Sony has quite a history in professional audio equipment. Way back in 1980 they announced the DRE-2000, a digital reverberation unit with wired remote control not unlike the Lexicon 224 or Quad Eight System 5 in appearance. It came standard with 16 bit digital audio conversion and dedicated digital I/O for use with digital systems, and offered almost 10 second long reverberation times at the peachy sum of $15,000. That is a little over $43,000 at the time of writing this in 2015, or eleven brand spanking new Bricasti M7 reverb units plus a bit of change if you want to weigh it up in modern equipment currency. The DRE-2000 seems few and far between today – probably as a result of their technical complexity and either the complete lack of people whom know how to fix it, or the complete lack of suitable replacement components to do the fixing. The going word on the internet pathways is that the DRE-2000 remains a staple in the racks of Tom & Chris Lord-Alge.
In the years that followed the SRE-2000’s release Sony bought out several prominent professional audio companies including American analogue console and tape machine manufacturer MCI in the early 1980’s and Oxford Digital, a small digital tech firm that was started in 1988 by five former Solid State Logic employees. By 1993 MCI’s remains had been burnt to ashes, but Sony branded digital production equipment was incredibly alive and kicking. The Sony Oxford OXF-R3 remains one of the greatest digital consoles ever built, a claim that comes from almost a full 5 years of developing the system from the ground up. The layout, system architecture, audio I/O, hardware and software were all designed by the team in oxford. It was so ahead of its time even custom designed and built DSP chips were required to execute the algorithms as no off the shelf components were powerful enough. It ran in an impressive 32 bit, fixed point environment. Digidesign’s Protools for example ran at 16 bit until the release of Protools|24 in 1998. Peter Gabriel’s Realworld Studios owned two of the fifty or so OXF-R3’s ever produced.
Around the same time as the Sony Oxford OXF-R3 hit the market, the Japanese department of Sony were continuing the SRE-2000 outboard effects legacy with the development and release of the DPS series of rack effects units. Aptly named the DPS-R7, DPS-M7, DPS-D7 and DPS-F7, each unit offered its specialised effect – a reverberator, a sonic modulation, a delay unit and and dynamic filter. To complement the four rack effects units Sony also released the RM-DPS7, a small wired remote that could control all of the units together. They still remain a crowd favourite among reverb and effects aficionados around the world.
It wasn’t until 1996 or so that the Sony DPS-V77 hit the market. It takes all of the best presets of the R7, M7, D7 and F7, plus a few newbies as well and rolls them altogether into one neat little 1u rack processor. Like the ‘7’ series, the V77 is an all round winner of an effects processor, even two decades on. It can be setup to use analogue I/O, digital I/O or a combination of both via the easily navigated menu. It uses a large LCD screen with clearly thought out graphics to access effects and systems parameters. There is very little menu diving to find the sound that you want. With a manual in hand, the preset patches can be recalled simply by typing their number into the 10 digital keypad followed by pressing enter, or scrolling through them using the jog wheel. Two of the greatest aspects of the Sony DPS-V77 effects unit beyond its sound quality its ability to morph between effects types, and the mini din SPDIF/AES digital I/O connection. Its a little finicky to build, but even in 2015 it allows direct connection to a modern DAW via AES digital cable. No dither is needed either, as the DPS-V77 operates at 24 bit!
Sony all but concludes its foray into outboard effects processing with the release of the Sony DRE-S777 in 1999. Unlike its algorithmic based predecessors, the DRE-S777 was a convolution based reverberation unit. It was marketed on the concept of providing sampled spaces and forwarded its users the ability to expand their ‘reverb sample collection’ by purchasing additional CD-ROMs that contained new impulse responses. It was simultaneously a massive curse and a stroke of genius. Users would have to wait for the CDs to be stored into the memory of the system prior to it being useable as an effects unit. Unlike modern convolution plugins though, Sony’s system forwarded users the ability to quickly switch microphone types and locations within a given sampled space for extra sonic variety. George Massenburg’s visually striking room at Blackbird Studios featured a DRE-S777, so it must not sound all bad.
By this time, those chaps at Sony Oxford had been up to all kinds of mischief. Software development for the OXF-R3 console had continued and the product range diversified into Sony Oxford Plug In effects of Digidesign’s Protools. The Sony DMX-R100 was released in 2000, a much smaller format digital console bearing many of the classic design features and effects of the OXF-R3… and they even developed DSD, a 1 bit, 2.8MHz audio format. It seems though that the only enemy to Sony’s digital development is Sony themselves, often end-of-lifing (EOL) support for their products quite quickly and prematurely. Doing so makes ownership of their larger devices a potential minefield due to the number of custom and proprietary components used in their design. For the average joe like myself and many others, the DPS-R7 or the DPS-V77 is as close as they will get to the famed SRE-2000. And the Sonnox Oxford plugins continue the legacy of those five SSL employees who revolutionised digital audio at Oxford Digital.
If you are interested in learning a little more about Sony Oxford, you can find a nice little interview with its found Paul Frindle over at createdigitalmusic.com
You can check out the modern adaptation of the Sony Oxford OXF-R3 processors at Sonnox Oxford. They are available in multiple formats including AAX, AU & VST.
Grab a complete set of Sony DPS-V77 impulses made right here at Little Devil Studios -> Sony DPS-V77 Impulse Responses