Original 1996 Alesis NanoVerb

Bob Leggitt | Saturday, 17 December 2011 |

Yes, it’s another of the sandwich-sized Alesis studio units up for a revisit in this piece. This is the Nanoverb, of 1996 vintage – primarily a high quality reverb, but, like the NanoPiano I looked at yesterday, also carrying a raft of extra features in an attempt to woo the undecided.

The Nanoverb was yet another shot in the Alesis war on price barriers. Ever since the MIDIVerb brought professional reverb to new, more modest echelons of the recording world the previous decade, Alesis had been finding new ways to offer studio quality verb to the impoverished. This, however, was the first offering which could truly be described as a budget unit.

It had always been part of Alesis policy to save money by stripping back parameters, but to keep the fundamental sound quality at all times. The NanoVerb was entirely in keeping with that. So there really isn’t much to mess with here. Just five knobs, which almost give the feeling that rather than a studio effect, this is actually more like a guitar pedal squashed flat. And that’s pretty much where the NanoVerb sat pricewise. With an original RRP of £169, it was roughly in line with a high end Digital Reverb stomp box of the mid ‘90s.

In truth, though, this is a studio unit. It has stereo ins and outs, as well as being designed to mount into a studio rack. And to distinguish itself further from a reverb pedal, the NanoVerb has a broader base of abilities. As well as functioning as a very nice reverb unit, it can operate as a delay, or a chorus, or a flanger, or a rotary speaker effect. Additionally, it can combine chorus and reverb.

The reverb effects would almost certainly be the main reason for someone to buy this device, and if so, they’d be well rewarded. Reverb has, through the decades, been one of those effects people could fear to use liberally lest its imperfections begin to reveal themselves. The NanoVerb instantly quells that fear. The opening Hall 1 algorithm provides an immediate comfort zone and you’re tempted to absolutely deluge your sound in verb. All of the reverbs are very smooth, and have attractive characteristics. There are three Halls, three Rooms, three Plates, and a Non-Linear (gated) – plus the combination selections which provide Room and Chorus together. On lesser products I normally stick with the plates, but on this unit the whole range is so good that I really don’t have any reservations about a single option. I’m not a great fan of reverby vocal lines, but the NanoVerb more than caters for those who are, and it allows such forceful use of reverb that the whole feel of playing instruments can quite dramatically change.

The Delay is precise, as you’d expect, with the Adjust control determining the repeat rate.

The Chorus and Flanger were always going to be a risk on a device with such limited control. If the effects as set at the factory meet with the musician/recordist’s approval, then they’re a true bonus. But since both effects are only adjustable for mix (with the original sound) and cycle rate, some tweaks the user may desperately want to perform are out of bounds. The chorus depth, for example. The preset chorus depth is pretty polite on the NanoVerb and so shouldn’t upset too many people, but the Flanger isn’t so subtle and the resonance is preset well into soaring jet territory. It’s best to regard these effects as a fun aside rather than a serious Chorus and Flanger. Anyone assuming the latter is likely to be disappointed.

Apart from the fact it’s the most noticeably noisy effect, the Rotary isn’t inherently bad. It’s more convincing than, say, the one on the original analogue Korg CX3, but less convincing than the one on the digital Korg CX3. As the effect is set, the slow/fast transition is almost instant, which I find unrealistic, and there’s no way to cure it because there are no parameters to tinker with. But the most annoying thing about the Rotary effect is that it pans pretty much hard left then hard right through its cycle. Set slow it’s arguably bearable, but set fast it’s head-spinningly over-the-top. Incidentally, slow/fast is achieved by notching the Adjust knob either above (fast) or below (slow) its centre point.

The NanoVerb is still available, and prices today, in real terms, are a fraction of what they were in spring 1996 when the unit was launched. The example I’ve looked at here is an original ’96, inspected and passed by 'Cheng', in October of that year. I don’t know how the exact spec of the current models compares to this one, so none of the above should be taken as a recommendation or otherwise of the brand new NanoVerbs currently on sale. This one, however, is undeniably a high quality reverb unit which would benefit any home recording setup.

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