Lexicon Model 200 digital reverb


Updated 11-10-2013

Lexicon digital reverbs are world renowned for their stunning realism.  Developing a digital reverb algorithm in software is hardly a trivial task and few engineers in the industry have any grasp on the subject.  The Lexicon developers were highly advanced, highly analytical, and they engineered a first class product.  They were also constantly progressing to new algorithms with each new model, and old algorithms were often abandoned.  So the oft-asked question is "which new lexicon sounds like a 224X?" Unfortunately the answer is none of them - they all have their subtle differences.  If you wanted the reverb of a 224X, you had to get a 224X.

The well known high end "classic era" Lexicon reverbs are the 224, 224XL, 300, 480L, and 960.  I had been content with my Eventide 2016s for reverb (in case you missed the plural, I have two 2016s because one wasn't enough) but was open to adding a Lexicon for another reverb flavor - but which one?!?  Then I read of the Model 200 on a discussion forum and my interest was piqued.  The Model 200 reverb is not so well known but does fit the "high end" category.  But what caught my interest was the interface - a separate panel control for each reverb parameter, precisely what I liked about my 2016.  They also can be a bargain on the used market.  So what is this mysterious Model 200?

They were made from 1982 to 1985 and they fall between the 224 and 224X models.  They were designed as a tour-rugged compact 3U rackmount version of the 224 reverb systems.  They are true stereo reverb processors.  The Model 200 sold well but the release of the even more compact 1U rackmount PCM series made a short life for the Model 200.  The PCM series were multi-effect units (you could combine reverbs with chorus, flanging, echo, etc) and the Model 200 was reverb only (but a hell of a reverb).  It is an interesting "transition" model in that it included reverb algorithms from a preceding model (the 224) and a succeeding model (the 224X).  The hall, plate, and chamber algorithms were ported (not a direct copy) from the 224.  "Ported" means the algorithm software had to "translated" to work on a different unit using a different microprocessor - not a guarantee of identical operation, but it will be close.  If you have the later firmware v1.3 it added rich plate, rich splits, and inverse rooms which were ported from the 224X.  V1.3 can be identified by looking for the sticker on the far left of the front panel, you'll see the six reverb classes under the PROGRAMS labels with "VERSION 1.3" on the bottom.  None of the 200/224 algorithms were included in succeeding Lexicon models.

I have provided the EPROM contents from my unit if you want to upgrade your older 200 to v1.3.  You will need a friend with an EPROM burner and five 2732 EPROMs (the access speed is marked on the ICs).  The BIN files are
U25, U26, U27, U28, and U29 (use right click and "Save Link Target As").  Note to reverse engineers - you will NOT find the algorithms on these EPROMs, they are implemented elsewhere.

I detest menu interfaces so I pretty much ruled out the PCM series and anything newer.  Yeah they have great presets but I like to tweak stuff and make it my own - why should I sound like everybody else?  Anything with a panel full of knobs and buttons of which they are dedicated to a single function is preferrable in my book - and few digital reverbs offer such an interface.  The Model 200 sports knobs for predelay time, reverb time, and size as well as buttons for selecting pre-echoes, diffusion levels, reverb time contours, and rolloff.  This is the only Lexicon product with a nice interface like this.  You use the keypad on the left to select the reverb class you want.  From there there are ten factory preset variations of that class.  Once you find one that closely fits your needs, you can tweak it and save it to any of the ten user patch locations.  TEN?  Waitaminnit, these were made in 1982?  A WHOPPING TEN USER PROGRAMS?  Programmable analog polysynths during those days offered a HUNDRED or more user programs.  TEN?  Was it THAT much more $$$ to increase RAM space for more user storage?!?  No MIDI in this thing for sysex dumps and no archive storage interface at all - back to pencil and patchsheets for archiving user patches!

To be fair, the ten variations of each reverb class give you enough variety to suit the needs of most musicians.  Being a traditional reverb box, don't expect radical sounds from the Model 200.  So what does the Model 200 offer that the 2016 doesn't?  It offers "that" Lexicon sound - deep, lush, stereo reverbs.  One can definitely hear the "1980s" sound in this box - Lexicon reverbs were an established product in recording studios back in those days.  Well OK, the 1980s are ancient history - so what else is this thing good at? 

The principal algorithm developers at Lexicon have acknowledged that they enjoy attending classical concerts for the music and that the ambient qualities of those concert halls were an inspiration for the reverb algorithms. 
I like to compile MIDI orchestras - I had done orchestral scores of classical pieces and popular songs.  One of my upcoming projects were some songs from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" suite so I decided to use them as a tryout for the Model 200.  Dial up a string orchestra and some baritone horns, play the motif from Valse des Fleurs (Waltz Of The Flowers) through a chamber reverb preset - Oh.  My.  I never heard a MIDI orchestra sound so GOOD.  This thing puts you inside a classical concert hall! 

is what the Model 200 offers that the 2016 doesn't.  The 2016 has room and plate reverbs, the former which are excellent for short ambient applications.  But the 2016 doesn't have the chamber and hall reverbs of the Model 200.  The plate reverbs from both units sound good, they sound different, they have their uses.  So the Model 200 is a good companion to the 2016, both offer excellent reverbs and neither of them are redundant.  Grand piano and percussion sounds really good through a Lexicon hall reverb too. 

One of the reasons why the "classic era" Lexicon reverbs are unique is they employ time variation in their algorithms in the form of moving delay lines or time-varying output taps.  They also have an inherent form of program dependency where different input volumes result in dynamically changing reverb time and other interactive parameters - much like a natural reverbrant closed space.  This creates a very rich constantly evolving reverb.

These reverbs are classed as non linear time variant.  The succeeding Lexicon reverbs starting with the PCM series are linear time variant (with the exception of the Concert Hall algorithm in the PCM70) and do not implement the varying algorithms of the "classic era" Lexicons.  Modern convolution techniques can replicate linear time variant reverbs, but not the constantly evolving nature of the nonlinear class.  That is why software reverbs won't sound like the "classic era" Lexicons.  Another reason for the superior sound of the Lexicons is the A/D and D/A converters are far more advanced than most "prosumer" digital interfaces.

I'll have to dial up the percussion loop that I put through the 2016 and make some sample mp3s that show this thing off.

Tweaking the Model 200 is a joy.  The buttons and each of the three knobs has an associated LED displaying their current settings.  When you change reverb variations you get an immediate display of its settings - no more diving through menus to learn a reverb setting.  One interesting parameter not offered on the 2016 is SIZE which determines the room size that is being emulated.  Thankfully the LED display for SIZE is in real world units of meters.  You can simulate the acoustic quality of a living room, a large room, a recital hall, a concert hall, or the Astrodome sports arena.  The sound of the reverb classes is strongly dependent on the SIZE setting, and the SIZE setting impacts the maximum limit of reverb time and predelay settings.  This is done because that is how reverbration works in nature. 

REVERB TIME is the RT60 setting at 1Khz and there is a rear panel CV input jack that can continously vary the reverb time between minimum and the current panel setting.  A voltage controlled digital reverb!!!  The RT CONTOUR buttons varies the reverb factor for two frequency centers - X1.5/X1/X0.5 at 100hz, and X1/X0.5/X0.25 at 10Khz.  With these RT CONTOUR options you can simulate the different reflective qualities of surface compositions such as wood floors or metal walled rooms.  PREDELAY delays the signal to the reverb processor to simulate depth.  DIFFUSION has three selections that varies the reflections of the initial sound over time.  Percussion or vocals benefit from this control.  PRE-ECHOES emulate stage reflections (not the same as PREDELAY) - it is either ON or OFF and its algorithm varies depending on the reverb class and its variations.   ROLLOFF is a lowpass filter applied to the signal before the reverb generator with choices of 3Khz at 6dB/oct, 7Khz at 6dB/oct, and 10Khz at a very sharp rolloff slope.  This control mimics the effect of air absorption due to environmental and obstruction effects.  Changing any of these parameters will temporarily interrupt the reverb sound (every digital reverb does this).

I have compiled a comprehensive
Digital Reverb Explained for the curious.

There are left/right XLR inputs and outputs with a switch for 0dB gain for +4dBu operation or 20dB gain for low level instruments such as guitars.  You can use stereo inputs, mono inputs, or summed stereo to mono by setting the switch on the front panel.  Slidepots adjust the input signal level and output wet/dry mix, and two recessed trimpots set the master output levels.  The LED meters show both input level with peak hold and reverb level for both stereo channels.  REVERB STOP silences the reverb processing.  INPUT MUTE disables the audio input to the reverb processor while allowing the reverb to decay and can be operated via footswitch from the rear panel jack.  There is a PROGRAM STEP jack on the rear panel that uses a footswitch to step through predefined patches in a predefined order.

There is a RESET button on the front panel that will run a set of self-diagnostic internal tests on various sections of the unit.  With a complex device like this, diagnostics are a real time saver in locating the source of a malfunction.  If any problems are found after diagnostics are complete, it returns an error code that narrows down as much as possible the culprit causing the problem.

There are a couple of unused REMOTE cutouts on the rear panel - Lexicon never got around to using these for anything.  The cutouts were to accept a DB9 and DB15 connector, confirmed by the empty pads on the circuit board.  In the last year of Model 200 production, 1984 was the dawn of MIDI and these REMOTE cutouts were already obsolete.  This model does not have MIDI or digital I/O.

If you buy a Model 200, be warned that the original battery is almost thirty years old and is overdue for replacement.  They are an oddball 3.6V NiCad battery but they are still available.  If the battery is bad, the unit won't boot up when you turn it on (it can be manually booted with the front panel RESET button) and your user patches won't be retained after power is removed (the battery provides backup power to user patches stored in RAM when the power is turned off).  Recapping is also a good idea as the electrolytic capacitors also have a limited life.

I am usually careful not to have redundant gear in my arsenal, but I made a good choice picking up the Model 200.  It is a good alternative to my 2016s and they both offer talents that are useful.  Lexicon designed a very intuitive interface, probably the best I have seen on a reverb processor.  A shame this interface has yet to be duplicated.

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