A fun theremin-style effects processor.
It would be hard to out-cute the Alesis AirFX's really cooldesign. This small, lightweight, sci-fi-looking box features 50preset effects. You can tweak the effect parameters in real time bymoving your hand across the Axyz controller, an infrared light beamthat responds to hand movement on three axes: left to right, frontto back, and up and down (toward and away from the Axyz). To set aneffect, you use the Program knob to dial to the desired effectnumber, press the knob, and begin the theremin-like hand motionsrequired to produce the effect. If you like where a particular handposition settles the effect, push the Program knob again to holdthat sound in place. Super neato cool.
The design may be exceptional, but the sounds themselves —though consistent in 24-bit clarity — vary in usefulness andappeal, and some have a faint whiff of cheese about them. Alesischose not to include any reverbs or delays in the AirFX, but kudosgo to the company for including a wide range of DJ-savvy options.The unit has many filtering patches: High Cut, Six-Pole Lowpass,Lowpass LFO, Notch, and Autowah. It also offers several phasers andflangers, tremolo and slicer effects, autopanning patches, pitchtransposers, rotating speakers, vinylizers, modulators, distorters,and several synth tones, such as a bass slide and even a beatboxthat seems more like a gimmick than a professional-quality effect(ah, the cheese is ripening). And sure enough, you can use the Axyzto adjust filter frequency and resonance as well as correspondingparameters for the other programs.
Problem is, the Axyz simply isn't as intuitive as you mightthink. For one thing, you need to hold your hand very close to thebeam. Alesis says you should hear some results when your hand comeswithin 6 inches of the Axyz, but I consistently had to hold my handwithin 4 inches to produce anything. Moving your hand even tinydistances in either direction can change the sound considerably, soit's very hard to narrow in on exactly the sound you want. Thoughthis is admittedly subjective, the filters especially seem to begfor some kind of tactile tweaking mechanism you can lay your handson: a jog wheel, a knob, or even a pad like the Kaoss's.
Anyone who has tried to play a theremin knows that abstract handmotions in space can be a little dicey in practice. If you're a fanof Roland's D-Beam controller and you're looking for an affordableoption, the AirFX may really appeal to you. After you spend sometime practicing with this device, you may find it's just the kindof interface you've been looking for — but try before you buyto make sure it feels right. Considering its low price, fun factor,and novelty appeal, however, the AirFX is hard to beat.
PROS: Inexpensive and compact unit with 50 preset effectsranging from filters to phasers to autopans, with parameterscontrollable through the theremin-like Axyz interface.
CONS: Sound quality and appeal varies; some users may find theinterface difficult, uncomfortable, or just plain odd. No reverbsor delays.