Realistic 32-1110 Electronic Reverb

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Beth Maplesden (Electrotype)

Summary:

The Realistic Electronic Reverb 32-1110 is not a true reverb unit but a tabletop mono analog BBD delay. Due to its gain function and possibly the combination of the low headroom of its BBD chip and choice of transistors, it has a unique overdrive/fuzz sound. Where the sound falls on that spectrum seems to depend on the age, condition, or production run of the individual unit. Additionally, the unit was equipped for both 1/4 inch mono in/out jacks (from low-level sources) and RCA in/out jacks (from high-level sources). In order to produce stereo delay, two separate units must be used. The original manual specifies that the unit was for use with instruments, such as electric guitar and synthesizer, microphones, public address amplifiers, amplifier/receivers, and tape decks. This wide range of uses accounts for the two types of inputs in the unit, which was unusual for effects units of this size and type.

Sales history:

The unit’s model number (referred to in manufacturer or sales literature as the catalog number) is 32-1110. All 32-1110s were manufactured in Japan and sold exclusively by Tandy Corporation’s RadioShack stores and catalogs under their house brand Realistic. According to the 1983 US catalog, the 32-1110 was first available for purchase on October 30, 1982, and was aesthetically designed to match a line of other audio equipment released at that time.* The 32-1110 last appears in the 1989 catalog.** For all but one year of its run, it was sold for $39.95 (US). If someone purchased a unit in 1988 at that price, it would be $80.34 in 2014 US dollars.ª (The 1988 catalog lists the actual price, for that year only, at $44.95.?) Despite its explicit application for music, however, RadioShack continually shoehorned the unit into the public address systems section of their catalog.

Design and controls:

As it was not designed exclusively for guitar, it does not have footswitches or a bypass, nor does it have footswitch inputs. Instead, it is controlled by four sliders: Microphone, Delay, Repeat, and Depth. Each slider is numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top.

Microphone is actually a gain control which boots the source signal. Generally, if placed up to 4, the signal remains undistorted. However, if used past 4, the unit produces a noticeably clipped sound, getting progressively more distorted the higher the slider is pushed. The relative intensity of the distortion varies with individual effects units. It seems unlikely that this distortion was an intentional design feature but it is one that makes the 32-1110 stand out among other BBD delay units. If the sound source is a vocal microphone or tape deck, this distortion is a problem, but if the source is a guitar, keyboard, or drum machine, this distortion is an asset. Also, the distortion sounds different depending on whether the Mic In or Line In is used. Additionally, the delay effect stays at the same level whether or not the Mic slider is high or low. If the Microphone slider is pushed to the top, the signal will get louder and more distorted, but the delay effect will stay at about the same apparent level. The Microphone slider, however, is not really a blend, mix, or wet/dry control, as there is no way to totally turn the delay effect off using Microphone: to turn the delay off, the user must set the other three controls to zero. In this case, just using Microphone and not the other controls, the unit produces a midrange-boosted overdrive. In general, this stage of the unit behaves very much like an overdrive or fuzz effect: it “cleans up” responsively in combination with a guitar’s volume control.

Delay controls the length of time that the effected signal is restarted after the original signal is played. The shortest delay time at the low end of its scale allows for a thickening effect but without the detuning effects of a chorus if the other controls after it are used at the low end as well. The longest delay time allows for a noticeable simulated sound reflection but it is usually not long enough for a distinct musical phrase to be heard in its entirety. Moving this slider during playing creates a sliding synth-like sound.

Repeat controls the number of times the effected signal is played again. When all the way up to 10, a spring-like sound is produced.

Depth controls the loudness of the effected signal in relation to the original signal. At 10, the delay is nearly as loud as the uneffected sound.° At 0, no delay can be heard. This control is different from other BBD-based modulation effects marked as “depth”: a depth control usually changes the detuning of the effected signal, not the level.

Electronics details:

The 32-1110 used Matsushita/Panasonic MN3207 BBD chip paired with the Panasonic MN3102 clock chip.° ? The 32-1110 was capable of 5ms to 95ms delay times. * ° The low headroom of the 3207 tended to clip the signal but is one aspect of the 32-1110 distorted sound. °° This is the same type of BBD/clock chip combination used in many other brands and types of effects pedals, such as Boss’s VB-2 Vibrato°°° ` and Boss’s BF-2 Flanger.``  However, the 32-1110 is very different from many of them due to its set of controls and individual idiosyncrasies.

The 32-1110 uses a total of six 2SC828 silicon transistors. Also, it uses two AN6552 IC op-amps.° Both the transistors and the op-amps were also manufactured by Panasonic. The 2SC828 is a transistor used frequently in fuzz pedals, most notably in some versions of the Fulltone 70 (a Fuzz Face-style effect).†

The unit is powered by six AA batteries or a 9-volt center-negative power adapter. Holding the Battery Check position of the power switch causes the red LED to light, and becomes dimmer if the batteries are weak. If the unit is plugged into an adapter and the Battery Check is activated, the light will remain a bright red.

Variations:

From 1990 to 1994, a revised version, the 32-1110A, was sold in place of the original unit. Although the unit in the catalog is listed as the 32-1110, the brand label and switch are aesthetically slightly different from the original.*** In the 1995 catalog (the final year that any unit of the series appears), another version appears with the RadioShack logo replacing the Realistic logo, but is also erroneously listed as the 32-1110.*** This is possibly the 32-1110B. It is not clear in which years the A and B variations were actually sold. However, parts lists on the RadioShack support website confirm that some of the components were changed from the original specification, though both the A and B versions continued to use the same BBD and clock chip pairs as the original.**** ° The A and B versions of the unit were manufactured in Korea, which is indicated by a label sticker on the input side of the unit. (The original 32-1110 had “custom manufactured in Japan” along with the catalog number embossed in the plastic in the same location.) After 1995, however, no more delay units of any kind appear in the US catalogs, though the 32-1107 (also using the same BBD and clock chips)^ was in production as of the late 1990s.^^

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