Intelligent Devices' Marshall Time Modulator
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by David Gamson and Barry Rudolph
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A Little History Of Time Modualtion

The Marshall Time Modulator was one of those pieces of gear that would always be sitting in a rack at the back of the studio when I first started in the early 1980's. Generally it was mounted in the outboard rack right next to the Cooper Time Cube and the Ursa Major Space Station. In those days, space and time were popular concepts to include in the names of outboard audio gear. I have very fond memories of all those boxes but the Marshall Time Modulator was such a unique piece of gear, it became a favorite of mine.

Marshal Time Modulator Plug-In Developed in the late 1970's, it had two independent analog delay lines each with three output taps that used analog "bucket brigade" charge-coupled devices. Unique to the MTM at that time was that the delay time could be swept either manually or via an LFO. The dry signal was mixed with the delay line outputs with one delay line permanently set out of phase. You could also add varying amounts of feedback to the output mix.

I know, by today's standards, this doesn't sound all that amazing but somehow it ended up being more than the sum of its parts. Some of the most insane sweeping flanger effects I have ever heard were created using the Marshall Time Modulator. The MTM was also useful for automatic double (and triple) tracking, pitch and delay dithering effects, resonant flanging, and many more effects. I read online that the Marshall Time Modulator was used to create the Darth Vader vocal effect in Star Wars.

It's hard to talk about the Marshall Time Modulator without a mention of its inventor: Stephen St. Croix. As a true iconoclast and inventor, he held dozens of patents on inventions that had nothing to do with music or engineering. He was an audio engineer, an avid motorcyclist, and by all accounts, a genius and all around "bon vivant."

MTM Goes Virtual

Now Intelligent Devices has brought us a plug-in based on the hardware second generation 5402 Marshall Time Modulator. Besides modeling all the analog components of the original unit, they have added some useful additional features. Notably the ability to change the phase of each delay line; a GUI that shows the signal flow chart which helps the user to understand what is going on "under the hood" and, like all plug-ins, the ability to recall complex presets at the touch of a button.

The MTM plug-in also comes in three flavors or instantiation modes: mono in/mono out, mono in/stereo out, and a stereo in/stereo out version. Immediately this, in itself, greatly expands the sonic palette of the original hardware piece--originally strictly a mono in/mono out effect unit.

MTM Goes Live In The Studio

I was eager to hear the sweeping flange effect that I remembered getting 'back in the day.' I inserted it on a lifeless sounding stereo guitar part on a track I was working on. There are six delay time presets ascending in longer and longer delay times and I chose the one with the tightest timing for a flange effect. I then used the LFO set on a sine wave to slowly sweep the delay time from shorter to longer delay times.

That lifeless guitar part was now transformed due to a wonderfully interesting and sweeping stereo flange effect. I also used the mono in/stereo out version of the plug-in and it almost didn't matter nor did the specific part the guitar was playing--it just sounded so nice. To add even more interest, I automated the feedback control in Nuendo to add additional length to the end of each guitar note. Try to do that on your old hardware MTM!

But so true to its analog heritage, be cautious with that feedback knob. You can really blow a set of speakers (and your ears) if you're not careful.

The MTM plug-in worked great for a nice and subtle vibrato effect on long and sustained guitar chords. This is a pretty effect but you can also get gnarly-sounding and create huge "dive bomb" pitch effects for single note guitar parts too.

One unexpected use I found for MTM was as a great-sounding analog ADT (or Automatic {or artificial} Double Tracking) unit. I used the stereo in/stereo out version and sent my tom-tom tracks to it and came up with a fantastic drum sound reminiscent of Amii Stewar's disco record Knock On Wood. Unreal!

I was looking forward to using the Random setting on the LFO to create some interesting sample and hold effects but Random is more of a "dithering" algorithm rather than a true random waveform making it a subtle modulation source.

In all uses, I found the sound of the MTM plug-in very smooth when the delay times are swept using the LFO. However, manually sweeping the delay time knob can cause glitching because the delay times are not interpolated to one another. According to Intelligent Devices--this will be fixed in a future update.

Recreating vintage gear as plug-ins is always a balance between the purist approach of exactly duplicating the original hardware, warts and all and adding to the original with modern functionality other updates possible with software. While Intelligent Devices has struck a nice balance with this first version of MTM, there are a few omissions that would enhance the usability of this plug-in for use in modern DAW environments.

There is no host session sync for either the LFOs or the delay time settings. This will be a welcomed addition in a future update. Since the new MTM is a stereo out device it would be good to be able to offset the LFO for each delay line to achieve more and other interesting stereo effects. This would be like Universal Audio has done with the LFOs on their newly released Moog filter plug-ins. Lastly, adding longer delay times would make this MTM more useful as a straight analog delay when that's all you want.

All There

As a recreation of the Marshall Time Modulator, the Intelligent Devices plug-in makes a great new addition to any one's plug-in folder. I have waited many years to hear the sound of that wonderful modulation unit and now I have it again.

Intelligent Devices' Marshall Time Modulator comes in Native VST only (RTAS and AU coming soon) and is only available as a download at: proaudio.intdevices.com It sells for: $149 MSRP.



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