What do you get when your cross renowned physicist and engineer Dr. David Griesinger with the development of professional audio equipment? The Lexicon 224 digital reverb system of course! While it followed the release of the very first widely available EMT 250 digital reverb, the 224’s début in 1978 really redefined the synthesis of reverberation and its application within audio production. Unlike the monstrously expensive $20,000 floor standing EMT 250, the 224 condensed up to 8 different programs down into a 4 unit rack system with elegant remote control for a fraction of the price. At $7500 USD for a 4 program 224, or $7900 USD for an 8 program unit it really was a hit with studios right around the world. Keep in mind, they are late 1970’s prices!
Its recognisable thick, smooth character reverbs have been used on famous hits like U2’s Unforgettable Fire, and Peter Gabriel’s So, an action that has solidified the 224’s place in history as an iconic piece of music equipment in application and quite a trailblazer in design and technology. Between its release in 1978 and discontinuation in 1986 as a result of the release of the Lexicon 480L, the 224 had several revisions and updates. They included:
- LEXICON 224 – The first rendition featured Burr Brown 80 series audio conversion, and a spiffy white remote control that connected via a parallel computer cable. Users could buy the NVS (non-volatile storage) card as an optional extra to gain user programmable storage. The 224 was sold in 2, 4, 6 and 8 program versions which could be expanded via simple eprom upgrades.
- LEXICON 224X – In 1983 the 224 was updated with a new timing circuit and better conversion based on the Burr Brown 800 series converters chips.According to Sean Costello of Valhalla DSP, the 224X functioned at a higher sampling rate; 34.5kHz instead of the 20kHz of the previous units. This increased the audio bandwidth of the 224X making it sound a lot less dull than the original 224. It also includes the “Rich” programs. Sean considers the Rich Plate program to be one of the best he has ever heard. There is a good interview with Sean Costello over at Good Recording Stuff. The NVS card also became a standard feature and the remote control was changed to what has become Lexicon’s signature blue colour.
- LEXICON 224XL – The addition of the “L” in the model number refers directly to the implementation of the LARC. The Lexicon Alpha-numerical Remote Control. It runs from a 9-pin D-Sub cable and is cross-compatible with the 300L and 480L reverb units. With the creation of more complex reverb algorithms, new control was needed so the traditional metal remote control was replaced. The LARC really is a thing of genius. It just works, wiring the control of reverb parameters to your fingertips and brain in an really intuitive way. When the LARC was introduced, Lexicon offered it as an paid upgrade/retrofit to Lexicon 224X units.
We have a Lexicon 224XL here and love it. Like a lot of equipment its age, it does need some regular maintenance. Fortunately the 224 is pretty straight forward in design and uses pretty standard components so it is possible to keep them functioning now and into the future. It also has the added benefit of a diagnostics system that will display a range of internal errors when the unit is powered up. The rack itself contains 8 multi-bus II cards, each tasked with a specific job (analogue to digital conversion, digital to analogue conversion, memory, timing, etc). The modular design makes an maintenance quite quick and easy.
One particular maintenance aspect to keep on top of is the 3x Ni-CD batteries on the NVS card. These batteries are trickle charged when the unit is powered up, and supply power to the non-volatile ram when the unit is powered down in order to keep your user presets stored. These Ni-CD batteries tend to leak with age which is one of the most common causes of problems and errors within the 224. If you do have leaky batteries, remove them and scrub off any corrosion they have caused before replacing them again. The corrosion is sneaky stuff, so be prepared!! It will find its way into IC sockets and onto other cards in the system. I used a small amount of washing liquid in warm water and a hard toothbrush to remove it all. Just make sure you give the PCB adequate time to dry before reinserting it into the system. Be aware that the cards in the 224 are susceptible to static, so take the necessary precautions – like wearing an anti-static wrist band & working on an anti-static mat. Lexicon recommend touching the metal chassis of the 224 before pulling out any cards (just to ensure any static is discharged), and rather than handing it to another person directly, to place it on a desk or bench where the other person can then pick it up.
One of the truly remarkable legacies of the Lexicon 224 (beyond the amazing reverb) is the remote control. The white/blue remote followed by the LARC add an ease of use and enjoyment to the unit that has subsequently become a staple feature of most high-end digital hardware reverberation units. The Quad 8 System 5, AKG ADR 68K, Lexicon 300L/480L/960L, TC electronic M5000/M6000, Kurzweil KSP-8, Eventide H8000 and the Bricasti M7 all have borrowed and expanded on the original 224 remote design. It puts total control over the parameters of the digital reverb right at your finger tips without fancy GUI’s distracting you from concentrating on the sound. While the vintage digital verse modern plugin sound quality debate rages like a wildfire through thick scrub, I do think the remote control and how it affects the enjoyment and easy of use of reverb units like the 224XL has a considerable effect beyond just the sound. When I work soley in the box, I definitely miss the dedicated reverb remote control.