Eventide H3000 Ultra-Harmoniser
Eventide call it their Ultra-harmoniser, but is it worthy to follow in the footsteps of their standard-setting model 910? Vic Lennard and technology in perfect harmony.
Long recognised for their industry-standard harmonisers, Eventide have raised expectations still further with the name of their latest unit: the Ultra-harmoniser.
Eventide are renowned for their harmonisers. The H910 was their original offering and can still be found in many studios - in fact, it's still for sale which says something for Eventide's positive attitude towards technology. Unfortunately for you and I, pitch shifting is an expensive business. It requires large quantities of memory and a great deal of research and development that we end up paying for. It comes as a surprise, then, that Eventide's new H3000 costs less than £2000 (before VAT) and offers a lot more than just the ability to harmonise.
THE H3000 ULTRA-HARMONISER is a stereo digital audio processor utilising 16-bit resolution at a sampling rate of 44.1kHz. It boasts a frequency response of 5Hz-20kHz (±1dB) and a dynamic range of 92dB (A-weighted). All good stuff.
All programs are based on 11 algorithms - five for pitch shifting, four for delay and two for reverb. Each of these algorithms has programmable parameters at two depths, basic and expert, and there is memory space for saving a total of 1000 programs. There are 50 factory programs initially on board including names like 'Bizarrmoniser', 'Shimmerish' and 'Death Range'.
THE FRONT PANEL is split into four parts. The two central blocks are the most important. The right-hand of these has the control wheel and 16-button keypad. The wheel is of the "incremental" type - it has continuous rotary travel and little resistance to movement. Both wheel and keypad are used for altering the values of parameters. The left-hand central panel contains the display (2 x 40 characters) under which are four 'soft" keys for selecting which of the four parameters on screen is to be changed, and buttons marked Program, Function and Parameter.
To the far right are the switches for power and hardware bypass; on the far left are input level meters and a switch for calling up the screen page for altering input and output levels.
The rear panel has the necessary power facilities, three MIDI sockets and stereo, balanced XLR connectors. Finally, there are four ports marked A-D for "possible future expansion".
BEFORE WE INVESTIGATE the algorithms, let's take a tour around one program. Call program five, 'Pitch Quantise'; three choices appear on screen - Load (to call up this program), Origin (to see the algorithm the program uses) and Remove (delete program). Origin tells us algorithm 100, 'Diatonic Shift' is in use. This is a real-time pitch shifter capable of adhering to a key signature and so creating 'intelligent' harmonies. Initially, the 11 algorithms are written into memory slots 100 to 110.
Once the program is loaded, the screen displays the four parameters available for editing. Only the left input is used in this algorithm so "L Voice" and "R Voice" select the interval for harmonising the audio from this input. The choices consist of the 15 possible intervals from -1 to +1 octave along with four dominant and tonic pedal notes and two user scales which have to be defined as part of the expert option. Key sets the key signature, although only in terms of C, C#, D. so you'll need a little musical theory to create harmonies for minor keys and the like.
The other option here is Quantise. This works in a similar way to quantise functions on sequencers except that it moves the audio input to the nearest in-key semitone (provided that the unit is in tune with the song - a feature set on a later page).
Hit Parameter again and the next four parameters appear. Left Mix and Right Mix give you the option of using the H3000 on either the auxiliary lines from a mixer or from a direct input. L Feedback and R Feedback loop part of the effected audio back into the input, giving interesting results when re-harmonising a harmony. Using this in conjunction with delays gives harmony notes in the form of a slurred, climbing arpeggio.
The final page contains the two most important functions: Tune checks an incoming note against the H3000's tuning and tells you how far away from the set pitch the input note is in cents. The internal tuning is then automatically adjusted. Shownote gives you a display of incoming notes and how far away from the new tuning they are. Delay delays the harmony by up to one second in millisecond intervals. This could be used to thicken up backing vocals, for instance.
Finally, we encounter Expert mode and the Diatonic Shift function. The first parameter lets you set up the two user scales mentioned above. Each of these can be used to either set up custom scales or to calibrate how far you want the H3000 to play each of its harmony notes from the correct harmony. Each note is selected and a value, in cents, can then be entered.
The remaining two expert functions are used to optimise the performance of the H3000. The wider the range of notes that the harmoniser has to deal with, the longer the delay in creating the harmonies. By limiting the note range, the more accurate harmonies will be and the faster they will be generated. Low/High Note lets you set this range. Finally, the algorithm will handle monophonic and polyphonic lines slightly differently, but needs to know which it's dealing with. Source brings a scale onto the screen with Poly at one end, Solo at the other and a star in the middle which can be moved between the two categories.
LET'S RUN THROUGH the remaining H3000 algorithms. Layered Shift: this is similar to the Diatonic shift but without the intelligent approach to the intervals. Two harmonies are generated from the left audio input. L/R Coarse sets the harmony in terms of semitones (from two octaves down to one octave up) while L/R fine works in cents. Delays, feedback and mix are as before. An interesting facility is Sustain, which takes about 1.5 seconds of signal and loops it 'sampler fashion'. Expert functions are low/high notes and source as previously.
"I expected the H3000 to be impressive; I hadn't reckoned on being confronted by the best digital reverbs I've ever heard."
Dual Shift: this has exactly the same functions as Layered Shift but effectively splits the H3000 into two units, using both inputs for twin mono performance. Delays are cut to half of a second but otherwise there's no difference in performance.
Stereo Shift: this has the same functions as for Dual Shift but with only one set of each controls as the unit now operates in true stereo. One extra Expert function, De-glitch Mode, allows the two channels to either work independently or for the first channel to control both. You might use this with two independent inputs which you wanted to set up identically without phase differences.
Reverse Shift: the best way of describing this effect is to envisage a tape loop playing backwards. Although only the left input is used and coarse, fine, feedback and mix control as before, you can also set the R/L Length of time for looping up to 1.4 secs, independently for each output channel. So you can set up two different harmonies with different delays, degrees of feedback and loop times.
Swept Combs: this is the equivalent of having six digital delays, each with a maximum delay time of 0.5 secs, followed by a 6:2 mixer. Each delay can have independent delay times and feedback levels as well as modulation depths and rates for the sweep function and individual levels and panning (21 positions). You also have the option of working in stereo with the left input feeding delays one to three and the right the rest, or in mono with the left input going to all delays. In the basic functions, there is master percentage control over the delays, feedback and sweep rate and depth along with a Width control for the maximum limits of the panning effect. Repeat is similar to Sustain in Layered Shift except that it indefinitely loops the current audio in each of the six delays. With-Glide Speed smooths audible glitches when changing delay times.
Swept Reverb: the left and right inputs are summed and then run through six independent delays with feedback before entering a reverb module with independent control over rate and depth for modulation along each line. It's as though the sound is hitting a variety of items and bouncing back, creating a ringing reverb.
Reverb Factory: this also has six delay lines - the delays are in terms of sample points giving just over 110mS per line - preceded by a master pre-delay control which has a highly useful maximum of half a second. There is also a master gate for all lines which has controls for speed of gate opening, threshold and bypass. High/Low EQ and reverb decay exist for both gated and non-gated states. Expert mode lets you set each of the six delays individually.
Ultra-Tap: this is probably the most difficult algorithm to work with and certainly the hardest to describe. Right and/or left input signals are fed through four all-pass filters which either pass the signal straight through or else loop it back again while allowing it to decay. This is routed to a 12-tap delay line, with all taps being individually programmable. The individual tap delays, levels and pans along with the delay time for the all-pass filters can be set from an expert parameter called Tedium (accurate), but the initial setting is eminently useable. Master control over percentage changes in the tap and filter times along with feedback, stereo width and mix are all basic parameters. By using Expert mode, you can set the gaps between the taps to follow six formulae; constant, linear/exponential, increasing/decreasing and random. The same scales can also be used for the weights of volume level of each tap...
Finally, there are 12 different pan locations including settings like "Spread from centre" and "Left to right sweep". The total for all tap delays can't exceed 1450 milliseconds. Definitely one for experimenting with.
Long Digiplex: this is a flash name for a 1.4 second delay line. Delay time, feedback, repeat, mix and glide all operate as in other algorithms.
Dual Digiplex: this has two separate delays each up to 700 milliseconds in length with the option of being fed from the right and/or left inputs. Otherwise, the same as for the Long Digiplex.
AS YOU WOULD expect from a modern-day device, the H3000 responds to MIDI commands. A specific MIDI channel can be selected and various messages can be used by setting the relevant features accessed by the Function button.
The first of these is MIDI patch change, which allows you to change programs on the H3000 remotely from a sequencer or keyboard. This has two modes; the first loads the program of the same number as the patch change command received while the second uses a user-programmable map. This caters for the H3000's 1000 programs, as any numbered beyond 128 would not be accessible to ordinary MIDI patch numbers.
The H3000 also allows you to address many of its parameters using MIDI events. In Diatonic Shift, five of the variables existing in that algorithm can be changed, namely Delay, Left/Right Mix and Left/Right Feedback. You can transmit data on a variety of MIDI controllers including modulation wheel, breath, foot or expression controller. Alternatively note value, velocity or pressure could be used, or even the number of notes pressed down.
"...it's difficult to conceive of a situation where the H3000 couldn't be used to extricate you from a tight spot."
This function has a couple of interesting applications. The first uses Note offset and pitch wheel - press a note on a connected keyboard and this is taken to be the base note: pressing a second note will change the variable by the difference between the key numbers (positive or negative). The pitch wheel can then be set for fine tuning.
The second application (which I had great fun with) was setting the delay to the period of the MIDI clock from a sequencer. Now tempo changes cause the the delay time to vary with the MIDI clock. Brilliant.
Another MIDI application (that I first "discovered" on Drawmer's M500 Dynamics Processor) allows changes in on-screen data to be transmitted as SysEx data. This can then be recorded as part of a sequence and, on playback, the sequencer duplicates your edits. This is achieved by using MIDI controllers 98 and 99 to select the parameter number, and controllers 6 and 38 to change the value. You need to use a modicum of care with this though, as the changes are only relative. The initial settings on sequencer playback must be the same as when you started to send data from the H3000 - including the program. In this way you can create complex real-time effects to record them into a sequence.
Comprehensive, but that's not the end of the story. You can also record changes in input and output levels so that reverb fades can be achieved. All parameters can be dumped via MIDI and kept in a librarian either on computer or by using a SysEx recorder such as the Alesis Datadisk. Finally, there's a MIDI monitor which allows you to see MIDI bytes being received by the H3000.
INSIDE THE MACHINE, there are a couple of jumpers for setting input sensitivity to -10/+4dB depending on whether you work at semi-pro or pro audio levels. I have to admit that no matter how hard I drove the inputs into the H3000 to just below clipping, the output noise was louder than I would have expected. Perhaps the unit had the wrong internal setting -1 really didn't want to open it to find out.
I expected the H3000 to be one of the best harmonisers on the market. I hadn't reckoned on being confronted by just about the best digital reverb I've ever heard. There's not a hint of grain to the sound, and it's clinical without being cold - one of the dangers of digital effects.
As for the harmoniser, I found it a little awkward to use in a couple of ways. Firstly, getting the correct harmony notes when working in a minor key is not a simple process, and I found I had to delve into the individual intervals which can be set for the two user scales and then save to internal memory. Once set, these can be transposed as necessary.
Secondly, no matter how carefully I set the unit up it always glitched a little, especially when using the Diatonic Shift. Admittedly the situation was substantially improved by limiting the note range - the bottom note in particular - but this takes a fair bit of forethought. Any delay between note and harmony couldn't be measured and I found myself deliberately putting a delay in to create a thicker result for backing harmonies.
The Quantise function is an odd animal and has to be used sparingly. In this respect, tuning the H3000 to the studio tuning is absolutely imperative or else any trace of vibrato ends up sounding like tarzan's mating call. The only other machine that I know of which has a similar function is the Publison IM90 which costs the wrong side of £10,000 and was intimated to be the harmoniser Holly Johnson used to get his vocals in tune. Can the H3000 deliver the same result?
A vocal track with a slightly out-of tune line (the most difficult decision was selecting which one) was run into the H3000 on a program based on the Diatonic Shift algorithm, with a unison shift (no change from the input) and quantise off. Running with Hybrid Art's SMPTE Track sequencer locked to tape, quantise was turned on at the right place and then immediately turned off, and the resultant MIDI messages recorded onto the sequencer. Even though the hardware bypass cannot be operated remotely via MIDI (so the entire vocal track had to be passed through the H3000) the result was impressive. How long did it take? About an hour to get it dead right, much of which was spent getting the correct drop-out point for the quantise function to prevent vibrato warbling. It would take a ludicrous amount of work to be able to correct a complete vocal track but it is possible. Enough said.
THE H3000 IS a professional piece of equipment, the use of which can be likened to playing a game of chess. Using it on a basic level is intuitive - the manual didn't get opened for weeks - but using it to its full potential takes time and patience. Even taking that into consideration, it's difficult to conceive of a situation where the H3000 couldn't be used to extricate you from a tight spot.
A lot of thought has been put into making the H3000's use of MIDI as powerful as possible. The idea of addressing parameters over MIDI is certainly not new, having been used in units such as Alesis' Quadraverb, but I've never come across a MIDI device with the range of possibilities that the H3000 has. While few of you will have a mixing desk capable of operating in the digital domain (I certainly haven't) the fact that the H3000 works at 44.1kHz/16-bit should lead to the possibility of a MIDI-automated digital system if used in conjunction with a desk like the Yamaha DMP7. So why isn't there a digital output on the rear of the H3000? Perhaps this is one of the "expansions" on the horizon.
For those of us who own sub-£500 multi-effects units, the H3000 may appear a pipe dream. But you don't need to own one of these to be able to use it. Hiring one will cost perhaps £60 for a day and if you intend to use it as a basic, high quality reverb/harmoniser you should be able to suss it out in five minutes. Who was it that said once bitten, forever smitten?
Prices: H3000S, £1995; H3000B, £2400 (Broadcast version); H3000SE, £2400 (Studio enhanced version with 200 presets). All prices exclude VAT.
Review by Vic Lennard
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