When I started work at Livingston Studios at the end of 1984 there was an AMS RMX-16 in both studios. This was the only source of artificial reverb other than the EMT140 plates. For a studio like Livingston, these were the obvious choice – British made, cheaper than a Lexicon, and until the game-changing Yamaha SPX90 came along, we were happy, (unless there was a budget to hire a Lexicon!). They were somewhat noisy, sometimes a little unreliable (a Reset toggle was handily provided) but this particular model was a defining part of the sound of 1980s pop records.
The original device was housed in a 2RU 19” rack-mount case, with a whirring fan to cool the electronics. Modern components render this new version silent, and contained within a three-space 500 Series unit. The numeric keypad has been retained, the solitary encoder uses a similar knob to the pots on the original, and the finish and logo make this instantly recognisable. It was a very tight fit into my Radial Six-Pack Workhorse – the case height seems tall. There are two connectors, on Slot 1 and Slot 3. Like the original this is a mono-input, stereo-output device, so input is to Slot 1 only.
There are 9 standard programs that featured on the original RMX. If you were lucky there were a further 9 available by using the rare wired remote with barcode reader. All 18 are here as standard, but I remember the poor Livingston tech spending many hours trying to scan the codes correctly in order to give us extra settings. If you nudged through the programs beyond the last one, the whole thing would crash and you’d need to cycle the power. For fear of disaster, I rarely ventured past the first few favourites! Back in the 80’s certain programs were used more than others. Program numbers have mysteriously gone AWOL here, but (number 1) Ambience still sounds smooth, bright and modern. Great for general use, and far richer and denser sounding than the old EMTs, and not dissimilar to a Bricasti M7’s Snare Chamber setting if you turn the Hi Decay Filter down to about -9. Yes, we liked it bright in the 80’s! I remembered the AMS’s Plate setting as comparatively turgid, with a wallowy, boxy, chorusey sound to it. However, setting it to about 1 second and sending the snare drum made for a great sound – within the mix. The advice of my senior engineer was “Don’t solo the snare in front of the producer”! But hearing it now on the RMX16 500 it seems quite bright, dense and rich. The Room settings were good for short, thickening settings to give instruments a small amount of interesting space, and the Halls were sometimes awesome for huge and epic reverb. But the most interesting setting was Nonlin2, a richly grainy pseudo-gated reverb effect that shouted “1980s”. It still sounds great – thick, and always interesting. Similarly, the two Reverse programs have a great fade-in effect if you want something characterful.
There are a few other curios. Chorus has five voices spread across the stereo; you can’t modulate the delay, and anything with transients can get scratchy sounding, but you can filter the HF. Echo is a dual/stereo delay with filters and internal regen, each channel’s settings unexpectedly accessed with the keypad’s A and B buttons. Freeze is an infinite reverb setting, while Image P1 is a Nonlin variant that seems to pan across.
Operation is not dissimilar to the original. On that, you could directly nudge settings with buttons below the display, select the Pot on the left to adjust a setting with the knob, or enter settings directly with the keypad – the latter two work here, and global Up and Down buttons are provided for nudging; selecting a setting button lights its LED and grants access. Unlike the original smooth-scrolling knob, the one provided here is stepped, which is no bad thing.
Extra features on the 500 series version include a Mix control for a percentage value of wet to dry. And there are now memory registers for saving 100 presets within. The other difference is that this new machine uses a much more powerful processor, and far better converters. This results in incredibly quiet operation; the original used to hiss and whine in a manner that would not now be tolerated by younger engineers! The OLED display is clear and like the original lets you glance across and see what is going on – that is, once you’ve learned how to disable the annoying bouncing logo screensaver – it’s not obvious how to. The front panel USB socket alas does not allow remote control via computer, but is merely for firmware update capabilities, according to the manual.
Although digital, the RMX 16 500 is great to have as hardware. This reissue seems to sound smoother and more hi-fi than the original, – I’m not sure that’s always good, but it sounds rich and sits beautifully in modern productions.
Pros: A historic item re-born, classic 80s digital reverb, cheaper, quieter and more reliable than an original
Cons: No remote control via USB, some of the characterful graininess of the original converters seems smoothed out