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Emusician Review: PSP Audioware Lexicon PSP42

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Polish developer Professional Sound Projects (PSP) has introduced a plug-in emulation of Lexicon's PCM 42 hardware, and it bears investigation. But first, I must make a disclosure. I designed the Lexicon PCM 42, so this won't be your usual review. I can't claim total objectivity, but I hope that I can offer some insight.

The PCM 42 is a pre-DSP digital delay line that was introduced in 1981. Its audio delay is digital, but everything else is analog. The original PCM 42 offers as much as 4.8 seconds of delay (which is doubled in the PSP emulation). The PCM 42 includes primitive clock-sync functions that made it a favorite among loop performers. Sweep effects are provided by a time-base modulation section with an envelope follower and a low-frequency oscillator that generates sine or square waves. A Delay X2 button cuts the sample rate in half, doubling the delay time. The PCM 42 also has an infinite-hold setting that lets you use it as a simple phrase sampler. Most importantly, the PCM 42 has a characteristic sound that made it a studio standard. Even today, used PCM 42s command a premium price.

The Virtual PCM 42

So how does a plug-in emulation compare with the original unit? Of course, you gain the advantages of software over hardware, including multiple instances. Want a PCM 42 on every input? You got it! PSP 42 offers preset memories, automation through VST or MIDI, and improved delay-sync functions.

PSP 42 comes in VST and DirectX formats, and a MAS version is also promised.

New Wrinkles

I ran PSP 42 under VST on a Mac. When you open the control panel, you get a photo-realistic image of the PCM 42's front panel. If you compare it to the original, though, you'll notice an extra knob for output level. For reasons best left unmentioned, that control ended up on the rear panel of the original. PSP did well to rectify the situation. Additional controls let you select and store presets. The controls and indicators generally act the same way they do on the original.

Not everything on PSP 42 works exactly as it did on the original, though. On the original PCM 42, hitting the infinite-repeat button (• RPT) immediately locks whatever is in the entire memory. Infinite repeat in PSP 42 is more akin to a modern phrase sampler, instituting a one-shot capture at the current delay setting. PSP's implementation is probably more useful.

The Clock mode also works differently. The PCM 42 generates a signal that reflects the clock rate. You can use it to drive drum machines, arpeggiators, and the like, allowing for tempo-synchronous loops. It was cool for its time, but nowadays your gear can easily share clocks, and insisting on being the master is just not polite. PSP 42 locks to system tempo, or you can set the tempo from the front panel. Up and down buttons set the note value (16th, eighth, quarter, and so on) and the number of note units.

You can control all PSP 42 parameter values using VST automation or MIDI Control Change (CC) messages, with fixed assignments of CC numbers in the range of 102 to 118.

PSP 42 does a very nice emulation of clock sweep, something that most software-based audio delays don't handle well. It also does a very satisfying octave shift when you hit the Delay X2 button.

But what about the sound? The PCM 42 became a classic because it sounded good — not transparent, and certainly not clinical, but with a nice characteristic for delay and echo. I'm happy to say that PSP 42 holds its own, exploiting PSP's expertise in emulating tape saturation to achieve a sound that is pleasing and warm. In fact, I resurrected my old PCM 42 and tried it right up against the PSP version. I have to say that for some settings, I actually preferred the sound of PSP 42.

Looper's Delight

My hat's off to the developers at PSP. They've taken a classic design and updated it for the modern world, keeping the best of the original and judiciously enhancing it with up-to-date technology. If you want classic delay in your arsenal of DSP plug-ins, PSP 42 is an excellent investment. From emusician.com

Try before you buy

Download Lexicon PSP 42 trial version for free!

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