Guitar Gear: Lexicon MX200 Dual Reverb Effects Processor
Author: Sam Airy
Lexicon is to reverb is what Ferrari is to sports cars. Few people I know in the business would disagree with this statement. I recall my early love affairs with Lexicon's wonderful 224X and later their 480L. Studio clients would swoon over their silky smooth reverbs and insist on more than necessary just so they could hear the beauty of the Lexicon sonority.
Now, of course we have the TEC award winning 960L that has perhaps only one or two rivals in its class. My main gripe was that I could never afford one - and once you've been spoilt with the sounds of the best it seemed silly to go and buy something with which I was not completely happy. The good news is that after some three decades Lexicon units have become very affordable. And, although they still command top dollar for their greatest achievements, a gem like their new MX200 can be purchased for just $599.
The Lexicon MX200 is a dual-processor 1U rack mount digital effects device. As its name suggests, it does a lot more than just reverb. This is a 24-bit, 44.1kHz and 48kHz unit with a dynamic range of greater than 107dB.
If there was a theme for this unit it would be one of simplicity. The front panel has no LCD display, just a list of programs. To choose one, give the program select knob a twist and press it once and you are there! As a dual effects processor you can run two individual effects individually and output them separately, run two together and output them as mix together or run them in series, taking the output of one effect as the input of the next.
At the back it comes with all the usual S/PIDF digital connectors, MIDI interface and both balanced and unbalanced TRS jacks for inputs and outputs. Disappointingly the power supply comes in the form of a huge wall wart - so big that if you had two of these you couldn't plug them into adjacent sockets on a power board. For the professional user this is a nuisance, but it is probably a way of making the unit cooler, smaller and less expensive overall.
The design is excellent with controls being well spaced and logically placed. Thoughtfully, even the LEDs are colour coded: Processor 1 and 2 have green and red LEDs, respectively. The Program digit LEDs are just about as large as it is possible to make for a 1U device and have been purposefully dimmed to make them less dominant in low lighting conditions.
The build quality is unfortunately a little less impressive. Although knobs turn smoothly and the program dial cycles effortlessly in a series of convincing clicks, all the buttons mounted on the front panel suffer from considerable side-to-side movement in their mountings. In other words, shake it and it rattles! With any other brand I would find myself arguing that this is an inexpensive reverb and what should I expect for $599? But this is a Lexicon. If you want me to expect less, change the logo, not the price tag.
The MX200 has two important tricks up its sleeve. First, it can be remotely controlled from a computer via USB. A simple editor/librarian program for either Mac or PC allows created patches to be saved, archived and recalled. Twisting a knob or selecting a patch on either the MX200 or the computer will cause the other device to mirror the settings you have selected. Second, it can act as a plug-in. This means that you can attach it to any VST-compatible program and it will allow the MX200 to appear alongside the other software effects plug-ins. This is a great feature as most quality software plug-ins are going to set you back at least $599 each anyway. As an external device you will save the computer a whole heap of CPU usage.
For the installation of the patch editor/librarian software I used a Mac iBook G4. No set-up or special configuration was necessary and the MX200 made immediate communication with the laptop. From inserting the CD to making contact with the MX200 the whole procedure took barely 60 seconds. I cannot recall ever using anything, that that involved installation of software for communication with a third party device, that worked so quickly straight out of the box.
The patches themselves are great. And, while not being exactly a Lexicon 960L, to make this review sound balanced I did have to shake this unit to find anything that is wrong with it! In a nutshell there are a great selection of effects including 16 of their top reverbs from yesteryear, a dbx compressor and de-esser and a number of digital delays and other modulated FX. In all there are 99 factory presets and 99 user definable patches. To cut a long story short... this unit must surely have some of the best sounding effects I have heard in this price range, ever!
Ever played the latest synth and been wowed by its sounds? And then after you bought it, found that as good as some sounds were, they just weren't particularly useful? (On a synth that costs $4000, if you only end up using 15 sounds regularly, it means that each sound has costs you roughly $267). The same is certainly true of effects processors. However, the MX200 I would say is probably the most thoughtfully assembled selection of effects I have come across in recent memory.
So you won't be paying for spectacular effects that work better as a showroom/sales floor demo than in your mix. To be sure, you'll have your favourites. It's just that I have more favourites on this model for the money than usual. (Forget 'Hall' reverbs - super size me and give me the 'Arena' instead)!
A Lexicon for $599 with VST plug-in and librarian ability is pretty amazing. In fact, one could just use that sentence for this review and call it a day. However, I'm also impressed with how Lexicon's R & D department have pitched this product. If you're in the business of recording it will be ideal for the project studio. With +4dBu standard operating level and headroom of up to +20dBu in sparkling 24-bit audio it's exactly what I want. On the other hand, for those engaged in live performance, you're not going to be paying for stuff (like FireWire, word clock and light pipe I/O) that you probably would never use. This is a great sounding unit that is a cinch to program. If Lexicon can do something like this at the price you tend to wonder what else they have up their sleeve.
Sam Airy is an Auckland based composer and producer. By day he lectures at MAINZ as Head of Audio Engineering and Music production.