By Lee Flier
The Yamaha SPX series has long been a workhorse in professional studio and stage applications. The latest in the series, the SPX2000 represents a very well thought out and substantial upgrade, accomplished in a way that shouldn't alienate previous SPX users. It features an improved DSP engine, a new set of reverb algorithms, and a few other nifty additions such as color-coded backlighting on the LCD, which could really be handy for those using the unit in live stage applications. In general, Yamaha is well known for steadily improving and upgrading its products while continuing to support their existing user bases, and with the SPX2000, they have once again accomplished just that.
The SPX2000 comes with most of the connections you'd ever need, including switchable +4/-10 level on the analog input and output connections (both XLR and TRS), AES/EBU digital connections with selectable sample rate from 44.1 to 96kHz, word clock, and MIDI. Unfortunately, no S/PDIF connection is included, which was a disappointment to me, as my Yamaha AW4416 DAW doesn't have AES/EBU I/O. Fortunately, the SPX2000's converters are quite good, and I was satisfied with the quality through the analog connections.
True to SPX form, the front panel interface is wonderfully easy to use and very well laid out. One set of buttons selects, recalls, and stores presets while another set adjusts the parameters of each effect. Although the unit can be controlled via MIDI, using it the "old-fashioned way" is a breeze. The buttons are solid and sturdy, and Yamaha has done well by making the most used buttons the largest, while those not used as often (such as the bank selector) are smaller and out of the way.
The 2-line, 16-character-per-line LCD is easy to read and uncluttered as well. Setting the tempo for delays and other tempo-based effects is simple using the front panel Tap button or an optional foot switch, as well as the usual method of entering numeric delay lengths. There's a "compare" button that allows you to switch back and forth between the original preset and your edited one.
Effects parameters are easy to access, especially considering the number of parameters available for many of the presets. Rather than forcing you to scroll through a long list of parameters to get at a particular one, only the most commonly used parameters are listed by default. The more esoteric parameters are accessed by selecting the Fine button. Storing your tweaked sounds in the user preset bank, which will hold up to 99 custom presets, is simple as well. In general, I found the front panel well organized and intuitive to use, and users of previous SPX units will find it improved yet still familiar.
There are 97 effects in the SPX2000's preset bank, including 17 new reverb programs based on Yamaha's new "Rev-X" algorithms, which the company says have been redesigned from the ground up. Also included is a "classic" bank featuring 25 sounds based on early SPX units.
Having used Yamaha's processors since the '80s, the biggest surprise to me was the quality of the reverbs. Even those based on the older algorithms sounded much improved over the previous units, possibly because of the improved DSP engine and converters. Many of them sounded surprisingly natural, rich, and open. As someone who favors organic and vintage sounds, I'm hard to please when it comes to digital reverbs, but I found many of the 'verbs on this unit made me happy. The "Presence Reverb" gave a nice Abbey Road quality to ensemble vocal tracks - probably the best plate sound I've heard from a Yamaha box. Many of the room emulating 'verbs sounded natural and unobtrusive in a good way - i.e., like a room, not like an effect. Of course, there are also plenty of decidedly "unnatural" 'verbs such as gated reverb, reverse, and so on. These are the sounds that made Yamaha reverb processors famous, so if it's wild and wacky effects you're looking for, you won't be disappointed there either.
The delays are of very high quality, and I was surprised at the naturalness of some of the presets, such as vocal doubling. There's a variety of both stereo and mono delays, all of which are highly configurable to your tastes. There's also a large number of pitch-shifting effects which are loads of fun.
Presets such as "Grumpy Flutter," "Halo Comb," and "Roger on the 12" are great for producing heavily effected sounds such as harmonizing, octave dividing, and space alien noises. Great if you're doing post production, psychedelic or electronica tunes, or just looking to add spice and interest to a track. I enjoyed using these in a very un-subtle way on vocals, guitars, and keyboards, and the unit allowed me to do this without degrading the overall sound - something other inexpensive processors won't do.
The classic effects such as chorus, flange, phase shift, and rotary are clean and quiet. Depending on your tastes and application, you may or may not find them to your liking. As a guitarist looking for fat vintage sounds, these effects didn't do it for me - they were too clean and brittle. Those looking for cleaner and more modern sounds will love these effects, and keyboardists may find them more useful than guitarists or vocalists. It's also possible to tweak these presets, producing infinite varieties of sound. Likewise, I didn't find the SPX2000's distortion or amp simulator presets useful - they just weren't "grungy" enough for my taste. I found them a little too "slick" for dirtying up a snare track.
My biggest gripe with the unit was the Bypass switch. Unlike some competing processors, which have multiple bypass switch modes, selecting the one on the SPX2000 simply turns off the effect, without the ability to mute the input signal. Therefore, what you'll hear is the original signal combined with the signal that was sent to the effect. If you're using analog connections, the latency introduced by the conversions to and from the unit means that the combined signals have a very noticeable "phasiness." In some situations, this renders the bypass mode essentially useless, as you can't do an actual comparison between the dry and effected sounds. Of course, there's a work-around: compare by simply muting the SPX's effect return channels on your mixer.
Yamaha also offers a software interface for this unit, the SPX2000 Editor, for Windows or Macintosh computers. By connecting the unit to your computer via USB, you can edit effects parameters and also back up and restore your custom presets in libraries. This is a very useful feature, as it allows you to save different effects libraries for different projects, transfer your sounds to other SPX2000s in other facilities, and of course back up your work in case your unit's memory is damaged.
Overall, the Yamaha SPX2000 multieffects processor delivers an astonishing variety of high-quality effects in a single rackspace, at a reasonable price. It represents a big step up from many plug-in effects and cheaper outboard boxes. While it may not be your first choice for every single specific effect, the SPX2000 is a reliable "Swiss Army knife" that can serve as the "go to" box in a wide array of applications.