Lexicon PCM-60 digital reverb

pcm-60 small pic

Update 11-10-2013

The PCM-60 is a cost-effective 1U rackspace derivative of the Lexicon model 200.  The latter is optimized for the studio and listed for $4800 in 1985, while the former is optimized for the road and listed for $1500 in the same era.  The PCM-60 lacks many of the features of its big brothers, but does pack that classic Lexicon sound - probably the last Lexicon device of that era, as their constant evolution of reverb algorithm development drove them to abandon old algorithms.  Today this unit is one of the sleeper deals if you want a decent reverb sound - just don't expect much in the flexibility department.  And if you see one for sale listed "as-is", caveat emptor as these units pack some custom ICs that are no longer available anywhere.  I bought my units from a seller that guaranteed 100% operation and it was worth the extra money.

I had just joined a southern rock band where my duties were piano, organ, and guitar.  I also had to play some brass and string parts.  It wasn't long before I realized that my Andromeda was overkill and I could reduce three keyboards down to two.  My patch changes were enough to demand a MIDI controller.  But my Yamaha P-90 I had been using for piano and EPs was far from a MIDI controller so I opted for a second Kurzweil MIDIBoard and a 1000PX and 1000HX module.  Two things drove that decision - I already knew my way around both units so there was zero learning curve, and I already had a flight case for the 1st MIDIBoard which is now rooted in my studio, so the 2nd MB is the "road unit".  It was high time that I built the base system that comprised my keyboard offsite rig.

The 1000PX/1000HX can cover almost all my sound needs (organ is handled by my Hammond XK-3), but they lack any DSP reverb effects.  During my sound design and recording travels I have learned that digital reverb is essential for adding ambience to piano, brass, and string sounds.  I had been spoiled by my Lexicon Model 200 and Eventide 2016s for reverb (in case you missed the plural, I have two 2016s because one wasn't enough).  So being in the market for a digital reverb to take on the road, I wanted something rudimentary but good.  I didn't need MIDI control or digital I/O so that ruled out another 2016 and didn't justify $2000 for a new 2016 (used ones rarely come up for sale).  I didn't need a multiFX box, and very few are as effective as the 2016 or classic Lexicon.  So that left another Lexicon as the only option.  I needed plate reverb for brass and strings, and a good room reverb for piano.  But the Lexicon 200 does not offer a room algorithm, and it was too big for the surplus rack case I had planned for the road rig.

I must admit that the Lexicon model sequence numbering had deceived me as my original assessment of the PCM-60 - being the lowest numbered of the PCM series - was that it was the bottom of the line unit.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The PCM-60 offers room and plate algorithms in a simplified package.  OK, but where does its sound fit?  Feedback on the discussion forums placed the PCM-60 in the 224/480 class - and the 200 is a member of that class.  It has that classic Lexicon sound.  It offered plate AND room algorithms.  Flexibility is not why you buy a PCM-60 and it lacks modern features like MIDI control and digital I/O.  But the PCM-60 fit my needs like a glove for the road rig.  Since they were inexpensive on the used market, I opted for two PCM-60s - one configured for room reverb for pianos and EPs, the other for plate for brass and strings.  I simply configured the 1000PX/1000HX as mono outputs and routed one output of each to their independent PCM-60 and WALA instant audio routing!

The PCM-60 algorithms are "crippled" versions of the Lexicon "big boys" 200/224/480 class - missing are stereo input processing, time variation in the form of moving delay lines or time-varying output taps, and program dependency where different input volume levels dynamically alters the reverb time and other interactive parameters.  In other words, it lacks some richness and movement of the reverb sound.  Being a "budget" unit, this is perfect business sense so that it doesn't compete with the more expensive units.  Still, the PCM-60 plate and room sounds were effective for my gigging needs.

One reason I opted for separate PCM-60s is the demands of the music.  There are songs on the setlist where I alternate between piano and strings or brass in quick succession, so switching reverb algorithms on the fly was not going to work.  Another is the interface.  Configuring a reverb is a simple pushbutton affair on the PCM-60.  You are offered two algorithms, each of which you can have four choices of room size, four choices of reverb time, and two options for frequency contouring. 
If you're unfamiliar with those terms, read this comprehensive Digital Reverb ExplainedLike I said, you don't buy a PCM-60 for flexibility.  The pushbuttons are not momentary, they are latching.  That means I don't have to re-configure each reverb between gigs, it is ready at power up.  The other reason is I had space available for both in the surplus rack.  And as I later learned, changing the configuration on a PCM-60 results in slight audible "blips" in your output.

When my two units arrived, I put them through the paces and was satisfied that I made the right decision.  Despite the stereo output jacks, I can detect zero stereo placement.  Lexicon probably removed or diminished the stereo processing so that the PCM-60 would not compete with the larger more expensive units like the 200 or 224X or 480L.  Lexicon offered an upgrade for the PCM-60 in that plate reverb was replaced with inverse reverb, and one of my units had that upgrade intact.  I could see a future use for my studio or off-site recording so I designed a "normalled" I/O panel which is defaulted for playing out, but I have the option to use either PCM-60 for studio use for those times I do not need a stereo reverb but want that classic Lexicon sound.

A 1/4" input can be used with unbalanced or TRS balanced systems, with left/right outputs unbalanced only.  The input and output buffers have a switch for 0dB gain for +4dBu operation or 20dB gain for low level instruments such as guitars.  The BYPASS switch does a true hardware bypass from input to output.  The LED meters show input level, 0dB indicates clipping.  One feature I plan on exploiting is the loop sent/return jacks - I plan on adding a Korg SDD-3300 which is an extremely flexible triple digital delay with three independent inputs and outputs.  The send/return is to be routed to one set of input/output on the 3300, which opens up options like predelay which is essential for plate reverbs with brass sounds.  Since the 3300 has a nice matrix routing system, I am not tied to using a delay unit solely for predelay and can route send right back to return while freeing all three delays for complex processing, including the other two inputs which will be assigned to analog synthesizers as needed for gigs.  Again, the I/O panel will "normal" the 3300 where I want for live performance, with option to use standalone in studio.

The SIZE and REVERB TIME settings interact with each other.  Reverb times vary from 0.2 seconds to 4.5 seconds, and predelays are pre-configured as part of the SIZE setting.  Not a lot of variability but there is enough variety to satisfy most bread-n-butter needs - like piano, brass, strings, guitar, vocals which this unit was targeted for.  The CONTOUR switches change the frequency response of the algorithm, with BASS or TREBLE options.  TREBLE is good when certain sounds (brass, struck percussion) make the reverb sound too "metallic".  Three pots - INPUT, MIX, OUTPUT LEVEL - round out this simple device.  If your unit has the INVERSE ROOM upgrade, the reverb becomes gated.  SIZE configures the gate time, REVERB TIME configures the slope of the reverb tail.  You get two slopes for natural decay, they are unique from the room algorithm.  Another slope makes the reverb not decay at all (but is gated off), and the last gives you a reverse reverb.  They are effective for percussion.  The PCM-60 reverb has an upper high frequency response of 10Khz while its big brothers stretch to 15Khz.  Most natural reverbs seldom exceed 10Khz anyway.

Since the PCM-60 has no user storage, then no battery is needed to backup power to user patches stored in RAM when the power is turned off.  Batteries often have a limited life of 20-30 years so that is one nuisance I don't have to deal with on the road.  The owner's manual is easy to find on the 'net.

Can the PCM-60 be replicated in software reverbs?  Since the PCM-60 is linear time invariant you could use modern convolution techniques to analyze an impulse response of the PCM-60, and it should - theoretically - sound the same as the PCM-60. You would need impulse responses for every button combination of the PCM-60 to cover all the functionality of the unit.

If you want good natural reverb that is compact and quick to configure, it's hard to go wrong with the PCM-60.  If you want more flexibility in tweaking the reverb, more algorithms, unnatural sounds, stereo processing - plenty of better options out there.

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