Dual Mono.

Dual Send/Return routing allows you to use the unit as two independent effects processors. Parallel routing sums the left and right inputs, feeding both engines with the same signal. This is great when you want to add two different effects to the same source-for example, a chorus and a reverb to the same guitar track-without their interfering with each other.

In Serial routing, the signal passes through engine 1 before it goes through engine 2. Thus, you can combine effects (for example, a de-esser in engine 1 with a bright reverb in engine 2).

Parallel/Serial routing is similar to Dual Send/Return routing with one exception: the output of engine 1 can be fed back into the input of engine 2 (see Fig. 2). Use this routing when you desire separate inputs to each engine but still want the effects to be partially combined. For example, maybe you have a long delay running on engine 1 and a large hall reverb on engine 2, and you want to use both effects on a lead vocal. If the repeats from the delay seem dry compared with the reverb, you can bleed some delay from engine 1 into the reverb in engine 2 by turning up engine 2's crossfeed parameter. Now you'll hear reverb on both the vocal and the delay repeats.

In Stereo Linked routing, both engines produce exactly the same effect with synchronized parameter settings. This is the routing to use for true stereo operation-for example, when you use the M-One as a stereo compressor on a subgroup.

In Dual Mono routing, the two engines are completely independent, with mono in and mono out for each engine. Use this if you need effects that are frequently applied in mono rather than stereo (a tremolo on one channel and an EQ on another, for instance).

Each preset in the M-One stores its own routing. What if you want to change presets but keep the same routing? No problem. The Routing Lock function keeps the routing intact as you change patches, no matter which routing is saved with the preset. In addition, preset changes are instantaneous and noninterruptive to the sound-very impressive.

ALGORITHM METHODTwo defining elements of a reverb are its early reflections and its tail. On the M-One, you can tweak these two elements with Reverb Tail Decay; Predelay; Size, which indicates the size of the reverberant space; and High Cut, which reduces sibilance in the reverb. Another parameter, High Color, adjusts the decay time in the upper frequencies and reduces sibilance. Low Color adjusts the reverb time in the low frequencies to remove rumble while keeping the warmth of the reverb tail. You can also set the Early Reflections level, Reverb Tail level, and overall effects level. Modulation speed and depth control the two modulation types, Smooth (which does not detune the source) and Vintage (which tends to detune the source slightly).

By juggling these parameters, you can get natural-sounding reverbs using early reflections and complex, nondetuning modulation; or you can achieve more unusual sounds, including a classic reverb without any early reflection patterns, heavily detuned modulation, and so on.

The M-One also emulates older-style reverbs such as plate and spring, and its Live reverb algorithm is optimized for P.A. system applications in spaces where typical reverbs don't cut through. While primarily a reverb unit, the M-One also has a full complement of delay, EQ, and dynamics effects including chorus, flanger, phaser, compressor/ limiter, de-esser, gate/expander, tremolo, pitch shifter, detune, and a 3-band parametric EQ.

DENSE AND DENSERTC Electronic claims that the M-One's reverb algorithms are more advanced and have more density than those of comparably priced processors. Based on what I've heard, I'm inclined to agree. Sonically, the M-One beats any of the reverb plug-ins on my desktop system. The Natural Hall + Ambient patch, for example, added life, depth, and richness to my solo guitar tracks, and Large/Small Chamber sounded just right on a Latin/pop track with an up-front female lead vocal. The delay effects are hot as well. Check out the one called M-One Magic, a very special delay that's sophisticated yet spooky sounding, with subtle repeats.

If the M-One is so great, then why would anyone spend two or three times as much for TC Electronic's flagship M2000 or new M3000? Professionals may demand such critical features as the M2000's XLR connectors and AES/EBU digital I/O. But if you're after the exceptional TC reverb algorithms alone, the M-One has the edge. (Keep in mind that for the price of an M2000, you can buy both an M-One and a D-Two.)

The M3000, on the other hand, is definitely a superior unit. It has all the professional features of the M2000, including the new and more natural-sounding VSS reverb algorithms (not included with the M-One), and more than twice the number of presets included with the M-One.

D-TWO FOR THE SHOWThe main focus of the D-Two is sound quality and operation speed. Based on the classic TC 2290 delay, the D-Two has all the features you could wish for and then some. In addition to providing comprehensive control of tempo parameters, the unit allows you to customize rhythm patterns. For example, you can tap in patterns of up to ten steps directly from the front-panel key (or using a footpedal), then adjust the Pattern's tempo to your taste.

Using the automatic Subdivision feature, you can tap the tempo and the D-Two will automatically adapt to the subdivision that you want. Track Tap is another great feature. When you enable Track Tap, the preset will instantly track the current basic tempo and adapt to it instead of using the tempo stored with the current preset. This box means business!

FACE VALUEThe left side of the D-Two's front panel features a power switch, a pair of knobs labeled Input and Mix, and a large LED screen. The display provides a stereo input meter, a delay-time indicator (which registers in user-selectable milliseconds or bpm), an indicator that blinks to show tempo and rhythm, a subdivision indicator, a dynamics meter (which shows gain reduction for the Dynamic Delay algorithm), the preset number, and icons that indicate whether the current preset has been modified and whether you are using the Factory or User bank. As with the M-One, a MIDI In icon shows the presence of incoming MIDI data.

Beneath the delay-time indicator, several others show sample rate, feedback percentage (which determines the decay of the delay repeats), and feedback number (the exact number of repeats). Three LEDs show the Feedback High and Low Cut filter setting, the overall High and Low Cut filter setting, and Ping Pong indicator.

The rest of the front panel is filled with control buttons and a couple of large rotary controls. The first set of buttons includes the Delay/Tap and Feedback/Rhythm keys. Hitting the Delay key once allows you to change delay times, either by using the wheel or by tapping on the Delay key; the D-Two measures the time interval between the last two taps and calculates the delay time accordingly. The Feedback/ Rhythm key has three main functions. After hitting the key once, you can use the Delay wheel to set the feedback percentage. Pressing and holding the key lets you use the wheel to change the number of repeats. You can also use the key to tap in a rhythm pattern of up to ten steps.

The next section, labeled Effects, allows you to selectively enable or disable six different effects using six dedicated keys: Spatial, Filter, Chorus, Reverse, Dynamic, and Ping Pong. (Pressing these twice jumps you to the relevant edit parameters.) Following that section, four Function keys provide Edit, Setup, Recall, and Store functions. The Setup key opens the setup menu, and the Edit key gives you access to the preset parameters.

Up and down keys to the right of the Function keys allow you to select parameters, and the second data wheel changes their values. Enter and Bypass buttons are located on the far right of the front panel; they function identically to those on the M-One.

DELAYED GRATIFICATIONA standard delay line produces repeats by feeding the delay output back to the delay input. The D-Two supports this traditional mode of operation, with up to five seconds of delay in stereo and ten seconds in mono, and also provides a couple of other modes that employ a multitap-delay design.

The Straight delay mode lets you control the exact number of repeats-a great feature for tweak heads. The multiple output taps from the delay line produce delays at different points in time. Using the Feedback number function, you can set the number of taps to produce what will sound like simple repeats of the first delay heard. Then, using the Feedback percentage control, you can set the feedback amount for the last tap, which is fed back to the delay input in the multitap modes. This starts the whole process again, so you hear the entire sequence of taps repeating in rhythm.

Be careful not to go over the top, though. The maximum delay time must be shared among the number of taps specified (that is, with ten repeats, you have only one second available on each tap in mono mode). Interestingly, a shuffle parameter lets you add a shuffle feel to the delay repeats in Straight mode.

Things get even more interesting in Rhythm mode. Here, you can tap in the exact rhythm that you want using the Feedback/Rhythm key and then quantize the pattern to a specific subdivision. You can also edit the pattern and even change the level of individual taps. This much control allows some great customized delay patterns. (As with the Straight delay mode, Rhythm's maximum delay time is divided by the number of specified taps.)

QUICK ON THE DRAWThe dedicated Delay & Feedback wheel, the two tap keys, and the six direct-access Effects keys all make the D-Two easy to operate. For example, hitting the Spatial key instantly broadens the delay picture by introducing a small time difference between the two channels. You can also phase-reverse one channel, which widens the delay even more. Hit Ping-Pong, and the delay instantly pans from left to right with five patterns to choose from: hard left to hard right; taps at left, center, and right; and Dynamic. The Dynamic pattern uses as many pan positions as there are delay repeats-for example, a delay with five repeats will have five pan positions from left to right.

The Reverse delay feature is very sophisticated, with a number of styles to choose from. Still, it has limits. For instance, the maximum delay is halved to 2.5 seconds in stereo and 5 seconds in mono. If you want to clean up the effect, first hit the Dynamic key and then set a threshold and release time so that the input signal controls the level of delay. When the input signal level goes above threshold, the delay level decreases; when the signal drops below threshold, the delay level increases. Thus, the delays are heard only where you really want them-in the musical pauses-which keeps the sound nice and tidy.

If you want to smooth out the delay sound or simply change its flavor, the Chorus key allows you to add chorus or flange along with the delay. To more closely mimic analog delays, you can apply filters (both in the Delay line and in the Feedback loop) to the repeats to progressively remove more high frequencies as they ring out.

ECHOPLEXEDSome of the D-Two's echo patches have obvious names, such as Tape Echo, Chorused Delay, Straight 2290 Delay, and My Old Echoplex. Others, such as Shuffle Your Feet and Stabbed in the Back, have less familiar but quite memorable names. Their sounds are memorable, too-once you've heard the effect, you'll know what to look for next time.

Moving Hat gives you instant spacey dub effects, filtered and flanged with an unpredictable rhythm. Low Cut 1 1/4 8th Notes is great for reggae, with all of the low frequencies filtered out on the delay repeats. Overall, I liked what I heard and found myself wishing for many more than 50 presets.

SYNCHRONIZIN' RHYTHMThe D-Two manual contains lots of useful operational hints and suggested applications. For example, if an engineer in the studio wants to use a multitap delay with a rhythmic relationship between the taps and the lead vocal, but does not have the tightest timing sense, the D-Two can quantize to the most appropriate subdivision. After you tap the desired rhythmic pattern on the Rhythm Tap key, the multitap Delay is instantly running and in time. To create a fast, jungle-style rhythm delay synchronized to a sequencer, you can tap and edit the pattern at half speed and then select 16th notes. When enabling the MIDI Sync function, you can select the 2:1 setting to create a double-speed feel for the rhythm pattern. On top of this, the D-Two has real-time controls for the filters, the flanger speed, the enabling and disabling of the Reverse function, and so on-all using MIDI continuous controllers.

When touring, you might want to reproduce, for instance, that very significant three-tap panned Delay used on your band's recording. Just activate the Ping Pong key, limit the repeats to three, and tap in the Delay time. That's it-fast and efficient!

The D-Two does not output MIDI clocks, which would have been a valuable addition to its feature set. Imagine being able to use tap tempo from the D-Two to gain control of sequencers, drum machines, or even an M-One or a second D-Two in a live performance. Still, its customizable rhythm patterns, quantization features, and variety of delay types put the D-Two ahead of the class in its price range.

LIKE MINDSTC Electronic's M-One and D-Two are very powerful yet affordable new multi-effects units from one of the most highly respected names in signal processing. They should appeal not only to budget-conscious personal-studio owners and live-sound engineers, but also to pros seeking to expand their processing racks with premium-sounding yet easily programmable gear.

Operationally, the two units are very similar: Store and Recall work the same way, both have the same three bypass modes, and all parameters are readily accessible. Moreover, you can control just about every parameter through MIDI, and both models can lock to an incoming MIDI clock and subdivide it to adapt to very slow or fast tempos. I highly recommend the M-One and D-Two.

Music-technology consultant Mike Collins lives in London, where he plays guitar, writes and produces music, teaches music technology, and writes for magazines worldwide about all of this stuff.

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