Quantec, maker of the ultimate reverb, is back. Will its new reverb unit once again set a yardstick by which all others are measured?
Product PointsApplications: Project to pro recording studios; film and video post production
Key Features: AES/EBU inputs and outputs; Motorola DSP 56009 80 MHz DSP running a streamlined version of the original Quantec algorithm; Emagic Sound Diver software interface; remote control option available
Contact: Planet Medley at 610-526-1690 or HHB Communication at 310-319-1111
+ Stunningly real reverb
+ Fantastic user interface
+ Price point
– No analog interface
The Score: This is a superb sounding, superb looking unit that should focus the minds of potential reverb buyers everywhere. A reverb fit for a king for the common people.
The original Quantec Room Simulator (QRS) was, and indeed still is, a reverb device talked about in, almost reverential tones by top sound engineers and producers. Despite the unstoppable march of digital technologies, many of those in the know still want a Quantec.
This has been particularly true for the producers of high-quality classical and acoustic recordings and also those working in film and television post production requiring ultra-natural-sounding room simulations.
Due to the complex and extensive nature of the QRS algorithm, all previous Quantec room simulators used dedicated hardware, as there wasn’t a commercially available signal processing chip capable of tackling the job. This is the reason for the astronomically high prices, which have put Quantec gear out of range for us ordinary mortals. This changes with the release of the Yardstick. By Quantec standards this thing is cheap — $2,600. Quantec finally goes street!
Although the Yardstick recreates all of the subtle natural character of its weighty predecessor, it is by no means yet another retro design harking back to yesteryear. This room simulator looks like the future. The first surprise came on opening the box. Contained within was a 1 RU-rackmount unit that measured an incredibly small 4.5 cm deep. The Yardstick has to be the smallest piece of serious music gear we have ever seen.
It should be made clear at this point that this is a stereo reverb processor pure and simple. There are no clever multiple effects emanating from multiple outputs offering presets to make your toast and tea. This is just one very high-quality stereo digital reverb.
The Motorola DSP 56009 80 MHz is the lucky chip given the not-inconsiderable task of replacing the original dedicated hardware, although some slimming down of the original algorithm had to take place. For those who are current or ex users of the original Quantec room simulator, the most noticeable original parameter missing from the Yardstick is room size.
The design is simple but effective. A gorgeous electric blue in color with a conical cursor wheel (called the Pulsar) made of the same blue aluminum, two plastic orange buttons, some simplified bar graph and status LEDs, a four-line LCD display, a power on/off switch · and that is it. The back of the unit is similarly sparse, with just AES/EBU I/O, three MIDI connectors, a 9-pin PC data transfer RS-232 serial interface, an IEC-spec mains socket and a voltage selector (115V or 230V).
With just digital ins and outs, Quantec is obviously aiming this unit where it thinks it belongs — the modern pro recording environment. The case reflects the design inside — it really looks and feels like a piece of classic German engineering.
An available remote control unit, the aptly named Commander 1220, duplicates the very strangely named Pulsar knob, the two orange switches and the LCD display, although its display is only two lines.
The Yardstick has only 17 presets and 13 empty user slots for your own edited patches. Due to the unusual and unique design concepts behind the unit, this is not the problem it might seem. For those who demand more memory slots to save their presets, this can be managed using a PC or a Mac and a custom adaptation (soft panel) for Emagic Sound Diver (available for free download from the Quantec Web site www.quantec.de).
The MIDI ports enable the control of the Yardstick parameters using Note On MIDI messages. Each parameter has a note assigned to it. Presets can be called up using Program Change messages.
To say the Yardstick is easy to operate is an understatement. It took us just minutes to understand the format and editing protocol used — and that’s without reference to the manual.
The manual did, however, explain why some of the parameters one would expect on a room simulator were not present. According to Quantec, splitting the response of a room into two phases — the attack phase and the decay phase — as most reverb units do, is an artificial process and indicated that the initial reflections should not be separated from the remainder of the reverb tail.
The room creates both the initial reflections and all the reflections that follow. Instead of using a multitap delay in an attempt to emulate the different stages of reflections, a single processor is used to execute the whole algorithm. There seems an attractive purity about this approach and, as we shall see, it certainly pays dividends.
It is also this theory that makes the Quantec so easy to use. There is only one effect envelope to edit. The only parameters to edit on the Yardstick are the reverb time, reverb delay, density, bandwidth and high and low times. Contrary to almost all other modern manufacturers of reverb or multi-effects units, the user is not allowed complete control over exactly what value to set each parameter. Instead, many of the parameters are adjustable in unusually large increments.
This doesn’t lead to a lack of control, however. It actually relieves the user of ridiculous decisions, such as the choice between 49% density and 50% density. Who can really tell the difference?
We used the Yardstick to record our latest production company signing. The transients of each of the acoustic instruments were beautifully handled and a hugely realistic depth was added to the vocals. The sound quality was simply superb at all settings, no matter how extreme, and its silky subtlety ensured that it didn’t once encroach on the recorded material.
As impressed with the reverb as we were, we do have one small criticism of the design. Although we understand the thinking behind it, in our experience there’s still a heck of a lot of pro studios connecting up their outboard gear through conventional analog inputs and outputs.
This is a new classic in the making. Quantec has succeeded in replacing what was fantastic — but unaffordable — gear in the last decade with a kit that will readily fill a space in the studio of today without having to speak too sweetly to the bank manager. This is one important piece of gear that will be seriously hard to take out of the rack and send back.