A few years ago I set about making an album in my home studio, using studio musicians from around the globe. At the same time, I was building up a studio rack of vintage effects to use on the album. Given the album was of songs written in the late 1980s/early 1990s, I wanted it to have sound that reflected that time so I targeted vintage reverbs and effects from that time.
I managed to secure a Roland SRV-2000, Roland SRV-330, Lexicon MPX1, Sony DPS-R7, Sony DPS-V77, Eventide H8000, Yamaha Rev5 and the Sony MU-R201. I was pretty happy with this list of reverbs and discovered that I loved the Roland SRV-2000 on snares as it had a really nice grainy sound that worked beautifully with snares. But, the Roland SRV-2000 died before mix down and during that time as some of the reverbs came and went, I discovered the Sony MU-R201 preset 31.
In the end I used this preset which was a plate based reverb, on every snare across the album. For me at least, it was the perfect snare reverb that sat in the mix nicely. It seemed to add some punch to the snare and has an amazing stereo spread that I have not found on any other reverb be it hardware or software.
The Sony MU-R201 was the worlds first true stereo in and out digital reverb to be released and it seemed to make real use of that feature. Given that it came after the famous Sony DRE-2000 so loved by Chris Lord Alge, one would assume that some of it’s algorithms were based on that device, but I do not know that for sure. All I do know, is that I loved this reverb as it suited my album so damn well. Of course, your mileage may vary…
The user interface was thankfully pretty easy to get around, unlike the later Sony reverbs like the Sony DPS-R7 which I ultimately sold on even though it had some great reverbs. I found my sample at least to be a little noisy, certainly noisier than the Sony MU-R201. You would think the later model with better converters and specifications for noise floor etc, would put the older model to shame, but it was the other way around for me, at least when it came to reverb on snares.
Selecting presets (either Sony’s or ones you create yourself) is a two step process. Firstly select the bank with the large plus/minus buttons under the display, and then select a preset via the number buttons to the right. So preset 31 is actually Bank 3 and preset 1 within that bank etc. To edit the preset, a simple press of the edit button followed by the parameter you wish to edit, then the plus/minus buttons to adjust. A very simple process and if you liked the resulting change, you could then save your preset in the user bank.
Sonically, this reverb has a limited top end and I think that is the reason it sits so well in the mix, it is there, but it doesn’t dominate. I occasionally used it for vocal duties too, but I tended to fall back on the Roland SRV-330 for vocal duties on the album.
Over time I have owned a few of the Sony MU-R201 reverbs, and almost always they arrive with a problem. They do not seem to travel that well, I think it is primarily when they have been sitting in someone’s studio for years they are fine, but when they are shipped from one side of the world to another, the bumpy path takes it’s toll.
The problem on everyone that I received was the same…it would work fine and then start glitching, like digital glitch that sounds awful. The immediate thought is that the reverb is dead and throw it away, but I ma here to tell you it is an easy fix! The Sony MU-R201 is actually very well made and out of the four I have owned they never failed, at least not after I fixed them first!
I am lucky enough to have a very savvy tech that I use who is more capable than any other tech I have used and thanks to him, we discovered what the problem was. On the main circuit board that covers the entire base of the unit, there are a few copper bars that sit between each section of the board to provide electrical isolation between the digital, analogue and power supply sections.
Typically these copper bars serve no part of the circuit itself, and are usually soldered into the ground circuit of the board, and on the Sony MU-R201 they each have several solder points on the board. What my tech discovered however is that on the Sony MU-R201 these copper bars form part of the circuit and they suffer from dry joints which when shipped around the world causes these joints to fail, thus breaking the circuit.
To repair these dry joints is very easy and if you look at each and every solder joint for these bars, typically you will see several dry joints throughout. Simply hit these dry joints with your soldering iron and all is well again, it really is that easy. From what I have experienced (and I have repaired three of these reverbs now) the unit will play up with a single dry joint so you have to make sure you get them all and a Lupe or magnifying glass is essential to check each and every solder joint.
With repairs out of the way, one other thing to know is that there is a remote control available for this reverb, but it is rare as hens teeth. In the life of the Sony MU-R201, Sony released two different versions of the remote as seen below.
After years of searching, I managed to secure a Sony MU-R201 with the remote control, both of which were in excellent condition. The remote essentially replicates the front panel controls so nothing new here, but it is a real convenience if your rack is out of reach. Plus, it looks very cool, having the remote sitting on your console, just like a Lexicon etc. I have done many stupid things in my life, one of which was to on sell the Sony MU-R201 with Remote! John Parr bought it off me for use in his amazing studio in the UK, but if you are not happy with it John, I am keen to buy it back!
Speaking of buying, the Sony MU-R201 it seems, was not that successful in the western world and most of the units I have ever bought have come out of Japan. If you look at any Japanese studio gear list you will find at least one Sony MU-R201 in their racks, even today. (Check out Sony Music Studios who have one in every single studio, and Onkio Haus which also still use the Sony Reverb)
So it would seem the Sony MU-R201 was a big hit in Japan. For most of the units I purchased, I did so for around the US$200-250 mark for units that were in very good condition. If you manage to find one with the ultra rare remote control expect to pay upwards of US$450-600.
I would recommend the Sony MU-R201 to anyone into hardware reverbs, as it offers true stereo processing, and I think offers something a little different to the ‘default’ options most people go for such as a Lexicon PCM70. The bonus being of course that the Sony can be had for far less than a Lexicon, so it is a win win!
The Sony MU-R201 is a curious beast for sure. Relatively unknown in the western world, a legend in Japanese studios. For me it is the ultimate snare reverb, but works equally well for vocals and brass.