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GearWire Review: PSP Audioware PSP85

When PSP Audioware released the Lexicon-endorsed Lexicon PSP 42, modeled visually and sonically on the legendary 1981 Lexicon PCM 42 mostly-analog hardware delay, I couldn't wait to get my virtual hands on it. It has been a favorite delay plug-in ever since.

It's relatively easy to use, offers a host of unusual possibilities, and sounds great. So when they doubled down by delivering the PSP 84, which features two independent delay lines and an impressive array of additional features, I was definitely on board to give it a try. The recently released PSP 85 is a significant upgrade to the PSP 84 with many welcome new features: pre-delay, output panning, delay gating and ducking, filter-resonance modulation, and more.

To be sure, the PSP 85 involves some additional head scratching, and when I don't need the extra features or dual delays, the PSP 42 is still my go-to delay. Having said that, the PSP 85 goes way beyond what you can do by simply stacking two PSP 42s. You get more control, more modulation, and lots of cross pollination between the delays.

What Goes In

There are two key concepts in managing a variable-sampling-rate delay like the PSP 85. The first is the buffer. Although not exactly how it works, you can think of samples from the plug-in's audio input as being stuffed into the buffer at one end and, once the buffer is full, emerging at the other end for further processing and playback. If, for example, your DAW's sampling rate is 48,000 samples-per-second and the buffer holds 48,000 samples, the delay time will be 1 second. The buffer size is roughly analogous to the distance between the record and playback heads of a tape delay like the classic Echoplex units.

The second key concept is the plug-in's sampling rate, which you can change and modulate. You use the Manual knob to set it between 0.5- to 2.0-times the DAW's sampling rate. If you halve the plug-in's sampling rate, for example, it grabs every other sample from the incoming audio, and, therefore, the buffer takes twice as long to fill up, and the delay time doubles. Changing the sampling rate is similar to changing the tape speed of a tape delay, and you'll hear the consequent temporary shift in pitch while the rate at which samples emerge from the buffer differs from the rate at which they were captured.

The PSP 85 now has separate tabs for setting the left and right delay parameters—the settings to the left of the digital readout (see Fig. 1). The black buttons labeled Num (numerator) and Den (denominator) set the delay time and operate differently in Time and Beat (tempo synced) modes.

In Time mode you use the buttons to increment and decrement the time, and the Shift and Command (Control on the PC) keys increase the step size from 1ms to 10ms and 100ms, respectively. The grey bar between the buttons acts as a hidden slider to scroll the time setting. In Beat mode the left button increments the number of beats and the right button increments the beat division (quarter-note, eighth-note, and so on). Holding the Shift key causes the buttons to decrement the values.

The Pan knob at the top controls the feedback routing back into the delay lines; the Pan knob at the bottom is for output panning. The Gain knob controls feedback amount, and the Gate knob lets you attenuate the delay output, which is a great way to tame busy delay setups. Buttons let you invert the phase of the delay and feedback as well as to mute the input for a 100-percent wet effect.

Beyond Delay

You'll find extensive modulation options using a built-in LFO and envelope follower. You choose an LFO rate in Hertz or beat-divisions (now syncable to song position), pick a waveform (optionally offset in phase between channels), dial in a mix of the LFO and envelope follower, and set the envelope follower's sensitivity and attack/release speed. You can route the modulation to the sampling rate (initially set by the red Manual knob) using the VCO MOD knob. You can also route it to the filter cutoff and resonance using the CUTF MOD and RESO MOD knobs.

After delay processing and modulation, the PSP 85 offers a multimode filter and basic reverb unit. (Notice that you get buttons to turn the sampling-rate, filter, and reverb sections off.) The filter types are highpass, bandpass, and lowpass, and you can insert the filter at the input, before the feedback return, or at the post-FX output. The mixer offers input and output gain, dry/wet mix, and ducking-threshold controls. Ducking uses the input signal or an external sidechain input (when supported by your DAW) to duck the wet output. It's great for thinning out a busy delay setup. The Bypass button adjacent to the mixer bypasses the wet output, but the unit keeps processing, so you can use Bypass as a real-time control.

The PSP 85 comes with 60 new presets and is compatible with PSP 84 presets, which are included as a separate bank. The new presets run the gamut from refreshing to devastating, but they especially illustrate how subtle and useful PSP 85 can be. I ran through the factory presets on comping parts (keyboards, guitars, and backing vocals), drums and percussion, and leads (where they are best used sparingly). I used the one-click MIDI-learn scheme to map the MIDI mod wheel to the Gate knob and the sustain pedal to the Bypass button, and playing with the PSP 85's presets kept me busy for hours.

Pros: Sounds great. Capable of both subtle and extreme results. Takes varispeed effects to a new level.
Cons: Control panel is a bit crowded.