Vermona has a long, yet somewhat convoluted history, with its origins as an organ and piano manufacturer as part of the larger East German state-owned musical instrument company.
In their modern guise they are best known for analogue-based synths, drums modules and effects. Recently the company has been gaining admirers with their range of small-footprint desktop Lancet units, such as the Mono Lancet analogue synthesizer.
On review here we have the Retroverb Lancet, which Vermona call a 'desktop spring reverb'. However, given the profusion of controls on show, it's clear from the start that there is far more to this box than its rather underplayed description suggests.
The Retroverb comes in a sturdy steel enclosure and hosts a front panel laden with knobs and switches, as well as a healthy set of input and output options on the back panel. Power is provided by a separate AC adaptor, with a rear-panel on/off switch labelled, in somewhat grandiose terms, Overkill.
This is strictly a mono box, and as such features single 1/4-inch inputs and outputs, though there are additional sockets for triggering and control duties. Glancing at the front panel may trigger a sense of deja-vu if you have been anywhere near Vermona's Filter Lancet, and this is no surprise given that, in effect, the Retroverb is a spring reverb bolted on to the same circuitry as the earlier Filter Lancet.
Give the box a shake close to your ear and you can just make out the familiar clang of springs that go to make up this unit's reverb section, but let's take a closer look at how all of the various elements come together.
The input section features both gain and drive controls. The input amplifier works over a large range, allowing the unit to deal with low level, high-impedance sources as well as more meaty line levels. Having tried the unit with the passive circuitry of my Hohner Pianet T and electric bass I had no problem getting enough gain. The drive element dials in extra distortion although this is quite 'fuzzy' in nature without further processing.
On the output side, the Mix control adjusts the processed/dry balance, though this does change somewhat depending on the placement of the spring reverb in the signal chain. A bypass switch completely removes any processing (including the gain section), so is a mixed blessing in some respects - switch this on with an electric guitar input and the signal drops to a murmur.
Vermona Retroverb Audio: Example 1
A back panel jack allows you to wire in a double foot switch to bypass the unit completely or disable the spring reverb section only. Spring reverb duties are handled by an Accutronics Type-4 Spring Tank featuring three springs. A Tone control allows for basic high/low frequency balancing, and dedicated switch configures the spring for pre or post-VCA/VCF use.
One of the classic sounds possible from a spring reverb unit is the crashing, clangourous twang one gets when giving it a kick - no really! Retroverb has this covered with the Crash button that, well, crashes, without having to resort to physical movement. We like this - and with some experimentation this is a great source of sound effects and drum sounds. It can even be triggered with a five-volt pulse to the back-panel Trigger In.
Bend me, shape me
Tonal shaping in the VCF section takes the form of a switchable multimode low, high and band-pass filtering. The LP and HP dial in a fat 24dB/octave, with the BP using a more modest 12dB/octave slope. The Resonance control can easily be pushed into self-oscillation if required, with cutoff capable of being simultaneously modulated by the LFO and either the Envelope Generator, an external control voltage or EF (an envelope follower that tracks the audio level).
The politely-named Balls knob provides additional, yet subtle, tonal variation. Interestingly this also seems to have an effect even when the VCF section, in which it is placed, is bypassed. We found this useful for tailoring the sound of the 'drive' section.
The VCA section has an identical set of modulation options and like the VCF has an independent bypass switch. The LFO is straightforward, but usefully includes a 'trigger' option that resets the waveform based on the trigger source selected in the EG (Envelope Generator) section.
The EG constitutes a simple Attack/Decay envelope that can be triggered by the audio input, a Trigger In pulse or audio signal. The EG can also function as a custom LFO shape generator if needed - flexible and interesting.
Vermona Retroverb Audio: Example 2
We found the Retroverb far more flexible, fun and useful than first anticipated. Besides its obvious, and very retro reverb capability, in a few hours we used it to create drum sounds, become a bass guitar fuzz box, provide tremolo for our piano, transform our Juno-106 into something dirty and strange, and much more besides - even an outboard effect processor for a DAW.
It's certainly not cheap - though less expensive than the albeit legendary and well-endowed Sherman Filterbank - and by no means an essential purchase, but it is most definitely a lot of fun and adds an individual touch to whatever you throw at it.