The MX400: Good cheap unit, but not a true Lexicon
November 6, 2015
Don’t be fooled by the name “Lexicon” on the front panel. This is no Lexicon PCM96S (nor PCM90 nor PCM70). However, at $230 for a double unit — its current price at B&H, Adorama, and Amazon — it doesn’t need to be one either.
Since there is the name “Lexicon” on the front, the first thing I checked was the sound of the reverb. To give the MX400 a proper spin, once I figured out to edit sounds by pressing in (like a button) the big knob on the left, I started to look at the best reverbs it had to offer. I changed the routing to “stereo” to ensure I was getting its better one-effect per unit (as opposed to two effects per unit) reverbs.
The first algorithm I tried was “Large Hall.” People familiar with Lexicon higher end offerings will see it has some of the parameters of the “Random Hall” algorithm on their high-end units. It’s possible to edit the hall size, and like the PCM90 and other high-end units, changing the size affects the reverb time. The maximum size for Large Hall is smaller than it is on the PCM90, 36 instead of 39.44 meters, and the maximum reverb time is shorter too: just under 20 seconds instead of over 60 seconds long.
Other features from the Random Hall algorithm are here: It’s possible to adjust the shape and spread of a swell that the sound begins with, diffusion can be adjusted (like it can on a lot of other mid-to-high end reverbs), and there is a simplified single tap “early reflection” (ER) delay, which, like in the PCM90 Random Hall, is a delay signal passed through the diffuser.
Unlike the PCM90 random hall, there is not a second delay line with feedback, and both stereo channels are forced to share the same ER delay time on the MX400. More disappointing is that there are no “spin” and “wander” values that high end Lexicons have, and I really miss it, especially with a long 20 second reverb.
While the MX400’s “large hall” with a 20 second decay can sound good with a percussive sound with a lot of harmonics, a fairly mellow synth pad sound ended up, with a 20 second decay, having a really unpleasant reverb tail with a lot of frequencies “ringing.”
I was able to get that mellow pad sound to sound good in the MX400’s reverb, but I had to change the algorithm to “chamber” and have a reverb tail that was only a couple of seconds long; in this setup, the sound nicely thickened the mellow synth pad and any ringing in the reverb’s tail was almost inaudible.
Because the reverb is so thin in the MX400, while it is possible to program a reverb in the MX400 to enhance almost any sound, it will take more tweaking to find something that works than say, using the “Smooth Random” algorithm in Sean Costello’s Valhalla Vintage Verb (VVV) computer plug-in reverb, and, unlike VVV, there are many sounds which do not work with a 10-to-20 second reverb decay in the MX400.
On the other hand, the MX400 has some really nice non-reverb algorithms. Its chorus is subtle, but thickens up a sound. For something more obvious, its phaser is really nice on synth pads. The detune algorithm is also good for thickening up sounds.
The MX400 has a dual mode, where two effects can be run as the same time (for a total of up to four effects across its two modules). When this is done, all of the algorithms change and they are converted in to effects with only three parameters. To compensate for the reverbs having only three parameters, the MX400 adds more reverb types in dual mode, including “arena.”
The dual mode reverbs are a bit thinner, but being able to run it through another effect such as detune before (or after) the reverb makes up for this.
One really nice thing about the MX400 is that it has 1/4" connectors, unlike, say, high end TC Electronic units which only have XLR connections. Furthermore, it’s possible to tell the MX400 to accept a mono signal on just the left channel, which it then routes to both stereo inputs before processing it.
All in all, the price has to be considered. I wouldn’t pay $500 for this, but at under $230 for two units ($115 per unit), its competition consists of things like Behringer’s throw-away unreliable FEX800 ($60) and Alesis’s Nanoverb 2 ($80-$100), and with even Behringer’s Vitualizer 3D ($130) costing more per stereo unit, it’s a very good unit for the money.
It allows me to add some basic signal processing and thicking to my synthesizers which do not have built in effects, even when recording two synths at the same time. So, while it’s no PCM96S, much less a Valhalla Vintage Verb, it is the perfect unit for adding effects to keyboards without their own built in effects.