CMX 1978 Automatone, the minds behind it

Here’s a vivid memory (with supporting footage) from the pre-pandemic days when people could happily congregate in crowds.

At our NAMM 2019 Stompbox Booth we launched what was going to be the last ever print issue of The Deli (the precursor of the Delicious Audio magazine). It featured the results of a poll about the Best Pedals of 2018, which had the Meris Enzo listed at #1 and Chase Bliss Audio’s Dark World in 2nd place. Meris was exhibiting at our shared booth. At one point, Joel from Chase Bliss came by, and Terry from Meris showed him the magazine page with the results, asking him to pose for a photo…

Almost two years later, these two forward-thinking pedal designers unveiled a joint pedal that’s on every stompbox lover’s wishing list: the Automatone CXM 1978, a reinterpretation of the vintage Lexicon 224 Digital Reverb, a pioneering unit that found its way in records from artists like Talking Heads, U2 and Vangelis, among many others.

Coincidentally, that NAMM show is precisely when the two friends’ talks about a collaboration intensified and became more defined. We thought it was time to connect the dots and hear from them what happened between then and now.

How, when, and where did you guys meet? 

Terry: That was a fun NAMM. We definitely met way before that though.
Joel: Gosh I honestly don’t know. It’s been a few years though.

Who made the first move introducing the idea of a collaborative pedal?

Joel: Well, Terry and I have been talking about collaborating since pretty much we first got to be friends. We’ve kicked around a few ideas, but when we debuted the Automatone platform at NAMM in January 2019 we immediately started gravitating toward that.
Terry: We’d kicked around a few ideas but after the NAMM where Joel showed the first Automatone, I thought it was so cool with the moving faders. One day after NAMM it struck me that the 224’s LARC and the Automatone both had 6 faders. I texted Joel a side by side photo and said “are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
How long did it take to make the decision to create a Lexicon 224 inspired reverb pedal? Why did it inspire you?

Joel: I think it’s just a sound that we all really love. It seems like it has a sound that just is in Angelo’s DNA and he has this uncanny ability to craft algorithms inspired by the device itself, and perhaps more importantly, the groundbreaking records that were created with it.
Terry: The physical similarities on the 224 hardware and the Automatone were just a catalyst. We had already done quite a bit of work capturing the vibe of the 224 since it was also used by Vangelis on Bladerunner which we largely based the Mercury7 on. Angelo took this even further towards the operation of a literal 224 with the CXM 1978.

Were there other devices that made the shortlist?

Joel: Like I said, we’ve discussed other ideas but the stars just kind of aligned on this one.
Terry: Yes, but ultimately the CXM was hands down the best idea and everybody agreed on that.

With all its features and moving parts, the CXM 1978 must have been a lot of work. What were the toughest and the most enjoyable parts of the process?

Joel: We actually had a prototype relatively quickly. Chase Bliss was already pretty far along on the Automatone platform and we wanted to get something underfoot as soon as possible. I find that’s always the best way to know if something is really inspiring or not. We loved the first iterations but we are all perfectionists and spent many months tweaking it to get to a place where we thought we had something very special.
Angelo: Working on effects is a passion, so being able to do it for a living is a blessing. One of the most satisfying moments of working on the CXM was the first time we connected our Meris daughterboard to the early prototypes that Joel brought to our shop just before NAMM. It was a great day!

How was the workload shared in the designing and manufacturing process?

Joel: This one sorted itself out pretty easily. Of course, Angelo did all the DSP work. Terry did the PCB layout and design on the DSP part of the circuit, and he designed the analog circuits for the balanced I/O. I laid that part out on PCB and did the other basic layout. My engineer Charlie wrote the code for the motorized faders and how to interface that with Meris’ tech. Jinna and I organized marketing strategy and logistics together. It was all really natural and I think that we all complimented each others’ skills well.

What are the pros and cons of collaborating with a separate company?

Joel: The pros are that you get to work with people that are absolute experts / pros in their field, they can do things quickly that isn’t possible for you to do on your own. And it’s just so fun to collaborate, and build friendships through a creative endeavor. As far as cons, communication is always more difficult when you are not in the same space and you live across the country for each other. That said, I think we were all aware of those challenges and worked hard to always be in sync and on the same page.
Terry: I think our teams flowed really well and naturally together. It was an easier collaboration than I had even thought it initially could be.

Which one of the pedal’s features you came up with is the one you are the proudest of? (This is a question for all those who contributed to the design)

Joel: I’m (Joel) is pretty proud of how we worked together on the concept of the diffusion control, and how flexible that can be dependent on reverb mode selected.
Angelo: I’m really proud of how the Room algorithm turned out. It is great for adding a natural ambiance to a flat sounding amp track, making it easy to get that difficult to capture the sound of a great amp live in the room with you. I also have to mention the special variable clock rate on the LoFi mode of the pre-delay, this works in the same way a bucket brigade does and is great for adding a warm and grainy texture.

What’s the feature of the pedal you love to play with the most?

Joel: The most? Probably a tie between shaping the EQ of the reverb tail and I really love messing with the different clock settings. It covers so much ground.
Angelo: Having such a powerful EQ to sculpt the reverb’s decay is incredibly useful. You can really mold the tonality of the reverb to perfectly complement whatever you are pairing with the CXM.

What’s the least intuitive feature of the CXM 1978 that players should take some time to master?

Joel: This is going to be kind of a weird answer. It might be the frequency bands and crossfader because it’s a relatively unique feature that some users might not be familiar with initially. That said, once you spend some time with it it’s tough to go back to using reverbs that don’t have this functionality, in my opinion.
Angelo: The motorized faders make the CXM incredibility intuitive. You always know where everything is set, and it is really easy to learn how to build up a sound. So out of the box, you’ll have no trouble getting the most out of the CXM, but down the line, the CXM will grow with you as you master external elements like the Expression pedal, Aux Switch, and MIDI, allowing you dynamic control over animating your sound.

And now, a question from a touring friend: what happens to the CXM 1978 if a copious amount of beer trickles through the faders’ cracks?

Joel: Haha, we had someone spill a cup of tea in one and we had to replace a fader. That said, we’ve been working with the UK company Decksaver to have a retractable dust cover accessory for it that would give it max protection on tour if folks’ are concerned. So far, we’ve shipped ~1500 Automatone Preamp mk2s and to my knowledge, we haven’t had any slider issues come in *at all* except for the cup of tea incident.