Vintage Digital

The Evolution of Sony Signal Processors

Classic Recording Studio Equipment

In 1981, Sony introduced its inaugural Digital Reverb, the iconic Sony DRE 2000. This marked the beginning of a trailblazing expedition in signal processing, as Sony later unveiled a series of budget-friendly professional processors, reaching its pinnacle with the Sony DRE-777 Sampling Digital Reverb. Alas, this journey of innovation and tenacity met an untimely end, leaving behind a legacy cut short.

SONY DRE 2000 Digital Reverberator

This is the one that started it all and is still the one most people talk about. Upon its release in 1981, the Sony DRE 2000 costs tens of thousands of dollars, most digital units of the time did. Needless to say, it was only the big studios around the world who could afford one of these. Being a dedicated digital reverberator, the effects focused primarily on reverb but did offer some time delay-based effects such as delay.

These were very complex and somewhat fragile units that over time have proved to be failure prone and very difficult to repair, so finding one in 100% working condition is not easy and repairing one even more difficult. Still, the legend lives on among some of the industry’s biggest names, not least of which Chris Lord Alge himself who considers this one of the greatest reverbs ever made.

Today, if you can find one, expect to pay serious money for it, somewhere in the vicinity of US$4-10K depending on condition, but whatever you do, do not have it shipped to you, go and collect it, treat it with kid gloves and install it in your studio with great care, as they do not make them like this anymore.

“Owning several EMTs, Yamaha Rev1, AMS RMX16, Bricasti and Lexicon 300, I really have to admit that the Sony DRE 2000 is the most incredible tool in my workshop. Throw it on snare drums, on analogue modular synths, electric guitars, even on orchestra, it S-H-I-N-E-S! That’s all – simply the most 3d “artificial flavoured” reverb out there, bar none, ever, period. things it can’t do: giving dimension to upright bass, bass drum and hi-hat. anything else: rarely something greater than the Sony! sadly it is hard to service, sometimes impossible. anyone experienced in repairing those precious gems? mine starts to bother me sometimes with weird noises coming out of the DA converters at times…”

This is it, the reverb made famous by Chris Lord Alge who uses it to this day on all his mixes, the Sony DRE 2000. It is a beast of a reverb both physically and in terms of its sonic signature. There are few units left in the wild, as they are fragile and difficult to fix, but thankfully plugin recreations are starting to appear which should preserve its place in history, and deservedly so.

“As far as outboard effects are concerned, the drums were mostly treated with a Urei 1178 at 4:1 and a Neve 33264 at 2:1, all slow attack and quick release stuff with 4-5dB movement. The reverb was the Sony DRE-2000, set to one second in length, just a short room. In terms of EQ, I tend to suck out the mid from kick drums, add top to snares, and make sure that the cymbals are not coming from everywhere.”

Sony DRE 2000 Remote

Chris Lord Alge is famous for his massive collection of outboard analogue effects, in particular vintage compressors, of which he has many. He is almost just as famous for his choice of prime reverb, the Sony DRE-2000. Along with his brother, they are the only big name mix engineers still using the old Sony DRE-2000. 

Sony MU-r201 Digital Reverberator

Five years after the Sony DRE 2000 hit the market, Sony introduced the follow up, the Sony MU-R201. Although technically not a replacement for the Sony DRE 2000, the Sony MU-R201 was certainly a newer design from a technical point of view, being Sony’s first true stereo processor. It also showed how far digital audio came in only five years, that the physical size could be reduced to a single rack space.

The interesting thing with the Sony MU-R201, is that it was born not for Sony’s own use, but as an OEM product for Ibanez who used this platform first with the Ibanez SDR 1000 Digital Reverb, released a year earlier. Sony then upgraded the algorithms and released their own version in this, the Sony MU-R201. Later, Ibanez then released the newer Ibanez SDR 1000+ that utilised the same algorithms as the Sony MU-R201.

It is perhaps for this reason that the Sony MU-R201 did not see a great deal of success in the western world, and I suspect there were far more Ibanez units sold in the west at least. In Japan, there is hardly a studio that does not have a least one or two Sony MU-R201s in their racks to this day, which says a lot about the quality of this reverb. See our full review here. There are plenty of Sony MU-R201’s being traded at most times, usually out of Japan and usually for around US$250 which makes them a real bargain.

“This is a hidden gem of old reverbs. I love this thing on just about anything and use it on every drum mix I do. Snares sound wonderful through it, so Roger Nichols was onto something way back when. Ignore the limited bandwidth as I actually think that is what helps this reverb to sit in a mix so well. My favourite!”

The Sony MU-R201 was released following the comparatively high-priced Sony DRE-2000 and marked Sony’s initial foray into stereo processing for their reverbs. Although it gained limited traction in the western market, it achieved popularity in Japan. Despite this, Roger Nichols was an ardent proponent of the MU-R201 and employed it extensively in his mixing, including some of the Steely Dan mixes.

Sony MU-RM1A

“One of my favourite reverbs is the Sony MU-R201. I use it on every project, including the Steely Dan mixes.”

Roger Nichols

The Sony DPS Series of Signal Processors

In 1990 Sony started development of the DPS series of effects processors, starting with the Sony DPS-R7 released in 1991. In the following years, Sony released a full range of processors based on this platform. The core specifications in terms of converters, noise floor and bandwidth remained the same across the models, but each release focused on a different function to the last. All units were designed for professional use, featuring fully balanced XLR inputs and outputs (unlike the Sony MU-R201 that came before them) as well as 1/4″ connectors if required. MIDI control was also possible on all DPS processors.

Sony DPS-R7 Digital Reverberator

In 1991, Sony released the Sony DPS-R7 Stereo Digital Reverb to the world. This was a true successor to the Sony DRE 2000 being that it was designed by Sony for Sony’s own use. The Sony DPS-R7 featured 18-bit converters, 48kHz sampling frequency and almost full bandwidth for the first time, with a frequency response of 10Hz-18kHz. In listening tests, it shows too.

This is a great reverb, with beautiful reverb tails and a pristine sound. (On the sample we tested however I did find it a little noisy but that may just have been my example.) Sony had good success with the Sony DPS-R7 as it found its way into studios more of a second option that a primary, but also great success in the broadcast television world too.

Today, the Sony DPS-R7 can be had for around US$250-400 depending on condition, and I think they are worth every cent. If you are looking for a hardware reverb with great reverbs and sound quality, look no further than the Sony DPS-R7 and remember these things cost thousands of dollars back in the day!

“This is clean and can be uncoloured. It is the reverb I go to when I want to match or augment a natural reverb already recorded. It can be basically un-identifiable even on a simply miked acoustic recording. I have over a dozen hardware reverbs and no others can do this function as well.”

Sony DPS-D7 Digital Delay

After the initial success of the Sony DPS-R7, Sony released the obvious follow up, the Sony DPS-D7 Digital Delay. The Sony DPS-D7 featured primarily time-based effects including a variety of delay effects but included a sophisticated equaliser section and auto pan functions. Some time-based modulation effects were present but limited due to the following products Sony had planned for release after this.

“Still works and sounds great after all these years. I really only use my own presets, but it offers some great starting points with all the stock presets. Very quiet and clean for a delay of this age. JUST had to replace the battery (it’s a bit of a pain because the battery is soldered in), still not bad for a 1991 delay! I’ll be using it till it dies.”

Sony DPS-M7 Sonic Modulator

In 1992, with Sony enjoying some good success with both the DPS-R7 and the DPS-D7, Sony released the DPS-M7 Sonic Modulator. The DPS-M7 provides all the lush time-based modulation effects including flanging and chorusing, with true stereo processing. Keyboard players in particular would find a second hand one of these to be very useful and at around US$300 a real bargain.

“Like all units from the DPS 7 range, the M7 suffers quite a bit from the over-indulgence of Sony’s engineers — it’s nice to have the option to tweak 300 parameters of a preset but is it really useful? For this very reason, I stick with the numerous well-programmed presets on board which are truly impressive (the “Black Coral” chorus is one of the most useful and impressive-sounding choruses on synthesisers) and tailor them to my needs. There is plenty of other useful stuff to mine it for and I’d be surprised if even the most demanding user wouldn’t find something to suit his applications. The build quality is very decent although huge LCDs, encoders, switches, and some electronic components might not exactly be built to last.”

Sony DPS-F7 Dynamic Filter PLus

The fourth and final in the DPS series was the Sony DPS-F7 Dynamic Filter Plus which used digital filter technology to alter sounds in a similar way to the controls a keyboard player has on a synthesiser. To quote Sony themselves: “The Sony DPS-F7 is equipped with an effector which processes and output signals. a vocoder which modulates input signals to one channel according to those on the other channel. and a synthesiser which produces sounds by MIDI signals.” It was probably the least successful processor of the four and Sony had nowhere to go from here as the combination of all four processors could do just about anything.

“I have all four of the Sony “7” series effects boxes, and I love them all. Wonderful clean sound, incredibly deep parameter control (some would say TOO deep!) and very simple to set into a mix. I love each of them: the R7, D7, M7 and F7.”

The Sony DPS Series effect processors were Sony’s greatest period of success as they sold in relatively big numbers and offered excellent sonic performance, in fact the DPS-R7 Digital Reverb still stands up well today against more modern processors.

However, they did have an Achilles’ heel if you like, and that was the interface. Sony decided to offer a plethora of control in these processors and hats off to them for doing so, but it created an interface that was a nightmare to get around.

It was very easy to get buried in a wealth of adjustability and the small screen did not help. Thankfully the presets offered were very good, and doing minor adjustments to the existing presets is the way to go if you decide to jump on board with any of the DPS Series Effects Processors.

There was an excellent remote control available for the DPS series, the RM-DPS7 which is extremely difficult to find these days.

Sony RM-DPS7

Sony HR-MP5 & HR-GP5 Half Rack Processors

Having explored all options with the DPS series, Sony then tried making those effects available to home recording musicians in the form of half rack effects which were popular at the time. The Sony HR-MP5 was released first and was like a “best of” the DPS series combined into one box. The Sony HR-GP5 was dedicated to guitar players and included distortion effects and presets designed for the purpose of guitar player’s needs. Sony did enjoy success with the processors, but they were certainly no cheap way into the sonic capabilities of the previous DPS series.

Sony DPS-V77 Multi Effects Processor

In 1995 Sony released what I consider to be one of their very best effects, the Sony DPS-V77 which was in fact a true “Best of” the DPS Series Effects Processors. The Sony DPS-V77 was a much-improved processor using 1 Bit 64x oversampled (24-bit Resolution) converters, with the same 48kHz sampling frequency of the original units, but with greater bandwidth of 10Hz-22kHz and it does sound better for it too.

This is Sony’s “Greatest Hits” in a single box, offering all of the great reverb, delay, filtering and modulation effects of the entire DPS Series. I consider it to be Sony’s version of an Eventide H3000. It is a highly capable multi-effects box that excels at all it does. Sound quality is superb, it offers analogue and digital in and out. The digital I/O is on what is very similar to an S-Video connector and finding a breakout cable to suit is not easy. I managed to make one out of an old S-Video cable I had laying around and it worked fine.

I think the Sony DPS-V77 is worth every cent of what they go for these days, which is around US$500-800 depending on condition. As the Yamaha SPX90 is revered for its Symphonic patch, I think the Sony DPS-V77’s Crystal Keys patch gives it a run for the money and worth the price of entry alone!

“I have this, the M7, the R7 and the HP5. All are fantastic but this is a great all in one box that is more sophisticated than the HP5 but easier to program than the M7 or R7. Sound quality is superb, and the effects are spectacular (easily in line with a top Eventide or Lexicon). The M7 is a real fave of mine but the V77 gives you a lot of its presets, plus a bunch of other goodies and the ability to combine two effects at once (in addition to EQs and gate etc.).”

Sony DPS-V55 Multi Effects Processor

Three years after the release of the DPS-V77, Sony released a more affordable version of it, in the form of the Sony DPS-V55. It is interesting to note that this unit is a four-channel processor not stereo (although it could be used in stereo mode x 2) and it shows how the cost of digital audio and in particular digital signal processing had come down. We have yet to get our hands on a DPS-V55 here at Vintage Digital, but by all reports, the DPS-V55 did not sound anywhere near as good as the DPS-V77.  Yes, it uses 20-bit converters instead of the 1 Bit 64x oversampled (24-bit resolution) converters of the DPS-V77, but clearly there is more to sound quality than just the converters and the DPS-V55 did not sell all that well, signalling the death of signal processing for Sony, well almost…

“I see people on various forums say this box isn’t so hot and best avoided. I say fine, more for me then. I’ve had mine since 2006 and have found it to be one of the most useful and flexible effects units in my arsenal. It sounds very nice using its standalone effects. With the multi-effects it can be a little noisier. Some of the presets are fantastic and most are fantastically weird. I really love the pitch delays, distortion and reverbs. The chorus is outstanding. the vocoder is pretty lame. Compression is workable but difficult without gain reduction metering. Recently my rotary encoder went. But this unit is worth the trouble to repair. Overall, this machine provides a ton of unique effects and plenty of unusual colours.”

Sony DRE-S777 Sampling Digital Reverb

In 1999, Sony went all out, a last-ditch effort if you will in the form of the DRE-S777, and they went out in style! It is interesting to note, they decided to bring back the nomenclature of their original effects box the DRE 2000 and named this last processor the DRE-S777. The Sony DRE-S777 used the then new Impulse Response technology to provide ‘real’ spaces instead of artificially created reverbs that all previous reverbs had used.

Sony threw everything they knew at this effects processor, using the latest 24-bit converters and a 96kHz sampling frequency, they created a truly exceptional reverb processor and swan song like no other. These were very expensive processors, and I do not think they had huge success with it, regardless of the sound quality.

Every now and then you will see one of these rare reverbs come up for sale, and when you do, they are still rather costly at around US$5000, but it’s only real hardware-based competition is the Yamaha SREV1 which while also rare, also sell for around the same money when they come up for sale.

“I have owned this Sony for about 6 years now after having many ‘big’ name reverbs from Lexicon and EMT etc. Of all my hardware reverbs this is the one I choose to keep because the reverbs are so smooth and realistic.”

Two decades of innovation, and it was all over. Sony pulled out of the effects processor market and have since all but removed themselves from the pro audio market entirely, focusing instead on broadcast video. They do however leave behind a legacy of great effects, with a few real gems if you are prepared to venture into the world of hardware effects processors, with the highlight being the Sony DPS-V77. Bravo Sony!